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Oregon Football: 4 Games That Could Ruin Ducks' 2014 Season

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich talked at last week's Pac-12 media days about "the importance of preparing for everybody." As Oregon has encountered in each of the past three seasons, championship pursuits can hinge on a single outcome...

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Auburn Football: True Strength of Gus Malzahn's Offense Is in the Trenches

They do not fill the stat sheets like Nick Marshall, Tre Mason or Sammie Coates.

They are not the faces of legendary plays like Ricardo Louis and Chris Davis.

They were not the biggest stars of head coach Gus Malzahn's patented hurry-up, no-huddle offense in the Tigers' SEC title run last season—and they will not be the biggest stars of this year's offense.

But Auburn's offensive linemen are the strength of one of the nation's most feared offenses.

After a 2012 season in which it was the weakest link for a toothless offense, Auburn's front five roared back to life in 2013 under Malzahn and his staff.

"Any time you get to [the national title game], you’re going to be pretty good up front with your offensive line,” Malzahn said last December. "In 2010, we had a veteran group, one of the strengths of our team."

Last year was no different as the line paved the way for a record-breaking rushing attack and bought valuable time for an inexperienced quarterback in Marshall to make the most of his occasional chances through the air.

And this year should be no different for Auburn, thanks to the unit's elite strength in three key areas of offensive line play.

 

Experience

Auburn may have lost its star offensive linemen early to the pros—an early announcement that paid off in a big way for former left tackle Greg Robinson—but the other four starters from 2013 are back on the Plains for another season.

According to AL.com's Joel Erickson, if the Tigers went with the most experienced combination of linemen for the upcoming season, one that included former starting right tackle Patrick Miller, then they would have 113 combined career starts to begin the campaign:

The last time Auburn had a starting lineup of offensive linemen with more than 100 career starts between them, it won the national championship.

Miller is projected to back up redshirt sophomore Shon Coleman at left tackle this season. While Coleman does not have a single career start, he brings a level of unique experience to the position. He has been on Auburn's campus since 2011 and at practice since 2012 after his comeback from battling cancer.

The amount of experience and potential coming back with those six players has created a problem for offensive line coach J.B. Grimes, but he told the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea in May that it was a "great situation" for the team:

The hardest thing is to figure out who the best five are. That's a very difficult thing because obviously we have four returning starters with a guy like Pat Miller who started multiple games, I think he started 14 ball games at Auburn. He has really good experience and is a quality player. Then you've got an exceptional athlete like Shon Coleman who I think has great potential. He hasn't done it yet, but he has great potential to be one of those guys.

Some shuffling across the offensive line this spring created additional depth for the experienced unit, which has a few players Grimes believes could play any position.

One position that will not change this fall, barring injury, is center, where team captain Reese Dismukes is heading into his fourth year as a starter.

One of the nation's top centers last season, Dismukes serves as a "second quarterback" for the offense. The senior must read and react quickly to defenses as an offensive leader, and Malzahn said he thinks of him as an overall team leader.

"He's a tough guy, comes to practice every day," Malzahn said at SEC media days. "He demands that his teammates practice at the level that the coaches expect. He's an extension of the coaches. We're very fortunate to have him. He had a lot to do with our success last year."

 

Power

Spread offenses are designed to stretch defenses horizontally and capitalize on the space it creates. Teams that use this style of attack often base their running games outside the tackles.

Between wide receiver reverses and speed sweeps to running back Corey Grant, who led the nation last year with 9.8 yards per carry, the Tigers were the nation's best at gaining huge yardage on outside runs, according to ESPN:

But, despite all that success on the outside, Auburn's offense is based on a style that is completely opposite to most spread attacks.

“There are so many different spreads, and [Malzahn] is not a horizontal throwing game, zone-read guy,” Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson told ESPN.com's Chris Low last year. “He runs the power and the counter power...you’ve got the option, the element of power, and then you’ve got the pace and the tempo. That’s what I think really makes it hard to get ready for in college football today.”

Malzahn's offense is about power running at its core, and, as Erickson notes, it all starts with the front five:

But the Tigers' offensive line is the real key, as Dismukes pointed out at SEC Media Days. Unlike true spread teams, which build their running games around draws and counters, Auburn's offensive line is taught to play power football at the line of scrimmage, and the Tigers dominated opponents at the point of attack last season. 

No matter how many options are built into each play or how the Tigers line up in their shotgun formation, Auburn's offense is a power attack at its core.

New Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason arrives in the SEC from his defensive coordinator post at Stanford, a power team known for slowing down some of the nation's most prolific spread offenses.

But when Mason studies new conference neighbor Auburn, he does not see a prototypical spread offense—he sees an offense similar to other SEC West contenders.

"I shouldn't say it's changed, the package has changed," Mason said at SEC media days. "When you look at a team like Auburn, how they run the football, it's no different than Alabama, they just do it a different way."

Behind the offensive line, Auburn was the nation's top power-rushing offense, especially in situations when the Tigers wanted a few yards on first down or needed them to get a first down. In those situations, the "spread" offense became a "smashmouth" offense:

This season, when Auburn elects to air it out more than it did in 2013, neutralizing some of the SEC's tough defensive fronts will be a greater responsibility for the offensive line in a system built on winning the war in the trenches.

By controlling the line of scrimmage against those top-notch defensive lines, the Auburn offensive line allows Malzahn's offense to simply do what it's designed to do.

 

Speed

As a pioneer of the hurry-up offense from his high school coaching days, Malzahn wants his team to be the fastest in college football.

There are several important benefits an offense can get by not huddling between plays, from scoring points as quickly as possible to stopping the opposing defense from regrouping after explosive plays.

