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How Is Auburn Handling the National Championship Hype Heading into 2014?

In the race for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, history is not on Auburn's side.

After all, Auburn has not had back-to-back 10-win seasons since 1988 and 1989.

In seasons following trips to the SEC Championship Game, the program's highest regular-season win total is nine.

Also, the Tigers have lost two or more games the last five seasons in which they opened inside the Top 10 of the preseason AP poll.

But even though recent program results suggest Auburn will not be a national title contender at season's end, the 14 returning starters and other playmakers from last season's SEC Championship squad has made the 2014 team a popular playoff pick this offseason:

In a conference that is lacking veteran quarterbacks this season, second-year starter Nick Marshall will lead head coach Gus Malzahn's high-powered offense with a valuable offseason of practice behind him.

The Tigers also return four of their starters from 2013's dominant offensive line, and a steadily improving defense has reloaded with a mix of young talent and veteran leadership.

Since these experienced Tigers have already won the SEC, their minds are set on one thing—getting back to the sport's biggest stage.

"Don’t get me wrong, the conference championship is a huge goal, but the ultimate goal is a national championship," senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "Being on that stage, feeling that stage, experiencing that. That fire is still burning."

However, to get back to that stage, the Tigers will have to do something that has not been done in over a decade.

In a season that is projected to have several major national title contenders outside of the SEC, many analysts are predicting only one team to come out of the conference in the inaugural College Football Playoff—whoever wins the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

"Unfortunately, the conference is so balanced that they're going to cannibalize each other, and I don't see two SEC teams making the four-team playoff," USA Today's Danny Sheridan said on ESPN's The Paul Finebaum Show Thursday afternoon (quote begins around the 7:00 mark). "The last three years, two SEC teams would have made the playoffs, but I don't see it happening this year."

B/R's own Barrett Sallee picked only one representative from the SEC in his first College Football Playoff predictions, while Michael Felder did not include any from the conference in his picks:

According to AL.com's Brandon Marcello, defending SEC champions have averaged a second-place divisional finish in the seasons following a title.

The last time a SEC champion successfully defended its title was in 1998, when Malzahn was still eight years away from his first collegiate coaching job.

"I was pretty young when I was at Shiloh Christian [in 1998]," Malzahn said at last week's SEC media days. "That's been a while. I think that says it all. That's how hard it is to repeat in our league."

Archrival Alabama knows how tough it is to repeat in the SEC. While they won back-to-back BCS National Championships in 2011 and 2012, LSU was the conference's champion in 2011.

The Crimson Tide were still the media's preseason favorites to win the SEC in 2014, but the results of the turnaround Tigers' record-setting 2013 campaign—most notably, the upset win against No. 1 Alabama in last season's epic Iron Bowl—has closed the gap between the two rivals.

“Really, this is where you want your program to be," Malzahn said. "Last year at this time, we were just trying to get back to that point. And last year we did that. Obviously, we're disappointed we came up 13 seconds short of winning the whole thing, but we're extremely motivated from a player's standpoint and a coach's standpoint moving forward."

After spending the majority of last season as the underdogs, the conference will be aiming to knock a motivated Auburn team off the mountaintop this season.

"We're now the hunted instead of the hunter," senior tight end C.J. Uzomah told The Gainesville Sun's Zach Abolverdi. "So our approach and our mindset has been attack everything we do that much harder."

It has been several years since the Tigers have been "the hunted" so early in the year.

The preseason hype surrounding the program is the highest it has been since 2006, when the Tigers opened as the No. 4 team in the polls. Auburn beat a pair of Top 10 teams that season, but two losses to unranked conference foes derailed its national championship hopes.

One of those losses was a home defeat to offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

The 2014 Tigers also have several dangerous games in their schedule, which includes rivalry-game visits to both Georgia and Alabama for the first time ever.

ESPN's Brian Fremeau ranked the defending SEC champions' slate as the second-toughest in college football:

So what is Auburn's plan for navigating that treacherous schedule in hopes of reaching the Georgia Dome and then Cowboys Stadium for first title game in the playoff era?

"We will have to be as good, if not better than last year, to even have a chance to make a run again," Dismukes said. "We just have to take it one day at a time and one game at a time and get better and better.”

For the Tigers, that "one game at a time" approach starts on Aug. 30 against an Arkansas team trying to rebound from its own winless campaign in the conference.

"We do have a lot of our guys back, and we're playing at home," Malzahn said. "But we really expect Arkansas to be much improved. We know we're going to have to play well."

If this year's Auburn team is going to defy recent history, it will have to set the tone from the season's opening kickoff against the school that ended Auburn's 2006 national title hopes.

"We're not looking at Bama or the SEC Championship," Wright said. "We're going to start with Arkansas."


Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Joe Bergeron Reportedly Dismissed from Texas Football Team for Rule Violations

The apparent culture change within the University of Texas football program continued Friday as yet another player was dismissed from the team.

