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Oregon PG Johnathan Loyd to Suit Up for Ducks Football Team as WR

Oregon point guard Johnathan Loyd, who started and averaged 25.5 minutes, 7.0 points and led the Ducks with 4.7 assists as a senior this past season, is practicing as a wide receiver with the school's football team this spring and can join the roster as a fifth-year player in 2014.

Here is an Instagram photo of Loyd working out with the team, courtesy of GoDucks.com editor Rob Moseley:

This is a bit confusing since Loyd was a senior in basketball this season and is not able to play hoops in 2014. On that front, Moseley clarified with a tweet, explaining that college athletes all get five years of athletic eligibility, and that Loyd is only not allowed to play basketball because he did not redshirt in that sport during his career:

Loyd is 5'8'' but was able to compensate for his height with speed, agility, quickness and pluck during his time with the UO basketball team. He'll still be undersized in football, but he won't be abundantly undersized, so perhaps his time working against Pac-12 basketball players and in the NCAA tournament will play to his advantage.

According to his official school bio, Loyd was a prep football star at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, helping lead the team to a 4A state title his senior season. He was named a first-team all-state return man in 2009, averaging 32.6 yards per kick return and taking five back for touchdowns.

It appears Loyd will try his hand at receiver, though his realistic contributions will likely be bigger on special teams. Even without Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins in 2014, the Ducks have recruited well at the skill positions, and the players ahead of Loyd on the depth chart have not had the hurdle of a hiatus from football.

As a return man, though, Loyd's pure speed will not be behind much of a coaching curve, and his addition to the roster is the definition of a low-risk, high-reward proposition.

It's also just pretty darn cool.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon PG Johnathan Loyd to Suit Up for Ducks Football Team as WR

Oregon point guard Johnathan Loyd, who started and averaged 25.5 minutes, 7.0 points and led the Ducks with 4...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Projecting College Football's Final Four for 2014 Season

The first season of the College Football Playoff era kicks off in 143 days, and the event itself doesn't kick off until 127 days after that, which means I will change my predictions on which four teams will play in the single-elimination tournament roughly 347,035 times between now and its beginning.

However, this insane bit of prophesy is the only thing that might keep me sane between now and then, because as long as I can picture and delude about the 2014 college football season—about a December sans the BCS standings—I can remind myself of its realness.

Remind myself that it's coming.

So yes, these predictions are apropos of nothing. Nothing other than a way to get through the tedium of early April. If you don't want to read them because it's way too early to guess any of this, that is fair. Click away. Don't read them. Spare us all.

Otherwise, here is my admittedly way-too-early guess at what the first CFP might look like. On the heels of the 2013 season—a year when Michigan State and Auburn both would have (likely) made the final four despite finishing 10-15 combined in 2012—I was tempted to call more upsets than I did. For now, I am a wuss and calling chalk. 

But who knows what I'll predict this time tomorrow? 

It is, after all, only April.

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Alabama Football: Eddie Jackson out with ACL Injury Adds Pressure to Young DBs

The cornerback position has been one of the major areas of focus for the Crimson Tide throughout spring, and as sophomore Eddie Jackson goes down, the focus becomes more acute. ESPN reported that Jackson has torn his ACL, and although there are some experienced older players, Jackson's injury really makes eyes shift to the youth at the corner spot. 

Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones are the veterans at the position. Both players were a part of the revolving door at the spot a season ago, opposite Deion Belue. Although returning starters is a metric used by many college football fans to forecast success, experience does not always translate to positives.

That's especially true in the case of two players who, despite their best efforts, could not win the position or play up to the expected standard.

Now, with Jackson out, Alabama is torn between hoping Sylve and Jones (two juniors) improve beyond serviceable and looking to the inexperienced talent. Sophomore Maurice Smith has some in-game experience, and his 2013 classmate, redshirt freshman Jonathan Cook, will both be fighting for time. Tony Brown, the 5-star early enrollee, per 247Sports, is also going to have to push into Jackson's vacancy.

Smith, Cook and Brown are the unknowns. A group of young players who are currently tasked with supplanting Sylve and Jones in an effort to elevate Alabama's cornerback position. Beating out the older players is step one, but the more important step is returning the position to the lofty standards set by Dee Milliner and Dre Kirkpatrick-type athletes.

Brown, a phenomenal track athlete, injured himself over the weekend running track, and the coaches have to monitor the situation, according to Nick Saban through al.com. For Brown, who may be the most talented of the group currently on campus, being healthy to compete for time is paramount.

In Tuscaloosa, the clock is ticking on spring ball. The final scrimmage is scheduled for April 19, putting the Tide on the back half of spring with less than two weeks for players to try to win positions. This Alabama defense is predicated on each position doing its job. If the cornerback spot is a revolving door as it was in 2013, the entire defense becomes vulnerable.

The pressure is on the youth to perform in order to help solidify the defense. Smith, Cook and Brown will see increased reps as Jackson starts the healing process. Another young player with high hopes will arrive over the summer in Marlon Humphrey, another 5-star corner, according to 247Sports.

