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Could Jared Goff Be the Second Coming of Aaron Rodgers at Cal?

Halfway down the hill from the nearly 100-year-old stadium where the University of California plays its football games, Jared Goff points to the patch of grass and trees where his family used to tailgate when he was a kid...

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Could Jared Goff Be the Second Coming of Aaron Rodgers at Cal?

Halfway down the hill from the nearly 100-year-old stadium where the University of California plays its football games, Jared Goff points to the patch of grass and trees where his family used to tailgate when he was a kid.

This wasn’t really that long ago, considering that Goff won’t turn 21 until October. The players he grew up watching in that stadium, among them Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson, are at the peaks of their NFL careers, and it’s possible that by the time Goff finishes two more semesters at Cal he'll be ready to join them.

This will be Goff’s third year as the starting quarterback at the university his father, an ex-Major League Baseball catcher, and mother attended, and he enters the 2015 season as a dark-horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

There is enough speculation about the NFL swirling around him (including a Mel Kiper column that rated him the top quarterback prospect among underclassmen, ahead of Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Ohio State’s Cardale Jones) that Cal felt the need to issue a statement from Goff declaring that he wouldn’t talk about such things until after the season.

Were he playing anywhere other than Cal—if he were at USC or UCLA or Oregon or somewhere in the Big Ten or SEC—the crush of attention might be even heavier, the Heisman hopes even more concrete. But in a way, Goff is lucky, because he plays at a school where major college football is often a secondary concern for the student body.

“Most of the time,” Goff says, “they’re focused on splitting the atom.”

This is an attitude Goff, who grew up in nearby Marin County, hopes to alter at least somewhat this fall, as those other star players did before him and as the Bears did from time to time under former coach Jeff Tedford, maximizing their resources and building around a few marquee talents to win 10 games in both 2004 and 2006.

Still, this is a Cal program that hasn’t played in a Rose Bowl since 1958 and played in only one other bowl between 1959 and 1990. Even their successes are shrouded in geekdom and weirdness.

The most memorable play in Cal history—maybe the most memorable in college football history—is a flukish convergence of luck and physics that ended with a wayward trombone player getting mauled. And one of the enduring nationally televised moments under Tedford came when broadcaster Brent Musburger went on a rant against environmental protesters (“aging hippies,” he called them) who were protesting the destruction of trees around the stadium.

Goff was originally recruited by Tedford’s staff, but Tedford was fired shortly after, as the Bears went searching once more for a new identity, for someone who could elevate their program in the Pac-12 hierarchy.

And while Stanford, Cal’s private-school analogue (and fierce rival) in Bay Area nerdiness, has managed to construct a first-tier Pac-12 program by embracing physicality over the conference-wide trend of offensive prowess, Cal hired a native Texan and Mike Leach disciple named Sonny Dykes, who immediately instilled a wide-open Air Raid offense and put Goff at the center of it, as in his freshman year.

In that first season, with Goff essentially learning on the job, the 2013 Bears were a mess, the worst team in the Pac-12, going 1-11 and losing all of their Pac-12 contests. Last year, they improved to 5-7, and if ever there were a time for the Bears to turn the corner, it would be now, in what could well be Goff’s final season before professional football lures him away.

“Growing up watching guys like Rodgers and Lynch and Jackson, and seeing them win 10 games every year, that’s kind of what we want to bring it back to,” Goff says. “There’s no time to waste. This is the year to do it.”

Cal has always been a bit off an odd fit for a major college football program, given its location at the radical epicenter of American culture and the hardcore academic environment of the place (it is continually ranked as the top public school in the country, according to the U.S. News & World Report). The culture of football isn’t infused with the same urgency at Cal as it is at nearly any other school in the South or the Midwest, or even among certain rivals in the Pac-12.

When the Bears are good, the student body tends to focus in a little more deeply and trudge up the hill to Memorial Stadium on Saturdays. But most of the time, football exists on the periphery of a campus where certain parking spaces are specifically reserved for Nobel laureates.

“It’s not like Florida State or LSU, where they’re just driven by the football program,” says Jerry Goff, Jared’s father, who was a walk-on punter at Cal for a season and now works as a firefighter in the Bay Area. “You gotta remember, you’re in class with these kids who are super-geniuses, four-point whatevers, you’re competing against that in the classroom, and you’re competing against the rest of the Pac-12 on the field.”

This is especially apparent to Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, a quarterback guru who spent most of his career coaching in the South at places like Kentucky and Auburn. Since coming to Berkeley, Franklin has embraced the spirit of the place to the point that he told CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon last spring that he’s transformed from a Republican to a Democrat (Goff calls Franklin “the most unique coach I’ve ever had”).

This is an ethos that Franklin says he’s tried to pass on to his players; he looks out at them, he says, and sees a future generation of world leaders. My age group has screwed the world up, he sometimes tells them. You guys get a chance to fix it.

“When (Jared) goes to class, he knows he’s sitting beside someone who may change the world with a medical discovery or may be the leader of a foreign country,” Franklin says. “When he walks to class, he doesn’t get bombarded. He doesn’t have an entourage.”

Indeed, while Goff and I are talking on campus next to the Campanile, the tower that’s perhaps the most recognizable building in Berkeley, no one interrupts our conversation. There are other things happening, summer classes in session, and that sense of perspective is part of the reason Goff chose Cal in the first place (perhaps his most recognizable moment among Bay Area sports fans to date came when he celebrated after catching a ground-rule double at a Giants game at nearby AT&T Park).

He wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school, with offers coming in from places like Washington State and Boise State, but when Cal offered, it made so much sense to both him and his family that he couldn’t refuse: hometown school, academics, a chance to play in the Pac-12.

His first day on campus, he says, “was Coach Dykes’ first day. Coach Franklin came in and said, ‘I don’t care how old any of you are. I don’t care if you’re a freshman or a 25-year-old, whoever’s gonna play is gonna play.”

And so Goff immediately competed for the job, and immediately won it. Franklin was impressed by his “sneaky” mobility, his ability to keep plays alive in the way Peyton Manning often does. In the first game of his career in 2013, against Northwestern, Goff threw for 450 yards, and he continued to put up huge numbers game after game as the Bears struggled to stop any Pac-12 offenses.

In back-to-back weeks last season, he threw for 458 yards and seven touchdowns in a 59-56 overtime win over Colorado, then threw for 527 yards and five touchdowns in a wild 60-59 victory over Washington State. At that point, Cal found itself with a 4-1 record; suddenly, the campus began to flare with excitement.

