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Ranking 10 Most Exciting SEC Football Players Heading into 2014 Season

They can completely change the momentum of a game the moment the ball touches their hands, or as soon as they arrive at a ball-carrier.

They're dynamic athletes, game-breakers and superstars who coaches have to include in the game plan every single time they enter the film room to devise a plan of attack.

And the Southeastern Conference is full of them.

From quarterbacks to running backs to receivers to defenders, the league has more than its share of freak athletes who invoke excitement—or fear—the second they step on the field.

Since predictions like this need some historical evidence on college football's biggest stage, true freshmen were not considered while making this list, as they've not proved themselves.

Do guys like Leonard Fournette, Speedy Noil and Jalen Hurd have a chance to make this list by season's end? Absolutely. But for now, we'll stick with the talented players who've already showcased what they can do in this league.

Narrowing down a top-10 list of exciting players in a power conference like the SEC is akin to choosing the best-looking swimsuit model. No matter who you pick, somebody out there thinks you're a blind, bumbling idiot.

The criteria for this ranking was how much of an impact these players have on their team's success, their ability to make clutch plays and propensity to make the major out of the minuscule.

It was an arduous task whittling down a list like this, but here's the final verdict. 

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25 College Football Recruits in Dire Need of a Strong High School Senior Season

Football season is around the corner, and many 2015 recruits will be fully devoted to their high school teams. Within the national recruiting class, several prospects have a strong need to conclude their high school career with a strong season.

While reasons differ for many players on this list, all of them need to answer the call this fall. Three 5-star quarterbacks need strong senior seasons, while a few players have something to prove after suffering injuries as juniors.

Plus, a recruit in Canada is also featured.

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Pac-12 Media Days 2014: Top Quotes, Reaction to Day 1

Optimism, if nothing else, defines media days.

Commissioner Larry Scott opened Pac-12 Media Days from Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California, with the positivity expected at the start of every conference’s football season.

However, in the case of the Pac-12, Scott’s highlights were not empty rhetoric.

“Last season highlighted just how far we’ve come,” Scott said. “We had the most nonconference wins in our history with 31. We posted a 6-3 record against Big Ten, ACC and SEC.”

Prior to Scott’s hire in 2009, the conference had a reputation for being USC and the other guys. While the Trojans were competing for and sometimes winning national championships, other members of the league failed to make much of a mark nationally.

Since the 2010 season, Stanford and Oregon have combined to win four BCS bowl games. Last year, the Pac-12 had five 10-win teams and a 6-3 bowl record. 

The conference no longer has to worry about lack of depth, as Scott mentioned.

“As for depth, this is something where we’ve seen dramatic improvement,” he said, referencing the Pac-12’s nine bowl bids in 2013. “Put simply, our conference has never been stronger [nor] deeper than it is today.”

At the heart of Scott’s message was the Pac-12 furthering its growth, and to that end, he touted the conference championship game moving to a neutral site: the San Francisco 49ers’ new home, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. “Silicon Valley, the innovation capital of the world,” as Scott described it.

“Innovation, entertainment,” he added. “This is part of the DNA of the Pac-12.”

The coming months will dictate the two teams with the privilege of playing in the revamped conference championship. In the interim, all 12 teams unofficially open the season with similar goals.

Here are some of the top takeaways from the first session of Pac-12 Media Days 2014.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.

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Pac-12 Media Days 2014: Top Quotes, Reaction to Day 1

Optimism, if nothing else, defines media days. Commissioner Larry Scott opened Pac-12 Media Days from Paramount Studios in Hollywood , California, with the positivity expected at the start of every conference’s football season...

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College Football Recruiting DB Rankings 2015: Top 10 After The Opening

The Opening paired together America's premier quarterbacks and receivers to create passing attacks college football coaches dream about. However, those revered offensive prospects had to contend with an elite array of defensive backs who aimed to prove themselves on the big stage at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

Several safeties and cornerbacks shined against top-tier competition, validating their invitations to the showcase event and lengthy scholarship lists. Based on performances in Beaverton and annual summer evaluations, recruit rankings recently changed.

We analyzed the new top-10 list of defensive backs (according to 247Sports' composite rankings), and our analysis included what we saw at The Opening and on game film. Here's a detailed look at players who will spend the coming years driving college quarterbacks crazy.

 

This article is a part of Bleacher Report's CFB 200 Recruiting Rankings Series. The overall rankings are based on 247Sports Composite, 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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Wisconsin Football: Previewing 4 Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

Coming into fall camp, the Wisconsin football team has the unfortunate circumstance of turning over quite a few players, with numerous departures at key spots on both sides of the ball.  Adding to the team's woes is that some of their biggest position battles occur in places that feature a returning starter.

