At this time last year, no one really expected Auburn to be here.
Sure, many predicted Auburn to improve in Gus Malzahn's return to the Plains, but how could one have imagined the former offensive coordinator and his staff could flip the Tigers from 3-9 to 12-2 with an SEC Championship?
Auburn was supposed to be looking toward the future as it headed into the 2013 season.
Well, the future is here, and it contains some unfamiliar territory for the Auburn program—preseason hype for another run in the national championship picture.
Auburn skipped quite a few steps in the rebuilding process, and for that, it will most likely be a Top 10 team in the preseason polls for the first time since 2006 and only the fourth time in the last 20 years.
Unlike their last run to the national title game, the Tigers return most of their top talent. From having a returning starter at quarterback for the first time in seven years to bringing back most of the contributors on both lines, Auburn is expected to be a contender for another SEC title.
But no team is rock-solid from top to bottom, and the Tigers have their concerns heading into the 2014 season—mainly in pass defense and on special teams.
In addition to a few units with question marks, Auburn also has a few players with a different kind of question mark. Could these Tigers step up and make an unexpected impact like several of their teammates did in 2013?
Like many teams coached by Malzahn, Auburn's strength is in its hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
While the offense was led by the running game, which was featured in 72 percent of Auburn's offensive play calls last season, Malzahn's patented offense also excelled in several areas from scoring to making the big plays downfield:
The power of the Tigers' offensive attack starts at running back.
Although Auburn lost Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason a season early to the NFL, seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant came back for their final season on the Plains after breakout 2013 seasons.
Artis-Payne split most of the carries with Mason for the first half of 2013 before the latter took over to become the every-down running back who finished the season averaging 23 carries per contest.
If the Tigers have a primary back out of their talented unit, the bruising "CAP" will most likely be that player, while the speedy Grant continues to be a constant big-play threat out of the backfield with his nation-leading average of 9.8 yards per carry.
Several Tigers spoke highly of Barber's potential when he played on the scout team last season, and Thomas arrives on the Plains with tremendous hype as an all-around rusher for the future.
The Tigers will also be boosted by the experience of senior quarterback Nick Marshall, who turned a shaky start to his first season at Auburn into an impressive end to a title-wining year.
The Heisman candidate, who did not go through spring practice after transferring from junior college, is currently in his first full offseason at Auburn, working on his accuracy for an offense that wants to throw the ball more in 2014.
Marshall will have several key weapons at his disposal this season with deep-ball threat Sammie Coates and highly touted junior college transfer D'haquille "Duke" Williams leading receiver and tight end units with experience all over the field.
The entire offense will play behind one of the nation's most experienced lines, which returns four starters from a record-breaking campaign.
Cancer survivor Shon Coleman is expected to fill No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Greg Robinson's shoes on a unit that includes four-year starter Reese Dismukes and Freshman All-SEC pick Alex Kozan.
While the offense looks to win the battle in the trenches, the defense—which finished No. 10 nationally last season at stopping opponents inside the red zone—will also have an advantage heading into 2014.
Dee Ford is off to the NFL after a standout senior season, but this heavily rotating front four returns former 5-star prospects Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson plus several veterans on the interior and the edges.
The offense carried Auburn in 2013, and the defense will have to step up in several areas after showing some signs of a revival.
The Tigers' main concern is once again pass defense, a statistic they have not finished in the Top 20 in nationally since the departure of former head coach Tommy Tuberville.
Auburn was No. 102 in passing yards allowed per game last season, but only 10 other teams faced more passing attempts from the opposition. The Tigers finished a middle-of-the-road No. 48 in passing yards allowed per game in the abysmal 2012 season while facing 135 fewer pass attempts than they did in 2013.
Although these numbers were heavily affected by top passing attacks such as those of Washington State, Texas A&M and Florida State, Auburn still has a lot of room for improvement in defending the pass.
To make things more difficult, Auburn lost two starters—cornerback Chris Davis and safety Ryan Smith—from defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's five-man secondary.
The Tigers are looking to get bigger and more physical in the secondary for the future, and junior college standout Derrick Moncrief could be an important key to that revitalization.
Auburn returns starters Jonathon Mincy, Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie, but the pass defense will also look for help from starting linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy—two key contributors from 2013 who flipped positions this spring.
While Auburn's secondary will need to show improvement from last season, its special teams unit will need to make a strong first impression.
Senior specialists Cody Parkey and Steven Clark are off to the pros, and the Tigers will look to replace them with the top high school players at their respective positions from the 2013 class.
No one truly knows what to expect from kicker Daniel Carlson and punter Jimmy Hutchinson under the bright lights of major college football. Carlson had an up-and-down spring game with both a 50-yard field goal and a missed extra point, while Hutchinson booted punts against a return unit that did not go live.
In the return game, Davis' prowess as a punt and field-goal returner is no longer on the Plains, with Mason also departing as Auburn's primary kick returner.
The Tigers have a mix of experience and potential with several of their rumored replacements, but a cloud of mystery hangs over the return game as fans look toward the fall.
Four catches, 25 yards and zero touchdowns.
Senior tight end Brandon Fulse was the No. 7 tight end in the country out of high school, but has not played a significant role in the Auburn offense during his three seasons on the Plains.
Fulse has made more of an impression as an in-line blocker while fellow senior C.J. Uzomah has taken over most of the duties as a traditional tight end.
Fulse is the leading candidate to replace the departed Jay Prosch, a former fullback who became a valuable lead blocker in Malzahn's offense at H-back.
Prosch had a few chances to catch passes from the position last season, and Fulse will bring more receiving experience to H-back this season, giving Malzahn and Co. another possible weapon to use creatively in the Tigers' air attack.
True freshman Stanton Truitt was one of five early enrollees for Auburn this spring, giving him a head start on a shot at early playing time.