Humphrey is the more polished of the two highly touted cornerbacks, and given the need at the position, he is expected to challenge for time. With Jackson down and both cornerback spots up for grabs, Humphrey showing up ready to play would be a blessing for the Crimson Tide.

Experience does not always mean success, and for Alabama's defense, improving at corner likely means opting to go with youth over the players with more field time. Jackson going down means Smith, Cook, Brown and eventually Humphrey all will have to press for game reps.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arkansas Football: Week 2 Spring Practice Stock Report

The Arkansas Razorbacks just wrapped up their second week of spring practice over the weekend after not having any the week before.

Head coach Bret Bielema and his staff are hard at work not only trying to get their players ready for the spring game on April 26 and the start of the season in August, but also evaluating which guys are stepping up and making a case to win position battles.

So far, the Hogs have held six practices, with three in Week 2—including a big scrimmage on Saturday. 

 

Headlines From Week 2

The biggest headline from last week was the large-scale scrimmage the Razorbacks held on Saturday that spanned 101 plays.

The first three quarters were not played like a regular game, as the ball was placed between the 20- and 35-yard lines. Even if the offense made a big play, the next snap was placed back inside that 15-yard area of the field. The chains did not come into play until the fourth quarter.

The scrimmage had the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense, the No. 2 offense—with quarterbacks A.J. Derby and Austin Allen splitting time—against the No. 2 defense and the No. 3 offense—alternating Rafe Peavey and Damon Mitchell—against the No. 3 defense.

Players that were notably absent during the scrimmage were defensive end Trey Flowers, running back Korliss Marshall and wideouts Demetrius Wilson and Eric Hawkins.

According to Trey Biddy of HawgSports.com (subscription required), Bielema won't scrimmage Flowers this spring to avoid injuring the team's best rush end.

Marshall is dealing with an undisclosed injury and Hawkins, who is dealing with concussion symptoms from Tuesday's practice, only participated in drills. Wilson is still not ready for live contact after missing last year with a torn ACL.

Other notable players who did not scrimmage were receiver D'Arthur Cowan, who is not with the team this spring to focus on academics, and Kelvin Fisher Jr., who was seen sitting in the stands.

 

Position Battle Updates

Arkansas might have more position battles going on than any other team in the SEC after not winning a game in the conference for the first time since joining in 1992. 

The big one is at quarterback.

So far, Brandon Allen has separated himself from the rest of the group and had a very impressive outing in the team's scrimmage. The emerging junior showed off great accuracy, completing 17 of 20 passes for 242 yards and a touchdown.

His only blemish came on his last pass, which was picked off by safety Alan Turner. At one point, he connected on 12 straight attempts.

Bielema told the Associated Press that Allen has stepped up in a big way so far during the spring:

He looks different physically. He plays different. He's got so much composure. What I love there, not that I wanted to see it, but when we had a couple guys jump offsides, he really let the huddle have an awareness of what we needed to do and what was expected. You like your quarterback to step up in that fashion and I think he's done it.

Peavey, who many believed was Allen's biggest threat to win the starting job, threw just three passes, completing all of them for 36 yards. With the way Allen has been performing, it seems like Peavey is fighting an uphill battle.

You also have to give Derby his props. No one has really considered him a legitimate threat for the starting job, but he has continued to impress and had another solid day in the scrimmage, completing nine of 13 passes passes for 151 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Biddy reported that, despite Derby's progress, Bielema said the race between Allen and little brother Austin is "tight."

The Hogs are also looking for wideouts to step up behind Keon Hatcher and Wilson, and they saw some candidates Saturday.

Though he recorded no stats in 2013 as a freshman, Drew Morgan was the top receiver in the scrimmage, catching five balls for 108 yards. He has a great sense of where to exploit holes in the defense and has an uncanny ability to get open.

Cody Hollister has probably been the most impressive out of the bunch, considering Rivals.com ranked him as just a 2-star recruit out of the JUCO ranks. He has shown that ranking to be a fluke thus far, displaying great hands and route running. Hollister had three receptions on Saturday for 38 yards.

Freshman Jared Cornelius also had a nice day with four catches for 60 yards.

All three are making a case to have impact roles in 2014.

You also can't forget 2014 commit JoJo Robinson, who will make a big push for an impact role once he arrives in the fall.

Bielema is also looking for an impact tight end to line up opposite Hunter Henry, and Jeremy Sprinkle looks to be that guy. He has reliable hands and is a very good athlete. Sprinkle hauled in three passes for 74 yards in the scrimmage.

 

Other News and Headlines

According to Danny West of HawgSports.com, there were six recruits in attendance on Saturday. They included 2014 commit running back Juan Day, quarterback Ty Storey (2015), tight end Josh Moore (2015), defensive end Marquavius Lewis (2015), defensive end Daytrieon Dean (2015) and linebacker Deontre Hardwick (2016). 

With Flowers not scrimmaging this spring, redshirt sophomore Deatrich Wise started in his place at right end. Bielema has stated that Wise is making significant strides and that "physically, there's not a better-looking football player than Wise."

With his progression, the Hogs could have a formidable pass-rushing duo with Flowers. 