“It was like we’d won the Super Bowl,” Goff said.

In the wake of the win over Colorado, Goff went back to the house he shared last year with several roommates. He was sitting on a bench, talking to some friends, when some members of the school’s marching band happened by. One of them asked, “Do you want us to come in and play?”

And so they did just that. Goff still has the photos on his phone of him conducting the band inside the house, the kind of glorious and spontaneous collegiate moment he hopes can inspire an oft-indifferent campus again this fall.  

The Bears struggled through the remainder of the Pac-12 schedule in 2014, losing six of their final seven games in large part because of a suspect defense. Still, Goff finished the year with 35 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions, and Franklin says his 6'4" quarterback has only gotten bigger and stronger and more confident since then.

“I’m a lot more comfortable at the line of scrimmage,” Goff says. “(Coach Franklin) will say I have the best view of the field from where we’re at. The plays are more complicated, a lot more decisions to be made, stuff I wasn’t able to do two years ago.”

Two years ago as a freshman, says receiver Bryce Treggs, Goff would often try to air the ball out rather than check down a throw to his running back. “He used to like to show his arm off,” Treggs says. “He was trying to score on every play.”

Perhaps the biggest positive for Goff is that his teammates have grown up around him. Cal has fielded one of the youngest rosters in the country the past couple of seasons, as Dykes has attempted to rebuild the program in his own image, and so Goff has gotten to know his receivers, just as his receivers have gotten to know him.

They’ve worked together enough by now that tight end Stephen Anderson says all Goff has to do is give him a look for him to know the ball is coming to him. “Just a silent signal,” Anderson says.

Because of that—because they’ve worked together for so long—Goff has already been more critical of his receivers (and of himself) when they have made mistakes in fall camp. His demeanor, his manner, even his posture is more commanding than it has been in the past, according to his coach.

“He’s a different person this year,” Dykes says. “He just carries himself differently. The confidence that others have in him is different. From a leadership standpoint, he’s just a calming presence.”  

No longer does Goff have to think through his progressions. He can make those decisions almost instinctively now and has Franklin’s permission to do so. He can more easily figure out when to audible and when to check down to a running play, as well as when to step up in the pocket and avoid the rush.

“His feet are definitely some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Treggs says. “He’s not the fastest guy, but he always keeps hot feet. His pocket presence is amazing.”

“He has a really good clock in his head,” Dykes says. “Just being able to anticipate the rush and being able to avoid it. Feeling the rush, but not feeling the rush.”

The obvious model for Goff growing up was Rodgers. The two have never met, in part because Rodgers largely backed away from the program in the wake of Tedford’s firing, but Goff has watched copious amounts of Rodgers on television and film and admires the fact that “he takes a lot of pride in every throw he makes. I don’t think he’s throwing the ball just to throw it.”

Still, when I ask Franklin if Goff reminds him of anyone he’s worked with in the past, he brings up a name that may cause certain NFL scouts to cringe.

“I didn’t coach Tim Couch (at Kentucky), but I was on the staff at that time, and he (Goff) reminds me of Tim,” Franklin says. “Tim had incredible footwork and leadership abilities and was able to extend plays in college. Jared has a better arm, but Tim was probably a better all-around athlete.”

Couch’s failures, of course, came after he’d molded himself into a top pick in the NFL draft, but no one around Goff is allowing him to think that far ahead. And he has the added benefit of professional perspective in his own household.

For six seasons, Jerry Goff was a borderline major leaguer, a backup catcher who would get a start here and there and put so much pressure on himself to make the most of those starts that he often couldn’t relax. One bad run of at-bats, he thought, and he could easily be sent down to Triple-A. “I was a mess,” he says.

In that way, Jerry tells me, he and his son are polar opposites; he never sees his son getting rattled in the way he did when he played.

And so he doesn’t imagine Jared will put too much pressure on himself to live up to the speculation of scouts like Kiper (who will no doubt scrutinize Jared more closely because he plays in a spread offense where numbers are often inflated, and of which NFL scouts are often skeptical). He sees, in his son, someone who’s embraced the challenge of elevating his hometown team into something special.

He also sees someone who’s willing to enjoy the moment he’s in, who has seemingly absorbed Franklin’s constant reminders that as a hometown kid quarterbacking his hometown team in a diverse and intellectually stimulating community, “You’re one of the luckiest humans alive.”

“He’s got so much room to grow,” Jerry Goff says, “and you can’t do that when you’re just looking to your future. And there’s no guarantee, you know? You want this to be fun as much as you can.”

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R CFB 250: Top 31 Linebackers

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R experts Matt MillerMichael FelderBarrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top Linebackers.


Other CFB 250 Positions


Other than maybe running back, linebacker is the best position group in college football.

Although some great players left for the NFL this offseason—Eric Kendricks, Paul Dawson, et al.—so much talent returns that it was hard to find an order for this list. Any way we ranked it, multiple players felt too low.

Included among this year's linebackers are the reigning Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award winner (both of which are given to the nation's top defender), the No. 1 overall prospect on Matt Miller's NFL draft board, a converted safety with All-American potential and a pair of reigning national champions.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

But before we dig into that, a disclaimer: We graded these linebackers as college prospects, not as NFL prospects.

Targeted skills such as run defense are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college run defense and professional run defense. If a linebacker can set the edge and make plays in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter if he can do so in the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.

This is all about college performance.


Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now. Also, all recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

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UCLA Football: 'The Rosen One' Has Arrived for Bruins

Well, it's official. 

On Wednesday afternoon, head coach Jim Mora announced true freshman Josh Rosen as the starting quarterback for the season opener versus Virginia on Sept. 5. 

For some, it was a no-brainer decision. Rosen was a consensus 5-star recruit by virtually every publication. He starred at one of the top high school programs in the country in St. John Bosco. Not only did he throw for 29 touchdowns in one of the toughest high school leagues nationally, but he also accrued a 4.3 grade-point average. 

Rosen's mother went to Princeton and is related to Joseph Wharton of the Wharton School of Business fame. Rosen's father went to Penn and is a spine surgeon.

Both of his parents were also excellent athletes during their younger days, with his father narrowly missing out in becoming an Olympian figure skater and his mother being a lacrosse player in college. Rosen himself was a tennis prodigy as a child before transitioning to other sports. 