According to Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com, new Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong dismissed senior running back Joe Bergeron due to unspecified rule violations:

Brown later reported on two more players dismissed from the program (subscription required)

Bergeron was forced to miss part of spring practice due to apparent academic issues, per Anwar Richardson of OrangeBloods.com. Despite that, he was able to work his way back onto the team and drew praise from Strong:

He'll be back in the mix, has done everything we've asked him to do, not only academically but just showing up doing those little things. When you take something away from a player sometimes and when you take something away that they really enjoy doing, then you can see a lot of change, and that changes very quickly if it's important to them.

Bergeron's foray out of the doghouse was apparently short-lived as he now finds himself in purgatory. With that said, his dismissal isn't necessarily official since he has the option to appeal, according to Richardson.

The veteran back is just the latest Longhorn who Strong has taken disciplinary action against in recent days. Running back Jalen Overstreet and defensive back Chevoski Collins were dismissed Thursday due to rule violations, per Taylor Gaspar of OrangeBloods.com.

Additionally, wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were suspended indefinitely after being charged with sexual assault, per Ryan Autullo, Brian Davis and Tony Plohetski of the Austin American-Statesman.

Bergeron had been used inconsistently during his time at Texas, accruing less than 1,400 total rushing yards over three years. He is coming off a season in which he rushed for 362 yards and four touchdowns.

His most productive campaign came in 2012 when he rumbled for 567 yards and 15 scores. Bergeron is a tough runner at 6'1" and 230 pounds, but the Longhorns will no longer have him at their disposal.

Even so, Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com doesn't expect the dismissal to hurt Texas much since it possesses a lot of depth at the running back position:

Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray combined to rush for nearly 1,700 yards last season, so Bergeron found himself on the outside looking in to some degree.

Dismissing a player is always a last resort, but Strong clearly felt as though it was his only choice. He is certainly trying to make his presence felt at Texas and he has done that to great effect already.

Whether or not his team responds to this brand of tough love remains to be seen, but the Strong era already has a decidedly different feel than the Mack Brown years.

Strong has no tolerance for violations of team rules, and Bergeron and a number of his teammates found that out the hard way.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Top 5 Storylines to Watch for at 2014 Big Ten Media Days

Just a short walk from Lake Michigan, only an 8-iron or so from some of the best shopping on the planet, the best and brightest in the Big Ten will meet to celebrate another year of college football.

The Chicago Hilton will play host to Big Ten media days on Monday, July 28, and Tuesday, July 29, one of the last stops before fall camp officially begins. Before we get to the actual football, however, we will hear from the coaches, players and B1G brass.

Monday will be a rapid-fire session. All 14 coaches—yes, they added a few since the last time you saw them—will have 15 minutes in the main ballroom. It moves fast, so hopefully our tape-recorders are in game shape.

On Tuesday, the players and coaches in attendance will sit at roundtables, and media members will spend two hours bumping into each other, knocking coffee onto poorly ironed shirts, hoping to grab the appropriate sound bites at their tables of choice.

As for what you can expect at the 2014 B1G Media Days, here are some things to look out for.

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: SEC Network, Steve Spurrier Hype and More

A Few Big Fish Left in the Pond

Another week, another major provider has signed on to carry the SEC Network when it launches on Aug. 14. 

ESPN and the SEC announced Thursday afternoon that Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks have agreed to carry the new 24-hour cable network when it flips the switch two weeks before the season starts.

"It is great to have Time Warner Cable as a distribution partner for the SEC Network," said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive in a release. "Time Warner Cable customers, particularly those in South Carolina and Texas, will have the opportunity to enjoy our football season opener exclusively on the SEC Network when Texas A&M visits South Carolina on August 28."

The addition of Time Warner and Bright House to the current roster of providers, which includes Comcast Xfinity, Google Fiber, AT&T U-Verse, Dish Network and several smaller carriers, will make the network available to around 60 million customers.

It was a different era, and the Big Ten Network was blazing a trail, but when it launched in 2007, it was available to 16 million people

The SEC Network will add more homes before launch.

The biggest fish left in the pond that's yet to sign a carriage deal is DirecTV, which released a statement earlier this month that it is continuing negotiations with ESPN, which wholly owns the SEC Network.

Slive swung for the fences at SEC media days, saying, "The SEC Network right now is available to everyone." You just may have to switch providers.

That won't be necessary. With just under three weeks before launch, that 60 million number, combined with the possibility of Disney/ESPN leveraging its non-sports programming, will be impossible for DirecTV, Charter and every other holdout to ignore.

Slive, ESPN Senior Vice President Justin Connolly and everyone associated with the startup of the new network have played their cards perfectly. It's almost as if it was part of the plan.


Where's the Love for South Carolina?

Steve Spurrier is never one to hold back his feelings, and he let it be known Thursday at South Carolina's golf tournament that he feels his players were getting overlooked in the preseason All-SEC teams:

Spurrier wasn't happy Skai Moore was left off media preseason All-SEC teams: "We've gotta do a better job of promoting these guys."

— Ryan Wood (@rwood_SC) July 24, 2014

Spurrier says they have a lot of returning players that have played well. He & Steve Fink have to do better job getting names out there.