Truitt will most likely line up as a slot receiver, where he can utilize his elite speed in a number of ways. The Georgia native was a state champion in track and rushed for more than 1,500 yards in his senior year of high school—from the quarterback position.
Jonathan Wallace started a few games at quarterback in the disappointing 2012 campaign, but he will get a chance to start again as a holder.
While most holders in college get few chances to make an impact on games, Ryan White showcased Auburn's creativity last season on extra-point attempts in the new "Batman" package.
White, a former high school quarterback and college safety, ran in a two-point conversion and threw for another in 2013.
With Wallace, Auburn has a more experienced dual-threat player as a holder, allowing for even more creativity and confidence after touchdowns this season.
On defense, sophomore Khari Harding made a move this spring from safety to outside linebacker to help with depth issues. Although he was slowed down by an injury for a few practices, Harding made an impression on Ellis Johnson.
With the coaching staff still trying to nail down the linebacker rotation, the former safety has an opportunity to contribute early and often for the Tigers this season.
Harding made a name for himself in high school for his hard hits, something fans would love to see him carry over into the college ranks.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats taken from CFBStats.com. Recruiting information courtesy of247Sports.com.
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The Ohio State football team has the opportunity to make a run at major college football's first ever playoff, and while the Buckeyes are strong in many areas, there are a few weaknesses that could derail Urban Meyer's squad.
Ohio State's flaws were too much to overcome down the stretch of the 2013 season, when it fell just one game short of playing for a national title. What will it take to overcome those shortcomings this year?
Here are Ohio State's greatest strengths, weaknesses and a look at a couple of secret weapons ahead of the 2014 season.
Meyer needs strong quarterback play for his offense to execute at a high level, and that's exactly what he'll get this year from Braxton Miller.
Entering his final season, Miller is on the brink of shattering every quarterback record at Ohio State. The dual-threat signal-caller has mastered Meyer's offense and is primed for big things in 2014.
I want to help this team win a Big Ten championship next year. Plus, I want to improve as a quarterback in all aspects of my game. I’m looking forward to working for another year with Coach Meyer and Coach Herman.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State's defensive line is hoping to trigger a defensive resurgence.
The Buckeyes struggled defensively last year, especially down the stretch when they allowed an average of 38.3 points per game to their final three opponents (Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson).
One bright spot, though, was the defensive line, which fueled a run defense that ranked ninth nationally.
All four starters—Noah Spence, Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa—are set to return. Key reserves such as Steve Miller, Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter will give new defensive line coach Larry Johnson the ability to rotate guys in and keep the starters fresh.
Ohio State's line is so stacked that Lesmerises suggests it could feature three future first-round NFL draft picks.
Ohio State must replace four senior starters along its offensive line—easily one of the biggest challenges Meyer will face this year.
Those seniors paced a rushing attack that averaged 308.6 yards per game, which ranked No. 5 in the country. Finding suitable candidates to fill that void started in the spring, but only one vacated slot was filled when Pat Elflein won the starting right guard spot.
Taylor Decker—the sole returning starter—has flipped from right tackle to left tackle. He'll be expected to anchor a young and inexperienced unit in 2014.
The Buckeyes' secondary will also be young and inexperienced. That unit, too, returns just one starter from a year ago in cornerback Doran Grant.
Ohio State has a number of options at safety. Tyvis Powell won a starting job in the spring, and Vonn Bell was expected to do the same before a knee injury derailed his chances on the first day of practice. That gave Cameron Burrows the opportunity to shine, and now Bell and Burrows will battle for the spot this fall.
There's a lot of talent at cornerback as well. Starting opposite Grant will be a rotation of Armani Reeves, Eli Apple and Gareon Conley. That talent, however, is unproven.
The Buckeyes were horrendous against the pass last year, allowing an average of 268 yards per game, which ranked No. 110 in the country. If the new starters don't settle in quickly, Ohio State could have similar struggles this season.
Dontre Wilson may not be much of a secret, but his playmaking ability isn't as widely known now as it will be by year's end.
That's because Meyer utilized Wilson mainly as a decoy during his freshman season. Despite that undesirable role, Wilson piled up 460 total yards and three touchdowns last year. He showed glimpses of what's to come in 2014.
I kind of slowed down a little bit from high school, but I'm going to use this offseason to get faster and stronger so I can be a player for next season ... Being a top playmaker is what drives me. I am going to work hard in the offseason to earn the coach's trust and be a major player for us next year.
Carlos Hyde's departure created a big need for playmakers, especially in the backfield. True freshman Curtis Samuel could provide a big spark.
That's something he was able to do down the stretch of spring practice. Despite starting at the bottom of a deep depth chart, Samuel impressed the coaching staff with his playmaking ability.
According to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors, Samuel's quick start surprised Meyer.
“The guy that’s in the rotation already is Curtis Samuel,” Meyer said. “I want to say that’s shocking, especially at tailback, because I thought he’d be more of a wide receiver-slash guy."
Whether he lines up in the backfield or the slot, Samuel has a great opportunity to make an early impact.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Last year, one presiding factor dictated the disappointing conclusion to the Georgia Bulldogs’ season: injuries.
In 2014, the Dawgs’ fortunes won’t be quite so binary or as solely dependent on good health. To the contrary, the hopes for Mark Richt’s squad this upcoming season rest squarely on the shoulders of an obviously talented group of offensive weapons, a defense in desperate need of answers and two players who’ve changed positions since their last outing in 2013.
Without question, this team’s success will be a by-product of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and his plethora of weapons.
For Hutson Mason, a fifth-year senior, this will be his lone season as a full-time starter under center, but concerns about replacing Aaron Murray are few and far between. A stable of capable runners and receivers have given Georgia fans great cause for optimism as the page is turned forward.
