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Georgia-Florida Rivalry Game Won't Use EverBank Field's New Pools

The game formerly known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," which annually pits Florida against Georgia on a neutral field, will not turn into the world's most regrettable pool party when the two teams meet at EverBank Field—home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars—in 2014 and beyond.

The Jaguars just bulldozed 9,500 seats to build a two-story "party deck" with pools in their stadium, but the Associated Press (h/t USA Today) reports that Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity and Florida AD Jeremy Foley will not have them used.

Why? In the interest of fuller capacity. By using the pool and the accompanying cabanas, the programs would lose 7,000 seats that have already been sold to the fans.

"There's no wiggle room for lowering the attendance or seating capacity," McGarity said. "The most important thing for us is the number of seats."

The pool itself is a ridiculous concept. It has been mocked since its announcement for its not-so-subtle ploy at boosting ticket sales, which the Jaguars struggled with last year (finishing No. 28 in the NFL).

Stephen Colbert even dedicated a segment to the pool—and mostly to mocking the Jaguars—on Tuesday night's Colbert Report:

For what it's worth, the design would look something like this:

Foley and McGarity do not appear to have a philosophical problem with putting a pool inside a football stadium. Their problem is pragmatic—they would like as many fans as possible to see the game.

"Our No. 1 priority is to have the same number of tickets available to our fans and we don't have an interest in any scenario that reduces the number of tickets," Foley said.

And good for him.

Unlike the case at Jaguars games, Florida and Georgia do not need fans to avert their eyes—their puffy, red, chlorine-filled eyes—when their teams are on the field together. Even last year, when Florida was historically bad, the "Cocktail Party" was a three-point Georgia win.

The last four games have been decided by a total of 18 points.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Reasons 2015 College Football Recruiting Class Could Be Best of 2010s

College football recruiting offices spend a lot of time comparing prospects during early evaluations of a recruiting class. Coaches hand out grades, position by position, to determine which players will be sent early scholarship offers, which will be dealt with on a wait-and-see basis and which should pursue opportunities elsewhere.

The 2015 class offers plenty for programs to consider and, from top to bottom, may be the best we've seen this decade. A large collection of recruits began receiving offers as underclassmen, while others are just starting to see interest mount as dominoes fall across the country.

This group boasts big-time talent at each position with incredible depth in certain spots. We examine the strengths of this class that could separate it from the rest when measured against other classes of the 2010s.

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The Case for and Against Notre Dame Making College Football Playoff

Last year was, by every conceivable metric, a down year for Notre Dame football. One season removed from a 12-0 regular season and the fetching title of "national runner-up," the Irish slogged to a 9-4 record and had to settle for the lampooned title of "Pinstripe Bowl Champions!"

But a "down year" at Notre Dame is different than a "down year" elsewhere. A lot different. Besides winning nine games—a total that most schools envy—the Irish were the only team to beat Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State and also defeat Pac-12 South Champion Arizona State on a neutral field.

Which puts Notre Dame in an odd spot entering 2014. The world is not expected of it (outside of South Bend, Indiana, that is), but anyone would be foolish to cast it aside. The last time the Irish were cast aside in the preseason, they came within 60 minutes of winning the national title. Are we really dense enough to not learn from our mistakes?

Here's the case both for and against Notre Dame making the College Football Playoff.

 

The Case For

The case for Notre Dame is simple: It's Notre Dame.

Only three other teams have been to a national title game since 2013, and they (Auburn, Alabama and Florida State) are all expected to be ranked in—or very near—the top five of the major preseason polls.

Stretching back a year, the only other team to make a national title game since 2012 is LSU. The Tigers aren't fancied as well as those other three teams heading into 2014, but they were included among the nine teams with the best betting odds to make the CFP, per Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com.

Stretching back another year, the only other team to make a national title game since 2011 is Oregon. The Ducks, like Auburn, Alabama and Florida State, are expected to debut around the top five nationally.

Which puts Notre Dame in rarified company. After watching them get blown out by Alabama, a cynical mind would cast the Irish's 2012 season aside as a fluke, calling them "lucky to get where they got." But they still undeniably got there, which is something only the best teams in America can say they've done these past four years.