Offensive tackle Dan Skipper was pulled from the scrimmage after getting into a fight on the field and taking a couple swings. Biddy reported that phenom Alex Collins also got a little too emotional, throwing a punch at senior safety Tiquention Coleman, which resulted in him also being taken to the sideline.

Bielema noted that he wants his team to be aggressive, but not to the point where punches are flying.

Also, keep an eye on redshirt freshman running back Denzell Evans. He is going to have a hard time seeing a lot of carries in 2014 with Collins, Marshall and Jonathan Williams ahead of him, but he displayed surprising speed and elusiveness despite his 6'0", 222-pound frame. 

 

Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Football: 7 Players to Watch in Nittany Lions Spring Game

We're less than a week away from the Blue-White Game—the annual culmination of spring camp for the Penn State Nittany Lions.

This is the first glimpse of your 2014 squad and will serve as the only football fix you get between now and Ireland when Penn State takes on UCF almost five months from now.

There are some new kids in town and some familiar faces who will be taking on larger roles. 

Successes and failures of several individuals could go a long way toward shaping the 2014 season, and Saturday is the first real gauge for several of them.

Expectations will be changed and modified in parking lots surrounding the stadium following the game, and there are a few players who could have a major impact in those conversations.

Here are seven of the most important players to watch in this weekend's Blue-White Game.

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LSU Football: Top Performers from LSU Spring Game

The LSU spring game opened the eyes of Tigers fans everywhere. New players emerged as potential stars for next season.  

The white team, which consisted mostly of the first team players, defeated the purple 42-14. But the main focus should not be the result, but rather on the performance of the players. 

Saturday marks the last time the Tigers will strap up the pads until late summer. The Tigers will finish out class and continue workouts in the offseason. When they take the field again, Les Miles will have his entire highly touted 2014 recruiting class at his disposal. 

Scrimmages months away from the season opener can only show so much. But it does display the potential of the players. Here are five playmakers who have made a name for themselves on Saturday.  

 

*Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats provided by LSU Sports Information

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Oregon Football: Why Marcus Mariota's Health Is the Key to Ducks' Season

As quarterback Marcus Mariota goes, so too goes the direction of Oregon's 2014 season. It's an equation the Ducks saw in action last season. 

"For me I think my first and big priority was to get healthy," Mariota told reporters at the start of spring practice last week, via the Statesman Journal. "That was kind of [No. 1]." 

The previous three months gave Mariota time to recuperate from a left knee injury that drastically changed the direction of Oregon's 2013 campaign. 

Mariota begins preparation for 2014 with a clean bill of health and bulkier frame, which NFL.com's Bryan Fischer examined. A new season brings a Heisman Trophy candidacy for Mariota and a College Football Playoff pursuit for his team. 

Mariota is the engine driving the Ducks' high-octane offense. Surrounded by a veteran corps on both the offensive line and at the skill positions, Mariota can make history in his third year behind the wheel. 

Heading into its Week 11 showdown with Pac-12 North rival Stanford, Oregon was undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and third in the BCS standings.

Moving into the top 2 of the BCS was a mere formality had they won out, though, as the Ducks faced a considerably tougher final stretch than Florida State. All they had to do was win out, which they had no problem doing in the previous eight outings. 

However, conditions were not the same in those final weeks as they were in the two months prior, most notably, Mariota's health. 

His mobility was hindered, and Stanford capitalized. Mariota's inability to escape blitzes as effectively as he had eliminated one vital component of the Ducks offense, and it contributed to at least one red-zone failure that might have dramatically changed the game's complexion. 

That loss and a second two weeks later at Arizona erased any hope of a national championship pursuit, and it ended the program's streak of consecutive BCS bowl bids at four. 

Injury is an inevitability every college football team faces in the course of a season. However, different injuries obviously can have a much different impact, and Mariota's is a testament to this. 

He battled through the partial MCL tear, even playing one of his best individual halves of the season immediately after sustaining it against UCLA. Offensive coordinator Scott Frost explained to The Register-Guard just how hard Mariota fought in the final month: 

The kid couldn’t even jog two days before the Stanford game. We didn’t want anyone to know, obviously, because we wanted to protect him as much as we could...If people would have known how bad he was hurt and watched him perform like that, it was a warrior’s performance, it really was. 

There's no question the injury limited Mariota's effectiveness, which in turn limited the Ducks. Like its quarterback, the Oregon offense is at its best when it presented defenses with diverse looks. 

The Alamo Bowl was a reminder of just how effective Mariota can be when both elements of his game are firing. 

"Since the last month, I feel the most healthy I’ve been," Mariota told The Register-Guard in December 2013, just days prior to the matchup. 

With a month to recuperate, Mariota rushed for 133 yards on the Longhorns. His confident ball-carrying early opened the field and Mariota capitalized with 253 yards through the air and a touchdown. 

"He is probably one of the best quarterbacks I have played," Texas defensive end Cedric Reed said after the game per TexasSports.com. "He is fast, he is smart, and he is really a good quarterback." 

And when he's at 100 percent, there are few—if any—better than Mariota. The same goes for the Oregon offense.