— William Gunter (@WillGunter560) July 24, 2014

Spurrier surprised more Gamecocks weren't preseason All-SEC "Our guys can play some ball now."

— Matt Connolly (@MattConnollySHJ) July 24, 2014

He's right. For a team that's likely going to land in the preseason top 10, there's a remarkable absence of Gamecocks on the three-deep preseason All-SEC teams. 

Running back Mike Davis and offensive linemen A.J. Cann and Corey Robinson were on the second-team offense, while cornerback/safety Brison Williams was the third-team defensive back, according to CBSSports.com.

That's great for Davis and the offense, because a solid offensive line and a top-tier running back will win you a lot of football games. But that defense lacks all kinds of star power. Moore and "Spur" Sharrod Golightly were pretty solid last year and could make a push to make the postseason team—especially if Spurrier does a better job of promoting them.


Rearview Mirror?

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall's legal issues are now officially behind him. 

According to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com, Marshall's mother, Shalena Cliett, paid fines stemming from his citation earlier this month for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana ($1,000) and illegal window tint ($100), officially closing the case.

So what becomes of Marshall now? 

Head coach Gus Malzahn said during SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, earlier this month that his quarterback would face some consequences but hasn't decided what they will be. Expect there to be a small suspension.

Malzahn holds his quarterbacks to a high standard and expects nothing short of perfection from them. Because of that, I expect there to be a small—likely unannounced—suspension for the senior signal-caller in the Tigers' season opener versus Arkansas.

What will that be? A game? A half? A quarter? A series?

Expect him to dress, and then we'll find out after the opener.


A "Big" Loss?

Georgia's defensive roster attrition continued this week when defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor was arrested for felony aggravated assault/family violence and subsequently dismissed from the program, according to CBSSports.com.

So what does it mean for the Bulldogs defense?

Taylor came to Georgia as a potential force at nose guard, but the 6'4", 330-pound former 4-star prospect was buried on the third team behind Mike Thornton and Chris Mayes, according to the depth chart in Georgia's media guide, via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It hurts from a potential standpoint and, to an extent, a depth standpoint, as there's a little less of a margin for error in the center of the Bulldogs defensive line. 

Is Taylor's departure something that will devastate the Bulldogs defense? Not really. But it eliminates an option, and defensive lines always need options.


Strong Progress on the Rivalry Front?

One of college football's most storied rivalries is still off the books, but there may be progress on Texas' side to renew the rivalry with Texas A&M. 

New head coach Charlie Strong said during the Big 12 coaches "car wash" at ESPN that the game "needs to happen," according to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com. That flies in the face of his boss, athletics director Steve Patterson, who told ESPN.com's Max Olson in April that renewing the rivalry with the Aggies isn't on "the top of his list."

Thank you, Coach Strong.

A fresh face in Austin, Strong brings a new perspective. One that isn't stuck in the mindset that Texas A&M is Texas' little brother. Ever since moving to the SEC in 2012, the Aggies have been establishing their own identity outside of the shadow of the Longhorns, and that will only continue as the program becomes more synonymous with the SEC around the country and within state lines.

Strong is no dummy. He knows those three letters resonate with recruits, and one way to keep and maintain dominance is to settle it on the field. Otherwise, Texas is just letting Texas A&M continue to define its own identity, which is bad news for Strong and the Longhorns.


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


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It's Charlie Strong's Way or the Highway in Texas' Locker Room

There's no denying first-year Texas coach Charlie Strong has intensity. He carries it with him wherever he goes. He just doesn't want players to fear him. 

"Just look at me," Strong joked at Big 12 media days. "I don't think they [the players] get afraid of me at all."

Nervous reporters everywhere agreed meekly. 

Longhorns center Dominic Espinosa even described Strong as a "positive guy." But Strong has a set of five core values—honesty, treat women with respect, no drugs, no stealing and no weapons—that he expects all players, from first string to walk-ons, to abide by. 

"I tell 'em right away, if you don't want to be a part of this football team, break a core value," Strong said, per Anwar Richardson of Orangebloods.com

Wednesday was a busy day for those who did just that. Taylor Gaspar of Orangebloods.com reported that defensive back Chevoski Collins and running back Jalen Overstreet had been dismissed from the team due to a violation of team rules. 

"And this was apparently not the first time the two have violated the same rule," Gaspar wrote, noting that Collins and Overstreet were two of four players banned from team activities in the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center this summer. 

The dismissals came hours after Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman reported that Strong suspended wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander for their alleged role in a sexual assault incident. Sanders and Meander were arrested on felony sexual assault charges. 

Strong told Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com at media days that the players at the center of the investigation, previously unidentified, were "away from the team." 

To be clear, Strong had no choice but to suspend the pair. He's not to be commended for doing the only thing he could do, and there's no celebrating the move in an alleged sexual assault case. It's a terrible situation all around, one that happens far too often. 

Still, Strong has been a noted disciplinarian since being named Texas' head coach in January. In March, Texas announced in an email that fullback Chet Moss and junior defensive back Leroy Scott had been dismissed for violating team rules. 

