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USC Football: Power Ranking Trojans' 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

USC's 2014 schedule and first campaign under new head coach Steve Sarkisian is an interesting mix of challenging—with nine teams that played in bowl games last season—but also manageable.

The Trojans miss Oregon and Washington out of the Pac-12 North, the division's second- and third-place teams in 2013, instead drawing fifth- and sixth-place finishers Washington State and Cal. 

In the nonconference, USC faces its customary demanding slate with the annual Notre Dame tilt, a road trip to Boston College and a return engagement of last December's Las Vegas Bowl with Fresno State visiting the Coliseum.

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USC Football: Power Ranking Trojans' 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

USC's 2014 schedule and first campaign under new head coach Steve Sarkisian is an interesting mix of challenging — with nine teams that played in bowl games last season — but also manageable...

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Could Joker Phillips' Departure Mean Suspension for Will Muschamp?

Whenever there's a coaching change during the summer, it will certainly raise eyebrows. Former Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips' departure from Florida late last week was no exception.

Phillips, who was entering his second season with the Gators after previously serving as the head coach of Kentucky, resigned his post in Gainesville for personal reasons according to a release from the University of Florida.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity that the University of Florida and Will Muschamp provided to me and my family, but at this time I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons," Phillips said.

After Phillips made the announcement, Charles Robinson and Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports reported that his resignation was related to a photo that surfaced of the coach meeting with a high school prospect in a restaurant during a recruiting dead period.

The abrupt resignation by Phillips speaks to the serious nature of the infraction, but just how serious could it be?

According to John Infante, author of The Bylaw Blog on AthleticScholarships.net, it could cause head coach Will Muschamp to be suspended even if it's considered a Level III violation rather than a Level II, thanks to the head coach responsibility bylaw.

Harsh? Yes.

Appropriate? Maybe not, considering Phillips' abrupt resignation. But suspension being on the table certainly is appropriate.

This is part of the new enforcement structure of the NCAA which was announced in October 2012. That structure, according to ESPN.com, diminishes a coach's plausible deniability and forces the head coach to prove that he didn't know of the transgression in order to avoid a suspension ranging from 10 percent of the season to a full season.

That's a good thing.

Coaches should be responsible for their assistants, and if they're breaking major recruiting rules, that's a program problem as it's an individual problem. The responsibility for maintaining an atmosphere of compliance does and should fall on the head coach.

Now it's almost impossible for Muschamp to prove he didn't know something happened, but Phillips' abrupt resignation will certainly signal that the head coach of the Gators isn't taking this lightly, and recognizes that something needs to be done.

Isn't that the goal of the new legislation?

Muschamp likely won't be suspended for the alleged incident unless more evidence comes to light, nor should he be.

But suspension being on the table at all is a sign that, despite a laundry list of missteps that has the NCAA in the crosshairs of lawyers around the country, at least one aspect of the new enforcement structure got something right.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.


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2014 BCS Football Champions Florida State Unlikely to Visit White House

The Florida State football team earned the right to visit the White House and meet President Barack Obama by virtue of their national championship win over Auburn, but the Seminoles may not be able to accept the honor.  

According to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher revealed that his team is unlikely to make the trip due to scheduling conflicts.

"We're trying. It looks like it's going to be hard because all the pro players are going, coaches are going on vacation," Fisher told Sonnone. "We've tried to give them a thousand dates, but we couldn't get it worked out."

According to Sonnone's article, nine of the last 10 BCS football champs have visited the White House by March and all 10 have visited at some point in the year that followed their triumph. It's already been five months since FSU beat Auburn at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. 

A collegiate championship team tends to face more hurdles than professional teams in this regard since several of the Seminoles' key players from last season are now in the NFL, including wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.

With so many important figures from the championship team spread across the country, getting everyone together has to be a massive undertaking. 

This wouldn't be the first instance of major sports champions passing on a White House visit, but most past examples have been far more controversial. Chief among them was goaltender Tim Thomas' refusal to visit in 2012 after he led the Boston Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison similarly snubbed the White House in 2009 after passing on the opportunity in 2006 as well.

There hasn't been any indication that Fisher and the rest of the Florida State football program have no desire to go to the White House; rather, they are simply struggling to coordinate everything.

If the Seminoles do officially turn down the chance to go to the White House, then there will inevitably be some who view it as a matter of disrespect. However, until they issue an official statement, all that is clear is that scheduling conflicts have prevented them from making the trip.