Todd Gurley, a potential Heisman candidate, is back for his junior campaign, and if healthy he’ll be a front-runner for a number of postseason awards. He’ll be joined by Keith Marshall and Brendan Douglas, two more than capable SEC runners, and a pair of superbly talented incoming freshmen in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.
Ironically, the only thing standing between Gurley and a Heisman may be his fellow running backs, who are sure to command a few carries.
In the passing game, Mason will find a number of familiar targets. Chris Conley and Michael Bennett will once again find openings downfield, and Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley should also be fully recovered in time for the fall.
Assuming the offensive line can develop cohesion and depth, 2014 should be business as usual for Bobo’s offense, and that’s a very good thing. Perhaps more importantly, that’s what Bobo expects next season. Earlier this offseason, Bobo offered the following assessment of his coaching philosophy to Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer:
I still coach the same way, I still recruit the same way. Still go about my business the same way, with how we prepare. There’s stuff we do different every year as far as scheme-wise, and stuff like that. But no, I think you’ve gotta believe in what you believe in. I think guys that are successful in this business have a plan they believe in, and they stick with it. And kids know that you believe in it, and they buy in it and believe, that’s when you have success.
Success should once again define this offense in 2014.
Georgia’s two biggest weaknesses from 2013—the defensive secondary and special teams play—remain concerns moving forward.
In the secondary, attrition has plagued an already questionable unit during new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s first offseason with the Dawgs.
Safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews along with cornerback Shaq Wiggins all started games for Georgia in 2014; none of them will be on the roster moving forward. Additionally, Brendan Langley, who started a few games at cornerback last season, has moved to wide receiver.
The answer to the secondary’s woes is clear but also easier said than done. Pruitt must find playmakers in the secondary. Corey Moore, a rising senior, must establish himself as an All-SEC safety, and fellow safety Quincy Mauger needs to continue showing the promise that occasionally seeped through during his freshman season.
Cornerback Damian Swann needs a season comparable to his 2012 campaign, and someone—perhaps walk-on Aaron Davis or Reggie Wilkerson—needs to step up on the opposite side of the ball.
Additionally, depth must come from somewhere. J.J. Green, who moved from running back to defensive back, should be able to contribute as a corner or at Georgia’s star position. Sheldon Dawson and Devin Bowman, two juniors, need to add depth at the cornerback spot while Tramel Terry gets ready to play at safety.
Fortunately, Pruitt leans toward a simpler, swarming scheme than former coordinator Todd Grantham. Finding answers should be a relatively quick process of elimination.
On special teams, the Bulldogs need to minimize mistakes that consistently plagued the squad in 2014. There will be no room for poor long snaps, blocked kicks and poor kick coverage. Many of these errors are mental in nature, but a greater emphasis on these finer points during practice will go a long way.
Two players who recently changed positions could have noticeable impacts for Georgia in 2014.
In 2013, Quayvon Hicks had something of a breakout season at fullback for the Dawgs. Although he was seldom used, he racked up an impressive 139 yards of offense on just 15 touches. Now, he’s cross-training as a tight end.
With Jay Rome being the only returning Bulldog tight end with game experience, Hicks will get opportunities at his new position in 2014. If he proves reliable in blocking, he may even compete for the starting spot as his ability to catch and run has already been established. Last year he hauled in five catches for 67 yards.
In any event, the depth and versatility he can add at the position will add another dimension to Bobo’s increasingly spread-out offense.
Similarly, J.J. Green could have a drastic influence on Georgia’s secondary. In March, Green told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, “I just wanted to hit people again. I got tired of being hit.”
That mentality combined with the athleticism he displayed as a true freshman running back last season makes Green a compelling figure in the secondary. For a unit in desperate need of answers, Green just might fit the bill.
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The Virginia Tech Hokies are a difficult team to make concrete predictions about for the 2014 season, requiring a thorough evaluation of the program’s strengths, weaknesses and secret weapons.
The Hokies have plenty of strong points, like the excellent veteran secondary or bevy of talented skill position players, but there are trouble spots too.
No one knows exactly who will start at quarterback, and several other positions are breaking in entirely new players.
But it’s always worth considering that there are some players that haven’t yet fully realized their potential and could be heading for a breakout year.
The team’s success in 2014 will likely come down to if these “secret weapons” end up giving the team the added boost to rise from merely a decent bowl team to an ACC title contender.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones' motto throughout the building process on Rocky Top is "brick-by-brick," and he's amassed enough talent at the skill positions to build a small fortress.
That trend continued over the weekend when Alvin Kamara, a 4-star running back in the class of 2015 from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, committed to the Vols over the Georgia Bulldogs via Twitter.
I am committed to THE University of Tennessee. *exhales* #GoVols— Alvin Kamara (@A_kamara6) June 21, 2014
Kamara is a former running back at Alabama who was suspended for the Sugar Bowl and announced is decision to transfer to junior college in January, according to 247Sports. He was the No. 3 all-purpose back coming out of Georgia's Norcross High School in 2013, and initially chose Alabama over Georgia, Auburn, Clemson and several others.
So what does it mean for Tennessee?
Once he finishes his lone season at junior college, Kamara, who redshirted with Alabama, will join a roster in Knoxville loaded with weapons at skill positions in 2015.
Jalen Hurd, a 6'3", 221-pound running back who dazzled in his first spring practice session, will be a sophomore when Kamara is eligible. Any issues associated with making the transition to the the college game will be in the rearview mirror, and when Hurd combines with the 5'11", 200-pound Kamara, the two running backs will create a dangerous "thunder and lightning" combination on Rocky Top.
Wide receivers Marquez North, Josh Malone and Von Pearson will put tremendous stress on opposing defenses, and only Pearson—a redshirt junior this year—is draft eligible. All three could, and likely should, remain on the roster when Kamara transfers.