Special teams, offense, defense—you name it, the Badgers have holes to fill.  Whereas in some places, such as tight end, the Badgers have a natural replacement for Jacob Pedersen in Sam Arneson, other spots are a bit more nebulous.

To figure out the most important position battles, I looked at how important the position is to the success of the team and how close the competition is between the two (or more) players.

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USF Defensive Tackle Todd Chandler Impresses Teammates by Squatting 700 Pounds

Don't mess with USF defensive tackle Todd Chandler because he is one strong man.

During a workout session on Wednesday morning, the senior got his teammates fired up by squatting 700 pounds. That's right—the 6'0", 320-pound defensive lineman was able to squat more than twice his weight.

What's more impressive: Chandler squatting 700 pounds once or Iowa's Brandon Scherff doing three 343-pound cleans?

[USF Football, h/t Lost Lettermen]

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How Jonathan Taylor's Dismissal Impacts Georgia's Defensive Line in 2014

There’s no such thing as a “good” dismissal, and for a program with three such departures this offseason, Jonathan Taylor’s release certainly leaves the Georgia Bulldogs with a black eye as the preseason approaches.

Seth Emerson of The Telegraph reports the sophomore defensive tackle was dismissed on Wednesday "after his release from jail on a felony charge of assault and domestic battery."

Fortunately, he leaves a void that can be readily filled.

Taylor, who redshirted in 2012 before appearing in 10 games last season, is replaceable from both a personnel and schematic standpoint.

As far as depth is concerned, Taylor was likely to be stuck behind two players with more experience this season. Chris Mayes registered eight starts in 2013 and Mike Thornton is entering his fifth season with the Bulldogs program.

Additionally, John Atkins (redshirt freshman) is poised to contribute both as an end and on the interior of the defensive line.

Add incoming freshman Lamont Gaillard—the nation’s 10th-best defensive tackle prospect, per the 247Sports Composite—to the mix, and Taylor was already at risk of being lost in the shuffle.

Schematically, the 336-pound Taylor was also already somewhat disadvantaged in new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defense.

This spring, Pruitt told Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he wanted a faster, lighter defensive unit. “A lot of our guys have to get their weight under control. We’re too big, in my opinion. We’ve got to get a little smaller,” he said.

Taylor was the heaviest of all players in contention at Georgia’s tackle position.

Pruitt’s preference for multiple defensive looks also makes the absence of Taylor a surmountable obstacle.

With Georgia’s greatest—and arguably only—returning strengths coming from a strong linebacker unit and plethora of pass-rushers, game plans and defensive looks will be altered to get the best players possible on the field whenever possible.

That may mean moving a player like Ray Drew, who’s at risk of being lost in a talented depth chart, to an inside spot on the line in obvious passing situations.

Any such move would have limited potential reps for Taylor.

According to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, Taylor allegedly hit and choked his girlfriend while at a university dorm in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

While that transgression—and the felony charge tied thereto—alone may have yielded a dismissal, the student-athlete was already on thin ice for his involvement (along with three other players) in a theft by deception scheme in March.

With sufficient surrounding talent and the afforded luxury of scheming around his absence, Taylor's dismissal was not a decision that required too much deliberation from head coach Mark Richt and the coaching staff.

In fact, Taylor’s name has already been removed from the Bulldogs’ official roster.

Ironically, this dark moment may eventually bring a recruiting highlight.

Georgia is considered a leader for the services of Trent Thompson, a defensive tackle and the nation’s second-best prospect in the class of 2015, according to the 247Sports Composite.

One less player on the depth chart could make the promise of early playing time all the more tangible as Thompson weighs his collegiate decisions. That could seal the deal for the home-state Bulldogs.

 

Unless otherwise noted all quotes obtained firsthand.

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USC Trojans Pull a Fast One on Fans by Showing Off 'New' Helmet

The USC Trojans have one of the most iconic uniforms in all of college football, so if they made any drastic changes to it, the fans would probably freak out. The Trojans know that, and they used that fact to their advantage.

The Trojans' official Twitter account tweeted out a picture of the team's "new" helmet. Fans were probably relieved to see "#KIDDING" on the photo.

As it turns out, every Pac-12 team had a white helmet for the conference's media day.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

David Ash Named Starting QB for Fall Camp, but Is He Texas' Best Option in 2014?