The following month, Gaspar reported that running back Joe Bergeron would miss the remainder of spring to focus on academics. Strong said during media days that Bergeron was "back in the mix" after dealing with his off-the-field obligations. However, Richardson reported Friday morning that Bergeron was, in fact, dismissed from the team. 

"Do what I ask you to do," Strong said at media days. "It's not hard." 

As Dustin McComas of Orangebloods.com tweets, Strong hasn't been messing around. If he will suspend/dismiss four players in one day, he's probably not done, either. 

Strong's disciplinary attitude isn't new. First-year coaches have made their stance clear before by dismissing/suspending players who don't buy in to the new rules.

Furthermore, this is less about Strong "cleaning up the program" as much as it is about players getting on his page. Remember, Strong, previously at Louisville, added former Auburn running back Michael Dyer to the Cardinals' roster last year—and Dyer had off-the-field issues. 

It's not about wins or losses, either. Strong has made that abundantly clear by sidestepping questions about expectations. He's more focused on implementing his five-phase process in Year 1. 

Maybe Strong is the coach Texas needs to get back in the national championship picture. Maybe he isn't. Regardless, he's going to do things his way. That much he's made clear. 



According to Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com, two more players—senior safety Josh Turner and senior linebacker Kendall Thompson—have also been dismissed from the program. 

The purge. It's very real. 



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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Imagining 5-Star QB Torrance Gibson in Ohio State's Offense

The unbridled potential. The nauseating misdirection. The flash of red.

It's not hard to imagine how lethal Torrance Gibson would be as the quarterback at Ohio State. That dream could put a smile on Urban Meyer's face as fast as it could haunt the nightmares of Big Ten coaches across the Midwest.

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed like a pipe dream. 

The 5-star prospect out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was high on Ohio State early in the process, but the Buckeyes slipped down his list this summer. Midway through June, Gibson told Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer that he wasn't planning on visiting Columbus because the coaching staff hadn't reached out in a while.

Meyer corrected that mistake quickly. The Buckeyes are now back in the hunt and have Gibson visiting during their biggest recruiting event of the year—Friday Night Lights.

Gibson's visit has recruiting expert Dave Biddle openly wondering whether Ohio State should be the new favorite. If he does decide to play for the Buckeyes, what would that look like?


Torrance Gibson Is a Quarterback, Not a Receiver

Gibson has the physical tools to be a dominant receiver. At 6'4" and 200 pounds, he's tall and strong enough to catch the ball in traffic and would be nearly impossible to defend in the red zone. With a 4.5 40-yard dash, he's fast enough to break away from a defense.

A number of schools have pitched that vision to Gibson throughout his recruitment. None of those programs are in his final seven.

"When [schools] recruit me as a receiver, I really don't pay attention," Gibson told Bleacher Report's Michael Felder. "I put them at the bottom."

Gibson is very vocal about his desire to play quarterback, and he has attended football camps such as The Opening to improve his craft.

Meyer is working hard to convince Gibson to join the Buckeyes and succeed Braxton Miller.


Envisioning Torrance Gibson at Ohio State

One reason it's easy to imagine Gibson in Columbus is because his skill set is similar to Miller's. 

In a self-written blog published by USA Today, Gibson noted the similarities: "I know it would be a good fit for me because me and Braxton Miller are like the same people and the offense really fits me perfect."

That likeness is especially true in the run game. Gibson is elusive, specifically near the mesh point where he navigates through traffic almost effortlessly. When he hits the open field, though, his long stride and deceptive speed more closely resemble another former Ohio State quarterback—Terrelle Pryor.

Also like Miller, and even Pryor, Gibson struggles with his accuracy in the passing game. He's very careful with the ball—Gibson threw just three interceptions in 158 attempts his junior season—but he only completed 55.5 percent of his passes. 

Accuracy issues can be corrected with the right work ethic, which Gibson has, and good coaching, which would be available to him at Ohio State. Miller overcame those hurdles in Columbus—he completed 63.5 percent of his passes as a junior, all the way up from a 54.1 completion percentage as a freshman. 

Gibson has what it takes to mirror that improvement and torch Big Ten defenses like Miller has the last three seasons. 

Is that his future? Will Gibson spurn SEC schools such as Tennessee and Auburn to head north?

In his blog post, Gibson wrote that the Volunteers lead in his recruitment, but he doesn't know if that will change after visiting Ohio State.

"A lot of people tell me that I should pick [Ohio State]. I just want to see how the vibe is when I go there," he wrote.

Buckeye fans everywhere are hoping the vibe is right so they don't have to imagine Gibson teaming up with Meyer. They'd just have to wait a little while to see it become a reality.


All recruiting information via 247 SportsStats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

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College Football Recruiting RB Rankings 2015: Top 10 After the Opening

There may not be a generational talent like Leonard Fournette to command the spotlight this year, but the 2015 recruiting class still boasts a bevy of difference-makers at running back. Prospects who can pound the ball between the tackles, explode off the edge and contribute as pass-catchers are dominating on fields across the country.