Notre Dame also has the benefit of balance.

During the past three seasons, its offense and defense have both been consistently solid—and occasionally great.

Despite the relative "down year" in 2013, Notre Dame still finished in the top 30 in offensive FEI and defensive FEI, according to Football Outsiders. It has accomplished that feat every season since 2011.

Here are the only other teams that can say that:

Obviously, what Alabama and Oregon have done these past three years is significantly better than what Notre Dame has. That is reflected in the numbers. Still, this is a feat that eludes most college football programs, even blue-bloods such as Florida State and LSU.

Notre Dame is one of only five teams to pull it off.

Which is important. One of the "basics" over Football Outsiders is that "the strongest indicator of how a college football team will perform in the upcoming season is their performance in recent seasons."

Here is how they elaborate on that thought:

It may seem strange because graduation enforces constant player turnover, but college football teams are actually much more consistent from year to year than NFL teams. Thanks in large part to consistency in recruiting, teams can be expected to play within a reasonable range of their baseline program expectations each season. Our Program F/+ ratings, which represent a rolling five-year period of play-by-play and drive efficiency data, have an extremely strong (.76) correlation with the next year’s F/+ rating.

And for good measure—since, as alluded to above, recruiting plays a big part in on-field stability—here are the teams with the best average recruiting classes since 2011, per the 247Sports team rankings:

Once again, this metric slots Notre Dame among rarified company. Especially with regard to talent depth—where only Alabama, Ohio State and LSU have landed more 4-star recruits since 2011—Notre Dame can compete on a national scale.

It also has those rare blue-chip prospects, a couple of whom are entering their second year and have thus far failed to make an impact.

But that doesn't mean they never will.

Safety Max Redfield and running back Greg Bryant were the Nos. 30 and 45 respective players on the 247Sports Composite last cycle, and both are expected to contribute in 2014. Bleacher Report's Keith Arnold listed Redfield as a starter and Bryant as a co-starter on his projected two-deep depth chart from the end of spring practice.

Which brings us—at long last!—to the makeup of the current roster. Despite last year's struggles, which were inexcusable, this team still has the pieces to compete for a spot in the Playoff.

Those pieces can be separated into three strengths:

 

1. The Offensive Line

According to Football Study Hall, Notre Dame finished No. 2 in the country in adjusted sack rate (pass blocking) and No. 22 in adjusted line yards (run blocking) last season. The only other teams to finish in the top 25 in both categories were Texas A&M, Northern Illinois, Miami, Arkansas, Toledo and Duke.

Despite the loss of first-round draft pick Zack Martin and three-year starter Chris Watt, the Irish return a lot of talent in the trenches, chiefly center Nick Martin, Zack's younger brother. It also saw enough potential breakouts this spring—hello, Mike McGlinchey!—to feel good about the line as a strength heading into next season.

 

2. Quarterback Depth

Man, what an upgrade from last year. Tommy Rees is gone, Everett Golson is back and Malik Zaire is older. No matter who wins the battle between Golson and Zaire—and make no mistake, it's a battle—will give the Irish a far better starting option that they had in 2013.

More than that, whoever loses the battle between Golson and Zaire will give ND a far better backup option than it had in 2013. Remember when Andrew Hendrix came in and stunk up the joint against USC, nearly choking away a rivalry game? The Irish need not worry about such things next season. They have two capable signal-callers.

And that's something most teams would kill for.

 

3. Evenly Distributed Defensive Star Power

Notre Dame's three best defensive players line up at different levels. Sheldon Day is being counted on to play with more consistency and anchor the line, Jaylon Smith looks like the next big thing at outside linebacker and KeiVarae Russell is finally the leader of the secondary and should emerge as one of the nation's top cornerbacks.

That type of distribution is important for any team, especially one that loses so many pieces from last year's defense. That every positional group has a potential superstar is important to the development of younger players, who need someone to emulate and revere.

Of that trio, Day is the biggest question mark. He's a physical freak who flashed massive potential in 2013 but has always been a bit of an enigma. If he puts it all together this season, ND could be scary good.