The offensive line is an issue this year, but great offensive lines are built off continuity. The pieces of that puzzle will have plenty of time to develop that much-needed chemistry this year, and will be a strength in 2015.
The quarterback is the last piece of the puzzle for the Vols heading into this season.
Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman are vying for the top spot on the depth chart this year. If the senior Worley wins the job, as he is expected to, that would leave a void for Dobbs, Peterman, 2015 commit Quinten Dormady or perhaps another signee or transfer to fill.
Simply put, it's the last question the Vols need to answer before they can get back into the discussion in the SEC East.
That's not to say they can't be a pest in 2014. Those skill players will have an impact, but the completely revamped offensive line will prevent the Vols from being consistent. Sure, they'll be competitive in some games against the big boys, but they will also find themselves in a few slugfests with lesser opponents as the line gains much-needed experience.
If the quarterback situation is settled, look for the Vols to make some noise. Those weapons on offense would allow the defense to be opportunistic, which would allow the Vols to compete at an elite level, and Jones' track record suggests that's coming.
The only two seasons Jones' offenses struggled (2011 and 2013) were when his starting quarterback got injured. Worley injured his thumb against Alabama last season and missed the final month. In 2011, Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros broke his ankle in November giving way to Munchie Legaux, according to the Associated Press.
If he gets consistency from his quarterback, or develops enough depth where the potential drop-off from starter to backup isn't as noticeable, this Vols team is going to be tough to deal with.
Will the Vols return to prominence this season? Not likely. Uncertainty in the trenches will prevent it.
But Kamara's commitment gives Jones another weapon to work with. If he can get the quarterback position worked out, 2015 could be a banner year on Rocky Top.
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After such a letdown season last year and a longer offseason than usual, it’s always nice for Florida fans to be reminded that there are still positives in place heading into this season. Yes, there are still glaring weaknesses that could easily hold the Gators back once again, but there are some major strengths and even a few surprise players that could have Florida in the thick of the SEC East race down the stretch.
How this season turns out is really a matter of how well the team balances out its strengths and weaknesses. The strengths need to be just that throughout the year and the weaknesses need to be improved enough to where they don’t open the door for another nightmare of a season.
Let’s take a look at how things stack up.
Secondary: Florida had the seventh-best pass defense in the country last season and could be even better with the addition of a couple of true freshmen. Even with just one year under his belt, Vernon Hargreaves III is the best corner in the country and is a big reason the secondary may be Florida’s biggest strength. He led the Gators with three interceptions, 11 pass breakups and is somebody who can shut down the opposing teams’ best receiver on a weekly basis.
Jalen Tabor is a corner who can have a Hargreaves-like impact this season as a freshman. His instincts, football IQ and ability to play man and zone-coverage at a high level puts him ahead of the learning curve for such a young player. The two have a chance to be one of the top cornerback tandems in college football.
Kurt Roper: Some may say it’s hard to call Roper one of Florida’s strengths, but that doubt would go away if you saw what the offense accomplished in the spring game. Yes, spring games are nothing more than glorified scrimmages, but there was more life to that side of the ball and that’s likely going to grow into something special as the players spend more time in the system.
All you have to do is check out Roper’s track record at Duke to know just what he’s capable of accomplishing:
Besides a minor drop in production in 2011, Roper has been wildly consistent and improved each season. With better athletes than what he had in the ACC, I think it’s fair to say Florida’s offense is in good hands and will be a lot more effective than it was a year ago.
Quarterback: Those two Jeff Driskel interceptions against Miami probably still make you cringe. Your eyes still get watery every time you’re reminded that Tyler Murphy threw three picks, and the Gators lost to Vanderbilt for the first time in more than two decades. The bottom line is Florida had the 109th-worst passing offense in the country last season. Eastern Michigan, Rice and Florida Atlantic were just some of the teams who averaged more passing yards per game.
This isn’t something that just goes away after a few practices. Roper can have the magic touch and make miracles happen, but drastic improvement is something we have to see with our own eyes before being able to remove this off the weakness list.
Driskel will be given another shot to right so many wrongs, but he’s got to improve his accuracy and settle down in the pocket. He still looks uncomfortable at times and misses open receivers downfield. Gator fans can only hope this area of the team improves, as it can go a long way to turning this season around in a hurry.
Offensive Line Depth: How many times do you see an offensive lineman have to leave the game due to somebody falling on his leg from behind? He tweaked an ankle and won’t return for the remainder of the quarter. He simply needs a breather.
The Gators hope none of those situations play out this season, as Trenton Brown is the only backup offensive lineman who has played a down of college football. Unfortunately, it would be a once in a lifetime scenario where every offensive lineman is available for every down of every game. That means there is going to be a lot of fresh faces thrown into the lion’s den and a lot of hoping and praying from Florida’s coaching staff.
Yes, a starting rotation that consists of D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green and Max Garcia has the potential to be one of the better units in the SEC. But offensive lines are sure to get banged up in this brutal conference, and the backups can sometimes be more important than the starters.
Developing depth over the next couple of months and making sure guys are ready will be crucial.
Andre Debose: One of Florida’s top recruits what seems like ages ago has become one of the biggest busts in program history. But after receiving a sixth-year of eligibility, Debose has a chance to really have a special season. Not only can he remain a key weapon on special teams as he has throughout his career, but his speed and athleticism is desperately needed in Roper’s offense. Debose can stretch the field, take the top off the defense and create big plays the way Florida was expecting when he arrived back in 2009.
Bryan Cox Jr.: Cox had a solid spring practice and certainly guaranteed himself some playing time along a deep defensive line. The son of former Gator great, Bryan Cox Jr. is a solid open field tackler and plays the game with a ton of energy. He has a solid first step, but overall he’s a hustle player who gives it his all on every play and can be that spark of the bench that this team needs late in games. While Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard will steal all the headlines, don’t sleep on the hungry redshirt sophomore.