Texas head coach Charlie Strong answered a lot of questions at Big 12 media days, but one of the most significant answers was his decision to name redshirt junior quarterback David Ash as the starting quarterback heading into fall camp.

"When David Ash is healthy, he is as good as any quarterback that we have on our roster right now," Strong said. "When you get into camp, you like knowing that you have someone to put in with the first unit. Before he was injured, he was competing for that position and won the position, so Ash will be the starter."

Strong said backups Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard will have the option to compete for the No. 2 spot, but he feels strongly in naming Ash as the go-to guy to lead the Longhorns at the beginning of 2014.

But a question that will follow Ash throughout the fall is if he can stay healthy to play for an entire season. 

After throwing for 2,699 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2012, Ash missed the majority of the 2013 season with recurring concussion symptoms. He was cleared to participate in spring practice but suffered a Jones fracture in his left ankle and missed the second portion of spring. 

If his health issues are in the past, one could wonder if he is the best option for the Longhorns in 2014. 

Some will disagree, but Ash holds one significant tool that trumps his competition: experience.

"He has game experience, and that's what you look for," Strong said. "You're in a tough league, so you want a guy to take snaps who has been in the battle before."

At this point, Ash's experience gives him a big edge over Swoopes and Heard, especially considering the lack of experience between the backup duo.

Swoopes' experience includes some garbage-time play in 2013 and a mediocre showing in the Longhorns' spring game. And his spring game efforts were against the second- and third-team defenses.

Heard is coming into the college game as a two-time state champion for Guyer High School in Denton, Texas. But anyone with knowledge of college football understands that success in high school does not always equate to success in college.

And the fact that Heard did not arrive in Austin until the summer could likely lengthen the amount of time he spends on the sideline in 2014.

But is that necessarily a bad thing? 

One could argue that quarterbacks and offensive linemen benefit significantly from having a redshirt season. And the last two Heisman trophy winners are the picture-perfect argument to defend that statement.

No true freshman has ever started the season and led his team to a national championship. Oklahoma quarterback Jamelle Holieway is the only true freshman to ever led his team to winning a national title, but he did not start the first four games of the 1985 season. 

Some may disagree or be thinking, "There's a first time for everything," but it probably would not be a wise decision to bet your house on Heard leading the Longhorns to a national title. 

From everything the public has seen from a healthy Ash, Swoopes and Heard, Ash is the best choice to lead Texas in 2014.

That is, if he can stay healthy.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's Featured Columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Ohio State Football: Urban Meyer Aware of Importance of Offseason Discipline

For football-crazed Urban Meyer, each week of the offseason is a long one. But as the Ohio State head coach learned a year ago, no week feels longer in the college football calendar year than the last before the start of fall camp.

If you want to look at where the Buckeyes' 2013 season went wrong, this time a year ago would be a start.

Before Ohio State had its 24-game winning streak snapped by Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes endured their worst weekend of the offseason, with three players—including two stars—finding themselves in legal trouble on the eve of fall camp.

It was the week of Big Ten media days, and Meyer, Braxton Miller, Jack Mewhort and Bradley Roby were preparing to head to Chicago to meet with the press.

On the afternoon of July 22, an OSU press release cast an ominous cloud over the Buckeyes contingent when the team announced it had handed out discipline to four Ohio State players—including Roby.

Incoming freshman offensive lineman Tim Gardner was dismissed from his scholarship following an arrest for obstruction of official business.

Roby, a preseason Thorpe Award watch list member, had been involved in an altercation at a bar in Bloomington, Indiana, and ultimately served a one-game suspension after having his misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct dropped.

However, bigger questions loomed when it came to running back Carlos Hyde, who found himself being investigated by Columbus police after allegedly striking a woman at a local nightclub.

Despite an initial report that he had been dismissed from the Ohio State roster, Hyde was never charged for the incident after video evidence proved to be inconclusive.

According to Allison Manning and Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch, Meyer still opted to suspend the senior running back for three games for what he deemed "conduct not representative of this football program or university."

While Hyde would go on to be named the Big Ten's Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year after a stellar season, Roby never regained his old form.

The fourth-year cornerback endured an up-and-down final season in Columbus, which concluded with him sitting out the Orange Bowl due to a knee injury. According to Troy E. Renck of The Denver Post, some fans questioned the legitimacy of that excuse.

Whether Roby's off-field issues were ultimately to blame for his inconsistent 2013 season is somewhat beside the point.

One bad weekend stalled the momentum of a program with arguably the most in college football at the time and left the Buckeyes walking on eggshells heading into their 2013 campaign.