 

The Case Against

The case against Notre Dame begins and ends with something the team itself cannot control: the schedule. Man, what a doozy. 

The Irish don't have to play Michigan State for the first time since 1996, which appears, on the surface, like a nice bit of serendipity. This might be the best the Spartans have been since 1996! What a fortuitous time to miss out on them…right?!

Not so much.

For even though that may be true in a vacuum, the ACC games Notre Dame added to replace Michigan State are no joke. Syracuse is plucky enough to hang with Notre Dame in MetLife Stadium, North Carolina has been mentioned as a CFP dark horse, Louisville is always tough and Florida State is the defending national champion.

And that comes in addition to Notre Dame's usual slate of difficult games, which again includes Michigan, USC and both of last year's Pac-12 Championship Game participants, Stanford and Arizona State.

Here's a look at how the entire schedule pans out:

If you chalk up the road game at Florida State as a probable loss, Notre Dame would, in all likelihood, have to go 10-1 against the rest of that schedule to have a chance of making the CFP. No matter who the losses come against, a 9-3 team will not be included among the top four teams in America. Doing so would be unprecedented.

Is there another loss or two on Notre Dame's schedule? Definitely. Other than Purdue—which oddly always plays Notre Dame well—no other team on the Irish's schedule has even close to a losing record the past two seasons. Pac-12 powers Stanford, USC and Arizona State will be just as tough as usual, and Michigan and Northwestern should be much improved from the Big Ten. (Especially the latter.)

Are we sure Notre Dame has the weapons to contend with such an onslaught of quality opponents? A wagering man would say no.

The skill positions are depleted, and even though emerging players such as Bryant and tight end Ben Koyack have potential, it is hard to count on either (or anyone else) until they prove it on a Saturday.

The defense, meanwhile, has holes to fill. The part about distribution in the "Case For" section was a charming way to omit the reality: The defense returns three total sacks from last season; former walk-on Joe Schmidt is slated to start at middle linebacker; the secondary has little depth and is one injury away from disaster.

It's no wonder coach Kelly is starting to get desperate. He is not mincing words with the status of Jarrett Grace, a potential starter at linebacker who is recovering from a broken fibula.

"We're going to be very, very aggressive with him over the next two to three weeks," Kelly said on Tuesday, according to JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. "We're going full go for him to be ready for Rice."

New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder presents yet another wild card. He coached up some great Georgia defenses in the early 2000s, but he also coached down a pretty godawful Auburn defense in 2012.

Was that a fluke, or has the evolution of the college game in the intervening years befuddled him?

Can he really be trusted with such a high-ceiling, low-basement unit?

Is ND out of its mind to think it can make the College Football Playoff after losing both coordinators and half of its defense from a team that played (and didn't look great) in the Pinstripe Bowl?

When you put it like that…well, kind of.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Projecting Who Will Win Volunteers' Open Starting Positions

Heading into the 2014 season, head Tennessee football coach Butch Jones needs to fill several open starting positions on the Volunteers roster. 

In his second year on the job—a year when many new head coaches are first truly judged on their abilities to win football games—Jones faces a daunting schedule with a roster that includes zero returning starters on the offensive and defensive lines.

The Vols also lost key starters at the linebacker, running back and kicker/punter positions to graduation. 

Jones and his staff managed to haul in the fifth-ranked recruiting class in the country in February, per Rivals. Many of those talented newcomers will have every chance to earn significant playing time and even starting positions before the Vols kickoff against Utah State on Aug. 31.

But the SEC is an unforgiving league. Young players who aren't used to the speed of the college game and competing against the size and strength of NFL-bound athletes are often targeted and exposed by opposing offensive and defensive coordinators.

No matter how talented Tennessee's incoming freshmen are, they face a tall order when it comes to beating out the Vols' veteran players who have patiently waited for their turns to make a name for themselves on Rocky Top.

Here are the players who are most likely to win the Vols' open starting positions in 2014. 