The fact of the matter is that Fisher would have to wrangle up more than 100 players and personnel members to ensure that everyone who had a hand in the title is present at the White House, and it just may not be in the cards. 

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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What Michigan Can Learn from Alabama's Return to Football Glory

The score was 41-14, but it felt so much more like every gruesome death scene from Game of Thrones.

It wasn't just that Alabama clubbed Michigan to start the 2012 season. No, the scariest part was that Alabama made it look so easy, as if the Tide were unfazed by it all. The 14-point spread from Bovada was, in hindsight, farcical. 

It was a rude awakening for the Wolverines, one of college football's blue-blood programs. But it showed Michigan had a long way to go before it was back in the national championship conversation. 

Alabama was in that position not all that long ago. Before Nick Saban's arrival in Tuscaloosa seven years ago, the Tide hadn't won an SEC championship since 1999 or a national championship since 1992. Saban has since led Alabama to a pair of SEC titles and three national championships, not to mention the program is in the national title discussion every year. 

"In the SEC, it's all about national championships," said Chris Walsh, Alabama's lead writer at B/R. "And, for Alabama fans, it's Crimson Tide football all year long." 

Saban proved that one of college football's great programs could be resurrected. What can Michigan and head coach Brady Hoke learn from the Tide so that they too can return to the national stage?

 

Dissecting the Origins

Before diving into what notes Michigan needs to take from Alabama, it's important to identify how Michigan got here in the first place. 

It's been 10 years since the Wolverines won a Big Ten championship. At best, they've been second fiddle to Ohio State. At worst, they were losing to Appalachian State and Toledo, and missing bowl games in 2008 and '09. 

According to Phil Callihan, who contributes to UMGoBlue.com and B/R, the problems began with talent development under Lloyd Carr, who led the program from 1995-2007. It's also an issue Callihan sees with Hoke.

"Michigan needs to prove it can win and get players to the next level," Callihan said. 

When Rich Rodriguez inherited the program at the end of the 2007 season, he brought a different style of coaching and offense with him from West Virginia. 

Rodriguez was an offense-first guy who ran a zone-read and option attack with the Mountaineers. And he had a perfect tool for it: quarterback Pat White. There was no White on Michigan's roster. (There was, however, a freshman named Ryan Mallett.) 

Rodriguez recruited well at Michigan, hauling in the No. 8 class nationally in 2008. But he recruited players who were designed to fit his system. The offense almost always prevailed, too. Not only did Rodriguez recruit more offensive players than defensive players in 2008 and '09, the balance wasn't even close. 

By the time the more defense-heavy classes of 2010 and '11 were signed, it was too late. Rodriguez, now at Arizona, was never fully accepted at Michigan and he was let go after three years with a 15-22 record.  

For the first couple of years, Hoke had the responsibility of undoing Rodriguez's work. But Hoke was a branch in Carr's coaching tree, which earned him instant credibility among the fanbase and program. 

After winning 11 games in his first season, the program has trended down under Hoke. This season isn't considered a make-or-break year for Hoke, barring an epic disaster, but at a place such as Michigan, the pressure is always on. 

There's one group in particular holding back Michigan. That's where Hoke must commence the turnaround. 

 

Start From the Inside-Out

Everything good about a football team, and everything bad, starts up front. It doesn't matter what the offensive or defensive philosophy is. Win up front and all other things tend to fall into place.

Michigan's offensive line was a mess in 2013, which is astonishing considering it had two players—Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield—taken in this year's NFL draft. Lewan, in fact, went 11th overall to the Titans and was the third tackle off the board after Greg Robinson (Auburn) and Jake Matthews (Texas A&M). 

But the Wolverines' other three spots along the interior of the line were occupied by a total of eight different players, including three freshmen, who rotated. That's where the trouble started. 

Although, really, the trouble started in 2011 when Hoke brought in just three offensive linemen in his first recruiting class: Chris Bryant, Jack Miller and Tony Posada. Miller has contributed at center, starting the first four games of last season. But Bryant had his career cut short by injuries and Posada left the program shortly after arriving. 

That lack of depth and experience put more pressure on Michigan's younger linemen, and the result was last year's 87th-ranked offense

So how does Alabama tie into this?

It's simple: Success starts in the trenches and Alabama has been excellent there under Saban. 

Consider the table above. The Tide had twice as many first-round selections as Michigan for offensive linemen. Another big difference came in producing all-conference players. Michigan had five different linemen selected as first-team all-conference and Alabama had nine. That part is subjective, but the numbers were based on selections from conference coaches. 