Despite Roby's struggles headlining a shaky pass defense that ranked 110th (out of 123 teams) nationally in passing yardage allowed, Ohio State managed to maintain its balance all the way up until the conference championship game.

Alas, the pressure on the Buckeyes proved to be too much to handle and that ominous cloud never seemed to leave, raising questions of what could have been had two of their supposed leaders just stayed out of the headlines for one last weekend in the offseason.

“Oh man," Meyer said when asked about the offseason earlier this month. "We all know that this time of year is a nightmare for teams."

A few days later, Meyer's prophecy proved to be correct when redshirt freshman Tracy Sprinkle was arrested and charged with possession of drugs, drug paraphernalia and rioting/failure to disperse after an incident in Lorain, Ohio.

Doug Lesmerises of Northeast Ohio Media Group reported Sprinkle was subsequently dismissed from the Buckeyes roster pending the outcome of his legal matter.

Luckily for the Buckeyes, that's the only legal issue that they've had to deal with this offseason, and its impact on the upcoming year should be minimal.

As Meyer explained at last year's aforementioned media day in Chicago, off-field issues are something that every program has to deal with—although that doesn't make it any easier to do so.

"I think you always can do more. I mean, that's something you wake up every day with," Meyer said. "In the last 12 months we've had three legal issues, and it all happened in three days...to have a couple of knuckleheads make some decisions that reflect the entire program, that's not—I guess it's part of the deal."

As Meyer learned the hard way a year ago, one bad weekend can be all it takes to ruin an otherwise well-behaved offseason.

This is why he'll be holding his breath this weekend, hoping to have little else but football to talk about during next week's annual trip to the Windy City.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand, unless indicated otherwise.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Can KeiVarae Russell Be the Shutdown CB the Irish Need?

Notre Dame's defense is about to change.

After four years of stressing base concepts, solid fundamentals and point prevention under Bob Diaco, the Irish will look decidedly different under Brian VanGorder. Gone is the Cover 2 shell and the base 3-4 alignment. Here is a blitzing, attacking front seven and a back-end built around cover cornerbacks and a free safety playing center field. 

All of which puts the focus onto junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell.

Notre Dame's most experienced defender, Russell has started all 26 games of his career. And he's also the most important defender on the roster as the Irish make a stark change in their defensive philosophy. 

"The new system that we’re under right now is just something that we want to challenge all routes," defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks told The Observer's Mike Monaco in April. "We want to be on attack mode. The whole philosophy is that we don’t want the offense to dictate how we play defense.

"So everything that we do, it doesn’t mean that we’re all pressed 80 snaps a game, but we’re aggressive, we’re competing, we’re physical, and that whole mindset of challenge every route," Cooks added.

That mindset didn't exist the last four seasons under Diaco. While UConn's new head coach inherited a historically mediocre Irish defense and turned it into one of the ten best scoring defenses in the country over his four-year stretch, Notre Dame routinely allowed team's to throw the ball underneath their zone coverage, willing to give up five yards to avoid the big play.

That attitude is gone. And the transformation that began this spring has changed the mindset of Notre Dame's young defense.

But to successfully execute VanGorder's new vision, Notre Dame's secondary needs to be up to the task. For Russell, that means being the elite cornerback many are projecting him to be. 

Russell was named to both the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy's watch lists, putting him in the defensive player of the year conversation. He's also been listed as one of college football's Top 100 players, along with one other teammate: Jaylon Smith. 

Even though he's only played two seasons of cornerback in his football career, Russell might have the highest ceiling of any player draft eligible on the roster. 

Now he's got to play like that.

He showed the talent in a surprising freshman season that had Russell in the starting lineup for all 13 games and ended with him on the FWAA's Freshman All-American team. But Russell's sophomore campaign started slowly and featured a high-profile blowup against one the Irish's biggest rivals. 

Russell became a featured cast member in Jeremy Gallon's personal highlight film, on the wrong side of one too many big plays by Michigan's diminutive receiver. That's the type of game that NFL talent evaluators struggle to ignore. 

But Russell finished the season with a bang, shutting down Rutgers' standout Brandon Coleman in the Pinstripe Bowl, breaking up three passes against the 6'6" receiver while collecting an interception as well.

Entering his junior season, Russell can't afford to have that kind of inconsistencies. He'll spend Saturdays likely locked on opponents No. 1 receiver, perhaps the most challenging gauntlet of any cornerback in the country. 

Rice returns its two leading receivers, Jordan Taylor and Dennis Parks. Michigan's Devin Funchess will play wide receiver, presenting a unique challenge as a 6'5", 230-pounder.