 

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Florida State Football Recruiting: Commits, Top Targets to Watch at the Opening

The Florida State football team already has landed verbal commitments from three defensive backs in the class of 2015. 

In July, Derwin James, Tyrek Cole and Calvin Brewton will get the chance to prove themselves against the nation's top receivers in one of the most prestigious high school showcases for recruits, The Opening.

StudentSports.com calls The Opening "four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition" that will help players improve at their positions and also add speed and explosiveness. 

Quarterback De'Andre Johnson has also been invited to the event, which also features seven-on-seven games and a lineman challenge.

Here is a look at the four FSU verbal commitments as well as 14 players whom coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff are pursuing.

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Oregon Football Recruiting: 4 Top Targets to Watch at 'The Opening'

The 2014 Opening hosts some of the nation's most promising high school football prospects, right in the Oregon Ducks backyard. 

Head coach Mark Helfrich's staff is combing the nation for the next Ducks, with top targets in California, Texas and Florida. All come to them at The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon. 

Some of the premier talent Oregon is pursuing will compete at the event next month. Among them are a 4-star quarterback who recently reopened his recruitment, two 5-star prospects with the ability to wreak havoc in the backfield and a rising star on both sides of the ball. 

 

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Oregon Football Recruiting: 4 Top Targets to Watch at 'The Opening'

The 2014 Opening hosts some of the nation's most promising high school football prospects, right in the Oregon Ducks backyard...

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Texas Football Recruiting: 8 Commits and Top Targets to Watch at the Opening

Summer time equals camp time in the recruiting world, and the next big recruiting event is less than one month away.

The Opening will feature the nation's top high school recruits in a variety of football drills. The Nike event has a decent number of Texas targets who are expected to be in attendance in Oregon come early July. 

Here's a look at the top Texas commits and targets to look for at The Opening.

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Constructing the Ideal College Football Program

Last week, Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer, months after first disappearing into his mom's basement laboratory, emerged with a scientifically-engineered college quarterback

(Sadly, it was not the Tommy Rees/B.J. Daniels/Stephen Garcia ManBearPig that was promised.) 

In essence, this is the expanded, less science-y version of that: constructing the ideal college football program. 

Here, we dive into what makes a college football program so unique: the stadium, the tailgating, the tradition and lore, the fight song and everything in between. The only rule is that there are no rules. All-time rosters and coaches are eligible. This stadium doesn't have to mesh with that college town. 

So what does B/R's ideal college football program look like? It's a combination of greatness spelled out in the following slides. 

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Big 12 Athletic Directors Have No Plans for Conference Expansion

The Big 12 was the anomaly of conference expansion, getting smaller while the power leagues around continued to grow.

Now that the Big Ten has joined the ACC and SEC with 14 teams and the Pac-12 stands steady with 12, there was speculation that the Big 12 would seek to add a couple more teams to its current membership of 10. But apparently, there is no truth to that talk.

According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, two Big 12 athletic directors—Kansas State's John Currie and West Virginia's Oliver Luck—shot down the notion of expansion when asked about it point blank.

"Expansion is one thing we're not talking about," said Luck.

"We see how strong and productive our league is with 10 members, added Currie. "The camaraderie is really good."

This report comes on the heels of noteworthy comments by BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, who told Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman that he wants to join the league.

"We would love to be in the Big 12," said Mendenhall. "I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense. In fact, if that was your headline, that would be great."

It is no coincidence that BYU wants in—at this specific moment—on a power conference. With the new College Football Playoff, there are questions about the viability of an independent program. Without a conference championship game to participate in, there's a chance such programs could be overlooked and left behind.

If the Big 12 does not want to add new members, as Currie and Luck stated, BYU will have to seek a different course of action. Here are three options proposed by Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk:

2. Work with the Big 12 to establish some sort of relationship similar in structure to the ACC’s deal with Notre Dame. Having five games with BYU on the schedule certainly is not a drain on the Big 12′s non-conference schedule and it provides BYU with some more stability with scheduling. If BYU can even sneak into the Big 12′s bowl line-up the way Notre Dame will in the ACC, that is a bonus.