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Why Marcus Mariota's Health Is the Key to Ducks' Season

As quarterback Marcus Mariota goes, so too goes the direction of Oregon's 2014 season. It's an equation the Ducks saw in action last season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Michigan vs. Penn State in 2014 Will Be in Primetime, Under the Big House Lights

This year's game between Michigan and Penn State was already going to feel different, as the Wolverines and Nittany Lions will meet for the first time as division rivals within the newly formed Big Ten East.

On Monday, the deviations between next year's game and the previous 17 meetings in series history continued to pile up, with UM officially announcing that the game will be played under the lights (kickoff is at 7 p.m. ET) at the Big House in Ann Arbor.

Said head coach Brady Hoke in a statement released by the school:

The night game atmosphere created by our fans has been electric and we expect that same type of energy for our first-ever conference night game against Penn State. Our players really enjoy playing in primetime at Michigan Stadium.

Not that they've had many chances.

Michigan hosted its first home night game against Notre Dame in 2011 and has only repeated the feat against Notre Dame in 2013. This will thus be the first Big Ten game played at night in the Big House, as well as the first against anyone other than the Irish.

According to the press release, either ESPN or ESPN2 will televise the game, which is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 11. An average of more than eight million people watched the first two night games against Notre Dame, both of which were carried by ESPN, and the network is surely hoping for (and expecting) a similar number this fall.

Much of that will depend on the form of the teams. Traditionally two of college football's biggest powers, Michigan and Penn State combined to lose 11 games last season, but improvement is expected out of both in 2014.

If nothing else, the game will be a great prime-time look at Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg against Michigan freshman defensive back Jabrill Peppers—two of the most touted recruits of the past two years.

What better way to see that than under the lights?

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Football: What We Learned from Rebels' 2014 Spring Game

The first weekend of spring games provided a glimpse of what the SEC could look like in 2014.

Judging from the way Ole Miss played in its annual Grove Bowl, the future is bright in Oxford.

The offense beat the defense 15-12 in a modified scoring system designed by head coach Hugh Freeze, but don't worry about the score. What should grab your attention is the play of some of the Rebels' stars.

What did we learn from Ole Miss' spring game?

 

Depth and Diversity at Running Back

Ole Miss gets a lot of pub for its wide receivers, most notably former wideout Donte Moncrief and current sophomore Laquon Treadwell. But the bread and butter of Freeze's attack is the running game. Ole Miss' spring game proved that there's a lot of talent, depth and diversity at running back for this year's Rebels.

The star of the spring show was junior I'Tavius Mathers. The 5'11", 187-pounder rushed four times for 121 yards, including a 96-yard scamper inside the 5-yard line, to lead all rushers. Mathers emerged as a dangerous weapon off the edge last season and appears to have picked up right were he left off.

"I’Tavius Mathers is just special," Freeze said in quotes released by Ole Miss. "We’ve got some good backs. Today he made a phenomenal run. Yesterday he made a run where he made two guys miss in space. That guy has improved."

Mathers was a known commodity, but establishing a between-the-tackles running game was the No. 1 job for the Rebels offense, because it would take some pressure off quarterback Bo Wallace in the running game and give Freeze even more options out of the backfield.

The Rebels did that on Saturday, as 6'1", 209-pound redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins rushed for 26 yards and a touchdown, and 5'10", 198-pound sophomore Mark Dodson accounted for 78 yards and a touchdown. Freeze was very complimentary of those two running backs in my Q&A with him last month, and both proved that they can be reliable, versatile every-down backs in the spring game.

A consistent, versatile, deep running back corps will make the Ole Miss offense tick. It will keep Wallace from shouldering the load, help him keep that shoulder healthy and open up those passing lanes to those talented wide receivers and tight ends.

 

Talent Outside

Speaking of those wide receivers and tight ends, Ole Miss has those by the boatload in 2014.

Laquon Treadwell was a machine in possession situations last season for the Rebels as a true freshman, catching 72 passes for 608 yards and five touchdowns. He was solid in the spring game with two catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.

But check out the diversity. Cody Core, a 6'3", 196-pounder, caught four passes for 51 yards, and tight end Evan Engram had two catches for 77 yards.

Treadwell can be the over-the-middle threat in short-yardage situations. He's already proved that. But the addition of several big targets, including 6'3" Quincy Adeboyejo, who was nicked up late in spring, makes this receiving corps extremely versatile. 

The tall and versatile receivers give Freeze options in the passing game. Treadwell can take over some of the deep-threat responsibilities that Moncrief had last season, but he doesn't have to. The flexibility with the wide receivers will allow Freeze to get creative and Wallace to exploit mismatches when they present themselves.

Judging from the spring game, they will be present early and often.

 

Don't Sleep on the Defense

Ole Miss' defense last season was extremely underrated, and the majority of those playmakers on that side of the ball are back, including All-American safety Cody Prewitt. All Prewitt did on Saturday was notch 10 tackles and force two fumbles.

But it wasn't just Prewitt on Saturday. 