But in order to take all the advantages the scheme has to offer by playing as fast as possible, your offensive players must be in peak physical shape—including your 300-pound offensive linemen. If the big guys do not get set quick enough, the more those advantages shrink.

Surprisingly enough, some of the Tigers' most vocal proponents of the fast-paced offense can be found on the offensive line. Here is what senior right guard Chad Slade had to say about Malzahn's system this spring, per the Opelika-Auburn News' Alex Byington:

We love the pace. Some people don’t get used to it, but we’re used to it by now. Everybody is back, and we have high expectations for everything—the pace going faster, we can go faster than we did last year. One of the goals is to be connected to each other, so we believe that is going good so far.

Auburn's coaches expect their offensive linemen to be quick in the system, but they do not want them to cut weight and risk losing the strength needed for the offense's power football philosophy.

"(Grimes) is not really looking for us to be lean,” Slade said. "He just wants us to move. When I played in this offense the first time, I was 305. Now I'm 310, 315. He just wants you to be able to move with your weight."

A prime example of staying big and getting quick is none other than Robinson. His draft stock rose rapidly during the Tigers' championship season, but it did not explode until the NFL combine, when the eventual No. 2 overall pick stunned scouts with this 40-yard dash:

While Robinson's dash took the pro football world by storm, it was not a shock to an Auburn coaching staff that preaches speed and power at every position, especially the offensive line.

And although Robinson is off to the NFL, that speed and power will be back this season in an experienced unit that keeps looking for ways to improve.

"We’ve got a killer offensive line and an awesome offense," Miller said this spring. "It’s very exciting. I feel good and feel like we’re going to be a force. But we've got to get a lot better—we always have to get better."

 

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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Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Analyzing Teams Atop NCAA Hierarchy

The 2014 NCAA football preseason rankings have been released, with the reigning national champion Florida State Seminoles atop the Amway Coaches Poll as they seek to repeat.

This will be the first year for a new playoff system, though, so it will require the Seminoles to defeat multiple, high-quality opponents if they're meant to successfully defend their title. Standing in their way are a slew of quality teams, namely the No. 2-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, winners of three of the last five national championships.

Coming in at third are the Oklahoma Sooners, who defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to get a big win for coach Bob Stoops after some recent difficulties in the postseason. That bodes well for the Sooners' chances to contend for college football's ultimate prize in 2014.

All of these teams are experiencing quite a bit of roster turnover, though, so let's take a closer look at the established top three atop the NCAA hierarchy.

 

 

No. 1 Florida State Seminoles

Jameis Winston returns to quarterback the team he led to the national title as a mere freshman, but a number of absences at the skill positions will demand more from the sophomore signal-caller.

Wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are no longer around, while running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. are also gone. That leaves Karlos Williams in the backfield, along with seasoned receiver Rashad Greene as Winston's likely No. 1 target.

Tight end Nick O'Leary will figure prominently in the passing game, too, and so as long as Winston continues to develop in coach Jimbo Fisher's complex offense, Florida State should be fine on that side of the ball.

As for defense, there is a plethora of talent gone from last year's starting 11 that the Seminoles need to account for, namely inside linebacker Telvin Smith. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is a big subtraction from the trenches, and the secondary also took hits in losing safeties Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks.

Fisher is deploying a hard-line, intense approach in dictating to his players what it will take to repeat as champions, per ESPN.com's Jared Shanker:

We study guys who had attitudes of domination who won for long periods of time -- Joe Montana, John Elway repeated, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson. Those guys all had that killer instinct and were guys who wanted to be on top, stayed on top, and one championship wasn't enough.

[...] Michael Jordan, you never saw him not play to the max, and that, to me, to the players, sends a message. It’s a constant education to me, to these kids, to get them to think in that type of mold, because it’s human nature to win and relax.

There's the saying that it's better to aim high and fall short than to not shoot for the stars. It appears Fisher isn't afraid of challenging his players to succeed on an all-time great level. That's what it will take, especially with the playoffs and every opponent wanting to be the one that topples the mighty champions.

Winston's ability to carry the weight on offense will also depend on Williams settling into a feature back role. The defense also must reload and stop the run close to how it did in 2013 (via NCAA.com), where the Seminoles allowed a nation-low seven touchdowns on the ground.

 

No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide

Just as Florida State was last year with Freeman, Wiliams and Wilder, the Tide will go three deep in the backfield this year with T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.

Yeldon already has 26 touchdowns on the ground in two years in Tuscaloosa, but Henry's emergence in the Sugar Bowl loss last year may lead to a more even split on carries. The big question for Alabama is: Who will be running the offense now that AJ McCarron is gone to the NFL?

The QB competition between fifth-year senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is ongoing, but it appears Coker is the favorite to take the job. If these rankings hold up, it would be quite fascinating to see Coker battle the Seminoles for the national championship as a member of the Tide.

Here's what wide receiver Christion Jones had to say about Coker, per USA Today's Marq Burnett:

He definitely has sparks that he brings to the table that's shown that he can be one of the greatest quarterbacks to play here. But I can also say all our quarterbacks show those sparks at moments that they can be that quarterback. It's just going to be all about being consistent and coming out every day and competing and being consistent with your performance.

Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram responded to that in reporting that most expect Coker to get the nod over Sims:

Coker has the superior talent from the pocket, while Sims could still be deployed in a package thanks to his running ability. Either way, this figures to be a more dynamic offense under first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin than the Tide have had in the past.

The physical identity and ground-and-pound power playing will still be there, but with playmakers like Amari Cooper on the outside, this unit could be as special as it's been in years.