3. BYU continues as a football independent, hoping to secure scheduling deals with Pac-12 schools (like UCLA) and push for national scheduling. This may urn out to be the most likely scenario, and may still be the best case scenario if the power conferences do not totally split off from the rest of the NCAA.

4. BYU gets left behind in the power shift in college football and rejoins the Mountain West Conference, providing for schedule stability in whatever happens in the future of the college football landscape.

Of those options, the one about a Notre Dame-type deal with the Big 12 is the most intriguing but also the most complicated. It would be difficult to broker such an arrangement, but at this point, doing so might be the only thing that saves BYU from mediocrity.

Unless you guys can think of anything else.

Sound off below if you can.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BleighDAT.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin Football Recruiting: 5 Commits, Top Targets to Watch at 'The Opening'

Nike's The Opening is always one of the biggest events on the recruiting calendar, with 162 players coming to this year's edition of the camp held in Oakland, California.  The Wisconsin football team has no commits headed to the camp but a number of targets set to workout there.

The Badgers' recruiting has picked up since they brought Coach Gary Andersen on board, so their lack of a commitment among this group is a bit disappointing. However, it is not all together surprising.

With much of the Badgers' recruiting effort focused on the Midwest, where very few players invited to the camp live, one cannot be too surprised.

The Badgers have signed eight players thus far, and here are five more who are attending The Opening that the Badgers would love to sign.

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Why Alabama Is the Perfect Fit for Travis Waller

Lane Kiffin inherited a 5-star quarterback commit when he accepted the offensive coordinator position at Alabama. However, his relationship with Ricky Town lasted just two weeks, as the coveted California prospect flipped to USC in late January and created a glaring need in the Crimson Tide's 2015 recruiting class.

The hunt for a premier passer has seeped into the early stages of summer, turning Alabama's attention back to the West Coast. Anaheim product Travis Waller is the latest target following a series of whiffs with other options.

The 4-star recruit revealed four favorites Monday night and shared that he expects to announce a decision July 1:

The Crimson Tide made the cut, joining Notre Dame, Northwestern and Ohio State as his top contenders. Alabama extended an offer May 17, midway through a busy month for the 6'3", 190-pound Servite High School standout.

Waller's recruitment escalated during the final stretch of spring, capped off by a Notre Dame offer last week. An opportunity to play in Tuscaloosa represented a big step in the process for Waller, according to Servite head coach A.J. Gass.

"He was very excited," Gass told Drew Champlin of AL.com. "The attention of getting a school like Alabama to notice you is really, really something to be proud of. The tradition they have of winning, the exposure and the SEC, all the big things you think about in college football."

His enthusiasm toward the Tide remains evident. Just one day after announcing his top four, Waller was en route to Tuscaloosa:

Alabama stands out among his finalists because, unlike the other three, the program isn't known as a place where dual-threat quarterbacks flourish. Head coach Nick Saban has won three titles with the Tide while relying on a strong rushing attack and accurate pocket passers.

AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy combined to rush for five total touchdowns during the past five seasons.

Travis Waller brings a much different skill set to the field. He rushed for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, averaging nearly eight yards per carry.

So what's the appeal at Alabama, where NFL-caliber running backs have long ruled the rushing lanes?

Well, let's start with the fact that Saban decided he needed to shake things up offensively following a 2013 season that ended with the team's first losing streak in five years. The move to hire Kiffin provided a clear indication that dynamics might change, though it may be a slow and steady progression that maintains the head coach's basic offensive principles.

Just take a look at the kind of quarterbacks Alabama has offered in recent months.

Brandon Wimbush picked up an offer from the Tide May 1, four days before he pledged to Penn State. Rated No. 5 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, the New Jersey prospect gained nearly 12 yards per rushing attempt and reached the end zone seven times as a runner in 2013, per NJ.com.

Blake Barnett, another California quarterback, added an Alabama offer to his collection in February despite a commitment to Notre Dame. He rushed for nearly 700 yards and 13 scores last season, ranking third among dual-threat talents in the 2015 class.