Several of these backs have flashed their skills in summer showcases, including The Opening, as they tune up for one final high school season. Collegiate stardom awaits many of them, though ultimate destinations remain a mystery for uncommitted standouts.

Here's a rundown of the top-ranked 2015 running backs, ordered by their placement in updated 247Sports composite rankings, with analysis from what we've seen on game film and in person at The Opening.


This article is a part of Bleacher Report's CFB 200 Recruiting Rankings Series. The overall rankings are based on the 247Sports composite system, which takes into account every recruiting service's rankings. The positional rankings also correspond with those composite scores. Stay tuned over the next two weeks as we take an in-depth look at college football's stars of tomorrow.

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Florida State Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp

Florida State's depth is the envy of college football coaches from coast to coast.

The Seminoles will return to the practice field on Aug. 4 and must replace five starters on each side of the ball. But four straight years of top-10 recruiting classes in the 247Sports rankings have given FSU plenty of options.

FSU's depth chart reads like a who's who of former 4-star and 5-star prospects. It's possible that the Seminoles will start eight players who were 5-stars: quarterback Jameis Winston, tailback Karlos Williams (who was a 5-star safety), tight end Nick O'Leary, defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, safety Jalen Ramsey and cornerback Ronald Darby.

Where FSU lost a player from 2013, in most areas there is an experienced backup. The exception is wide receiver, but seven players could contribute and support star receiver Rashad Greene.

Let's take a look at how FSU's depth chart looks heading into the start of fall camp. 

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LSU Football: 5 Players Sure to Surprise During Fall Camp

Playing time will be on the line once LSU fall camp begins in early August. Head coach Les Miles will have a tough time configuring the depth chart, especially with his talented incoming freshman class of 2014

Successful teams annually have non-projected preseason starters step up throughout the season. Last year, running back Terrence Magee was that player for LSU. Viewed as a fourth-string back, Magee finished as the team's second leading rusher, proving his worth in fall practice and earning the trust of Miles and the coaching staff. 

Injuries happen throughout the college football season, so Miles will need depth beyond his starting lineup. Backups will have their chance in fall camp to show why they deserve playing time.  

Here are five players that will raise eyebrows over the next few weeks. 


*Rankings and stats provided by 247Sports.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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Florida Football: 5 Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

Last season, some of Florida’s biggest camp surprises included linebacker Daniel McMillian, running back Matt Jones and tight end Clay Burton. When the Gators take the field in a week to prepare for the upcoming season, there are sure to be other under-the-radar names who make a splash.

It’s one of the main things that makes fall camp so important to the team’s success, as it’s often the guys you least expected who make the difference in a championship run. If the Gators are going to turn things around from a year ago, the players who aren’t getting much attention have to step things up over the next few weeks.

Here are some Florida players who are sure to surprise us all this fall.

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Ohio State Football: 5 Burning Questions for Big Ten Media Days

Big Ten media days in Chicago kick off on Monday, and for the third consecutive year, there will be no shortage of eyeballs watching Urban Meyer and the Ohio State contingent. But as opposed to a year ago, when Meyer spent the annual gathering defending his character, football figures to be the prominent topic of discussion when it comes to the Buckeyes.

Not all of the conversation will be positive, however, as Ohio State enters the 2014 season coming off of a two-game losing streak that included losses in the Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl to cap the 2013 campaign. The Buckeyes have undergone an offseason overhaul on defense and spent spring football without injured star quarterback Braxton Miller, leaving plenty of questions to be answered by Meyer, Miller, tight end Jeff Heuerman and defensive tackle Michael Bennett in the Windy City next week.

But when you're Ohio State, attention—both good and bad—has a funny way of finding you no matter what. With that in mind, here are five burning questions that will be facing the Buckeyes when they take center stage in Chicago on Monday.

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Georgia Football: Why the Bulldogs Will Shock the World in 2014

With the College Football Playoff kicking off this year, there will be a surprise team that wasn’t expected to be in the mix when the season began.

Normally, it’s a team that struggled last season and catches fire. Last year, it was the Auburn Tigers that made the big step forward after a 2012 season that included a 0-8 mark in SEC play.

Could the 2014 surprise team be the Georgia Bulldogs?

According to Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee and Phil Steele, per Michael Bradley in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Bulldogs will shock the world and make it to the College Football Playoff.

Before the 2013 season began, the Bulldogs were looking like a team that could win the SEC East for the third consecutive year and win the SEC for the first time since 2005. But injures and inconsistency on defense plagued the Bulldogs all season and that led to an 8-5 record, which included a loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.

So why do guys like Steele and Sallee think the Bulldogs will turn things around?

One of the reasons is the Bulldogs will be more experienced on defense. Steele said because there were only three starters returning on defense last year, there was a ton of inexperience, which led to them giving up 29 points per game.

Phil Steele's top 5 2014 "Surprise Teams" 6-10: http://t.co/FeCOiXMDq3pic.twitter.com/VAV3ZWaGcJ

— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) June 21, 2014

This season, the Bulldogs have eight returning starters on defense led by what would be the best set of linebackers in the country. Then there's the fact they added a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt—there is no reason to think the Bulldogs can’t make strides on defense.