Stanford's Ty Montgomery is among the nation's best receivers. So is Arizona State's Jaelen Strong, North Carolina's Ryan Switzer, Louisville's DeVante Parker and USC's Nelson Agholor. Florida State's Rashad Greene is no slouch, either.   

(After the season, Russell may earn himself a vote for the Biletnikoff Award.) 

That type of schedule and weekly challenge is why athletes come to Notre Dame. It's also a perfect test for a cornerback that's still just discovering what he's capable of doing, entering just his third season on the defensive side of the ball. 

It's been a long time since Notre Dame had a true shutdown cornerback. In the last 20 years, Notre Dame has had only Bobby Taylor and Shane Walton earn consensus All-American awards at the position. 

But that's the ceiling for Russell. After not playing to that level every game in 2013, Russell needs to be among the best in the country at a position that demands excellence in VanGorder's scheme.

Lofty aspirations? His position coach thinks anything's possible. 

"KeiVarae Russell, you can ask him to do anything in the world, because he's physical, he's confident, and he's very talented," Cooks said this spring. "There's not a wide receiver in the country, in my opinion and I've been doing this for 13 years, that he shouldn't be able to compete with... The guys that I know that I've coached that are playing in the NFL, he's by far and beyond the best from a talent level. He's got all the tools."

 

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Projecting College Football QBs Who'll Make a Name for Themselves This Fall

College quarterbacks come from relative anonymity—and sometimes absolutely nowhere—to become household names each season.

At this time last year, Bryce Petty was barely known outside of Waco, Texas, and two years before that, we didn't know the first thing about a redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel.

By definition, though, predicting which QBs will make a name for themselves is a difficult endeavor. Even deciding what "make a name for themselves" means is tricky. So let's go through some parameters.

What we're looking for are quarterbacks who (1) haven't seen much meaningful playing time or (2) have seen meaningful playing time but haven't had enough individual or team success (or both) to have established a positive name nationally already.

For the purposes of this list, that means certain types of quarterbacks were not considered. Those types include the following:

  1. Any quarterback who has started a full season (more or less) and led his team to a bowl game—even if he did so in relative obscurity. That includes players such as C.J. Brown at Maryland, Garrett Grayson at Colorado State and Cody Fajardo at Nevada.
  2. Blue-chip incoming freshmen. Kyle Allen and Brandon Harris might have big roles to play this season, but because of what recruiting has become nowadays, neither has to "make" a name for himself so soon after this cycle. Their names are already fresh in our minds.
  3. More subjective omissions such as Maty Mauk at Missouri, Dylan Thompson at South Carolina, Davis Webb at Texas Tech and Marquise Williams at North Carolina—quarterbacks who have never started a full season but have already had enough success in meaningful games to become fairly well-known.

I imagine that is a little confusing in the abstract. Hopefully, it will all make sense when you see the 12 listed players.

Sound off below and let me know whom I missed.

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Bret Bielema's Shots at Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin All About Making a Splash

The annual SEC coaches' "car wash" at ESPN headquarters closed with a bang—or "splash," if you will.

Never at a loss for words, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema took time out of his busy day making the Bristol rounds to take some not-so-thinly-veiled shots at some of his fellow coaches in the SEC—Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide program and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, in particular.

When asked about Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby's comment that "cheating pays," Bielema took an unsolicited (and quite clever) shot at Kiffin's time as the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, via Chris Low of ESPN.com:

Bielema on cheating: "It's not like it was when Lane basically said, 'I'm gonna do some things, gonna get caught, but it's worth exposure."

— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) July 22, 2014

Not to be outdone, he went after Saban's entire program later while in a roundtable discussion with ESPN's Joe Tessitore, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and Tennessee head coach Butch Jones.

When asked about the summer dead period, Bielema conveniently mentioned that Alabama had a camp during the dead period, via ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough:

Bielema on the 2-week dead period on @ESPNU: "Alabama got a way where they could have a camp, but everyone else had to abide by the rules."

— Alex Scarborough (@AlexS_ESPN) July 22, 2014

Bielema didn't seem to mind. In fact, he owned up to the shots on the way back to Fayetteville.

Flying home from #espn car wash & had a complete day. Ready to play ball, have some fun along the way. Not trying to make friends! #WoooPig

— Bret Bielema (@BretBielema) July 22, 2014

Should Bielema be criticized?

Not at all.

It goes back to his first point about Kiffin, it's all about making a splash.

If he feels slighted by Alabama holding a camp when he didn't (or couldn't), what better place is there to let it be known than on a college roundtable with fellow coaches in his conference at the headquarters of the Worldwide Leader?