Barnett backed off his pledge to the Fighting Irish last week and will visit Alabama in the near future, his head coach told AL.com. Alabama is clearly open to the idea of moving forward with a quarterback who can do damage with his legs, and it's not just a desperation move as options at the position dwindle.

"They were telling me I could come in and compete and they think I could excel in their offense," Barnett told 247Sports reporter Justin Hopkins (subscription required).

When you consider the prospect of combining Alabama's rotating backfield of beastly backs with a quarterback who can tuck the ball and take off with effectiveness, it's easy to see why Saban may be shifting toward a new look down the line.

After all, he knows exactly how challenging it is to game-plan for dual-threat quarterbacks after battling the likes of Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow during his tenure with the Tide. Perhaps he's ready to flip the script.

It's important to note that Waller is no slouch in the pocket. He averaged 20 pass attempts per contest as a junior, tallying nearly 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air.

Waller remains relatively raw from a mechanical standpoint and is likely to spend at least a year or two on the sidelines in college as he develops a more polished delivery and develops his downfield reads.

Alabama would he investing in a player with the proverbial "high ceiling." Waller would be investing in an offensive scheme open to innovation.

The Tide are in pursuit of multiple quarterbacks who can extend plays and create offense when things break down in the passing game. Based on coaching track records, Waller may find an attack more tailored to his skills elsewhere, but he won't be able to replicate the supporting cast that would await him in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama is well on its way to a fifth consecutive No. 1 running class, collecting several new weapons for an offense already overflowing with playmakers. Waller would join a group of pledges that already includes two of the country's top wide receivers in Calvin Ridley and Daylon Charlot, along with 4-star rusher Desherrius Flowers, the latest addition to a stable of explosive backs.

Waller has an opportunity to explore Saban and Kiffin's offensive vision this week while spending time on campus. If he likes the sales pitch, July could bring a long-awaited quarterback commit to Alabama, where Waller would provide expanded possibilities for the Tide attack in the years to come.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet the Next De'Anthony Thomas, 2015 ATH Stephen Johnson

2015 stud athlete Stephen Johnson is known for his blazing speed. The 5'11", 180-pound recruit plays mostly quarterback in high school but projects as either a wide receiver or a defensive back at the college level.

Bleacher Report caught up with Johnson to discuss what makes him such an exceptional player, who he models his game after and why a certain former Oregon QB is his favorite player.

Who could the former Duck be?

Watch the video to find out.


Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet the Next De'Anthony Thomas, 2015 ATH Stephen Johnson

2015 stud athlete Stephen Johnson is known for his blazing speed. The 5'11", 180-pound recruit plays mostly quarterback in high school but projects as either a wide receiver or a defensive back at the college level...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Michigan Football: Players That Brady Hoke Needs Back by Next Season

Brady Hoke needs all the help he can get to put Michigan back on track.

He began this offseason by firing his friend Al Borges and hiring Doug Nussmeier from Alabama to fix the offense. Concerned that his seniors became entitled after attending the team’s annual leadership retreat with Navy SEALs last season, he canceled this spring’s trip according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.

Hoke is also dealing with injuries at key positions as Michigan tries to regain the momentum which evaporated during a crushing 1-4 end to last season’s Big Ten schedule. The schedule doesn't get any easier this season with his team facing both Michigan State and Ohio State—both on the road—in the newly formed Big Ten East Division.

Hoke will need these players back at full strength for Michigan to challenge its rivals for Big Ten supremacy.


Blake Countess, CB

Countess is recovering from surgery to repair a core injury from last season, as reported by Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. Countess has recovered enough to participate in the team’s annual Women’s Football Academy that raises funds for cancer research.

He previously missed the 2012 season after being injured in the season opener against Alabama, but is expected to be at full strength by fall camp.

Hoke is relying on Countess to lead a secondary that needs to pick up the slack while the defensive line rebuilds and Jake Ryan adjusts to the middle linebacker position.

 

Jake Butt, TE

When opponents locked down receivers Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess last season, Devin Gardner often found Jake Butt (20 receptions for 235 yards, two touchdowns) for the outlet pass.