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SEC football players hear their names called every spring during the NFL draft.
How they get to the point of an NFL organization deciding to select them varies tremendously.
Some, such as former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, have obvious paths to professional careers from the day they set foot on campus. Clowney, unsurprisingly, went No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans in this year’s draft.
Conversely, other players must work their way into draft position.
Auburn tackle Greg Robinson entered the 2013 season with a high ceiling but little success to indicate he would end up as the No. 2 pick.
Yet, that’s exactly where the St. Louis Rams selected Robinson.
Here, we attempt to spotlight players who, like Robinson, could see substantial steps forward in their draft statuses.
Because this list will focus on players whose draft stock will rise this year, only those eligible for the 2015 NFL draft have been considered for this list.
Furthermore, players considered first-round picks will receive only limited consideration because it would be difficult to climb much higher.
Here is our list.
Until this weekend, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones quietly was compiling his second consecutive strong recruiting class. But the cycle hadn't featured any momentum-turning moments like those that highlighted last year.
All of that changed with "Orange Carpet Day," UT's most recent recruiting event held Saturday.
The Volunteers erupted with four commitments, giving them 17 overall and catapulting UT to seventh in 247Sports' most recent recruiting rankings.
Then late Sunday night, high-rising Murfreesboro, Tennessee, tight end Kyle Oliver gave UT its fourth commitment in two days (and sixth in two weeks).
The Orange Carpet fallout was exactly what Jones needed to keep a sturdy foothold in the SEC arms race. Suddenly, Tennessee is the hot name in recruiting again heading into the heat of summer.
Weekends like this are reserved for only top programs. The Vols haven't been among the nation's elite in a decade, but recruiting momentum like what they're building proves UT's brand and Jones' pitch are still strong despite the team's struggles.
The impact of the pledges goes much deeper than team rankings. Here are the reasons why this is important.
Commitments in clusters are always major news, but it's been the status quo under Jones. His two-year Tennessee tenure has been marked by well-timed commitments and players pledging to UT in bunches.
- On the first day of Jones' first spring practice in March 2013, offensive lineman Coleman Thomas became the Vols' second commitment in the class. Within a week, Neiko Creamer, Todd Kelly Jr., Jalen Hurd and Treyvon Paulk followed.
- Last year's Orange Carpet Day equivalent was "Foundation Week," a six-day rotating door of recruiting that yielded six commitments.
- Dillon Bates' pledge to the Vols occurred on national television at The Opening camp event in Oregon, giving UT some appreciated national exposure.
Tennessee hopes 5-star legacy defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie follows Bates' lead and commits to the Vols at the same event on his scheduled decision date of July 10.
If that happens, he'll cap off yet another recruiting stretch uncharacteristic of a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2009. Beginning with the June 9 commitment of quarterback Quinten Dormady, Tennessee has been on fire on the trail.
That doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.
Depth of Talent
Bringing in a class of 34 players full of immediate contributors this season is going to be major lifeblood for a program desperately needing revitalization.
But there are still going to be significant depth issues all over the field.
Every one of UT's four commitments this weekend is an athletic upgrade who fills a major need.
Though the Vols signed three running backs in the '14 class in Hurd, Derrell Scott and Treyvon Paulk, they'll lose two seniors after this year—Marlin Lane and Devrin Young. Kamara will step right in as a playmaker with elite ability, and he'll be the squad's oldest scholarship player.
The former Alabama player transferred after one season at the Capstone, and the best thing is he'll still have three years to play. Director of scouting for 247Sports Barton Simmons told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required):
I thought that he had a chance to be a really elite back at Alabama. But one false move on that depth chart and you're kind of sunk. I think now that he's kind of getting a fresh start, I just think he's got a ton of ability. In high school, he had an all-purpose skill set, but he really has an every-down type of mentality and frame. I just think he can be a really elite SEC back. I really think his skill set is as talented as just about any back that you’re going to find out there.
Tennessee has major depth holes in the defensive interior and at linebacker. The Buford boys replenish depth there and have high athletic ceilings.
Finally, Oliver was more of a luxury with UT signing tight ends Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf in last year's cycle. But Oliver is a 6'5", 228-pound converted wide receiver with immense potential, according to Simmons:
The Vols are finally, consistently getting the type of athlete who can put them back on the SEC map. All four of this weekend's pledges are potential SEC stars.
Many of Tennessee's recent recruiting wins have come in areas crucial to the success of the program.
All three of Saturday's commitments hail from Atlanta, which, because of it's location, is probably the SEC's biggest battleground. For the Vols to go into that recruiting hotbed known as "Hotlanta" and win three major battles for top targets is impressive.
The recruiting world is taking notice.
Jones continues to make strides in owning the state with Oliver's commitment. He chose UT over Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Louisville and others, and he also was drawing interest from Florida State and Ohio State.
UT offered him this week, got him on campus and secured his commitment.
Like so often has been the case under Jones, the second-year UT coach smartly tapped into connections to close the deal on all this weekend's commitments.
Oliver plays for Oakland High School, which happens to be the home of UT offensive line commit Jack Jones. Quarterback/athlete Jauan Jennings also hails from rival Blackman High, and the trio know one another. All were present for Orange Carpet.
It has become cliche for recruits to refer to the place where they commit as "family," but Jones has taken advantage of actual hereditary connections to rebuild the Vols.
From the bloodlines of legacy players to focusing on high school teammates to recruiting buddies who, in turn, peer-recruit one another, Tennessee has worked that web to become one of the nation's hottest recruiting teams.
This weekend's success is the latest evidence, but it won't be the last. If Jones continues to recruit the way he is, the wins won't be far behind.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:
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In college football, change is a constant.