Bielema gets it, even if it may not appear so on the surface. His program is out of the national (and even regional) conversation thank to the John L. Smith debacle and the first 0-8 SEC season in program history last year—his first at the helm. 

Now people are talking about him and Arkansas, even if it's not for the right reasons. He comes off as a guy who isn't going to back down from the bully, even when the bully has won the fight consistently and decisively.

Is that going to resonate with recruits?

Right now, not really. Arkansas is firmly entrenched in the cellar and doesn't appear to be getting out anytime soon. If that changes, Bielema's attitude when times were tough won't be forgotten.

Is Bielema throwing haymakers at Saban and Kiffin?

Nope. They're more like jabs. Effective, but not intended to be knockout blows. More like the foundation for what's coming in the later rounds.

Bielema had better hope he doesn't repeat the 0-8 performance from his inaugural season in the SEC, because if he does, 2015 might get interesting, and he could lose via TKO before even getting to those later rounds.

 

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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Will the SEC Miss the First College Football Playoff in 2014?

The 2014 college football season is right around the corner, and it is never too early to start talking about who will be leading the pack at the end of the year.

With the Florida State Seminoles coming in as the defending national champions, will they be able to repeat in 2014? If not, who do you think will end up holding the trophy next season?

Watch Bleacher Report's Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee make their projections on who will have the opportunity to play in the first College Football Playoff. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Media Makes Right Call Voting Oregon to Win Conference in 2014

The voting was close, but for the fourth time in five years, Pac-12 media members predicted Oregon to win the conference.

The Ducks got 37 of 39 votes to win the North Division and 24 votes to win the league title outright. UCLA, which also got 37 votes to win its division, the South, was picked by 13 voters to win the conference, with Stanford and USC getting one vote apiece.

Here's a look at how the full voting broke down:

In assessing the preseason polls, it's important to divorce what you think will happen from what you think should be predicted to happen.

Myself? I prefer UCLA. I've gone on the record stating as much. I think the Bruins are one of the most complete teams in the country. I think they have a decent schedule. I think this can be their year.

But that doesn't necessarily mean they should be the preseason favorites. Oregon is far too proven. I fancy UCLA this upcoming season, but I know, statistically, it is more likely for Oregon to win the conference. The Ducks have earned this prediction:

With Stanford losing so many pieces from last year's team, and USC still struggling with depth issues (largely the result of NCAA sanctions), UCLA is the best candidate to finish over Oregon this season. The Pac-12 media votes reflect that—and reflect that it should be close.

But Oregon has finished in the top 14 of the Football Outsiders F/+ rankings in each of the past five seasons, the top 10 in each of the past four and the top five in each of the past three. UCLA has never been in the top 14 during that stretch, cracked the top 36 for the first time last season and has twice finished outside the top 78.

Yes, the media predictions have to do with the upcoming season more than the last five seasons. But the last five seasons have more to do with this upcoming season than many people realize.

Here is how Football Outsiders explains that methodology:

The strongest indicator of how a college football team will perform in the upcoming season is their performance in recent seasons.

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.

There's also the elephant in the room: Oregon and UCLA's most recent head-to-head matchup. Even last season, when the F/+ difference between them was far smaller than any other year since 2009, Oregon beat UCLA convincingly, 42-14.

The final score of that game was deceptive—Oregon led 21-14 after three quarters before blowing things open late—but it still speaks importantly to the state of each program. UCLA is almost where it needs to be to win the conference, but Oregon is already there.

And it's been there for a while now.

Might 2014 be the year the Bruins finally get there? Certainly. Again: I am on the record saying I think that will be the case. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be as the underdogs. It should be.

In his first mock draft for 2015, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller listed three first-round draft picks from Oregon: quarterback Marcus Mariota (No. 1), cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (No. 13) and defensive tackle Arik Armstead (No. 31). That doesn't even touch on its offensive line, which might be its strongest overall position group.

It doesn't touch on the potentially awesome backfield, either. Byron Marshall has proven his worth, and sophomore Thomas Tyner, whom offensive coordinator Scott Frost said has "decided to take it to the next level" this spring, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian, is a former 5-star recruit who looks like a future Heisman candidate.

Oregon has been consistently great for five seasons and didn't have its roster drained the way Stanford did. By virtue of success and continuity, it deserves to be the preseason favorite—no matter how enticing UCLA might seem. But the voting also deserved to be close.