The offensive line is unique in that it really is a position of the sum of its parts. It takes reps, reps and more reps—together—to build the chemistry necessary to become a cohesive group. Ideally, freshman offensive linemen aren't called into duty to play right away. There's a lot of physical and mental maturation that has to take place. 

"The roster is in a good position, except the offensive line," Callihan said. "I don't know how they get better, either." 

That concern has validity. In April, Nick Baumgardner of mlive.com wrote following Michigan's spring game that the offensive line was still a major liability: 

This offense can be explosive. It has playmakers. Devin Gardner is still dynamic. Devin Funchess is a monster. Freddy Canteen looked pretty sharp (more on that soon), and Smith and Green both looked like real Big Ten running backs at times.

But if the offensive line isn't giving those playmakers a chance, then it doesn't matter. Tackles for loss and not being able to convert a 3rd and 1 are killers. 

Michigan was in the running to upgrade its O-line with Chad Lindsay, a transfer from Alabama, of all places. However, Lindsay chose to finish his career at Ohio State. That added insult to injury.

"He could have been a great locker room guy," Callihan said. 

Guys like Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson are all young, touted players who have great potential. They're still learning, though, and now they're being asked to anchor the line with the departures of Lewan and Schofield. 

That development simply takes time. 

"I'm not sure Hoke has the time." Callihan said, "[Michigan] is always a year away." 

 

Develop an Identity and Stick to It

Having an "offensive identity" is a one-size-fits-all statement, but it helps to know what to expect from week to week.

"This isn't Madden. You can't just run any play you want," Callihan says.

Michigan didn't have much of an offensive identity last year, odd given that offensive coordinator Al Borges finally had the players to move away from Rodriguez's spread offense. Michigan couldn't run the ball successfully and moved to something that resembled the run-and-shoot offense—when it didn't resemble something else, that is. 

Whatever it was, it didn't work. That led the way to Borges being shown the door. It was a defining, albeit necessary, move for Hoke considering how close he is to Borges. But, according to Callihan, Borges was complicated for the sake of being complicated. 

Conversely, there's nothing convoluted about what Saban does at Alabama, and it starts with "the process." In his own words, the process is "really what you have to do day in and day out to be successful." (h/t Greg Bishop, The New York Times.)  

There's a lesson to be learned from Saban, and Hoke has already jumped on it. In January, Michigan hired offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier right out from under Saban. 

Nussmeier has a history of running a balanced offense with an emphasis on a solid running game. It's no coincidence that's what Hoke wants to accomplish with the Wolverines:

Run the dadgum ball. 

"Linemen love to run block; they hate to pass block," Callihan said. "They may take it on the teeth at first, but this can help the offensive line come together." 

Having an identity is what separates Ohio State from the Wolverines. It's also what separates Michigan State from Michigan. Not coincidentally, the Wolverines are 6-14 against the Buckeyes and Spartans over the past 10 years and haven't beaten both in the same year since 2003. 

It's one thing to lose to Ohio State, which Michigan has done plenty of recently. The Buckeyes are another one of college football's historically premier programs. The so-called Ten-Year War between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes featured some of the most memorable games between the programs. 

But Michigan State's rise under head coach Mark Dantonio? The Spartans land a few 4-star prospects every year and even the occasional 5-star player. But, largely, Dantonio and his staff find 3-star recruits who can play, fit their system and develop them. 

"It sucks," Callihan said. "They're just better." 

  

Pay Attention to the Details—All of Them

There is no other person like Saban in college football. Thus, there is no duplicating Saban.

"Their recruiting room looks like a war room in the NFL," Walsh said. "Everything is color-coded and it's updated constantly.

"In practice, everyone is always doing something. There will be six stations all happening at once." 

Saban is prepared for everything*, even his radio show. Beforehand, Walsh explains, Saban will write down a list of talking points he wants to get across. It doesn't matter what the questions are, he'll find a way to communicate whatever message he has in store. 

(*Except for a kick-six, as Auburn fans will gladly point out.) 

Everything is a teaching moment. 

Saban comes across as someone who says a lot without actually saying anything. As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. Because what he says is meant for a specific audience: his players. 

A prime example is the recruiting story about former Tide receiver Julio Jones. A 5-star recruit in 2008, Jones could have gone anywhere he wanted. Instead, he went to a place where nothing was promised to him. Via Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Growing up, I really didn’t watch a lot of college football. But one of the reasons I liked Alabama was when I went to visit coach Saban, he said, ‘Well you know, we want you here. But we’re going to win with you or without you.’ I was like, that’s me. I just want to win. I don’t like stuff just given to me.