True freshman early enrollee safety C.J. Hampton had five tackles as he introduced himself to Rebel fans, freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes had two sacks, and second-team Associated Press All-SEC linebacker Serderius Bryant had a fumble recovery. 

A nice mix of new stars and current stars shined on Saturday, and none of them were named "Robert Nkemdiche" or "Tony Conner."

Not only is this Ole Miss defense talented, but it's also very versatile. Nkemdiche moved from defensive end to defensive tackle as last season progressed, and Freeze told me last month that Prewitt's full-time home at the next level is probably at outside linebacker.

This defense is loaded with talent, has built depth over the last two seasons and is poised to make a big jump in 2014.

 

Is This Team Prepared to Contend for the SEC West?

Needless to say, Freeze was pleased with the spring game and pleased with his team throughout the entire session of practices.

“I’m really, really thrilled with our spring," he said in quotes released by Ole Miss. "I’ve obviously coached a lot of spring practices, and I can’t remember one being better in the area of effort."

But can this team contend for the division title?

It's a giant leap from being a lower-tier bowl team to a division title contender in the SEC West, but considering the relative uncertainty with LSU's offense, Alabama's cornerbacks and Texas A&M's defense, the door is certainly open for the Rebels to make a run. 

In order for that to happen, though, the three pieces of the puzzle mentioned above need to be consistent. That was one thing that plagued the Rebels over the last two seasons. But if some of those highly recruited players from each of the last two recruiting classes live up to the hype, the Rebels creating havoc in the West isn't out of the realm of possibility.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All spring game statistics are courtesy of Ole Miss' sports information department, and all stats from last season are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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5 Unaswered Questions Heading into Notre Dame's Spring Game

With the Blue-Gold game approaching Saturday, Brian Kelly and his staff have just a few more practices to build the Irish until fall camp. Tasked with an ambitious list of objectives, the work already accomplished has been plentiful.

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has installed a new scheme. Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock have rebooted the offense as well, going back to Kelly's spread roots, with hopes that it brings a return to the prolific scoring offenses Kelly had at Cincinnati. 

As it often happens during spring, some answers have revealed themselves. Ronnie Stanley looks like the heir apparent to Zack Martin. Steve Elmer will move into Chris Watt's spot at left guard as redshirt Mike McGlinchey takes over at right tackle. 

With Everett Golson being pushed at quarterback by Malik Zaire, Kelly finally has two triggermen that can run his up-tempo spread attack. 

But with a national broadcast of the Blue-Gold game on tap for Saturday on the NBC Sports Network, let's look at five questions that still need answering for the Irish. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Miami Football: Ryan Williams' Injury Opens Door for Kevin Olsen to Win QB Job

As unfair and unfortunate as Ryan Williams' ACL injury is for the Miami quarterback, it might also usher in a new era for the Hurricanes. 

Williams, the Memphis transfer who was slotted to start this year as Stephen Morris' successor, will have surgery on his right knee this week, according to assistant athletic director Chris Yandle.

There's no timetable for Williams' return, but depending on the severity of the injury and recovery time, Williams could be sidelined for part, if not all, of the 2014 season. There's really no way to know how it will impact Williams' season until he begins rehabbing. 

For what it's worth, a university email to Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald confirmed that Williams' injury was non-contact. That's typically not a great sign. 

In the meantime, that puts the first-team reps on redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen. With just two practices left until Miami's spring game on Saturday, there's not much time for separation in the quarterback competition. 

However, Olsen was the next in line behind Williams, and now is as good a time as any to see what Olsen is made of. The former 4-star prospect hasn't taken a snap in a college game, but he has a great pedigree. He's the brother of former Miami Hurricane and current Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen. He's also a coach's kid, having played for his father, Chris, at Wayne Hills High School in New Jersey. 

The physical measurables have never been Olsen's issue. It's the mental part of the game where he's had to grow the most.  

According to head coach Al Golden, Olsen has taken a big step in the maturation process this spring. From Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun-Sentinel: "He's really doing all the little things that you need a quarterback to do and it's showing on the field…He has to continue to raise his confidence level and continue to lead, but that's going to come the more comfortable he is with the offense."

Golden added, even before Williams' injury, that he planned on giving Olsen more first-team snaps in practice. 

Olsen's maturity will be tested this summer during voluntary workouts. Does he rise to the occasion and become the leader he needs to be? Does it transition into preseason camp? Sophomore quarterback Gray Crow is still in the competition, and freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier will arrive later this summer. 

Olsen has the edge. It's a matter of whether he'll keep it. 

As terrible as Williams' injury is, it's an opportunity for Olsen to make a move on the depth chart. Depending on how well he does, the move could be long-term. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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Notre Dame Football: 10 Players to Watch in Notre Dame's Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It feels like it just started, but spring practice is coming to a close. As we embark on the final week, we’re getting ready to see everything and everyone put into action.

We’ve been able to see snippets of most players throughout these first 13 practice sessions, but who are the players to watch in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Spring Game?

Let’s take a look.

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Auburn Football: Inside the Tigers' Revamped Special Teams Unit

One consistent feature throughout Auburn's surprise 2013 run to the SEC Championship and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game was the Tigers' excellent special teams play.