Everything screams "special" when it comes to this individual. 

With this special thought comes special expectations. Rosen is given the keys to a car that includes 18 returning starters and a thirst for a Pac-12 Championship. 

The media hype train will be in full swing the week before his first start. How will he manage expectations? Can he take care of the ball and make the proper reads? Can he lead UCLA to the promised land? 

These are things he'll have to answer—one way or another. 

He beat out Jerry Neuheisel for the job. A fan favorite, the floppy-haired blond personality is universally well-liked throughout the program. He doesn't possess the physical tools that Rosen has. However, Neuheisel is the perfect second-string quarterback in the sense he's intelligent, battle-tested and a great teammate. 

Rosen will have his share of mistakes. It's expected considering he's a true freshman. It will be imperative for Rosen to not perpetuate these mistakes. He's afforded a deep group of receivers and arguably the best running back in the conference in Paul Perkins.

He doesn't have to win UCLA games…he just has to take care of the football. 

There are some games on the schedule in which he'll be tested. Virginia figures to blitz him a lot, as does Arizona State. Early-season clashes at Arizona and versus BYU won't be easy. Road contests in inclement weather versus Oregon State and Utah will certainly test his mettle. 

Of course, he'll end the season versus crosstown rival Southern Cal (assuming he stays healthy). 

This is an exciting time for UCLA football. Mora has built this program virtually from the ground up. It's one rooted in energy, toughness and accountability. The results have spoken for themselves over the course of the past three seasons. 

With that said, the Bruins under Mora have failed to win a conference crown. Mora can only hope the true freshman taking the reins of his team can live up the moniker of "The Rosen One" and lead the squad to new heights. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: 'The Rosen One' Has Arrived for Bruins

Well, it's official. On Wednesday afternoon, head coach Jim Mora announced true freshman Josh Rosen as the starting quarterback for the season opener versus Virginia on Sept...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

UCLA Football: 2015 Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The UCLA football team will begin its quest for a Pac-12 title on Sept. 5 as the Bruins kick off the 2015 season at home versus Virginia.

Times are exciting for Jim Mora and the Bruins. The team returns 18 starters—including the likes of elite talent such as Jordan Payton, Myles Jack and Kenny Clark. Dually, UCLA has just named highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen as the starting signal-caller

This piece will offer schedule analysis—and game predictions—for the 2015 season.

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UCLA Football: 2015 Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The UCLA football team will begin its quest for a Pac -12 title on Sept. 5 as the Bruins kick off the 2015 season at home versus Virginia. Times are exciting for Jim Mora and the Bruins...

Begin Slideshow

Blind Long Snapper Jake Olson Seeking Clearance from NCAA to Play at USC

The story of blind long snapper Jake Olson has made its rounds to all corners of the sporting world after he graduated high school and prepared for his freshman year at USC this fall...

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Blind Long Snapper Jake Olson Seeking Clearance from NCAA to Play at USC

The story of blind long snapper Jake Olson has made its rounds to all corners of the sporting world after he graduated high school and prepared for his freshman year at USC this fall. But he is still waiting to be cleared to hit the field, as an NCAA rule is keeping him from the Trojans, according to Kayla Lombardo of SI.com.

Olson accepted a Swim With Mike scholarship, which is given to physically challenged athletes, to attend USC and announced his intentions to join the Trojans for the 2015 season, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.

In fact, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian told Klein his intentions with Olson.

"Someday, he's going to snap in a game for us," Sarkisian said. "When? I don't know. But it will happen. When that day comes, it will be awesome."

But because Olson accepted the scholarship, NCAA rules count it toward USC's 85 scholarship spots. Lombardo explains:

Per NCAA rules, FBS schools have annual caps of 25 initial counters, which are incoming freshmen and transfers, in conjunction with 85 total scholarships. Because USC has already reached its limit of initial counters for this season, Olson is currently unable to officially join the team. USC is still awaiting a waiver from the NCAA in order for Olson to be cleared.

Suffering from retinoblastoma since birth, which took vision away from his left eye at 10 months old, Olson has been a motivational presence for USC since 2009, when as a 12-year-old, he spent time with the program before surgery on his right eye completely took away his sight.

He developed a relationship with former USC head coach Pete Carroll while maintaining his fanaticism for the Trojans and found a way to get on the field to play his favorite game, becoming a long snapper at Orange Lutheran High School in his junior year.

No timetable has been set on when the waiver from the NCAA will be released or when Olsen will find out his football-playing fate. But on the field or off, one can make a safe assumption that he is going to be a prominent figure around the program for years to come.

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Virginia Tech AD Nixes Asst. Coach's Idea of Fining Hokies Football Players

It didn’t take long for Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock to issue a statement Wednesday regarding defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s controversial comments.

Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports noted Foster responded to questions about potentially fining players some of their cost of attendance scholarship money as a disciplinary tactic with the following answer:

We're going to look at that. Instead of, you know, some people got in trouble for getting up and punishing people at six in the morning. And obviously you need some discipline. I think that's one way that you can potentially do that, to control that a little bit. These guys now, they haven't had access to money unless they've been Pell Grant recipients. So they'll want that when it's all said and done at the end of the day.

Foster also added that the coaches “would consider doing additional things like reducing a player’s game ticket allotment, and he also said Virginia Tech coaches have done similar things with player’s bowl stipends in the past,” according to Fornelli.

Babcock quickly ended those thoughts, though, when he released a statement that said “it will be discontinued immediately.” 

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports commented on the speed of Babcock’s response:

It is important to note that in any discussions surrounding financial punishments, it is against NCAA rules for coaches to reduce a player’s financial aid, as Fornelli stated. Foster clearly didn’t know that (or remember it when he was talking to reporters), which wasn’t a surprise to Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press:

Many coaches may not understand the cost of attendance scholarship rules like Russo claimed, but Foster probably will moving forward, after discussions with his athletic director following Wednesday’s developments.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Josh Rosen Named UCLA Starting QB: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Following a heated quarterback competition, the UCLA Bruins have decided to let a fresh face command the team's offense...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Josh Rosen Named UCLA Starting QB: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Following a heated quarterback competition, the UCLA Bruins have decided to let a fresh face command the team's offense.

Head coach Jim Mora announced Wednesday night that true freshman Josh Rosen will be the team's starting signal-caller, according to UCLA Football on Twitter.  

Rosen had been jockeying with the option of starting redshirt junior Jerry Neuheisel after Brett Hundley bolted for the NFL following the 2014 season.