The pitch happened to work for Jones, but the lesson is that even the best prospects are replaceable. 

Despite that attitude, Saban is described by Walsh as someone who doesn't cast people aside. Saban is tremendously loyal to his coaches and players. The narrative on Saban is that he's a nightmare to work for, but roughly half of the Tide's coaching staff has either been with Saban since 2007 or left, only to return to Tuscaloosa. 

Walk through the weight room and Walsh says you'll see a handful of former players on any given day. 

The coaches and players all have the same goal: win. This isn't unique to Alabama, of course. Everyone at this level of football works hard, but a relentless attention to detail is what makes Saban so good—and what makes Alabama so dominant. 

Saban's process has begun to filter into the rest of college football. Other coaches, such as Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, take principles from it and make it their own. 

With a 15-11 record the past two seasons, it's time for Hoke to reinvent how he operates on a day-to-day basis. Like other reinventions, it starts with the little things. Redo the schedule, shake up how practices are run, micromanage, even.

"Hoke is great at delegating," Callihan said.

Maybe it's time for a more hands-on approach.   

 

Think Progressive

Alabama's rise didn't actually begin with Saban. It began with former athletic director Mal Moore. 

Moore arrived in Tuscaloosa in 1999 and immediately began a colossal fundraising effort to renovate the school's athletic facilities. According to Alabama, Moore, who died in 2013 shortly after retiring, raised $240 million to improve facilities. 

Then, in 2007, Moore gave Saban a $32 million contract without a buyout. He handed the keys over to Saban—who was "not going to be the Alabama coach"—and walked away. 

"It showed the commitment—and probably the desperation—they had for him," Walsh said. 

Call it what you will, but Alabama put all its chips on red (or crimson) for a coach it believed in. In some ways, Michigan athletic director David Brandon is all-in with Hoke. 

That will likely change if the Wolverines continue their downward spiral. The question is how long it would take to make that change. Hoke is well-liked in Ann Arbor, but it's not a given that he'll turn the program around, let alone make it a national contender again. 

If Michigan eventually does go in another direction, it will have to get creative like Alabama without being scared of encountering another failed Rodriguez experiment. 

Callihan thinks Michigan's next coaching search—if and when that happens—will concentrate on landing a big-name coach, maybe someone from the NFL.   

"For as big as Michigan perceives itself, it has to be someone big," Callihan said. "I don't think it could be a young coach." 

The Wolverines reportedly made a run at then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, a Michigan alum, in 2011 before hiring Hoke. Harbaugh, now with the San Francisco 49ers, has been connected to college jobs at Texas and USC, but remains in the Bay Area despite an alleged "rift" between him and the organization's front office. 

Harbaugh would be a great coach anywhere, but Callihan believes Michigan would have to seriously consider breaking the Wolverines lineage. The "Michigan Man" prerequisite, the silliest in all of college football, has to go. 

Then, Michigan has to have a hook, something with which to reel that big-name coach. The facilities are great, but the Rust Belt is an ever-shrinking recruiting ground. The brand of Michigan football is still dominant, but not as much as it once was. 

Splash hires are overrated, but if Hoke doesn't work out, that might be what Michigan needs to right a program that has slowly veered off course. And it might take an obscene amount of money to make it happen. 

For now, Hoke has a turnaround to orchestrate. He's already replaced one key staff member and may need to replace more if it means saving his job. 

But if Michigan really wants to be relevant in the national discussion again, it should take some pointers from the program that dismantled it two years ago. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com

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Watch No. 1 ATH Jabrill Peppers List Top 10 Predictions for Michigan Career

Five-star stud athlete Jabrill Peppers is the face of the incoming Michigan recruiting class. Peppers is already being called the next Charles Woodson because of his ability to play both sides of the ball and his dangerous returning capabilities.

Bleacher Report went one-on-one with Peppers as he gets ready to leave for Ann Arbor, Michigan, to begin his college career.

What are his top 10 predictions for his freshman season?

Watch the video and find out.

 

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Where Will Monster DT Albert Huggins Land at the Next Level?

Defensive tackle Albert Huggins is a force to be reckoned with in the class of 2015. Programs from all over the country are drooling over the 6’3”, 279-pound stud from South Carolina.