Several veteran specialists were difference makers for Auburn last season, from deadly accurate punter Steven Clark to punt (and field-goal) return speedster Chris Davis.

While the Tigers return considerable depth in almost every position on the depth chart for 2014, head coach Gus Malzahn and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain will have to find a new kicker, punter, return men and an extra point specialist for what they hope will be another championship-winning season.

As Auburn gets ready for its final few practices of spring camp, let's take a look at the Tigers' revamped special teams unit for the 2014 season.

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Making the Case Against a College Football Players' Union

On the surface, it sounded like a good idea.

When the National Labor Relations Board ruled in late March that Northwestern University football players qualified as school employees and could unionize, it sent shock waves through college athletics and the ongoing pay-for-play debate.

Surely, this would be the case which ended college amateurism forever and changed the way that college sports are played, right?

It might be, pending appeal by Northwestern and the NCAA.

But unions aren’t the right way to fix what is broken about college athletics.

There are far too many questions and too many variables to make a college football players’ union a viable option in our current system.

Speaking at a news conference for the Final Four on Sunday, NCAA president Mark Emmert called the idea of unionization “grossly inappropriate” and said it “would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics,” according to USA Today.

That might be going a bit far, but it is crucial to consider what unionization can mean, and how it would work across college athletics.

First, and perhaps most importantly, public schools are not required to conform to the NLRB’s rulings. That means that just within the Big Ten, Northwestern could unionize, while unions could be blocked at places like Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State.

In the Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt players could conceivably unionize while Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida players, for example, would not.

That could be a huge advantage for private schools like Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Duke and Stanford, whose players could negotiate pay-for-play benefits with their programs. But how does the model work for other programs?

Would, say, Alabama (whose athletic department generated $143 million in 2012-13, according to an Associated Press story) share some of that revenue with its football players, whose labor fueled the vast majority of that money for the university?

Or would deep-pocketed boosters step into the fray and pay players under the table to ensure the Crimson Tide (and similar programs) stayed competitive in the new marketplace?

Another factor to ponder: While Northwestern players say that payment isn’t the primary concern driving their unionization bid, it is surely a consideration.

Under the current system, Northwestern players receive a scholarship and room and board worth approximately $76,000 per year. All 85 scholarship players are equal, receiving the same benefits for their work.

How would a union system work? Would seniority earn players greater pay? Would starters earn more money than their second-string teammates? Would a freshman starter garner a larger paycheck than a senior backup?

Such disparity could foment discontent among teammates, an unintended consequence of unionization.

And while scholarships are exempt from taxation under IRS rules, paying players would give federal and state governments the opportunity to tax players. Union dues could also be charged.

A union could give players the opportunity to bargain collectively on the group’s behalf, which could improve working conditions. The NLRB reported Northwestern players spent 50-60 hours per week on football in preseason training camp, 40-50 during the regular season and 20-25 in offseason and summer workouts.

During the season, the NCAA limits programs to spending 20 hours per week on football activities, which doesn’t count things like travel or time that players spend in training rooms nursing injuries or studying film and playbooks on their own.

Players could conceivably strike to get more palatable benefits, which is well within their rights. However, programs could also lock them out if they feel the need to do so, as has happened numerous times over the past 30 years in the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB.

Would all players be required to be part of a union on their respective campuses? If a player opts out, what would his teammates’ reaction be?

Northwestern’s team is expected to vote on unionization April 25. The Chicago Tribunereported team leaders like quarterback Trevor Siemian, tailback Venric Mark, center Brandon Vitabile and receiver Kyle Prater all spoke out against the union.

Recently, former Stanford offensive lineman Conor McFadden (who began as a walk-on before earning a scholarship for his final two seasons) said unionization “is going from the devil you know to the devil you don’t know completely,” he told Bleacher Report.

“I don’t need more money in my pocket,” he said. “With celebrities and pro athletes, money gets them in trouble. That’s why college sports are so valuable. It gives kids an opportunity at an education, which is truly more valuable in the long term. Infinitely more valuable. Football, money, that stuff goes away at the end of the day.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is also firmly against unionization. He told The Charleston Post and Courier following a recent practice:

We've got enough entitlement in this country as it is. To say these guys get nothing totally devalues an education. It just blows my mind people don't even want to quantify an education.

I didn't get into coaching to make money - coaches weren't making any money when I got into coaching. It's what I wanted to do with my life, and I was able to do it because of my education. That's what changed my life. That's what changes everybody's life.

Unionization could change how college athletics are run and how many non-revenue athletes ultimately get the chance to play.

There is no question that football and men’s basketball earn the lion’s share of revenue for athletic departments across the nation. They support non-revenue sports financially.

But if football and men’s basketball are unionized, would non-revenue athletes follow suit and then ask for a piece of the pie themselves?

How would a union fit into the structure of Title IX, the landmark ruling that allows an equal opportunity for male and female athletes?

Would programs spread the wealth equally, or would they instead choose to disband non-revenue sports?