As far as the offense goes, they are as solid as any team in the country. Yes, the Bulldogs did lose Aaron Murray who is the most prolific passer in SEC history, but Hutson Mason has the experience needed to lead the Bulldogs to a successful season.

Also, the Bulldogs have some guy named Todd Gurley carrying the ball for them. Gurley has a shot to win the Heisman if he’s as healthy as he was in 2012.

But the most important key to the Bulldogs' chance to shock the world this season is the schedule. They will start the season with Clemson and will then have a week off before the face South Carolina. That was not the case last season when the Bulldogs had to travel to Clemson on the opening weekend and then face South Carolina in Athens the following week.

Last year, the Bulldogs' first five opponents were Clemson, South Carolina, North Texas, LSU and Tennessee. They went 4-1 during that stretch, but they were beat up after the Tennessee game and went 4-4 the rest of the way.

This season the Bulldogs’ first five opponents are Clemson, South Carolina, Troy, Tennessee and Vanderbilt with a bye week mixed in. Tennessee and Vanderbilt will not be easy opponents, but both of those games are at Sanford Stadium along with Troy and Clemson.

This has happened before where the Bulldogs have the makeup and the setup to make a run, and they come up short. But based on the preview magazines and media members who were at SEC Media Days (they were picked to finish second in the SEC East), the Bulldogs are flying under the radar.

If there is one thing the Bulldogs are good at, it’s being resilient. Just when many think they are out of the SEC picture, they get right back in it and make a run.

So will they win the SEC title and make it to the College Football Playoff? Only time will tell, but they have everything needed to make a surprise run at the title; it will just be a case of whether they can finally put it all together.


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet Every Elite 11 Quarterback's Favorite WR, Christian Kirk

Less than 20 yards away from a pair of Heisman Trophy passers, heralded high school quarterback Ricky Town sat in a chair untying his football cleats. The first session of Elite 11 finals wrapped up early Sunday evening in Beaverton, Oregon, home of Nike's sprawling world headquarters, and the 5-star USC commit was already putting together a game plan for the coming days.

Sure, seeing Johnny Manziel and Sam Bradford patrol the sidelines during drills provided the perfect punctuation to an eventful opening day at the national quarterback competition, but Town seemed just as intrigued by the impending arrival of an Arizona standout.

"Christian Kirk is on my list," he said.

Elite 11 finals would be immediately followed by The Opening, a three-day showcase that annually draws more than 150 top college recruits to Nike's campus. Quarterbacks viewed Kirk, an uncommitted 5'10", 191-pound receiver from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, as a top target on and off the field.

"A big part of an event like this is that you're able to meet really good players from across the country and do some recruiting," Town said. "He's a guy we're pursuing at USC and someone who would be great to throw the ball to at the next level."

Kirk may not have anticipated it when he checked in at The Opening, but defensive backs wouldn't be the only ones pressing him throughout the week.

By lunch time of his second day in Beaverton, Kirk found himself in the crosshairs of several of America's most celebrated young passers.

"I've got a lot of quarterbacks talking to me about maybe playing together in college," Kirk said. "They're all trying. It's cool."

The coveted pass-catcher is one of the most heavily pursued offensive players in the 2015 class. He holds scholarship offers from nearly 40 collegiate programs, and they started to show up during his sophomore year.

He announced 10 favorites from the expansive selection of options in June:

Kirk, rated sixth nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, caught 43 passes for 1,003 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, adding four interceptions during a run to the Arizona Division III state quarterfinals. He elevated his game and led the Sabercats to a state title last fall, establishing career highs with 65 receptions for 1,183 yards and 17 scores.

Kirk also fueled the championship chase as rusher, gaining 832 yards on the ground. He wrapped up his junior campaign with more than 2,000 total yards and 30 touchdowns, averaging 14 yards each time he took a handoff or caught a pass.

"Christian has the ability to break any play at any time as long as the ball touches his hands," top-ranked quarterback Josh Rosen said.

The 5-star Southern California recruit committed to UCLA in March. He identified Kirk as an ideal weapon in college football's evolving offensive attacks.

"The idea behind the spread offense is to get athletes in space and create matchups that you like with one player against another," Rosen said. "He is definitely a guy who can beat just about anyone. You like his chances in those situations."

Kirk, clocked at 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash at The Opening, wasn't the fastest receiver in attendance but may have been the most relentless. He dominated in seven-on-seven competition, running sharp routes and using a solidly built physical frame to fight for position.

Though his success occurred while competing in shorts and a T-shirt jersey, it still came against some of the nation's premier defenders.

"He's an athlete who can move all over the field and make plays," 5-star Alabama cornerback commit Minkah Fitzpatrick said. "You don't see a lot of receivers who can do as many things as Christian, so it makes him special."

Kirk caught six touchdowns in tournament pool play, per Tom VanHaaren of ESPN.

"I really enjoy going up against Christian," 4-star USC cornerback commit Isaiah Langley said. "He forces you to work hard and honestly makes you better as a defensive back. I know the quarterbacks love him."