And coach Nick Saban always has an elite defense, though it will be interesting to see how he tweaks his schemes this year. After Texas A&M Heisman winner Johnny Manziel lit up the Tide two years in a row and dual-threat Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight put on a breakout show in the Sugar Bowl, Saban must find a way to neutralize more athletic quarterbacks.

That will ultimately determine how successful Alabama is. The Tide are bound to be among the best teams in the nation, but containing QBs in the open field and navigating a brutal SEC schedule are the chief concerns. A more explosive passing game and perpetually fresh legs at running back should help.

 

No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners

A lot of Oklahoma's high ranking seems to be predicated on the fact that Knight came to play against Alabama and Stoops won a big game. However, now the pressure is on in Norman for the Sooners to make the playoffs and become a true factor in the national championship picture.

Knight must play at the level he flashed against the Tide for Oklahoma to be a true contender. After all, quarterbacks often separate the good teams from the ones that are truly great at any level of football.

There's no question all the skills are there for Knight to be a threat with his arm and legs. What remains to be seen is whether he can sustain the brilliance he showed in dismantling Alabama.

"He can be the Sugar Bowl guy," said Sooners co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, per USA Today's George Schroeder. "Everybody in our program is really confident he's gonna be that. He's got a really high ceiling."

Lightning-quick pass-rusher Eric Striker will be screaming off the edge to give Big 12 QBs nightmares. Rising sophomore Dominique Alexander is bound to lead the Sooners in tackles with his nose for the ball, though, giving Oklahoma a formidable linebacker corps.

Former Sooners QB Blake Bell has transitioned over to tight end, so he could be an X-factor for the Oklahoma offense with his size and speed. As long as he can block and use his big frame to shield defenders, Knight could connect with him often in the red zone, giving the Sooners an added dimension.

All three of the top-ranked teams should be deep, but neither the Tide nor Oklahoma have a settled quarterback situation. That could wind up costing both a shot at the national championship, while Winston should prove to be an elite option for Florida State once again. The disparity will likely reveal itself if any combination of these teams meet in the new playoffs.

With the new postseason comes a chance for teams not as highly ranked at the moment to leapfrog the established powers with transcendent QB play. That's why the premier programs should be on the lookout for Marcus Mariota and the fourth-ranked Oregon Ducks, the Brett Hundley-led No. 7 UCLA Bruins and the No. 10 Baylor Bears, quarterbacked by Bryce Petty.

This college football season may not have quite the complications the BCS has tended to promote in the past. However, the playoff twist and talent depth at the all-important quarterback position should make it as compelling as ever.

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Florida State Football: Derrick Brooks' Florida Legacy Goes Way Beyond Football

Derrick Brooks was determined to be successful wherever he played football. From Pensacola to Tallahassee to Tampa, Brooks was not just an All-American or an All-Pro—he was a charismatic leader.

And on Saturday, Brooks will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after 11 Pro Bowl seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brooks didn't have to leave the Sunshine State to find success.

He was USA Today's National Defensive player of the Year in 1990 at Pensacola's Washington High. Brooks then transitioned from a 205-pound safety into a 225-pound linebacker at Florida State, where he helped the Seminoles win a national title in 1993 and was a consensus All-American in '93 and '94.

"From the time he came in to Tallahassee until he left, he was your model student, athlete and person," said former Seminoles defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who recruited Brooks and coached him at FSU.

Brooks led by example and he set a high standard. He had 274 career tackles and five interceptions in his FSU career. But Andrews also remembers how Brooks prepared for games and cited the "depth of his knowledge" on the football field.

His leadership abilities were unquestioned.

"I guess you would say there's a place for privates, sergeants, colonels and generals," Andrews said. "The ones that get to be generals are the ones that lead by example but also vocally."

The lessons learned at FSU carried on to the NFL—even though he was drafted in the first round by the Buccaneers in 1995, one of the NFL's doormats for nearly two decades. In the 19 seasons since the expansion team began in 1976, the franchise had enjoyed just three winning seasons.

What Brooks brought to the Bucs was a dedication to football, to playing the sport at the highest level, preparing for each game and refusing to accept losing. It was something that began in Pensacola and continued in Tallahassee. Brooks knew how to not just win, but also win a championship. And he wanted to do the same thing in Tampa.

"He brought high character and he brought that desire to win," former Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "That's what transformed the Bucs. They weren't used to losing (at FSU)."

The transformation took time. Brooks was drafted in 1995 and the Bucs went 7-9 in coach Sam Wyche's final season. But he played in 16 games, started 13, and had 78 tackles as a rookie. 

Dungy was hired before the 1996 season, and the Bucs went 6-10. But Tampa Bay then made the playoffs in five of the following six seasons. And Brooks was routinely anchoring the middle of the defense.

"He was just a perfect guy for us to play in that system," Dungy said. "The thing he brought was preparation. Not going to leave any stone unturned. He understood how offenses would attack us. He put us in position to make plays."

While Dungy was out as the Bucs coach after a Wild Card loss in 2001, the team enjoyed a special 2002 season. The Bucs capped a 12-4 year with playoff wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, and they won Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2013 by dominating the Oakland Raiders 48-21.

Brooks helped put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a pass from Oakland's Rich Gannon and went 44 yards for a touchdown.

"The Super Bowl touchdown is special because, you know, very few people get that opportunity to play in the game alone and have a turnover that effects the game in the way that my interception did," Brooks said in a teleconference on July 22.

Brooks had quite an effect on the NFL. He was 6'0" and 235 pounds (adding 10 pounds from his FSU days) but he "transformed the position by developing into one of the best all-around linebackers in league history," writes Fred Goodall of The Associated Press.

While Brooks gives credit to the 4-3 defensive scheme that the Bucs utilized, he feels that he played his position so well that other teams tried to copy what Tampa Bay was doing.