Each winter and spring, players shift from one program to another for a variety of reasons: looking for the next big thing, a better opportunity, more playing time or simply a new start.
Other players have no choice in the matter—they're dismissed for off-the-field reasons ranging from arrests to the always-popular "undisclosed violation of team rules."
Regardless, a number of talented players will find themselves in new locales this fall with new expectations, dreams and goals.
Here is a look at the offseason departures and transfers which will have the biggest impact on college football teams next season.
Fred Jackson tells it like it is and follows through—that’s how he’s maintained high positions within Michigan’s coaching staff for 23 years.
The guy knows what he’s doing, especially when it comes to coaching running backs and gauging offensive talent. When asked about the addition of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier—and how his presence impacts the team's style of play—the Wolverines' elder statesman didn’t mince words.
“Well, having Doug Nussmeier—just watch Alabama, and you know we’re going to play very similar,” Jackson recently said in Detroit. “Our offense will be very similar to what’s Alabama’s doing. We’re working our asses off to make sure that we can be successful running the ball.”
Now, overall, the Michigan-Alabama comparison doesn’t fly.
However, when looking at two position groups, it begins to make a little more sense because there are two strong common factors: the offensive line—namely its potential—and the stable of runners.
Like Alabama, Michigan’s been able to pull elite athletes at those respective positions. Now, Michigan has the guy who called the shots for the Tide, a program that put up gaudy numbers while Nussmeier X’d and O’d in Tuscaloosa.
According to CBSSports.com’s Bruce Feldman, the Tide set records in offensive touchdowns (68), points (542) and total offense (6,237 yards) in 2012. CFBStats.com indicates that Michigan racked up 4,855 total yards (1,634 on the ground) and scored 419 points in 2013.
So, yeah, playing like Alabama—a true pro-style team—would be a good thing...
What Nussmeier Had at ‘Bama
In short, Nussmeier had one of the NCAA’s most punishing backfields for two years running.
Now entering his junior year, T.J. Yeldon has been one of the most feared ball-carriers in the game—and that’s partly due to coaching from his former OC. Derrick Henry (junior), Jalston Fowler (senior) and Kenyan Drake (junior) round out an incredibly deep pool of talent.
Maybe Nussmeier can achieve similar results in Ann Arbor, where has Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith, Drake Johnson, Justice Hayes, Sione Houma waiting for the word “Go.”
“There’s no such thing as too many running backs,” said Jackson. “Whatever you do [as a coach], you take the guys and work them in, and they’ll make sure they get the opportunity to show what they can and can’t do.”
Jackson’s right, and his philosophy is pretty much universal—because there’s also no such thing as too many linemen.
With that being said, it’s only right to mention that Nussmeier benefitted from stout O-lines. In 2013, he had a pair of early first-rounders. Chance Wormack (guard) went at No. 10 to Tennessee while D.J. Fluker (tackle) was picked at No. 11 by San Diego.
In 2014, Cyrus Kouandjio, another tackle, was selected No. 44 overall by Buffalo.
Michigan is in desperate need of assistance up front, and Nussmeier’s recent success with the Tide does more than prompt optimism—it sets the bar extremely high for the upcoming season.
As luck would have it, he’s working without Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, and he’s shuffling in a group with less combined starts than years in college.
But they’re all highly touted recruits, so it shouldn’t be that difficult, right?
In fairness to the comparison, expecting “very similar” efforts would be wiser than expecting “very similar” results from the O-line. There aren’t any Flukers or Wormacks today, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any come Week 4 or 5.
Jackson is confident that Nussmeier will bring that type of magic to Ann Arbor.
What Nussmeier Has at UM
As mentioned, he has a young O-line. However, players such as Kyle Kalis, Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson, among others, have been around for a couple of years. They just haven’t seen the field (redshirts, injury, etc.).
In all likelihood, getting those guys into regular roles will be one of Nussmeier’s top priorities. It should be, anyway.
Now, it’s back to the backfield because Michigan fans would love to see a Yeldon-esque runner in maize and blue each Saturday. Might that be Ty Isaac, a 6’3”, 240-pound USC transfer? He’s nearly the same size, and like Yeldon, he was highly sought-after as a high schooler.
And what about Green and Smith? They’re valuable components to the Wolverines’ all-sophomore trio—a trio that won’t exist if Isaac can’t clear waivers in time to play fall.
Nussmeier knows these guys. They’re not “new” types of talents. They’re the same ones he tried to lure down south. Now he’s up north. There isn’t a whole lot of difference, other than in win totals, between personnel groups.
If Jackson says to expect something like Alabama, expect it. The Tide's now rolling off the Great Lakes and into The Big House.
Quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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Despite the many changes USC is going through this offseason, the fall promises a fresh start for a team that is expected to be fairly competitive in 2014. Even with a handful of early NFL departures and graduations, the majority of USC's playmakers on both sides of the ball return for Steve Sarkisian's inaugural campaign.
Depth issues aside, the Trojans field several talented athletes guaranteed to dazzle on Saturdays. That said, USC also has its fair share of weak spots that, if not strengthened during fall camp, could really plague the Trojans on their quest to a 10-win season. The influx of freshmen set to join the ranks in August brings the Trojans new stars in the making, and with them are sure to come pleasant surprises.
Let's take a look at what some of those are.
Offensively, USC's biggest assets can be found in the running backs and wide receivers corps. Nelson Agholor is a budding star in the passing lanes, and the bruising duo of Tre Madden and Javorius "Buck" Allen gobbles up yards on the ground. Through the Trojans' shaky quarterback transition last season, these athletes did their part to keep the touchdowns coming.
With former Trojan wide receiver Marqise Lee hampered by injury in 2013, Agholor took on additional responsibilities and had a breakout season.