With Gallon and Drew Dileo graduating (combined 105 receptions, 1574 yards and 11 touchdowns), Butt’s role in the offense was expected to grow next season until he injured his ACL during offseason conditioning.

Butt has tweeted that his rehab is going well and Hoke told Snyder of the Detroit Free Press that he expects Butt back by the third game of the season.

Butt is needed not only for his ability to catch passes but to help bolster the blocking of the offensive line.


Erik Magnuson, OL

The Michigan offensive line was epically bad last season. According to statistics compiled by Football Study Hall, the Wolverines were 118th in the nation—two spots behind Western Michigan and two spots ahead of Brady Hoke’s former team, San Diego State.

With the loss of tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, Magnuson was expected fill one of the open positions but was sidelined by a shoulder injury that forced him to miss spring practice.

With the off-field problems of Graham Glasgow already disrupting the retooling of the offensive line during spring practice, Hoke needs Magnuson to come back and be a steady contributor in both pass protection and run blocking.

Devin Gardner, QB

Gardner returned for spring practice but he needs to work on regaining his strength and conditioning after missing the bulk of offseason workouts rehabbing from a leg injury.

Gardner showed toughness playing through the injury against Ohio State, but he’ll need more than toughness to return Michigan to prominence. Gardner needs to show he has the skills to elevate the offense past last year’s level.

Sophomore Shane Morris filled in admirably during Gardner’s absence, but Hoke can’t afford to break in a new quarterback while also rolling out Nussmeier’s new offense. Gardner’s running ability might also prove itself useful as the offensive line rebuilds.


All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football Recruiting: 15 Commits and Top Targets to Watch at the Opening

Nike's 2014 The Opening football camp is just around the corner, and a few hundred of the nation's most promising athletes will attend with the intention of boosting their recruitment stock...

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Power Ranking: The Best Quarterbacks to Play for Nick Saban

Previous to the 2013 season, Nick Saban had coached an All-American player at every position minus three: Tight end, punter and, believe it or not, quarterback.

That ended when the University of Alabama’s AJ McCarron was named a first-team selection by both the Walter Camp Foundation and the American Football Coaches Association, two of the services the National Collegiate Athletic Association uses to determine consensus and unanimous status.

Obviously, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of Florida State ended up the consensus first-team selection, but McCarron ended his career with two national championship rings as a starter (three overall), the Maxwell Award as college football’s most outstanding player and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for best quarterback 

Along the way he set numerous program records including for career passing yards, touchdown passes and wins despite being labeled as primarily being a game manager.

“To me, you can't be a good quarterback unless you're a good game manager, because you've got the ball in your hands every time and you're making some kind of choice and decision of what to do with it, whether you hand it off, what play you hand it off on, where you throw it in the passing game,” Saban said during last season. “You've got to process a lot of information quickly and make quick decisions. I don't think it's fair to AJ that because I said he's a really good game manager for us that it's like that means he doesn't do anything. He does everything.”

That included breaking Tim Tebow’s Southeastern Conference record for interceptions per pass attempt (62.2, 2006-09), but with two pickoffs during his final game finished at 68.4 to fall short of the national record held by Fresno State’s Billy Volek (77.8, 1997-99).

To help put that into perspective, consider that during his collegiate career in the 1960s, Joe Namath completed 203 of 374 passes (54.3 percent), for 2,713 yards, 24 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Even in the 1990s, Jay Barker was 402 of 706 (56.9 percent), for 5,689 yards, 26 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. Their career ratios were one every 18.7 attempts, and 29.4, respectively.