Mora spoke highly of Neuheisel during his meeting with reporters, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Jack Wang: 

During the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Neuheisel completed 37 of 52 passes for 318 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in spot duty. 

But now the spotlight will shift to Rosen, who arrived at UCLA as a 5-star prospect and the top-rated pro-style signal-caller in his class, per 247Sports

On Aug. 21, Mora discussed the strides Rosen has made since arriving in Los Angeles. 

"He was able to compete in our winter conditioning program; he was able to participate in spring practice," Mora said, per Sports Illustrated's Colin Becht. "There’s a certain comfort level that he’s gained from being able to do that, and then there’s a certain level of confidence that his teammates have in him because they’ve been able to get to know him and watch him perform and compete."

Speaking on Aug. 25, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone made it clear the team wasn't looking to implement a system that embraced a rotation under center. 

"I’m not a two-quarterback guy," Mazzone said, according to the Orange County Register's Joey Kaufman. "I never have been. Whoever is our guy, when he’s out there, he’s our guy, and you have to go through the good times and the bad times." 

As UCLA seeks to secure a third straight 10-win season and just the 10th such campaign in program history, Rosen will be tasked with commanding an offense that's loaded with promise and a few question marks. 

"It will be interesting to see if UCLA can live up to the hype while also dealing with the bumps in the road that come with playing a true freshman at the most important position on the field," CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli wrote.  

With Rosen officially tabbed as the man to lead the 13th-ranked Bruins, all eyes will be on the true freshman when UCLA opens its season Sept. 5 against Virginia.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Noah Brown Injury: Updates on OSU WR's Leg and Return

Ohio State may be the No. 1 team in the country to start this season, but the Buckeyes will be without star wide receiver Noah Brown after he suffered a broken leg during practice on Wednesday. 

Continue for updates. 

Brown's Broken Leg Will Require Surgery  Wednesday, August 26

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer confirmed the bad news, adding Brown is expected to make a full recovery, according to Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch

Ari Wasserman added a pop was heard before the sophomore went down. 

Even though the Buckeyes are loaded with talent, which is a key reason they were the first preseason unanimous No. 1 team in the Associated Press pollSports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel did note why Brown's absence could be a detriment to their hopes of repeating as national champions:

Brown played sparingly as a freshman, recording one catch in two games, but he garnered a lot of hype over the spring with Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith raving about his young star to Bill Landis of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in April. 

"Noah Brown has had probably as good of a spring as I could've wanted," Smith said. "He's dropped 25 pounds. He's at a different level than he was in the fall. He's come a long way and still has a lot to do, but he looks like a guy who's going to contribute in the fall."

Ohio State was already starting the season short-handed after suspending defensive end Joey Bosa, H-backs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, and wide receiver Corey Smith for the opening game against Virginia Tech on September 7. 

The Buckeyes lost last year's leading receiver, Devin Smith, to the NFL. Brown was in line to play a much bigger role on the team in 2015. Depending on the severity of the injury, Ohio State's grip over the Big Ten may loosen significantly. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bo Graham, Todd's Son, Reportedly Resigns Due to Relationship with ASU Student

Arizona State assistant coach Bo Graham, the son of head coach Todd Graham, has entered his resignation after the school found out about an inappropriate relationship he had with a student. 

Former Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter first started the rumor Monday, which was confirmed by Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports in a series of tweets Wednesday:

Todd Graham has been mum on the situation since the news broke, telling reporters his son left for an "exciting opportunity" but offering little detail. 

"I'm very grateful to Bo for the time he spent here,'' Graham said Tuesday, per Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic. "It means a lot to me. Wish him the best in his new job. That's obviously all I'm going to say about it. It's a personal matter."

Bo Graham has worked under his father since 2012. He was entering his third season as the team's running backs coach after previously serving as a recruiting coordinator

"Bo is a young, up-and-coming coach who has been around the great game of football his entire life," Todd Graham said about his son in an ASU release. "He coached a career 3,000-yard rusher at Tulsa and he connects very well with today's players. He is an excellent recruiter and we will take advantage of that by having him on the road in recruiting."

Graduate assistant Josh Martin has taken over as running backs coach following Graham's departure. It is unclear whether Graham's new opportunity is in coaching football or if he's moved away from the sport altogether. Either way, it's not exactly the controversy Arizona State wants as it enters 2015 as a fringe contender for the College Football Playoff.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Players Every SEC Coach Wishes Were on His Team

One of the great things about college football is that on every team there are certain players nearly every fan can’t help but root for, even in the Southeastern Conference. 

In recent history maybe it was Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, Georgia running back Todd Gurley or South Carolina walk-on Carlton Heard.

We’re talking players who have overcome extreme adversity, excelled in the classroom or are just a great story.

The following are 10 of them, some of whom may or may not be the best players on their team or game-winning playmakers on the field this fall.

But if someone suddenly had to start an SEC team from scratch, these are the kinds of players he or she should want on it:

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Rahshaun Smith Changes Visit Plans: Which Schools Hold Edge in Race for 4-Star?

Since backing off an early commitment to Clemson earlier this month, the interest in 4-star linebacker Rahshaun Smith has heated up leading into his senior season.

According to ESPN’s Gerry Hamilton, the Tigers are still in the race to land Smith, and they are one of three lucky programs to secure an official visit from the nation’s No. 2 inside linebacker and the No. 55 player overall in the 2016 class.

“I’ve got three official visit set up,” Smith told Hamilton. “So I got Clemson, Maryland and Auburn set up. I have Auburn Nov. 14 for the Georgia game, Clemson Dec. 11 and Maryland Dec. 4.”

A previously scheduled visit to LSU appears to have been cancelled, and he mentioned Miami, Oklahoma and Oregon as schools that could net his final two visits.

With his fall visit schedule beginning to take shape, the visits will play a critical role in his final decision—especially considering he has plans to enroll at his program of choice in January.

So which programs are trending with Smith entering the fall?

Both Auburn and Maryland are making a strong push to land Smith, who is originally from Baltimore.

As noted by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, both programs have reasons to feel good about landing Smith.

New Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp impressed him when he took a visit to the Plains last month, according to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports.

“When I went up there, it was crazy,” Smith told Niebuhr. “The first thing [Muschamp] did was sit me down in the meeting room and pull the film out. He showed me so many places he could play me at. From an outside linebacker to a rusher to a 'Mike.' It was so many places, it was like, wow.”