Huggins has the skill set to come in and make an impact on any big-time program immediately. Which school do you think Albert Huggins will choose?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder break it down and provide some clarity on where this physical specimen will end up.

Highlights Courtesy of XOS Digital


Rankings from 247sports Composite

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Stud Arkansas RB Alex Collins Will Be Vital to Razorbacks' Offense

Freshman running back Alex Collins made a name for himself during the 2013 season with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Can he improve on his stellar debut in 2014?

With Collins suspended for the spring, it present an opportunity for his competition to receive more reps with the starters. No matter what the situation is, though, you can bet that Collins will get a chance to light up the field.

How do you think he will fare next year?

Watch Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss Collins’ future in Fayetteville.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Mariota in 2014: Expected to Win Heisman, Monster Year for Oregon

Marcus Mariota is considered one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football. This Oregon phenom led the Ducks to a 12-1 record as a freshman and an 11-2 record as a sophomore. Will he be able to continue on the path of success?

A few of Oregon’s offensive weapons have moved onto the NFL, but that won’t slow down Mariota and this fast-paced offense.

Watch Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss the Heisman hopeful and his upcoming season.

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital.

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Marcus Mariota in 2014: Expected to Win Heisman, Monster Year for Oregon

Marcus Mariota is considered one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football. This Oregon phenom led the Ducks to a 12-1 record as a freshman and an 11-2 record as a sophomore...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Miami Rushing Attack: Are Duke Johnson and Joseph Yearby the Real Deal?

The Miami Hurricanes have tremendous talent at the running back position coming into the 2014 season. With big names such as Duke Johnson and Joseph Yearby, the Hurricanes are bound to have a huge rushing attack.

Johnson suffered a broken ankle last year, but the talent he displayed in the first half of the season suggests he will be a huge asset. With incoming freshman Yearby adding some relief as well, you should expect some highlight-reel runs in the future.

What do the Miami Hurricanes running backs have in store for the 2014 season?

Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss just how explosive the group of studs can be.


Highlights courtesy XOS Digital.

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Keaton Sutherland Commits to Texas A&M: What Massive 4-Star OT Brings to Aggies

Texas A&M edged out a pair of SEC foes and an in-state rival Monday for a commitment from 4-star offensive lineman Keaton Sutherland. The 6'5", 280-pound prospect picked the Aggies over Ole Miss, Arkansas and Baylor.

He shared the decision on Twitter:

Sutherland, who attends Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas, decided to accept a scholarship from Texas A&M less than a week after his latest visit to College Station. He initially received an offer from the Aggies while attending a junior day event in February.

His list of collegiate options included nearly 20 teams. Sutherland cut those options down to four teams earlier this month, with Arkansas, Baylor and Ole Miss also in the mix.

Less than two weeks later, he decided Texas A&M provided the complete package and pulled the trigger on a pledge.

“I just like everything about Texas A&M,” Sutherland told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. “I love everything going on there right now. How they are building their program. The chemistry they have going on there. The academics and the college atmosphere."

His decision was an upset in terms of where many thought Sutherland would play at the next level. He was projected to sign with Arkansas by 91 percent of experts in 247Sports' crystal ball predictions.

Sutherland is a versatile athlete who moves fluidly for his expansive physical frame. He's shuffles well laterally and flashes the strength to drive his defender, direct traffic and open rushing lanes.

Though Sutherland has the skills to line up at guard, his likely destination is right or left tackle at Texas A&M. His slide-step requires some refinement, but he is quick off the ball and does a solid job getting wide to cut off the angles of incoming pass-rushers.

His height and his reach are tremendous, but he remains somewhat slender at the position, particularly with the prospect of taking on elite SEC defensive linemen on a weekly basis. Sutherland will develop in the weight room, packing on solid pounds that will enable him to hold his own in the trenches.

Sutherland isn't likely to be counted on as a true freshman and could be destined for a redshirt campaign. Expect him to approach the 300-pound range by his sophomore season, when he could make a push for playing time.

Texas A&M has now landed three 4-star offensive linemen. Sutherland joins fellow in-state products Trevor Elbert and Connor Lanfear as the future foundation up front.

The Aggies have added three commitments in June and hold 15 total pledges. The class rates third nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

 

Recruit information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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'Bama vs. Auburn: Which School Gives Stud DT Daron Payne Best Chance at Success?

Daron Payne is one of most explosive defensive tackles in the 2015 class. While still uncommitted, he has narrowed his list to a few of the top programs in the country.