"Players play the game, the system don't," Brooks said in the teleconference. "The system puts you in a position to play the game. So I like to think I set the standard when it got to the 4-3 defense for a bunch of years to the tune where a lot of teams tried to emulate what we did and how we played throughout my career."

Brooks played all 14 seasons in Tampa, collecting 1,698 tackles. He was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection.

"He's a great player," Dungy said. "He's going in the Hall of Fame. But he's a much better person than he is a player."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats are courtesy of FSU media guides, Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com.

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Adidas Unveils New Red Rising TECHFIT Alternate Uniforms for Nebraska

Thanks to Adidas, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are celebrating their 125th year of football in style.

Nebraska will be wearing new Red Rising TECHFIT uniforms for its Sept. 27 game against Illinois. The jerseys include ultra-light black and silver numbers, and the jerseys and pants use black metallic stripes.

Adidas used TECHFIT Shockweb technology, which makes players tougher to tackle because it clings to the body, on the uniforms.

It's a pretty drastic new look for Nebraska.

Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini got in on the fun of unveiling the uniforms:

The players had to be pretty pumped up to see their coach in the new gear.

[Huskers.com, Twitter]

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SEC Football Q&A: Alabama's DBs, LSU/Wisconsin and Dark-Horse Title Contenders

Do you hear that? Those are pads. Those pads? They're popping.

Ahh, football. 

Fall camp is here, and let's kick off the season in style with a Friday tradition—SEC football Q&A.

What will Alabama's secondary look like? Will LSU roll Wisconsin in Houston? Who's a dark horse to win the SEC Championship?

 

@BarrettSallee what your expectations of Alabama's DB'S

— Jeremy Gardner (@Jeremygardner4) July 25, 2014

I expect them to be much more consistent, because while Alabama did post the SEC's second-best pass defense (180.3 YPG) last year, it was more due to weak competition than it was its play.

There are options for head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve played quite a bit last year, Tony Brown (early enrollee) and Marlon Humphrey (summer enrollee) signed as part of the class of 2014, and Eddie Jackson still intends to come back this season from a torn ACL suffered in the spring.

The rotating door opposite recently departed corner Deion Belue prevented any of the corners from getting into a groove last year, and I expect—no matter who the two starting corners and starting nickel are—that Saban and Smart will be a little more hesitant to rotate them this year.

Who exactly will the starters be? As you see in the video below, I expect Brown and Humphrey to get the nod, while my B/R colleague Michael Felder veers toward Brown and Jones. Whoever it is, they'll be much better than they were last year due in large part to a filthy front seven and pressure from the newcomers.

 

@BarrettSallee W/Les being 35-0 v reg season noncons, is there a shot LSU rolls the Badgers & becomes the dark horse in the SEC?

— Dan Vasta (@CI_StatsGuru) July 31, 2014

There's a shot, sure. But it's a long shot.

Wisconsin is no slouch. It'll line up LSU and make defensive coordinator John Chavis' defense beat it. While tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson were slight disappointments last year, their presence impacted the game in a variety of ways.

Whether it's Christian LaCouture, Quentin Thomas or others, they've got to focus on stopping Melvin Gordon—which is not an easy task.

The Badgers are breaking in a brand-new linebacking corps, so there's a spot where LSU's offense can make some waves. But will offensive coordinator Cam Cameron even open things up?

With a young quarterback and minimal experience at wide receiver, I don't know if LSU will put itself in position to roll the Badgers. That's what makes that five-point line that VegasInsider.com has posted seem so legit. It's going to be a low-scoring, ugly, slugfest.

As for LSU being a dark horse in the conference? LSU shouldn't ever be considered a dark horse. Am I sold on LSU this year? No. But its down years are still nine- or 10-win seasons, which should always get it in the conversation.

 

@BarrettSallee dark horse to win the SEC?

— (@bunjaminn) July 25, 2014

The popular answer will likely be one of the two Mississippi schools, Ole Miss or Mississippi State. Both will be competitive, and I like Ole Miss to make things very difficult with a few of the SEC West's big boys, but that division is the toughest neighborhood in college football.

It's more likely that a dark horse emerges from the SEC East, and I'll take Florida out of that division. No, I don't think the Gators will actually win it (I picked Georgia at media days), but it wouldn't surprise me in the least bit if the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (yes, we still use its proper name) decides the division title.

Florida's defense is loaded, which allows some wiggle room for the new offense led by coordinator Kurt Roper. The Gators don't have to be great, they just have to be good, and quarterback Jeff Driskel is certainly capable of that.

It seems like Florida has been gaining some momentum this offseason, but only two SEC East programs—South Carolina and Georgia—received votes to win the entire conference at media days. It wouldn't surprise me if Florida elbows its way into that discussion by midseason.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee. If your question wasn't answered this week, it has been saved and could be used in the future.

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


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Should Texas Really Be Ranked in 2014 Preseason Top 25 Coaches Poll?

Considering all of the questions that surround Texas football under its new head coach Charlie Strong, the fact that the Longhorns are ranked at all is a surprise.

The 2014 preseason Amway Coaches Poll is out, and the Longhorns are ranked at No. 24.

It would be fair to say Texas has not proven anything to put them in the Top 25. Are the Longhorns at ground zero with no future ahead?

No.

But when one considers the significant amount of change that has occurred since January, it is safe to say the Texas football program is in a bit of a rebuilding period.

And that rebuilding period leaves a lot of question marks for the immediate future.

There is an entirely new staff in Austin, the offensive line lost all but one of its veteran linemen from 2013, the quarterback position is still a huge question mark and the list goes on.

Texas went 8-5 in 2013 and ended its season with a 30-7 defeat in the Alamo Bowl. Sure, there's new leadership at the top, but Strong inherited a team with a lot of holes on its depth chart.