It is fair to suggest players receive something more than a scholarship and room and board for their efforts. The idea of paying for players’ cost of attendance (i.e., a supplement to their current stipends for room and board) would be understandable, as would stipends.

But the idea of unionization creates too many difficult questions, which don’t translate well across the spectrum of college athletics. If the Northwestern decision gets players and the NCAA to the bargaining table to hammer out a workable deal which enriches the players’ experience, all the better. But unionization isn’t the way to approach the matter.

Unless noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

 

 

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Tennessee Football: 10 Players to Watch in Volunteers' Spring Game

One of the most hotly anticipated Orange & White Games in recent memory will take place Saturday in Neyland Stadium, and there won't be any shortage of storylines for the Tennessee Volunteers.

While it is just a glorified scrimmage, head coach Butch Jones' second spring game at the helm of the Vols will feature plenty of excitement.

From a four-man quarterback race to 14 early enrollees to completely rebuilt offensive and defensive lines, the game will be a Big Orange sensory overload. 

Jones held open competitions virtually all over the field, and this will be the biggest stage yet for them to showcase their talents. 

Seventeen more fresh faces will get to Knoxville this summer to up the ante even more, but those guys will find themselves behind the youngsters who have arrived early. Many of those newcomers are firmly in the two-deep depth chart, and a few are penciled in as starters.

From some of those first-year Vols to other old faces who've stepped up and seized key roles, this spring has been huge for the program. Now, fans will get the opportunity to self-evaluate those guys and get their first peek at the 2014 Vols.

Let's take a look at 10 players to examine closely on Saturday.

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5-Star WR Christian Kirk on Urban Meyer: "I Want to Be Around a Guy Like That"

Five-star wide receiver Christian Kirk recently visited Ohio State and was impressed with what he saw.

The Phoenix, Ariz., native braved the cold weather and enjoyed OSU's tradition and state-of-the-art facilities. Kirk is a rare talent who will contribute greatly on offense, and he has the skills to score from anywhere on the field. 

Watch Christian Kirk break down his Ohio State visit and what he liked most about Urban Meyer

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Alabama Football: Updating the Crimson Tide's 2014 Quarterback Competition

TUSCALOOSA — If there’s one aspect of being a quarterback that University of Alabama senior Blake Sims clearly has down, it’s saying the right things.

For example, when asked last week if he had a favorite receiver yet, Sims didn’t blink and said “No” to the reporter.

“I love all my receivers.”

Of course, on Saturday, junior Amari Cooper easily topped all the receivers during the Crimson Tide’s first spring scrimmage by making 10 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns.

While only the statistical leaders of the closed session at Bryant-Denny Stadium were released to reporters, no one else had more than three catches (wide receiver Christion Jones and reserve running back Altee Tenpenny) or 48 yards (early enrollee wide receiver Cam Sims).

Similarly, when it comes to trying to measure the quarterback competition, fans finally have a sort of leaderboard, with Sims out in front after completing 16 of 23 passes (69.6 percent) for 277 yards and two touchdowns, along with Nick Saban’s post-practice comments.

“The quarterbacks really did a good job,” the coach said. “I think the stats are pretty good for what they were able to accomplish. They’ve been pretty consistent throughout the spring. I think that, as a team, when we get in certain situations, we have not been able to respond very well, and I think that it’s a matter of the whole team.

“The pass protection needs to be better. The quarterback’s gotta do a little bit better job. So when we’re in play action, move the field, running it, throwing it, getting the ball out of our hand quick, we do a nice job. But we get too much pressure in the pocket, so the quarterbacks can’t operate, which we’ve got to get cleaned up with the offensive line so that the guys have a better chance to function.”

With three-year starter AJ McCarron now preparing for the NFL draft, Saban is looking for just his fourth starting quarterback since arriving in 2007. Sims was the primary backup last season, so he’s the closest thing to an incumbent.

Because Jacob Coker won’t transfer until after graduation from Florida State next month, the competition is already guaranteed to go into the fall. However, all of the other contenders—sophomore Alec Morris, redshirt freshmen Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod and early enrollee David Cornwell, who is coming off a torn ACL sustained last fall—are much younger.

“It's going to be a good competition,” senior safety Nick Perry predicted. “You have Blake Sims, who is an experienced guy. Then you have Alec Morris, who is a gunslinger. You have Bateman, who's more of a Greg McElroy type, AJ McCarron type.”

Blake Sims, a converted running back, has played in 23 games for the Crimson Tide, including eight last season when he completed 18 of 29 passes for 167 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had 15 carries for 61 rushing yards, which is significant, because the previous year, he had a real propensity for tucking the ball and running.

In 2012, he had 30 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns compared to attempting 10 passes and completing five for 77 yards in mop-up duty.

“That’s a work in progress for Blake,” Saban said earlier this spring. “I thought he made significant progress last year. I think that that’s one thing that we want to evaluate and know that he needs to progress in is his ability to be a more consistent passer, especially in the system that we implement now.”

That system, under new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lane Kiffin, is designed to run the ball and create explosive plays. It’s primarily geared for a pro-style passer, but there’s no reason to think that a dual-threat quarterback can’t be successful in the scheme as well.