With 77 touchdown passes compared to 15 interceptions, McCarron’s touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5.13 to 1 was the best in Crimson Tide history, although Alabama doesn’t include it in the record book. The key was the 2012 season when he posted an outstanding 10.3 to 1 ratio:

No Alabama starting quarterback has had more interceptions than touchdowns since Saban's arrival in 2007:

Quarterbacks ,TD/Int, ratio
2013 AJ McCarron 28/7; 4 to 1
2012 AJ McCarron 31/3; 10.3 to 1
2011 AJ McCarron 16/5; 3.2 to 1
2010 Greg McElroy 20/5; 4 to 1
2009 Greg McElroy 17/4; 4.25 to 1
2008 John Parker Wilson 10/8; 1.25 to 1
2007 John Parker Wilson 18/12; 1.5 to 1 

Here’s how that compares to some other Alabama quarterbacks since 1940:

2005 Brodie Croyle 14/4; 3.5 to 1
2001 Tyler Watts 10/3, 3.3 to 1
1997 Freddie Kitchens 11/4; 2.75 to 1
1994 Jay Barker 14/5; 2.8 to 1
1985 Mike Shula 16/8; 2.0 to 1
1975 Richard Todd 7/3; 2.3 to 1
1973 Gary Rutledge 8/4; 2.0 to 1
1966 Kenny Stabler 9/5; 1.8 to 1
1965 Steve Sloan 10/3; 3.3 to 1
1962 Joe Namath 13/8; 1.6 to 1
1961 Pat Trammell 8/2; 4 to 1
1953 Bart Starr 8/6; 1.3 to 1
1945 Harry Gilmer 13/3; 4.3 to 1 

With that in mind, the following's the top 10 quarterbacks to play for Saban, based primarily on what they accomplished while under the direction of the coach at Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99), LSU (2000-04) and Alabama (2007-13):

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Grant Newsome Commits to Michigan: Wolverines Land Mammoth 4-Star OT

It appears James Franklin is fallible after all.

Penn State was locked in a tight recruiting battle with Michigan for the services of Grant Newsome, a 4-star offensive tackle from Lawrenceville, New Jersey. And although Franklin has been on fire during his first full cycle with PSU, Newsome announced Wednesday that he would play for the Wolverines.

Here is the wholehearted way Newsome announced the news:

The sincerity of Newsome's message was refreshing. Beyond his football skills—which we'll get to in a moment—Newsome seems like the type of player and kid any program would be lucky to have.

Even Greg Pickel, who covers Penn State recruiting for Scout.com, had to tip his cap to the way Newsome announced his decision:

And it definitely didn't hurt that Newsome thanked him:

Newsome is the No. 198 overall player and the No. 19 offensive tackle in the 247Sports composite rankings. At 6'6" and 290 pounds, he has the frame and the length to play on either side of the line but needs to add some weight.

ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) lauded Newsome for his tall, lean frame and his athleticism, saying, at the very least, that his body appears "capable of supporting additional bulk." He is raw but has good flexibility and should be considered a high-upside prospect.

He joins a Michigan class that needed to land him much more than Penn State did. Entering the day, the Nittany Lions were (and remain) ranked No. 3 in the 247Sports team rankings with 16 committed players. Michigan moved up from No. 33 to No. 30 after landing Newsome, who is only their seventh commit of the cycle.

Combined with Jon Runyan Jr.—the son of longtime Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan Sr.—Newsome gives the Wolverines a pair of offensive tackles to build around from the 2015 class.

Considering the shape of the offensive line last season, such reinforcements were desperately needed and can't stop here. The Wolverines' 3.28 rushing yards per attempt was No. 115 in the country and fifth-worst among teams from power conferences.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football Recruiting: 12 Top Targets to Watch at The Opening

The Auburn Tigers have already had an impressive start in building their 2015 recruiting class. The defending SEC champions are ranked No. 4 in 247Sports' rankings with a current total of 15 commitments, including one 5-star and nine 4-star recruits.

But a quick glance at the roster for next month's The Opening, a national invitation-only showcase at Nike's World Headquarters in Oregon, shows the best days might be ahead for Auburn recruiting.

While none of Auburn's current commitments were invited, a large number of Gus Malzahn and his staff's top targets will attend the showcase on July 5-10.

With a few weeks until the start of Nike's event, here is a look at a dozen targets that Auburn fans should watch at The Opening.

Recruits are listed by 247Sports' Composite Ranking.

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How Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg Will Improve on a Stellar Freshman Season

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg burst onto the national stage in his freshman year, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2013.

What does he have in store for his sophomore season?

Watch Bleacher Report's Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee predict huge numbers for Hackenberg in 2014. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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