As he detailed to Hamilton, he also enjoyed the family vibe and the college-town feel on campus during his visit to Auburn. Another bonus for the Tigers is that he will get to experience the game-day atmosphere upon his return—which is significant since his other two scheduled trips to Maryland and Clemson will come after the season.

While he transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, for his senior season, going back closer to home for college appeals to him, which makes the Terps a factor.

As noted by Ahmed Ghafir of 247Sports, Terrapins head coach Randy Edsall made a huge hire in adding new director of player personnel Cory Robinson, who has an established relationship with Smith as noted by Hamilton.

Robinson and a prominent current Terps pledge are leading the charge to recruit Smith back to his home state. 

“Because of what [Maryland is] building now—with the 2016 class and the facilities that are coming along,” Smith told Niebuhr. "They have a chance to make a run for it and [quarterback] Dwayne Haskins is a great recruiter. That’s one of my best buddies right there. They’re making a run for it.”

Haskins leads a strong class for the Terps that has a considerable amount of local flavor in it. Adding Smith to it would top off a huge cycle for Edsall and his staff.

While Clemson and a few other programs are still in the mix with Smith, it appears that Auburn and Maryland are going to figure heavily in his thought process until he makes a final decision.


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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FSU Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

The year 2015 hasn't been kind to Florida State so far.

The Seminoles opened the new year with a devastating 59-20 loss to Pac-12 champion Oregon in the Rose Bowl playoff semifinal, ending their long winning streak and hopes of a repeat national championship.

A massive exodus of starting talent from that 2014 team to the NFL—combined with the disastrous semifinal—has plenty of college football experts down on Florida State heading into the 2015 campaign. A spring camp with several injury woes and a pair of off-field incidents didn't help matters for the program, either.

But this is still the same team that won 29 straight games and is the three-time defending ACC champion. If a certain graduate transfer can step in for a former Heisman winner and lead a young but extremely talented roster, these Seminoles should stay championship contenders.

Here is Bleacher Report's complete preview of the depth chart, schedule and outlook for the 2015 Florida State Seminoles.



Jimbo Fisher has an almost entirely intact staff coming back for the 2015 season, with the only exception being new defensive ends and outside linebackers coach Brad Lawing. The coaching veteran replaces Sal Sunseri, who joined the NFL's Oakland Raiders.

Lawing has been in the SEC for the last several seasons, serving as an assistant for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina from 2006-2012 before spending the last two years with Will Muschamp at Florida. According to Brent Sobleski of CollegeFootballTalk, Lawing has developed 15 NFL defensive linemen, including former No. 1-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.

The newest FSU assistant will be tasked with fixing a pass rush that only recorded 17 sacks last season—which ranked No. 108 nationally.

Florida State is transitioning to a 3-4 system under second-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly after struggling in 2015 with a 4-2-5 base, according to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel. The creation of more pressure off the edge will be a work in progress, Lawing says, because of the changes.

"If you got schemes that are constantly changing, sometimes you end up with square pegs you are trying to fit in a round hole," Lawing said, via Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post. "It’s not their fault, it’s just things changed. We’ve tweaked a few things, but we feel now we got our guys in positions where they can do what we want them to do."


What to watch for on offense

One of the biggest stories of the entire college football offseason has been the battle to replace former Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston. While this year's No. 1 overall NFL draft pick struggled with turnovers in 2014, he still finished 27-1 as a starter for the Seminoles and will be a tough act to follow.

Winston's backup, Sean Maguire, is currently locked in a head-to-head battle with Notre Dame graduate transfer Everett Golson for the starting job.

Golson also had problems with interceptions last season but provides much more game experience and athleticism than Maguire, whose main advantage is his familiarity with Fisher's offensive system.

The two players are currently splitting first-team reps at quarterback during practice, according to Curt Weiler of Tomahawk Nation. With so much inexperience on offense—only four returning starters—Fisher's sticking with Maguire wouldn't be completely surprising. But Golson's skills and resume still make him the favorite.

Fisher's reluctance to name a starting quarterback could be due to the rest of the first-time starters on offense.

"It makes it hard for them to get in a rhythm (and) hard for them to gain confidence," Fisher said after a recent practice, via Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat. "You throw a ball, and a guy (doesn't) get open or things like that. It's hard to gain confidence, and then you start doubting."

Florida State lost its top two receivers from last season in wide receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary. Their replacements come from a deep group, but they haven't had a ton of success as a whole.

Sophomore Travis Rudolph and junior Jesus Wilson each had four touchdown receptions last season and will have to be leaders for a unit that has blue-chip talent in George Campbell, Ermon Lane, Da'Vante Phillips and Ja'Vonn Harrison.

The biggest concern will be on the offensive line, where the Seminoles must replace four starters. Sophomore Roderick Johnson, who started just five games last season, is the lone player with quality experience—FSU has the second-fewest line starts in college football, as noted by Phil Steele.

But it's not like Florida State is completely devoid of bodies on the offensive line. Earlier this week, Sonnone broke down the battles during fall camp:

Eberle and fellow redshirt freshman Corey Martinez took turns at center during camp, and right guard was a rotating door between sophomore Wilson Bell, junior Chad Mavety and true freshman Cole Minshew. Minshew also worked at center but a sprained ankle has slowed his progress thus far. Right tackle is a little more stable, as redshirt freshman Derrick Kelly has received a majority of the first-team reps during the portion of practice that is open to the media.

Last, but certainly not least, Florida State received a boost to its offense earlier in the week when sophomore running back Dalvin Cook was found not guilty of battery stemming from an incident with a woman in June.

Cook's reinstatement to the team gives Florida State its leading rusher from last season and solidifies its depth at the position. With Cook away from practice, Mario Pender impressed coaches with his work as a first-team running back. A healthy Pender should form a nice combination with Cook this fall.

"Whenever he's been healthy, he's been pretty good for us," co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said, via Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times. "He's fast. He's strong. He's elusive. He's intelligent. He understands protections. He understands what his role is when he's not getting the ball."


What to watch for on defense

Florida State's defense is much more experienced than the younger group on the offensive side of the ball. The Seminoles will be led by their dynamic secondary, which returns three players with starting experience.

After standing out at nickel last season, Jalen Ramsey is back to his natural position at cornerback, where he is a surefire candidate to be one of the nation's best players in 2015.