When quarterback Cody Kessler wasn't targeting Agholor, he was handing the ball off to his stable of running backs and watching them grind through defenses for big gains. Madden and Allen will be back to lead the ground game, with Justin Davis also returning from injury to contribute.
And those stats for Allen reflect the fact that he spent the first half of 2013 still in Lane Kiffin's doghouse. It wasn't until then-interim head coach Ed Orgeron took over that we really got to see what Allen could do for the Trojans.
That said, USC's biggest strength by far is its defense, one that ranked in the top three of nearly every defensive category among the teams in the Pac-12.
With returning starters such as linebacker Hayes Pullard, defensive end Leonard Williams and safety Su'a Cravens leading the pack, the Trojans defense should be able to carry the team through the early stages of the season while the offense is once again sorting itself out.
As impressive as Agholor, Madden and Allen were on an individual basis, USC's overall offensive effort has left much to be desired. The firepower just wasn't there in 2013 for a combination of reasons. First, Cody Kessler was still learning the ropes of being the starting quarterback, and he had to do so behind a shaky, unreliable offensive line.
In 2012, USC's O-line led the Pac-12 in sacks allowed, giving up just 17 on the season. Last season however, the Trojans plummeted to 10th and gave up 34 sacks on the season, averaging 2.43 sacks per game. No quarterback can flourish with a sieve in front of him, and the Trojans' overall offensive statistics reflect that:
Interestingly enough, the only offensive stat where USC finished at the top of the Pac-12 was in red-zone conversions. The Trojans scored on 37 out of 40 trips to the red zone, making 27 touchdowns and nailing 10 other field goals. With a 92.50 percent success rate, the Trojans held down the No. 1 spot.
Sark and offensive line coach Tim Drevno are hard at work giving the O-line a face-lift, and in a few months, we will see how successful that effort has been.
The fusion of experienced talent such as Max Tuerk with that of new and up-and-coming athletes such as Toa Lobendahn and Khaliel Rodgers (not to mention the incoming freshmen) should help restore the integrity of USC's O-line, which used to be one of the Trojans' many strengths during Pete Carroll's tenure.
Beyond the O-line, USC's kicking and punting games have been pretty weak and unreliable the past two seasons. The Trojans finished in the bottom two of the conference in both categories last season, which comes as no surprise, considering how lackluster both Andre Heidari and Kris Albarado were when called upon.
Outside of his game-winner in the upset over Stanford, Heidari couldn't be trusted to give the Trojans points from distance, something he did quite successfully as a freshman. In 2011, he completed 88.2 percent of his field goals, the third-highest percentage in all of college football, and he made all 50 PAT attempts on the season.
The past two seasons, however, he's been on the decline. In his defense, some of that is due to a lingering knee injury, but he will still certainly need to improve not to be viewed as a liability in 2014.
How secret they are is up for debate, but the impending addition of Adoree' Jackson and John "JuJu" Smith is sure to bolster USC's playmaking abilities this fall, on whatever side of the ball they see playing time. This wide receiver-defensive back duo is touted as game-ready, and these athletes have yet to line up for a single down at the collegiate level.
The aforementioned Madden is another player to keep an eye on and will be contributing more than ever to the Trojans this fall. He'll be fully healthy come fall camp and will be even more of a threat for opposing defenses. The same could be said for Agholor, who is such a game-changer on offense and special teams that he is always poised to catalyze a momentum swing for the Trojans.
Beyond them, it's hard to really say what the Trojans' secret weapon will be in 2014. Whether it's the re-emergence of a veteran who's previously been hampered by injury or an incoming talent ready to make waves, so many changes are still going on that we don't have any concrete answers about how USC will look once in top form.
Those answers will become more clear once fall camp starts.
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With all of this talk of autonomy, breaking off into new divisions, paying players and other off-the-field issues, college football is at a crossroads. We don't know what the future holds for this great game, one that continues to rise in popularity but also has pressing issues that need to be addressed.
Even more uncertain is which teams will be part of the future of college football when it comes to who will reign supreme and dominate this increasingly balanced sport. It might seem like the usual suspects are always on top, but only four schools—Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Oregon—have finished in the Associated Press Top 25 each of the past five years. Eight more have been in there in four of the last five seasons.
Predicting future success is a tricky endeavor, but we've come up with a (completely arbitrary) formula that will surely foretell which programs will be the best over the next 10 years.
Using final AP rankings from the past five years (all unranked teams got listed as No. 26), final rankings from the past five recruiting classes, an assessment of coaching stability and a good helping of assumption and speculation, we've come up with our prediction for the top 25 college football programs of the upcoming decade.
The somewhat tired argument that the SEC is somehow leaps and bounds better than the Big Ten is something about which college football fans south of the Mason-Dixon Line can't stop talking. While the SEC had a marvelous run of seven BCS titles from 2006 to 2012, it doesn't mean there aren't any impressive studs residing in other conferences.
It's important to note that the SEC's seven titles were spread among only four teams, and only two of them—Florida and Alabama—won more than once. So is the entire SEC really that far ahead of everyone else? Would a star from the Big Ten really be lost in the shuffle if he were added to a random SEC roster?
Let's take a look at a few superstars from the Big Ten who we're pretty sure would still be stars—even in the almighty SEC.
Unknowns for the upcoming season are continuing to surface, but the Miami Hurricanes have some evident strengths, weaknesses and secret weapons on the roster.
Whether it be individual players and positional units, the 'Canes have a few assets they can lean on when trouble arises. Of course, the hardships are typically a result of exploited units that allow opponents to build or steal an advantage on the scoreboard.
But if the usual suspects cannot rise to the challenge, Miami has a few players who are capable of stepping up to propel either the offense or defense.
The question that will be answered from September to November, however, is if the 2014 Hurricanes are able to consistently overcome any misfortune.
Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley are the type of players every coach wishes he had, and the duo is a paramount reason Miami will be in contention for the Coastal Division.