And the recent dismissals of Joe Bergeron, Chevoski Collins and Jalen Overstreet, in addition to the indefinite suspensions of Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, only add to the number of holes on the two-deep.

But the question marks truly begin with the leader of the offense.

 

Quarterback

Strong named David Ash the starting quarterback heading into fall camp, but Ash's injury-prone past is not something anyone can overlook.

After spending the majority of the 2013 season with recurring concussion symptoms, Ash appeared to be healthy in time for spring practice.

That health lasted roughly three weeks.

Ash suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot midway through the spring and was sidelined for the Longhorns spring game.

Although he appears to be healthy heading into fall camp, the question of how long his health will last will continue to follow him.

Next on the list of position question marks is the group of men who help protect the quarterback.

 

Offensive Line

If fans happened to watch the Texas spring game, they would know the offensive line allowed eight sacks and 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for a total loss of 68 yards.

Spring games do not always show the accurate picture of the team, but Strong did mention the offensive line as one of his biggest concerns for the season.

"The offensive line is a position you're concerned about," Strong said at Big 12 media days. "(Dominic) Espinosa is a returning starter and you have some guys who have played in games, but you want to make sure you're really good up front, and we haven't seen that yet."

Texas hired one of the best offensive line coaches in college football in Joe Wickline, and his talents will be put to the test during his first season coaching in Austin.

 

Scheme Changes

Aside from specific positions, one of the biggest remaining questions for the Longhorns is how well the team can learn the staff's new scheme.

When Strong and Co. took over for former head coach Mack Brown and his staff, the Longhorns had to not only get to know the new coaches, but also get to know an entirely new system.

And that task is not something that will be learned overnight.

When it's all said and done, the number of question marks surrounding the Texas Longhorns makes it nearly impossible to agree with the preseason No. 24 ranking.

Will the questions be answered once fall camp begins? Possibly, but until the Longhorns take the field against one of the most difficult opponents on the schedule, such as UCLA on Sept. 13, the questions will likely remain unanswered.

 

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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Michigan Is Ohio State's Only Rival, but Michigan State Can't Be Ignored

There's a big difference between the concept of a rivalry game and a rival. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer made that very clear while speaking at Big Ten media days in Chicago this week.

The Buckeyes play in a number of rivalry games. When Ohio State takes the field against Penn State or Illinois, they're engaging in a rivalry game.

But the Buckeyes only have one true rival—a distinction reserved for That Team Up North.

That Team Up North, of course, is Michigan. The Wolverines are so respected that they command Ohio State's singular attention, but they're so hated that those in the Buckeyes' camp refuse to utter the word "Michigan."

It's That Team Up North. In Ann Arbor, Ohio State is simply referred to as Ohio. 

That rivalry, rooted in a century's worth of animosity, makes it hard for anyone else to register on the Buckeyes' radar.

“You’ve got to be clear, though, there’s one rival and that will never change," Meyer said of Michigan, according to David Briggs of The Toledo Blade.

“It will always be The Team Up North," defensive tackle Michael Bennett added, via Briggs. "No matter what happens.”

That may be the case, but Michigan State is making a lot of noise.

That noise started last December in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes were one win away from playing Florida State for the national title, but the Spartans dashed those hopes with a 34-24 upset.

That game set the stage for this year's matchup. The Big Ten's realignment put Ohio State and Michigan State in the same division, and they're set to face off in East Lansing this November—under the lights in prime time.

Ohio State's chance at revenge is the most anticipated Big Ten game of the season, according to Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network.

But it's not just about settling the score. 

Michigan State has earned the respect it's getting with a dominant 2013 campaign. The Spartans became the first team in conference history to beat each of their league opponents by double digits. They also gave the Big Ten its first Rose Bowl victory since Ohio State defeated Oregon at the end of the 2009 season.

At Big Ten media days, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller talked about how eager he is to take on the Spartans.

"This season is a night game, and night games are my deal. It’s going to be show time, go time,” Miller said, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors

While Ohio State will be seeking redemption, Michigan State will be fighting for validation. Even after bulldozing their way through the Big Ten, beating Stanford in the Rose Bowl and finishing No. 3 in the final polls last season, Mark Dantonio's squad still feels disrespected and underappreciated. 

"We could win the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten championship and a national championship, and we still wouldn’t get the respect we deserve," Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said, via Rowland.

Ohio State saw firsthand how good the Spartans were last December, so there's no lack of respect in Columbus. 

With Michigan State's ascent, should the Buckeyes start staying "Those Teams Up North" to properly address an "emerging" rivalry? According to Meyer, that will never happen, but the Spartans certainly have Ohio State's attention. 


David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. 

Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: 4 Locks for the 2014 Season

At this time of year, so much of the discussion surrounding the upcoming football season involves uncertainty and projection. That’s even more so the case for the inexperienced and relatively unproven Notre Dame football team in 2014.

The quarterback—whoever it may be—will have not taken a game snap since the 2012 season. The defense must replace five starters from the front seven.

But with fall camp upon us, let’s discuss some of the locks for this Irish squad in 2014. Now, to be clear, these aren’t absolute certainties that the coaching staff has said to be true. Rather, these are our high-probability predictions for Notre Dame’s upcoming season.

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Leonard Fournette, Alabama's LBs and More

No Pressure, Kid

The hype machine around LSU true freshman running back Leonard Fournette just keeps spinning.

After being compared to NBA legend Michael Jordan by head coach Les Miles and referred to as potentially one of the "best ever" by fellow running back Terrence Magee at media days last month, Miles doubled down while speaking at the Baton Rouge Rotary Club this week.