At 6’2”, 330 pounds, Payne will be a struggle for opposing offensive lines at the collegiate level. The Birmingham, Alabama, native has many options on his plate, which in-state powerhouse will get his commitment?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder describe Daron Payne’s future in the video above.

Highlights Courtesy XOS Digital.

Recruit Rankings from the 247Sports composite rankings.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Why 2014 Season Should Be Playoff or Bust for Gus Malzahn

Gus Malzahn came out of nowhere in his first season as Auburn's head coach, leading his team to the SEC title and to within 13 seconds of the crystal football.

Now, he's got a much more dangerous opponent to deal with: expectations.

Auburn no longer is the upstart monster nobody saw coming. It's a bear. A big one with a target on its back.

Should this season be playoff or bust for the Tigers?

When asked about that last month in Atlanta, Malzahn dodged the question like a fighter ducking a right cross.

"We have high expectations at Auburn," he told B/R at a booster event in Atlanta. "It's a process. We're going to be as good as we can possibly be. That will be our goal again."

Coach speak? No doubt.

But let's be real. While Malzahn, and most other coaches, will focus on the process during the offseason, the goal for this team isn't just making the playoffs—it's winning the whole thing.

For that reason, anything short of a playoff berth should be viewed as a disappointment. 

Sure, losing running back Tre Mason, offensive tackle Greg Robinson and fullback Jay Prosch isn't ideal, but Malzahn has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons as a college head coach. That's not to say that Mason—who rushed for 1,816 yards and 23 touchdowns—was a product of the system last year. He thrived in a system designed for him to thrive. 

That system won't change in 2014. 

In fact, it has what amounts to a fuel additive.

For the first time in his college coaching career, Malzahn has a starting quarterback returning for a second season in the system. That quarterback, Nick Marshall, already showed he has a big arm and the ability to be a weapon on the ground after rushing for 1,068 and 12 touchdowns last year. 

If the intermediate passing game continues to progress as it did this spring, this offense is going to be hard to stop. The presence of junior college transfer "Duke" Williams in addition to established deep threat Sammie Coates should put an immense amount of pressure on opposing defenses—even more than last season.

Defensively, Auburn was hit-or-miss last season. In fact, it was more miss than hit, particularly on Florida State's final drive of the national title game, where one missed tackle allowed Seminole wide receiver Rashad Greene to sprint 49 yards down the sideline to set up the 'Noles for the game-winning score.

But that defense, which was beat up in the secondary and inexperienced in the linebacking corps, was still good enough to get the Tigers in position to win it all.

They'll be better in 2014.

Linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy had great games in Pasadena and would have been the big story of the national title game had Auburn held on. The beat-up secondary will get a boost now that it's healthy and has competition coming from the 2014 recruiting class.

The secondary will also benefit from a deep defensive line, which should force pressure and mistakes.

Auburn has a lot of options up front, but the uncertainty surrounding sophomore Carl Lawson's knee injury will make that a work in progress during fall camp.

Having those options, though, will pay off and allow defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to put his linemen in advantageous situations based on down, distance and situation once the season starts.

This team is motivated by "what could have been," as evidenced by "star" linebacker Robinson Therezie's tweet from February:

WE FELL 13 SECONDS SHORT... EVERY MORNING I WAKE UP AND THINK ABOUT THIS.. WONT HAPPEN AGAIN.. #GRIND#TOGETHER#AUpic.twitter.com/4XWwuVTlXj

— ROBENSON THEREZIE (@cadilac_34) February 27, 2014

Auburn was on the brink last season. It has an offense that is easy to diagnose but impossible to defend and is healthy and building off experience on defense.

The schedule is tough, particularly down the stretch when the Tigers play South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama all over the final six weeks of the season. Such is life in the SEC, but that shouldn't be used as an excuse for a team that has the pieces to make another run.

Whether you believe Auburn won with luck last season or recognize that aspect of Auburn's season has been exaggerated, it absolutely should be playoffs or bust for Auburn.

With the coach, the scheme and the returning starters Auburn has in place, anything less would be a disappointment—coach speak notwithstanding.

 

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

 


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Meet Chuck Martin, the Next Hot Commodity in College Football Coaching

Hiding somewhere in the college football coaching ranks are the next versions of Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.

It’s inevitable, the big dogs—who have won more than one national championship— wind down their careers while a couple of younger guys work their way through the ranks to become supercoaches.  It happens covertly, behind the scenes, until one day we wonder, “Where did that guy come from?”