Kyler Murray probably enjoyed his company more than anyone. Texas A&M fans hope they got an early glimpse of the future, as the 5-star Aggies quarterback commit constantly connected with Kirk for big gains while playing for the same team.

"Kyler is one of my friends, and he's the best quarterback out here I think," Kirk said after a win. "We've taken pretty much every rep together and we have a good relationship."

Unlike other passers, Murray explained he didn't need to state his case for Kirk to come to College Station.

"He's my boy and he knows the deal," Murray said. "I don't think I even need to say anything to Christian about that."

You can see the duo hook up during a nationally televised game in the video below.

Texas A&M is currently the favorite to sign Kirk, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball. The Aggies claim 74 percent of expert predictions, but that won't prevent other passers from attempting to pull off a signing day surprise.

"It would be awesome if UCLA can bring him in," Rosen said. "I think a guy like Christian would complement the group of receivers they already have and become a big weapon in the slot and downfield."

Rosen and Town weren't the only quarterbacks tempting Kirk to take a closer look at Pac-12 programs.

"I've been in Christian's ear a little bit," Arizona State commit Brady White said. "It's coming down to crunch time with recruiting and these decisions aren't easy, so you want to give guys their space, but I've said some things about ASU. Hopefully he liked them."

New Alabama commit Blake Barnett was also anxious to promote his program.

"I've put a few words in his head about Alabama," he said. "He's definitely getting some good stuff from me about the team and how he could fit in."

Kirk presumably heard plenty of similar proposals from quarterbacks at The Opening. Even though he isn't new to the recruiting game, it was refreshing to talk about the process with fellow prospects instead of coaches for a change.

"It's definitely better to get recruited by your peers because they have the same insight as you and understand what you're going through," Kirk said. "They've been able to figure out what's real and what's fake. You know you're not going to get the same old sales pitch from them, just a normal conversation."

The playmaker plans to narrow his focus to five teams in August before the season starts. He'll begin coordinating official visits at that point, and it's a safe bet his new pals will be following the process intently.

"I'll be interested to see what he decides," said Rosen. "Hopefully he ends up in a UCLA uniform."

Why the admiration?

"Because Christian is just a great player," Barnett said. "He seems to catch everything thrown his way, he gets down the field extremely quickly and he can pick up a lot of yards after the catch. It's huge to have a receiver who can consistently do all those things for you."

Kirk isn't quite as big as some of the other top-rated pass targets in this class, but he refuses to allow others to limit his possibilities at the next level.

"I want an offensive coordinator who is open to me playing every wide receiver position on the field," Kirk said. "When a guy tells me, 'We want you here in the slot,' and they don't plan to move me anywhere else, that's not what I'm looking for. I may not be 6'3", but I can be a true top target who stretches the field and creates problems for defenses."

Clearly, the cast of Elite 11 quarterbacks agree. He's on their lists.


All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp

Fall camp has almost arrived for the Miami Hurricanes, which means fans will be eagerly anticipating a newly released depth chart.

Before that eventually happens, however, previewing the 11 projected respective offensive and defensive starters and two specialists serves as a starting point for what to expect in August.

The predictions include a decent number of familiar faces since a majority of the team's playmakers return for the upcoming campaign.

Hopefully, head coach Al Golden will soon release a depth chart, providing the official look at where Miami stands heading into the final weeks of preparation for the 2014 season.


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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College Football Conference Matchups We Wish We Could See in 2014

During its media days earlier this week, the Big 12 Conference unveiled a new slogan that both refuted the need for a football championship game and praised its full round-robin scheduling model.

The concept of "one true champion" comes from the fact that the 10-team Big 12 is able to have each team play all the others with a nine-game league schedule. If only that were possible with the rest of the power conferences, or with all other FBS leagues in general.

Unfortunately, it isn't. With 11, 12 or 14 teams to schedule against one another, and only eight league games (or nine, in the case of the Pac-12) with which to do so, some matchups get left out in the cold. This is particularly troublesome in the SEC, in which, along with having six annual divisional opponents, each team has a "permanent rival" from the other division it'll play every year.

The SEC has already released its opponent pairings through 2025, illustrating how certain teams will go five to seven years between meetings. Longstanding rivalries that have existed since the early days of the conference now get put on long hiatuses because of realignment, writes AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky:

This is the kind of distance the SEC created when it chose to stay with an eight-game conference schedule with one permanent and one rotating opponent from the opposite division despite the league's expansion to 14 schools.

This isn't a problem only in the SEC, though. Every FBS conference (other than the aforementioned Big 12) has pairings that won't happen this year, including several that would make for great games. We've identified 10 of them we wish were on the schedule in 2014.

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Jalen Overstreet, Chevoski Collins Reportedly Dismissed from Texas Football Team

Texas head football coach Charlie Strong dismissed running back Jalen Overstreet and defensive back Chevoski Collins from the team Thursday due to undisclosed violations of team rules.

Taylor Gaspar of Orangebloods.com first reported the news, noting the pair were two of the four players banned from the Moncrief Complex, the team's athletics facility where the Longhorns are currently beginning preparations for the 2014 season.