The Pac-12 media got this exactly right.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Pac-12 Media Makes Right Call Voting Oregon to Win Conference in 2014

The voting was close, but for the fourth time in five years, Pac -12 media members predicted Oregon to win the conference . The Ducks got 37 of 39 votes to win the North Division and 24 votes to win the league title outright...

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Kliff Kingsbury Tells No. 1 QB Jarrett Stidham That He Can Change the Program

Jarrett Stidham is the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. This Texas native chose to keep his talents in state by committing to Kliff Kingsbury and the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Stidham took some time to talk to Bleacher Report about Texas Tech and the recruiting process. How well do you think he will do in Lubbock?

Check out this video to see what he has to offer.

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Michigan Football: Brady Hoke Will Need Road Wins to Save Home Attendance Streak

The most exciting games on Michigan’s schedule this season won’t be played in Ann Arbor, raising the possibility that the team’s streak of 100,000-plus attendees might be broken.

Last season’s 7-6 record along with a home schedule consisting of submarquee opponents such as Appalachian State and Maryland has put a serious dent in student season-ticket sales.

Michigan’s last home crowd below 100,000 came in 1975 when 95,857 people watched a 55-7 thumping of Indiana. Since then, there have 251 consecutive games in front of 100,000 fans or more.

Unpopular season-ticket policies gutted the student section last season, making the upper reaches of Michigan Stadium as empty as the Shapiro Undergraduate Library (aka the UGLI) on a Friday night.

Athletic director David Brandon, a polarizing figure on campus, discussed the student tickets slump with Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, saying:

I think there's a bit of a trend going on there, as I talk to my colleagues. But it is always a concern. We want a robust, filled student section. Our student section tends to go up and down from year to year. Clearly it's down this year versus last year, ... Our home schedule, we don't have any of our big rivalry games (this year), that could have an impact. Coming off a 7-6 season, that could have an impact.

Another factor impacting season-ticket sales is a recent trend to trade home games for high-profile neutral-site contests. Several years ago, fans were excited to hear that Michigan and Alabama would meet but were disappointed that the game took place in Texas, not Ann Arbor.

Michigan heads back to Texas in 2017 to play Florida. Fans and their descendants can look forward to Oklahoma visiting—in 2026.

The addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten, while a boon to the conference's television footprint, further diminishes the home conference slate.

Michigan’s final home game this season versus Maryland just doesn’t have the appeal of a matchup with Ohio State.

Instead of bringing in top opponents, the athletic department has resorted to pregame spectacles and other gimmicks to entice fans.

A recent plan to add some sizzle to games this season by featuring fireworks was shot down by the university regents last week. Fans will now just have to rely on coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new offense to provide sparks as the team looks to bounce back from last season’s disappointing record.

But even worse than hurting attendance, facing rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State on the road puts Brady Hoke’s team at a distinct disadvantage.

Michigan is 19-2 under Hoke at home but only 6-8 (7-11 if you include neutral site contests) in games played away from Ann Arbor.

With a such a lackluster slate of home opponents, Hoke’s 19-2 record at home is looking pretty soft. If he can’t turn things around on the road, Michigan might be keep winning at home, but there might not be many people in stands as there used to be.

 

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.

Follow @PSCallihan

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June Jones' Small Conference Secession Idea Is Brilliant, but It Just Won't Work

Football, all year round.

No offseason, no breaks; just food, screaming, irrational responses to your television and meaningful games spread throughout the calendar. If it were up to SMU head coach June Jones—and roughly every football individual on this football-obsessed planet—we’d already be there.

The NFL season would end, and then the non-Power Five programs would immediately report to camp. Games would begin in March or so, and another season—with its own unique platform, network deals and audiences—would run through the start of summer.

These games would end, those schools would break and then the Power Five programs would grab the baton for fall practice. The season would play out, the College Football Playoff would be decided and then the entire process would start again after the Super Bowl.

Networks would gladly pick up these games, knowing we simply could not resist the urge to watch more football. We slave over glorious MAC football on weekday nights during the season. Imagine giving #MACtion—and its endless touchdown magnificence—a string of Saturday nights all to itself.

Our football appetites would be satisfied each month throughout the year. And conferences and programs outside the Power Five would get the recognition they so rightly deserve, growing their brands and fanbases in our current offseason. It would be perfect.

Can you see it? Taste it? Smell it? Soak in the possibilities of tailgating in June for real-life football.

Now, snap out of it.

Even you, June Jones, although we thank you for highlighting a concept that has garnered some cult-like momentum while discussing Division II and III in the past. As enticing and inviting as this scenario might be—and goodness, its potential cannot be stressed enough—it remains a complete and utter impossibility.