Saban’s had dual-threat quarterbacks before, just not with the Crimson Tide.

“There are two plays with Blake—the one they call on offense and then when that one doesn't go right, it's the one he makes with his feet,” Perry continued. “We've seen that in college football and even in the NFL with players like Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. He's a dangerous player.”

During their spring breaks, Coker, who battled Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for the FSU starting gig, was in Tuscaloosa working on learning the Alabama offense, while Sims, ironically, went to Florida to get in some extra work at the Mastrole Passing Academy.

The two things he especially wanted to improve upon were his footwork and ability to read defenses, particularly when not in the shotgun.

“It worked out very well,” Sims said. “My footwork got better and accuracy, and I got a good relationship with Ken Mastrole and hopefully I get the opportunity to do it again.”

While there’s no guarantee that anyone will win the job by the end of training camp—McCarron didn’t finally beat out Phillip Sims until after the 2011 regular season started—Blake Sims is at least poised for two more weeks of spring practices and A-Day on April 19th followed by a summer of drills and film work.

In his words, it’s a “Once in a lifetime opportunity,” and early indications are that he more than passed the first big test with the scrimmage, when the initial pecking order began to emerge.

“Blake has had a really good spring and has taken some command,” Saban said. “Cooper Bateman has made a lot of improvement. He’s done a nice job. Alec’s still competing. Those three guys have sort of emerged as the three guys that look like they’re most ready to play.”

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Jauan Jennings Commits to Tennessee: Where Auburn, 'Bama Turn After Missing ATH

Impressive playmaker Jauan Jennings announced his commitment to Tennessee Monday morning, spurning offers from multiple national championship contenders in the process:

Jennings, a 4-star prospect, chose the Volunteers from a cluster of top options during a ceremony at Blackman High School (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). He narrowed his decision down to six finalists, featuring Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Northwestern and Mississippi State.

The final 10 days of his recruitment included campus visits to Auburn and Tennessee. Alabama made things interesting by extending an offer in late January, days after 5-star Crimson Tide quarterback pledge Ricky Town flipped his commitment to USC.

The 6'2.5", 186-pound junior received various offers throughout the course of his nationwide recruitment. Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Penn State and Ole Miss are among several squads that fell short of his finalists list.

Jennings' outstanding junior season provided plenty of proof that he belongs among the country's premier playmakers. He shined as a passer and a runner while leading Blackman to a state championship.

Jennings threw for 1,465 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. He gained an additional 815 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

It was his first season as a starting quarterback, leaving many to wonder about his untapped potential at the position. Still raw as a passer and learning the nuances of how to operate in the pocket, Jennings is largely viewed as an "athlete."

He is the nation's No. 13 athlete in 247Sports' composite rankings, which also list him as the No. 4 prospect in Tennessee.

His efforts at the high school level feature strong play on defense, and he could eventually end up at safety in college. Not every team was willing to promise Jennings an opportunity at quarterback.

Even if he arrived on campus as a passer, it won't eliminate the chance of a positional switch to the defensive secondary or wide receiver. His athleticism and skill set will earn Jennings a spot somewhere on the field, but he envisions himself lining up behind center.

"A lot of coaches don’t feel I can play quarterback. A lot of fans don’t feel I can play quarterback," Jennings told ESPN reporter Greg Ostendorf. "I want to say, ‘I told you so.’”

Last month, he told AL.com reporter Wesley Sinor that each of his six finalists were targeting him at quarterback. Tennessee, a team that opted not to pick up a passer in the 2014 class, provides a solid fit.

His commitment gives the Volunteers 10 players in the 2015 class, more than any other SEC program. Head coach Butch Jones lands a versatile in-state prospect who could ultimately excel elsewhere on the field in Knoxville.

Meanwhile, Tennessee opponents Auburn and Alabama are forced to move forward with Jennings out of the picture. Both teams have sights set on the same quarterback target.

Torrance Gibson, a 5-star Florida prospect, recently visited Auburn during spring break and has caught the attention of Nick Saban. However, they still must contend with Tennessee for his signature.

Gibson was impressed by his stop in Knoxville last month and already announced he'll spend an official visit at Tennessee later this year.

Auburn already holds a commitment from 4-star Georgia quarterback Tyler Queen, but a dual-threat athlete like Gibson is certainly a stronger fit for the Tigers based on the team's recent offensive track record.

Alabama is still searching for a passer in this class. The Tide were dropped by Town nearly three months ago but have yet to find his replacement.

Saban has seen New Mexico quarterback Zach Gentry become a coveted recruit, and perhaps the Tide will push harder in his recruitment. He holds an offer from Alabama but visited Tennessee last month.

Brandon Wimbush, a dual-threat quarterback from New Jersey, draws comparisons to Jennings. Alabama has yet to extend an offer so Saban would enter the race late, as Penn State, Ohio State and Miami are already in the mix.

The Vols keep a crucial in-state target close by and leave foes searching elsewhere.

If Tennessee continues to top conference rivals for key recruits, the Volunteers will begin beating SEC foes on the field with more consistency in the near future.

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