"Leonard Fournette is either the fastest or the second fastest guy on our team at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds," Miles said, according to Trey Labat of Nola.com. "He's going to get two A's in his summer classes and he's proved to be a quality young man."

Before LSU takes the field against Wisconsin, Fournette better have already run for a mile and a half, otherwise he's going to be viewed as a bust.

Let's be real for a second—Fournette may be "the next Adrian Peterson," but he's not going to be the next AD right away. With Magee and senior Kenny Hilliard in the backfield, a new quarterback, new wide receivers and a veteran offensive line, LSU needs all of its running backs to hit the ground running—especially early in the season.

On top of that, the Tigers have to do all they can to make their quarterback comfortable, whether it's sophomore Anthony Jennings or true freshman Brandon Harris. Blitz pickups are often the last piece of the puzzle for young running backs, so expect Magee and Hilliard to be featured early as Fournette eases his way into superstardom.

 

Not Rebuilding, Reloading

It's not easy replacing a legend, but that's exactly what either Reggie Ragland or Reuben Foster will be doing at Alabama.

With C.J. Mosley gone, Alabama is left looking for a replacement at "Will" linebacker alongside Trey DePriest. Andrew Gribble of AL.com surmised that junior Reggie Ragland will get the nod, while his colleague Michael Casagrande backed sophomore (and former recruiting lightning rod) Reuben Foster as the long-term solution.

What does this mean for head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart?

It means they have a "rich man's problem."

Choosing between Ragland and Foster is like choosing between a filet mignon and a bone-in ribeye at a fine steakhouse. You're not going to go wrong either way.

I'll throw my support toward the Ragland campaign. It's important for Alabama's middle linebackers to get the rest of the defense on the same page, so by coupling a senior DePriest with another veteran in Ragland, Alabama's defense will be in good hands.

 

Frustrating Injuries

Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell has all the potential in the world and is being counted on to be a major contributor to this year's Georgia Bulldogs.

He just has to find his way to the field.

The 2011 SEC All-Freshman Team member tore his ACL celebrating a touchdown in the season opener versus Clemson last year and then missed spring practice with another leg injury. As fall camp starts, Mitchell is looking at more missed time.

According to Seth Emerson of the Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, Mitchell will miss the start of fall camp in Athens due to another knee injury. The extent of that injury isn't known at this time, but the mounting injuries have to be getting frustrating for Mitchell, head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald reported the specifics of the injury.

UGA: WR Malcolm Mitchell underwent an arthroscopic procedure to address cartilage injury on right knee this week. No timetable for return.

— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) August 1, 2014

Georgia has weapons outside to compensate for Mitchell if he has to miss some time. Chris Conley is a bona fide star, Michael Bennett is a veteran who can be either a deep threat or a weapon over the middle and Justin Scott-Wesley—who also is coming back from an ACL injury—is a burner who can put pressure on the back end of a defense.

Add Mitchell and a punishing running game to that mix, and new starting quarterback Hutson Mason will be just fine.

 

Home Isn't Where The Heart Is

Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones might be the most underrated player in the SEC. 

Note the position: Defensive tackle.

Only don't tell Jones that because he sees himself more as a defensive end. 

"I tell them all the time, I'm not a D-tackle. That's just the position I'm playing right now," Jones told Michael Bonner of the The Clarion-Ledger. "I'm a defensive end at heart."

He says it with a smile, which suggests that the 6'5", 308-pound sophomore knows he'll be inside more than outside. As Bob Carskadon of HailState.com notes, he will do both.

@BarrettSallee and no matter what he's listed as, he'll get plenty of snaps at both. (Though yes, much more at DT.)

— Bob Carskadon (@bobcarskadon) July 30, 2014

Jones' heart may be outside, but in a few years, he's going to be a highly paid NFL defensive tackle. In this case, he should follow his mind, not his heart.

 

Aggie Swag

Who could forget this gem from Texas A&M when it entered the SEC?

Texas A&M's new locker room has "Aggie Swag" by the truckloads.

Designated LED screens over every player's locker? Yep. Television screens located within the mirror in front of each sink? Check. In-house barber shop? It's got that too. 

Texas A&M's locker room looks more like a five-star, all-inclusive resort than it does a football locker room.

Well done, Aggies.

 

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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Malcolm Mitchell Injury: Updates on Georgia WR's Knee and Return

Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is dealing with another setback in his recovery from an ACL injury. No timetable for his return has been set following arthroscopic surgery.

Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Mitchell was running routes to get prepared for the Bulldogs' preseason camp when he suffered the latest injury. The school provided few details about his outlook after surgery:

UGA on Friday confirmed that Georgia's star wide receiver will miss at least "the first part" of Georgia's preseason practices after suffering the injury while running pass routes with teammates this week. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on Thursday to repair cartilage damage. A full recovery is anticipated, but his availability for the Bulldogs' season opener against Clemson will have to be determined later.

Mitchell was originally hurt in last season's opener against the same Tigers squad Georgia is slated to face to start this season. He missed the rest of the campaign, but was expected back at full strength in time for the Clemson rematch.

It hasn't been a smooth process, however.

In March, Jerry Hinnen of CBS Sports noted Mitchell was forced to miss the latter stages of spring practice after suffering an injury involving his left leg. The report stated he was expected to recover in time for fall practice.

Mitchell seemed on pace to reach that expectation and now he's forced to take another step back. It's an unfortunate string of issues for a wideout that showed so much potential over his first two seasons.

The junior caught 85 passes for over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns over that span. He emerged as a key target on third down and in the red zone for the run-first offense.

Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph provided some insight on how long the injury may keep the talented target sidelined:

Michael Bennett and Chris Conley will once again be expected to step up in his absence. They were the team's two leading receivers last season, but it's hard to expect the offense to reach it's full potential if Mitchell isn't ready to go for the opener.

The Bulldogs will hope he's able to make a quick recovery from his latest surgery. The key will then be getting him through a couple practice sessions without any further setbacks. Based on the last 12 months, it's unfortunately far from a guarantee.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Football: 5 Games That Could Ruin Gators' 2014 Season

It only takes one or two losses for a team’s college football season to be completely destroyed. While the Florida Gators should have a little more leeway than that, they saw last year just how quickly things can spiral out of control.

Whether it’s a trap game or a meeting capable of getting absolutely ugly, there are plenty of matchups on Florida’s schedule that could be the deciding factor between success and failure. It’s a battle each week for every team in the SEC.

Here are some of the key games that could make or break Florida’s season. 

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Amway Top 25 College Football Poll 2014: Season Predictions, Championship Odds

Now it's starting to get real.

Since the streamers and confetti were cleaned off the field at the Rose Bowl after Florida State's BCS championship game victory over Auburn, there's been little to do but look ahead to the 2014 college football season. There were minor attention-grabbers, like NFL draft declarations, signing day and spring football, but nothing as good as the real thing.

There's still just under four weeks until the first games, but like leaves changing color to signify the coming of fall, we're seeing signs that college football is right around the corner. One of those was Thursday's release of the first official preseason Top 25 poll, the Amway coaches poll.

Previously known as the USA Today coaches poll (and still released by that media outlet), the rankings are compiled from the votes cast by 62 FBS head coaches. Though this season's national champion will be determined via the first-ever College Football Playoff, the team that finishes No. 1 in this poll will receive the trophy shown above.

Not surprisingly, defending national champ Florida State starts at No. 1 and earned 56 of 62 first-place votes. Click through the slideshow to see projected records for all of the Amway-ranked teams, as well as their odds of winning the title, and reasons why or why not.

 

NOTE: Predicted records are based on regular-season games only.

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Georgia Football: Will the Bulldogs Feature the Spread Offense in 2014?

Most Bulldog fans know about new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and how the defense will have a slightly different look this season compared to the previous years with Todd Grantham.

But could the same changes come for the offense?

Mike Bobo is still the coordinator and has shown no indication that the Bulldogs are going to change things on offense. In fact, he has said (via Matt Maddux of al.com) that he’s going to focus on running the ball to help Hutson Mason get comfortable with the offense.

Mason is the new starter for Aaron Murray, who is now with the Kansas City Chiefs. But Mason has in-game experience and has the tools to take the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship. However, he comes from a high school program (Lassiter High School in Marietta, Georgia) that ran the spread offense, and he looks more comfortable when the offense is more uptempo and spreading the ball around.

So could the Bulldogs feature a spread offense package this season?

Other than Mason at quarterback, there are some other things to look at when it comes to the Bulldogs and their offense for this season.

The first aspect is the receivers. According to the official depth chart, which can be found in the media guide, the Bulldogs have three receivers starting in the base offense. Michael Bennett is the starting X receiver, Chris Conley is the starting Y receiver and Reggie Davis is the starting Z receiver.

That will all change this year because Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will be back from ACL injuries they suffered last season. And because the receiver position is very deep, there’s a chance the Bulldogs could run a lot of three- and four-receiver sets, so they could not only spread the ball around and score points quickly, their efforts could also take pressure off of running back Todd Gurley, who will be a focus for every opposing defense.

One of those four receivers could also be the H-back, which is something Bobo added to the offense this year. The starting H-back will be Quayvon Hicks, but newcomer tight end Jeb Blazevich has cross-trained to be an H-back as well, according to Gentry Estes of 247Sports (subscription needed).

Quayvon Hicks, Jay Rome, and Jeb Blazevich will all work at H-Back position. Looks like UGA will be in more of spread type offense this yr

— Trent Smallwood (@UgaRecruitingBI) July 30, 2014

The Bulldogs will still have their power sets, which will include the tight end and fullback. But Bobo mentioned that the Bulldogs were in a one-back set 74 percent of the time last season (via dawgsonline.com). So the H-back is not brand new to the Bulldogs, but it will be featured more than it has been in the past.

The last aspect is the defense. As it was mentioned earlier, the defense looks to be improved from last year with the addition of Pruitt and the return of eight starters. But they will still have some growing pains, especially at the start of the season when the Bulldogs face Clemson and South Carolina. So instead of UGA running the pro-style offense where it relies on the run first, it will likely have to sling the ball around more than normal, which does favor Mason because that’s the style he’s used to playing.

The Bulldogs are not going to change their style of offense, especially with Gurley carrying the load. But because of all the other skill players they have on offense and the emphasis on the H-back, there’s a chance that spread offense will be used more in Athens to keep the opposing defenses on their toes.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2014 College Football Rankings: Most Underrated Teams in Opening Coaches Poll

The college football preseason polls are fun for debate, but they often look foolish by the end of the season.

A year ago at this time, Florida State was not considered a top-10 team and Auburn did not even get a vote in the AP Poll. By January, these two teams were competing for the national championship, which was eventually won by the Seminoles.

While Florida State will not sneak up on anyone this season, there are other teams looking to surprise the nation with great performances in 2014.

Here is a complete look at the preseason Amway Coaches Poll with a breakdown of the squads who are way too low on the list.

 

No. 10 Baylor

Baylor had the No. 1 offense in the nation last season, scoring an incredible 52.4 points per game. While some of the weapons have moved on, quarterback Bryce Petty is back in action and ready to lead the team to an even better season this year.