That doesn’t mean it’s not being discussed, though.

Jones went on WDAE-AM late last week and campaigned—albeit casually and informally—for this movement [via ESPN.com].

I think the have-nots [non-Power Five leagues] should go ahead and move to the spring just like the USFL did. I think that there's an opportunity to do a complete other side of that division and I think that if we don't think that way as a group of have-nots, we're going to get left behind.

You make your own rules at that point. Football is the No. 1 sport on television right now and the advertisers want live programming. They don't want Hollywood shows because you can TiVo out the commercials. Live programming is a hot topic right now and I think there's a market for bigger numbers for the non-BCS teams.

As you might imagine, the responses poured in.

Mike Aresco, the American Athletic Conference commissioner, told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy they had “no interest” in changing seasons. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher of the MAC echoed this sentiment only shortly after the sound bites began to make their rounds.

Jones also followed up with a statement to his statement, although he didn’t necessarily back down from his stance. He simply reiterated—likely after a few phone conversations—that this was his opinion and not that of the school he coaches for [via FootballScoop.com].

My recent comments about the non-’Group of Five’ conferences possibly moving their football seasons to the spring were my own, and not those of SMU or the American Athletic Conference. Not being in one of these leagues creates unique challenges, and requires us to think out of the box. My comments were an example of this, and, I hope, triggered others to do so as well.

Our conference experienced a great deal of national success in its first season. Two teams were ranked in the top 15 of the final AP poll and five were selected for bowl games. At SMU, we strive for that same level of success and will compete for American Athletic Conference Championships. We want to compete with and beat teams from the “Group of Five.”

The reality for Jones—the future he sees, even if he won’t directly paint this doomsday picture—is that we’re about to embark on a new resource-driven era of college football. His program, along with the others he competes directly against, will soon be at a greater disadvantage than they already were.

Power Five conferences will soon be granted autonomy, meaning they will be able to operate under their own set of guidelines and rules. The NCAA’s board of directors will vote on this in early August, and the hovering sentiment is that it will pass without much issue.

With this newfound power will come a playoff system that has hammered away at the importance of strength of schedule since its inception. While the bowl season will remain intact, the postseason—despite an increase in yearly vacancies—will favor teams playing in conferences with perceived tougher competition.

The loss of computers is a loss for the future Boise States. At least, that’s how it’s being packaged and sold right now. As a result, smaller conferences and schools will have to be creative in how they market, something the MAC has been successful at in recent years.

This creativity will have to take place with branding, however, and not with a spring season. There simply is too much working against such a radical (but clever) approach.

For starters, there would be a huge dose of perceived inferiority. A move of this magnitude would directly imply that the white flag is being waved and that these conferences simply could not compete in the current model.

It’s why conference commissioners outside the Power Five have voiced their immediate disgust in the idea of moving shop. You can’t blame them one bit for doing so, either. It’s the business they run, and they must defend it.

More so than perception and conference power aligning, however, is the sheer logistical disarray that this would spark. The list is long, starting with the academic calendar that has a clear start and end date that would fall smack-dab in the middle of a movement such as this.

And then there are things like the bowl season, which is contract-oriented and features an abundance of teams beyond the main conferences. And what about the NFL draft, which, despite it’s now floating date that will eventually push the event deeper into the year, would certainly conflict in various ways? And what about the recruiting calendar, which would feel the effects as well?

That sound you hear in the distance is the NCAA breaking its jaw from excessive clenching while weighing “amateur” status with active players.

There are also scheduling woes to consider and the prospects of operating with all Power Five teams out of the picture. This is something the bigger conferences could push for going forward—choosing to play themselves and only themselves—although it won’t happen overnight.

The list of complications could easily continue, from the painfully obvious to tedious matters of stadium availability. The obstacles are everywhere, and our dream to enjoy football year-round would require measures that will not be taken.

For that reason—and all of the negatives you could possibly think of—June Jones will continue to coach his players in the fall, which is a fine alternative. While the brilliant possibilities of his suggestion are clear, too many 10,000-pound dominoes won't fall.

That also doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea—wild, extreme and out-of the-box, certainly, but not bad. The intentions are intact.

At the very least, Jones broached a handful of topics that will require addressing, including a market that can be nurtured and grown. And with the Power Five poised to sweeten its own university-controlled pot, the challenges of competing against these schools will become more daunting.

The answer to these questions isn’t a spring season—not in our wildest, football-driven dreams. But that doesn’t make the prospects of an offseason-less world any less inviting.

Oh, what a wonderful world it would be.

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