"As an all-around defender, Ramsey rivals (USC's Su'a) Cravens for all-purpose adaptability, finishing fourth last year on FSU’s blue-chip defense in total tackles (79), second in tackles for loss (9.5), first in passes defended (12, including two interceptions) and tied for first in forced fumbles (two)," Matt Hinton of Grantland wrote.

Ramsey is joined by Marquez White at the other cornerback position, senior Tyler Hunter at the star and Lamarcus Brutus at free safety. Nate Andrews is currently listed as the first-team strong safety, but 5-star early enrollee Derwin James emerged as a potential starter this offseason, especially after his pick-six of Maguire in the spring game.

Florida State's linebacker corps has experience in seniors Reggie Northrup, the team's leading tackler in 2015, and Terrance Smith.

But the depth behind the two is lacking, especially after JUCO transfer Lorenzo Phillips wasn't cleared to practice until earlier this month. Matthew Thomas was supposed to be a factor after recovering from a shoulder injury but has been ruled ineligible for the season.

Like the linebackers, the defensive line was also nicked by injuries in spring camp, but that unit has recovered to develop some more depth in the offseason.

Senior DeMarcus Walker was third on the team in tackles for loss last season and will step back into a spot at defensive end. Derrick Nnandi and Nile Lawrence-Stample are currently on the first-team defensive line with Walker, according to Ariya Massoudi and Lucas Casas of the Orlando Sentinel

Lorenzo Featherston and Josh Sweat have each battled health issues at the "Buck" edge-rusher position this offseason. Sweat, a top-10 recruit, missed the entire spring while recovering from a knee injury, but he's been going full speed at practice and looks ready to be an important contributor.

"Fisher categorized Sweat’s recovery as 'freaky' and has routinely gone out of his way to make mention of the rookie’s performance in camp," Sonnone wrote. "For a team in need of natural pass-rushers, it is likely that the Seminoles will turn to Sweat sooner rather than later this season."


Injury news

Both Casher and Featherston underwent arthroscopic knee surgery earlier this month and are still away from practice, according to Weiler.

Featherston's recovery is expected to be shorter than Casher's. The first-team Buck received high praise from Lawing earlier this month.

"He’s just got to continue to stay on the field in practice," Lawing said, via D'Angelo. "Coming out of high school, there were a lot of times he missed playing time."

Casher, who is listed as a third-team defensive end, could be out for a lot longer. He suffered an MCL sprain before the scope.

As D'Angelo noted, the junior has failed to live up to his 5-star billing out of high school, as he has just made two starts in his Seminole career. 



Kermit Whitfield had a sophomore slump in 2014 after a freshman campaign that included a momentum-changing, 100-yard kick return for a touchdown against Auburn in the national title game. Last season, Whitfield failed to return a kickoff for a score, and his average return fell by 16 yards.

The speedy junior is focused on a bounce-back year on special teams but is also working to improve his game on the offensive side of the ball. He only had 11 catches for 145 yards last year and just three carries for 40 yards.

"He had always been a great return guy but (in high school) they didn’t throw a lot," Fisher said, via D'Angelo. "Details of routes, learning how to play and interacting with zone and man and all the things you learn in college, takes time and maturity. He still has to prove it. But so far I’ve been very pleased."

Whitfield's breakaway speed would be a welcome boost to the inexperienced Florida State offense this season, especially with a new quarterback. Look for him to be more of a home run threat as a receiver this year.

"You can do all different types of things with him," Fisher told D'Angelo. "When the ball is in his hands and you miss him, the numbers on the scoreboard change."


Make-or-break games

While Florida State's nonconference schedule doesn't have an early test such as Oklahoma State or a midseason matchup against Notre Dame, the slate still has a few tests that will be challenging.

Louisville is a dark horse in the Atlantic division this season, and the Cardinals will be coming off a bye week when they visit Doak Campbell Stadium in the middle of October. If their new starters can come together early in the season, the Cardinals defense could cause some problems for the young FSU offense.

Florida State follows up that contest with a trip to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets played close games with Florida State in two of the last three ACC Championship Games, and now the Seminoles must deal with the Paul Johnson option attack earlier in the year.

Then, of course, the biggest game of the Florida State schedule will come on Nov. 7, when the Seminoles visit Clemson. The winner of this game has gone on to win the division every year since 2009, and this time the Tigers will most likely be the favorites—they are already the preseason pick to win the league.

The intriguing matchup at that point in the season will be between Florida State's offense and Clemson's defense, two units that have blue-chip talent but not a lot of experience coming back from last season. The last time FSU visited Death Valley, it smashed Clemson, 51-14, and went on to win the national title.



Along with Alabama, no other team in college football is more adequately prepared to handle a large amount of turnover on a title-winning roster than Florida State. The top-five recruiting classes and the trophies under Fisher explain it all.

Luckily for Florida State, the defense that regressed in its first season under new leadership has the potential to bounce back thanks to the presence of Ramsey, Northrup, Andrews and Smith. There are depth issues, especially at linebacker, but the move toward more of a 3-4 system should benefit the areas that ailed the Seminoles last season.

The offense is a major question mark without knowing who the starting quarterback will be. Golson has a strong arm and a willingness to make plays with his feet, while Maguire can bring some much-needed consistency to an offense in transition. The easier start to the season will help the new-look offensive line jell.

Looking at the schedule, it's difficult to see this Florida State team going undefeated, but neither should there be a breakdown. The inexperience will hurt in some road matchup, and the Seminoles will split the Clemson and Georgia Tech contests. The new starters should be able to pick up solid wins before the true tests start.

Other than those big games and a trap contest against Louisville, Florida State should be able to flex its 5-star muscles on a weaker-looking schedule. The best-case scenario here is a loss at Georgia Tech, a bounce-back win at Clemson and a shot at revenge on the Yellow Jackets in the ACC title game.

Overall Record: 11-1

ACC Record: 7-1


Recruiting information courtesy of 247SportsAll stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football Freshmen Turning Heads in 2015 Fall Practice

We've reached the point in preseason camp when depth charts are beginning to be released. While some open competitions remain, coaches ideally would like to have some separation so that they can begin building chemistry and rapport among first-string players, second-string players and so on.

Mixed into that are freshmen who are showing they can make an immediate impact. In the following slides are 10 first-year players who are turning heads in preseason camp. In other words, don't be surprised if you see them on the field this fall.  