A prime candidate for such a run is Chuck Martin, the new head coach at Miami—the one in Ohio, not the one in Florida.

Take a look at Martin’s credentials and then file his name away for future reference.  He’s one of the guys who might be the guy in 10 years’ time.

 

The Story

Martin began his college football journey from 1986-90 as a safety and place kicker at Millikin University, a D-III program in Decatur, Illinois.  Martin earned All-American honors at both positions and was also named a GTE Academic All-American. 

Martin graduated with an accounting degree from Millikin and went on to get his master’s in physical education from Mankato State, now Minnesota State at Mankato, in 1993.  This is also where he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant from 1992-93.

After Mankato, Martin made assistant coaching stops at Wittenberg University (a D-III program in Springfield, Ohio), alma mater Millikin and Eastern Michigan before securing a defensive assistant position under Brian Kelly at D-II Grand Valley State in 2000.

Martin was promoted to head coach at Grand Valley State in 2004, succeeding Kelly who moved on to Central Michigan.  He led the Lakers to a 74-7 record in six seasons including five conference crowns and back-to-back D-II national championships.

In 2010, Martin followed former boss Kelly to Notre Dame, where he was initially hired to coach the secondary and coordinate recruiting.  In 2012, he was promoted to offensive coordinator, where he stayed until accepting the Miami job in December of 2013.

 

The Numbers

What’s impressive about Martin’s coaching resume is that he has had tremendous success both as a D-II head coach and as a coordinator at a powerhouse FBS program.

This answers several “can he?” questions, such as, “can he transition from a coordinator to a head coach?” and “can he survive in big time college football?”

As the head coach at Grand Valley State, Martin engineered a 40-0 run from Aug. 27, 2005 to Dec. 8, 2007, finally dropping a game in the ‘07 D-II semifinals. Perhaps even more impressive is the 48-0 regular-season game run Martin and the Lakers scored from Oct. 30, 2004 to Oct. 3, 2009.  

The Lakers never fell below double-digit wins in Martin’s six seasons, were 16-4 in postseason play and outscored opponents overall 2,844 to 1,186.

Though the success Martin enjoyed at Grand Valley State was built on the solid foundation that Kelly laid before him, it’s Martin who holds the honor of being the Lakers’ all-time winningest coach.  Take a look at how his numbers stack up against Kelly and Matt Mitchell, who’s been at the helm since 2010.

The numbers are proof that Martin can sustain an unmatched level of excellence. His story is not about a guy riding another coach’s coattails or that of a dynasty program where it’s impossible to screw it up.

At Notre Dame, Martin was the offensive coordinator in 2012 when the Irish ran the tables for a 12-0 regular-season finish and a spot in the BCS title game.

While Notre Dame’s offensive output stayed static under Martin, the big change when he took over the reins as coordinator was a significant reduction in turnovers.  Take a look at the progression in the Kelly era, keeping in mind that Martin became the OC in 2012.

The number of turnovers committed was slashed in half under Martin.  Though this drop could be explained in a number of different ways, it’s stayed down, which points to strong leadership and a culture change.  The team made fewer mistakes under Martin, and this led directly to more wins.

 

The Challenge

So, how big of a challenge does Martin face at Miami?  Take a look.

The statistics make two points clear.  First, Martin and his staff will have to revamp a program that’s struggled—on both sides of the ball—for at least two seasons.  Second, though Miami didn’t win a game last season, it is only three years removed from a 10-win campaign. 

Though it’s going to be difficult, it’s far from impossible.  And remember, success is relative. Martin won't need to win a string of MAC titles to be considered an attractive candidate for a head role at a bigger program. A couple of well-engineered, bowl-eligible seasons should be all it takes for him to become a hot commodity on the coaching carousel.

 

The Approach

The big question looms, how is Martin going to take his experience and skills and transform both Miami football and advance his own coaching career? Take a look at what he had to say to SI.com, according to Martin Rickman:

We want to be like that kid who likes to fight.  He may not even be the strongest or the meanest, but if you beat him up on Monday and Tuesday, he wants to fight you again.  That kid you never want to get in a fight with because you know it’s never ending.  You get sick of beating him up and by Thursday, it’s getting old and he’s still coming at you.

The big unknown is how Martin will fare turning things around at Miami.  At Grand Valley State, Martin took over a program that Kelly had groomed into a double-digit winning machine and sustained the success. Though he earned everything he got, he's never been the guy who righted the ship by himself.