Earlier in the day, wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were arrested and charged with second-degree felony sexual assault following an incident last month, per ESPN. Sanders and Meander could face up to 20 years in jail if found guilty and were also dismissed by Strong. 

"We've been monitoring and addressing the situation with Kendall and Montrel since it was brought to our attention," Strong said in a statement. "It's been made clear to everyone on our team that treating women with respect is one of our core values, and I'm extremely disappointed that two young men in our program have been accused of not doing that."

Gaspar's report did not indicate why Overstreet or Collins were dismissed. Neither has been in off-the-field trouble on the public record, and the university has not released a statement confirming either player's departure. Student-athlete privacy laws typically prevent universities from divulging too much behind-the-scenes information.

Overstreet, a rising sophomore, rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in limited playing time last season. He received a majority of his playing time in a Week 1 win over New Mexico State, rushing for 92 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. He appeared in nine games overall on special teams and as a backup running back.

The Longhorns return running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, but Overstreet was one injury away from an expanded role. Senior Joe Bergeron will probably see increased snaps as a result of his dismissal.

Collins, a redshirt freshman, was a highly touted prospect coming out of Livingston (Texas) High School. He was considered an athlete by most recruiting services and redshirted last season as he made the full-time move to defensive back. He was expected to be the primary backup behind senior Josh Turner at the free safety spot. Without Collins, Texas might be scrambling for depth in its back line of defense.

The suspensions, however, continue an ongoing cleansing of the Texas program from Strong. A no-nonsense personality, the 53-year-old Arkansas native came over from Louisville promising a return to prominence and a straight-laced mindset from his players.

"They're searching for that. They want discipline," Strong told David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest. "They've heard so much about what they haven't done. Now, they want to prove to everyone that they can do it."

Discipline for Strong has typically meant regimenting the lives of his players. Ubben's report notes that dorm rooms are even expected to be clean on a daily basis. But with Strong's iron fist comes difficult decisions.

More information will come to light regarding Collins and Overstreet in the coming days, but it's safe to say Charlie Strong is putting his stamp on the program. For better or for worse.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: 5 Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

In merely a handful of weeks, Michigan's Team 135 takes the field, looking to avenge a 7-6 stumble in 2013. 

Naturally, there are expectations—sky high, in some cases—for the group as a whole, but there are also several players who are on the brink of having breakout seasons...or continuing where they left off this past year. 

By looking at who did what in 2013 and during the offseason, this slideshow will examine five candidates who are almost certain to impress come fall. 

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Clemson Football: 4 Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

For college football players around the country, fall camp is just days away. A new season represents a fresh start for some and new opportunities for others.

Post-spring depth charts are nice and give the media something to talk about, but the real depth chart is made in August. 

For the Clemson Tigers, several young players are eager for their first crack at stardom. While most starting positions are settled for the Tigers, that doesn't mean some players can't shine and make coaches second-guess their decisions. 

Some younger players, like sophomore tight end Jordan Leggett and freshman corner Mackensie Alexander, starred in spring practice, therefore creating massive expectations for themselves. 

Who's ready to step up and become the talk of fall camp? Here's an early peek at four players who will open the eyes of coaches and fans in August. 

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Brennen Wooten to TCU: Horned Frogs Land 4-Star QB Prospect

TCU's odds for 2016 received a major boost on Thursday evening with 4-star quarterback Brennen Wooten committing to the Horned Frogs. The Marble Falls High School standout tweeted out his decision:

According to 247Sports' composite ranking, Wooten is the 10th-best pro-style QB in the class of 2016 and 150th-ranked recruit overall. He joins fellow 4-star recruit Jonathan Marshall in giving TCU the No. 12 class in the country in 247Sports' early team rankings.

ESPN.com's Max Olson called Wooten a "great get" for the Horned Frogs:

Tyler Donohue of Bleacher Report tweeted out the signal-caller's impressive stats from his sophomore season:

Wooten was one of many talented quarterbacks to take part in the Rivals Camp Series. The event posted a Vine of the Marble Falls, Texas, star in action:

TCU had recently been one of the best non-AQ schools before moving to the Big 12. Although the school is coming off of its first losing season since 2004, it's not hard to see why Wooten would be tempted by what the Horned Frogs have to offer.

According to Danny Davis of the Austin American-Statesman, he believes the program is going in the right direction:

Although Wooten isn't the kind of generational recruit who will single-handedly take TCU to the next level, he has the potential to capably lead the offense down the line and help make the Horned Frogs one of the top teams in the Big 12.

This is the kind of player Gary Patterson needs if he wants to get the program back into a bowl game once again.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Committed 2015 Recruits Most Likely to Decommit Before Signing Day

National signing day is always full of surprises, and among them are decommitments. The 2015 class is full of committed recruits who appear locked into their pledges, but several could opt to decommit before signing day arrives.

A 4-star defensive lineman could flip-flop between SEC teams, while a bad season in 2014 could spoil Oklahoma State's plans to sign a 4-star running back in 2015. 

Also, a foreign recruit could change his mind.

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