The focus here is on true freshmen, many of whom were not early enrollees. Being an early enrollee obviously isn't a deciding factor, but the concentration here is on players who stepped up their game over the last couple of weeks by moving up the depth chart and pushing for playing time or putting themselves in the starting lineup. 

Feel we missed anyone? Add the freshmen who have impressed you in the comments section below. 

Begin Slideshow

Holy Cross Coaches Get Players Fired Up with WWE-Style Wrestling Match

In the College of the Holy Cross SummerSlam, Crusaders coaches turned the team huddle into a ring and had themselves a WWE-style wrestling match.

It was quite a show for the players.

Outside linebackers coach Alex Bresner (aka "The Marblehead Magician") and tight ends coach Steve Cully (aka "The Great Cullini") faced off in the huddle. Thankfully, running backs coach Jon Guynes was there to record it and then kind enough to share it for the world to see.

While there were some nice maneuvers throughout the match, it was the finishing move that sent the players into an absolute frenzy. 

[Jon Guynes, h/t Football Scoop]

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LSU Football: Depth Chart Analysis, Complete 2015 Preview and Predictions

After four straight 10-win seasons, LSU slid down to the middle of the road in the SEC West last year as two Mississippi schools made their rise.

LSU's 8-5 campaign was marked by bouts of frustration and promise on both sides of the ball—this was a program that dropped its first two SEC games but later knocked off a previously unbeaten Ole Miss team at home.

While the Tigers lost several defensive talents to the next level, most of the offense returns for what hopes to be a much better season in Baton Rouge. The biggest question at the most important role on the team will hang over Death Valley early in the season, but better performance could truly unlock the superstar talent at the skill positions.

On defense, the Tigers will have to battle some questions of their own in the wake of their coordinator's sudden move to a division rival. An elite unit still has room to improve, and several fresh faces could either make or break LSU's success in 2015.

What does the upcoming season hold for the LSU Tigers, a team fighting to get back into the championship picture? Here are Bleacher Report's complete preview and predictions for the Bayou Bengals.



The biggest story in Baton Rouge this offseason was the departure of veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis to SEC West-rival Texas A&M. "The Chief" was the architect of several SEC-leading defenses during his seven-season tenure in Baton Rouge.

Fans saw Chavis' replacement, Kevin Steele, as an underwhelming hire. The former Alabama assistant hadn't been a coordinator since 2011, when his Clemson defense surrendered 70 points in his last game in charge. 

He also comes from a primarily 3-4 defensive system from his most recent job at Alabama, and the Tigers could start shifting from the 4-3 to that look as early as this season, according to James Smith of NOLA.com.

But Steele brings a lot of experience with him as an assistant at several college powerhouses and the NFL's Carolina Panthers, and he also brings new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.

"Coach O" was a welcome move for the Bayou Bengals, as the former LSU player and veteran coach is known for his excellence at coaching defensive fronts, recruiting prowess and high energy.

"Our individual drills are NFL stuff and we start them full speed and end them even faster," defensive tackle Davon Godchaux said, per Ron Higgins of NOLA.com. "When we first started doing them at that speed, we were like, 'Is this man crazy?' Then we realized he's not crazy. ... He's coached players like Warren Sapp. When he hollers, I listen."

The other new addition to Les Miles' veteran staff is wide receivers coach Tony Ball, who has 30 years of experience coaching at the collegiate level. Ball came from Georgia, where he coached receivers for the last six seasons.

He will be tasked with helping offensive coordinator Cam Cameron reignite a dormant LSU offense that has plenty of potential. Like Orgeron, Ball is a high-energy presence for the Tigers.

"Coach Ball is more up-tempo," wide receiver Malachi Dupre told Ross Dellenger of the Advocate. "I don't want to say up in your face, but just more on the field…just has a lot of energy."


What to watch for on offense

Lackluster offense received most of the blame in LSU's 8-5 campaign last season, and the criticisms were plenty valid. The Tigers were ranked 13th in the SEC in scoring offense—only beating out cellar-dweller Vanderbilt—and were held to fewer than 14 points in three of their five losses.

The problems centered on the quarterback situation, and the battle between junior Anthony Jennings and sophomore Brandon Harris is still raging during fall practices. Neither signal-caller inspired much confidence last season as LSU had the worst passing attack in the entire conference at an average of only 163 yards.

While Jennings has more experience—Harris only attempted one pass after his abysmal start at Auburn last season—Miles recently said the sophomore is currently the leader for the starting job in 2015:

According to Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh, Cameron said Harris has made "great improvement" this offseason, while Miles said the difference was "night and day" from the loss at Auburn.

If Harris can indeed be a stronger dual-threat quarterback for LSU this season, the Tigers have plenty of talent he can utilize in the skill positions.

Superstar sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, a former No. 1 overall recruit, will look to build upon his 1,034-yard freshman campaign with a season that could end with some major hardware. 

According to Odds Shark, Fournette is in elite company right now with the same Heisman Trophy odds as Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Georgia running back Nick Chubb and USC quarterback Cody Kessler.

Fournette will be able to stay fresh in LSU's ground-and-pound offense this season with several talented backups, including Darrel Williams, Derrius Guice, Nick Brossette and David Ducre—a fullback who could also line up as a power running back.

"What we've always tried to do is have our backs be fresh, guys that could give their greatest effort on every play that they're in," Miles said, per Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com. "There's reason to say that Leonard could be that 20-carry (per game) back, but I think there's a point in time, too, where you don't want to wear him out, and you do not want an injury."

Travin Dural leads the receiving corps after catching 37 passes for 758 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Malachi Dupre and John Diarse are also set to return to their starting roles, and Miles said last month "you just can't afford to not play" Trey Quinn, per Dellenger.

On the offensive line, Vadal Alexander is back at right tackle after playing the last two seasons on the interior. Jerald Hawkins flipped to the quarterback's blind side at left tackle after nailing down the right tackle spot in 2013 and 2014.

"It's my natural position," Hawkins said, per Kleinpeter. "I love everything about it. I feel like I can be more physical than last year. I'm just trying to get better."

Junior Ethan Pocic will slide to left guard this season as redshirt freshman Will Clapp takes over at center. According to Kleinpeter, Pocic has the ability to play all five positions on the offensive line, and he'll be the leader for a unit that includes massive junior Josh Bouette at right guard.


What to watch for on defense

LSU has the starting talent to push through the transition it will have from Chavis to Steele, but depth could be an issue in a number of areas this fall.