If you’re wondering if little Miami of Ohio can spark a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks, remember this is the same program that launched such luminaries as Earl Blaik, Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Weeb Ewbank, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Jim Tressel, John Harbaugh and Sean Payton.

It’s the Cradle of Coaches friend, and there’s a new baby in the crib.

 

Statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference College FootballCollege Football Data Warehouse and cfbstats.com. Biographical information courtesy of Miami.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: 10 Best Players from BCS Era

There will be plenty of time to look ahead as the Pac-12 football season approaches, but we're looking back on the BCS era that came to an end with Florida State's victory over Auburn in the championship game last January.

The Pac-12 certainly didn't stand out over the past decade-and-a-half the way the SEC or Big 12 did, but you could put an all-star squad of the league's best since 1997 up against one from any other conference and feel good about it.

But who would make up that team? Or rather, which 10 players were the very best to play in the Pac-12 over the past 16 years?

We could spend several more paragraphs listing disclaimers and trying to ease the minds of fans whose favorite teams have no representation, but that effort would be meaningless. This is one man's opinion based on a combination of stats, awards, overall level of domination against the opponent and finally, what the player meant to a program.

Our one request is that rather than simply naming a player you feel should be on the list, include who should be replaced and why. Also feel free to consider this a halfhearted apology in advance for leaving off your favorite players.

Click ahead to see our list of the 10 best players from the Pac-12 during the BCS era.

 

All stats via sports-reference.com. Current players not included, though we should point out that Marcus Mariota could make an excellent case even after just two years. Because this list is limited to just 10, a number of greats were left off the list, such as: Aaron Rodgers, Troy Polamalu, Sam Baker, David Yankey, Marshawn Lynch, Akili Smith, Cade McNown and many, many more. NFL production does not factor in, which is a major reason for Polamalu's exclusion, though the decision was not an easy one.

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Pac-12 Football: 10 Best Players from BCS Era

There will be plenty of time to look ahead as the Pac -12 football season approaches, but we're looking back on the BCS era that came to an end with Florida State's victory over Auburn in the championship game last January...

Begin Slideshow

Re-Evaluating Clemson's 2011 Recruiting Class

Clemson's 2014 recruiting class is shaping up to be one of the best, if not the best, in school history. Currently, the Tigers have the No. 2-ranked class in 2014, with 20 verbal commitments, per 247Sports (subscription required).

However, it was the class of 2011 that is arguably the best in school history. 

Players such as Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony and Martavis Bryant were among the 2011 class. Watkins alone makes the class a success, but the depth of the entire class stands out.

Several players from the 2011 class, such as Anthony, Tony Steward and Cole Stoudt will play big roles in 2014. Of the 24 starting positions, including kicker and punter, as many as 14 members of the class of 2011 will start, or are in contention to start, this fall. 

30 players enrolled at Clemson in 2011. Of those players, only six left the program. 

Here is a closer look at Clemson's class of 2011. 

All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports

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Power Ranking Michigan's 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

This past week at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit, Michigan, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said that 2013 was in the past and that the Wolverines were only focusing on improving during 2014. 

With that being said, forget 7-6 if you can. And for good measure, put aside the losses to Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State just to be thorough. This year, Team 135 has the potential to be very different. Yet again, it could be very similar. 

It all depends on...well, you know this part, so feel free to join: "The O-line's development." There, that's out of the way. If Darrell Funk's men can't get it together and complete a comfortable transition, well, there's not much hope of bettering 7-6. However, if the line lives up to its billing and the wind blows in Brady Hoke's favor, 10 wins seem almost doable.

With this post, the lightest of duty to the most challenging opponents will be ranked in a trusty slideshow format. Feel free to suggest your rankings in the comments section.

 

Unless otherwise noted, Michigan's historical information comes courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library (UM) and MGoBlue. Schedule information comes from FBSchedules.com.

 

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5 Uncommitted 2015 Recruits Who'll Help Texas A&M Land No. 1 Recruiting Class

Texas A&M has the No. 3 class in the 247Sports Recruiting Rankings. Landing the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation is realistic for the Aggies, as they sit in good position with many top uncommitted recruits.

However, the key to securing the top spot will depend on how Texas A&M fares with five critical prospects. A pair of 5-star in-state defensive targets are must gets for head coach Kevin Sumlin, while sealing the deal with an elite 4-star receiver must also be done.

If Texas A&M lands all of the following recruits, it will be tough leaving it out of the No. 1 spot for 2015.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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