Out of the backfield, Johnson averaged well over 100 yards per game in eight appearances last season. Then, other than Johnson, Coley was the 'Canes' most explosive talent, though his kick-return duties may be limited this year.
Speedster Phillip Dorsett stretches the field, opening up the underneath routes for his fellow wide receivers and tight end Clive Walford.
The left side of the offensive line—tackle Ereck Flowers, guard Jon Feliciano and center Shane McDermott—has combined to make 73 starts since 2011. The blind side of whichever quarterback is eventually named starter should be well protected.
Defensively, Denzel Perryman is touted as one of the country's best inside linebackers. He has been Miami's most reliable tackler, which the defense as a whole is attempting to emulate in 2014.
The Hurricanes secondary returns all its top players. Plus, Deon Bush will be a more significant contributor, Artie Burns will occupy a larger role and Jamal Carter has emerged as a promising backup.
Add Tracy Howard's projected rise and Rayshawn Jenkins' proven talent to Ladarius Gunter, Antonio Crawford and Dallas Crawford, and Miami will showcase a strong defensive backfield.
The predicament surrounding Miami quarterbacks is not one that will be easily resolved. Ryan Williams' injury complicated the scenario, Kevin Olsen's poor showing threw the 'Canes for a loop and Jake Heaps' transfer made the competition an absolute mess.
That situation is certainly fluid, and personal preferences will probably change about 13 times before the season opener at Louisville.
At risk of beating a long-broken drum, the defensive line represents an obvious concern. Miami has plenty of talent, but results always seem to elude the men in the trenches.
Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre are the veteran leaders, and quite simply, the Hurricanes need their experience to play at a new level. The influx of new bodies is encouraging, but noteworthy production from Chad Thomas, Anthony Moten, Trent Harris and others is at least one year away.
Though loaded with potential, the linebackers are unproven—save for Perryman and Thurston Armbrister in a lesser manner. Raphael Kirby, Alex Figueroa and Jermaine Grace could become solid players on the second level, but again, that's a matter of wait-and-see.
Gus Edwards shouldered the first-string responsibilities during spring practice, while Johnson and Joe Yearby recovered from ankle and leg injuries, respectively.
A bruising sophomore, he showed a more explosive burst and much-improved finishing power that had 'Canes fans buzzing after the spring game. While Yearby is projected to earn the second-string role, Edwards is a perfect candidate to enter in short-yardage situations and bully his way to a first down—or a touchdown.
Though wide receiver Malcolm Lewis appeared in 11 games, he managed just seven catches while recovering from ankle and groin surgeries. Lining up alongside Coley and Dorsett, Lewis may be overlooked in a few game plans, giving him a chance to showcase the outstanding agility he showed early in 2012.
Al-Quadin Muhammad is not necessarily a secret by definition, but the defensive end was seldom used as a freshman. This year, it would be shocking if Muhammad is not a full-time starter, where he has an outstanding opportunity to register more sacks than he did total tackles (eight) last year.
Another defensive end, Ufomba Kamalu finished the 2013 campaign strong, tallying a sack against both Duke and Pitt.
Per Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald, Kamalu said "I'm definitely a lot better from a year ago. I'm a lot faster. I feel like I have more understanding of the defense right now."
And a defense that better understands its collective role is something the Hurricanes have been lacking throughout recent seasons.
Note: Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.
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Blake Barnett is a quarterback who committed to Alabama earlier this month. From California, the 4-star passer has a phenomenal skill set.
At 6'3.5" and 195 pounds, he has a strong arm to fire passes to all levels of the field. He also doesn't just sit in the pocket, as he can get out on the move with good speed and mobility. He figures to add a different dimension to the offense in Tuscaloosa.
Now that he's on board, a few other recruits are likely to join Barnett at 'Bama.
Summer is here, and recruiting among SEC teams is getting even more fierce. Each program is working hard to secure more commitments before the season starts.
Every SEC team has at least one prospect it wishes it could lock up this summer. Some targets on this list are unrealistic, and some prospects will even wait until well past the summer to decide, but a few of them could indeed happen.
Tennessee and Auburn both would love to seal the deal with a 5-star quarterback, while Missouri wants to get a pledge from a 4-star receiver. Also, Kentucky dreams of a 5-star in-state running back deciding to stay home this summer.
In order for any college team to be successful, they have to be strong at key positions.
The Georgia Bulldogs are like any team, in terms of having strengths and weaknesses at certain positions. The team is very strong at the skill positions on offense, but when it comes to certain positions on defense, they have room for improvement.
But which position is the strongest for the Bulldogs and which one is the weakest?
Here’s a power ranking of the Bulldog’s positional units for the upcoming season.
Yesterday was the first Saturday of summer, but fear not. The boys of fall will be back on the field for fall practice in just over a month.
The Demon Deacons lose over half of their total production both on the ground and through the air from a year ago. That means previous backups and incoming freshman alike will have ample opportunity to shine for the new coaching staff. Not to mention there's added pressure for returning starters to keep their jobs in a completely new system.
Here's a few position battles Coach Clawson and company will have a close eye on when fall practice starts on August 1.
The Texas A&M football team will being fall practice in less than two months. Like any team in college football, the Aggies have areas where they are strong, a couple of major concerns, and a few players on campus who should surprise fans in 2014.
Whether or not the Aggies have a successful season in 2014 will be determined in large part by how they address their weaknesses. There are areas that will improve with experience as the season goes on, and some areas where the current players are going to simply have to step up and play better.
The Aggies have enough talent on the roster to compete for an SEC title in 2014. They will compete for a conference and national title if they can emphasize their strengths while minimizing the impact of the weakest positions on the field.
This is a look at the 2014 Aggies' strengths, weaknesses, and a couple of players who will surprise the average college football fan.