The Tigers return defensive tackles Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux this season. Both players started double-digit games last season and will help shore up a defense that allowed 4.32 yards per carry in 2014.

Senior Quentin Thomas is back from injury to claim a key reserve role behind the two after the offseason departures of Maquedius Bain, Trey Lealaimatafao and Travonte Valentine. LSU will need bigger production from hyped underclassmen Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore.

Defensive ends are a different story, as the Tigers must replace their top performers in a unit that didn't get a ton of sacks last season. Miles has listed Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal as his starting defensive ends, but a pair of true freshmen could easily break into the rotation this fall.

"We’re not going to be fearful to play some freshmen. This Arden Key, I think, is a guy we’re going to have to give a look to," Miles said, per Dellenger. "I like this Isaiah Washington, guy has more athleticism and speed. Gives us a chance to get on the field and pass rush. Arden Key has reminded to me of a young [Barkevious] Mingo."

Kendell Beckwith became an overnight sensation for the LSU defense at linebacker last season, starting the final seven games and still finishing second on the team in tackles. He also added 5.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and an interception.

Beckwith will most likely lead a four-man rotation at linebacker with fellow returning starter Lamar Louis and a combination of Deion Jones and Duke Riley. While it lacks established depth—reserve Devin Voorhees was moved from safety to linebacker this offseason—this unit has a ton of speed and experience.

LSU's defensive backs looked to be the deepest, strongest group on the team heading into the season, but a serious injury to senior safety Jalen Mills is a sizable loss at the moment for "DBU."

Rickey Jefferson is now set to be a starter in place of Mills, according to Dellenger, and he'll line up next to Jamal Adams, who started a pair of games as a true freshman last season. Corey Thompson will play behind the two safeties.

The cornerbacks took an interesting turn during fall practice as Dwayne Thomas has taken the lead for a starting spot opposite Tre'Davious White, per David Ching of ESPN.com. Thomas, a former dime back and safety, is still battling with highly touted underclassmen Ed Paris, Kevin Toliver II and Donte Jackson.

"I knew probably from Day 1 that I had to push these guys, but coming out here and making a lot of plays, I knew that Raymond would look towards me and be like he wants somebody out there that he trusts and that can be consistent and make plays," Thomas told Ching.


Injury news

The lone major injury at LSU right now is the one suffered by senior safety Jalen Mills, who has started three straight seasons for the Tigers.

Mills suffered an ankle injury in practice on Aug. 19, and the initial reports had him out for four to six weeks—leaving a possibility for a return in the SEC opener against Auburn.

But Miles said Tuesday that Mills underwent surgery on the injured leg and will be out for "at least six weeks."

"I’m still harboring personal feelings that we can get him back sooner rather than later," Miles said, per Dellenger. "We don’t know exactly how soon [he’ll return]."

Without Mills, the LSU defense loses its most experienced player and a leader in a secondary that ranked third nationally in passing yards allowed per game last season. LSU has some depth to manage without him, but Mills' extended absence is undoubtedly a big blow to the defense.



Speed is the name of the game for LSU cornerback Donte Jackson, who was a borderline 4-star/5-star recruit in the class of 2015.

The athlete won Louisiana's state title in the 100-meter dash each of his last two years in high school—and his last win came with an unbelievable time of 10.30 seconds, per Sonny Shipp of 247Sports.

Jackson's elite gift makes him a strong candidate to play early and often at LSU, and coaches say he could play on offense, defense and special teams this season. He is currently in position battles at corner and returner.

"We look at what Patrick [Peterson] did in the NFL playing receiver, playing defense, and we kick ourselves," running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson told Kleinpeter. "We knew he had those abilities. ... Coach Miles made a vow not to let that happen again when we have someone with that type of ability. Certainly we see [Jackson] as that type of player."

Jackson will focus on being a defensive back first and foremost this season, especially with the shuffling the Tigers had to do in the wake of Mills' injury. But expect to see the coaching staff find ways to get this true freshman the ball in 2015.


Make-or-break games

LSU gets an early shot at revenge this season as it travels to Mississippi State in the second week of the season. After what should be a warmup win over McNeese State, the Tigers will open the SEC campaign against Dak Prescott and a reloading Bulldogs team in Starkville.

With a win over Mississippi State, the Bayou Bengals will have some momentum heading into their major home game against Auburn. A road loss, however, could line up a potential 1-2 start for Miles and Co. when Gus Malzahn's Tigers visit Death Valley in Week 3.

After what looks to be a manageable run through the middle of the season, LSU will get a big off week on Halloween ahead of its annual slugfest against Alabama. Both teams have question marks at quarterback, but they'll be more or less answered for a game that has gone in favor of the Tide four straight times.

While the Arkansas and Ole Miss contests will undoubtedly be important, put a special circle around the regular-season finale against Texas A&M—the "Chavis Classic." LSU will face its former defensive coordinator and look for a fourth straight win over the high-powered Aggie offense.

The emotions and bowl stakes should be huge for this contest, and it could play a major role in someone's title hopes.


Prediction: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)

With a decent quarterback, LSU's offense has the potential to bounce back in a big way this season. The Tigers have a Heisman contender at running back, several experienced receivers and a few veterans on the offensive line.

On defense, the depth issues are concerning, as LSU will open the season with only five returning starters and a brand-new coordinator. The talent up top is established, but several unproven players will have to grow up quickly in order for the Tigers to keep that elite level of defense going after Chavis.

The quarterback's performance in the Mississippi State game will have a big effect on how the SEC season shakes out for the Tigers, because Prescott still has several big-play weapons he can use in Starkville. An Auburn team that should be stronger on defense after a 41-7 win last season could be too much for a transitioning team early in the year.

Right now, with the quarterback situation still yet to be resolved and a few potential problems in the defense, I don't see this LSU team emerging as one of the top contenders in the SEC West. I have the Tigers falling to the top three teams in the division—Auburn, at Alabama and at Ole Miss—with home-field advantage winning out in matchups against Arkansas and Texas A&M.

What looks like a possible five-game winning streak in the middle of the season could spur LSU to pull off a win over the likes of Alabama or Ole Miss, but an early slump has the potential to lead into some tough home losses or surprise road defeats.

LSU will improve this season on offense and in the win column, but the changes on defense may hold the Tigers back from seriously contending for titles in 2015.


Recruiting information courtesy of 247SportsAll stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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