Petty finished 2013 as the No. 2 quarterback in the nation in efficiency, trailing only Heisman winner Jameis Winston. He totaled 4,200 passing yards and an outstanding 32 touchdowns to just three interceptions. 

If that was not enough, the quarterback also added 14 touchdowns on the ground to prove his versatility.

While some might call Petty a system player, NFL draft analysts like Benjamin Allbright believe the quarterback is a quality prospect:

As long as Petty plays to his potential, the offense should be as good as last season. The question is whether the defense can handle its end of the bargain. 

Linebacker Bryce Hager does not think this will be a problem. The All-Big 12 player is confident he can be a leader for a great unit, explaining to Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated:

My first year, I didn’t know what was going on. I was confused, frustrated and having second thoughts about things. Now, the game itself is so much slower compared to practice. It really helps.

What our offense has is really special. But last year, I think our defense did a very good job of stepping up when needed.

The group has plenty of playmakers who will make a difference for what should be a national title contender in 2014. 

 

No. 15 USC

Although USC went through an up-and-down season in 2013, the squad still won 10 games, including a bowl win over Derek Carr and Fresno State. There is obviously a lot of talent on the roster, but Lane Kiffin struggled to get the most out of his players.

New head coach Steve Sarkisian has done a better job of this in the past and is hoping that he can create a culture change for a once-dominant program.

It all begins with quarterback Cody Kessler. The junior passed for almost 3,000 yards last season with 20 touchdowns, but inconsistency led to doubts over his ability to lead the offense. If he can put the work in, though, he has the potential to be a quality leader for this offense.

He is certainly setting his sights high for the upcoming season:

Both Javorius Allen and Nelson Agholor should take big jumps this year to help Kessler out offensively, finally catching up to a defense that carried the load for most of last season.

Although the Pac-12 should be tough with Oregon, UCLA and other elite squads, the Trojans will be right there in the hunt for a conference title.

 

No. 19 Ole Miss

A year ago, Ole Miss was a young but talented team trying to compete in the challenging SEC West. While the division has not gotten any easier, the Rebels have gotten better.

Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports believes this team could be a top squad if Bo Wallace lives up to his potential:

He will certainly get plenty of help in the form of receiver Laquon Treadwell. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller is excited about the young player's potential:

Meanwhile, the rest of the underclassmen who played a big role last season will all hope to improve, starting with defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche. He will anchor a unit that should be able to compete with Alabama, LSU and the rest of the division.

With Wallace becoming a leader as one of the few veteran quarterbacks in the conference, Ole Miss will surprise a lot of people with its play.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Big Ten Media Days

Nebraska fans got their final look at the team as head coach Bo Pelini and members of the team appeared at Big Ten media days in Chicago this week. While these can be pretty scripted and buttoned-down affairs, there’s always a few interesting morsels of news that come out. Here are a few of the most interesting pieces of information.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the Big Ten’s official transcripts of Bo Pelini’s presentation.

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Miami Football: 5 Games That Could Ruin the Hurricanes' 2014 Season

Five games on the 2014 schedule could derail the Miami Hurricanes' chances at a Coastal Division title, which is the program's most realistic goal for the upcoming campaign.

Due to parity within the division, "The U" should be targeting six conference victories to earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game for the first time in program history.

A loss to rival and preseason No. 1 Florida State in mid-November will not necessarily ruin the 'Canes' season, but that's why the following contests are so important.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Evolution of Team Recruiting Camps Leads to Commits in Huge Numbers

For 2016 quarterback recruit Jacob Eason, an early commitment was the last thing on his mind.

"I went down there just thinking I was going to check it out, have a good time," Eason told Bleacher Report of his visit to Georgia's "Dawg Night" camp, which concluded a Southeast swing that also featured Alabama and Florida State visits.

"But I just knew it was the place. When I went down there, I felt at home."

On the night following the camp, Eason—the nation's second-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class, according to the 247Sports' composite rankings—verbally pledged to the Bulldogs. So did 5-star 2016 offensive tackle Ben Cleveland and two other camp participants.

Any time a school can get four verbal commitments from an event, it's considered an immense success. But Georgia's huge haul at "Dawg Night" has become par for the camp course this summer.

The practice of morphing camps into specialized, school-branded recruiting events is yielding commitments in huge numbers.

So, what is the formula?

Though nobody wants to give away secrets, a picture of this new breed of camp became clearer in the details offered by the coaches who host the events and the players who attend them.

These intimate environments allow the players and their families to spend time with coaches and players. Many are under the lights in the stadiums with jumbotrons, scoreboards and music blaring. Others thrive on competition; all thrive on peer recruiting.

No one camp has all those elements, but several of these characteristics are shared by all.

This is far from a new concept, but it didn't become must-attend until Urban Meyer's "Friday Night Lights" at Florida in 2005. Georgia's "Dawg Night" followed suit three years later.

These days, it seems everybody has a unique event.

Now at Ohio State, Meyer's "FNL" event last weekend produced two commitments.

At Tennessee, "Orange Carpet Day" resulted in seven commitments over two one-day events. Mississippi State had the most shocking camp commitment haul when eight players pledged to the Bulldogs during the "Big Dawg Camp," and another participant committed shortly after.

The list goes on and on.

"'Friday Night Lights' under Urban Meyer at Florida was the event that first had the biggest impact on the Richter scale, so to speak," said Barton Simmons, 247Sports' national director of scouting. "Meyer was smart enough to transition a college instructional camp into a showcase, an event. Kids started flocking, and back before events like The Opening sprung up, 'Friday Night Lights' was one of the best events in the country from a talent perspective. Now, almost all major programs have some sort of version of that.

"Every program's recruiting culture is different, so I don’t think an elite event is a necessity. Penn State has killed it recruiting under James Franklin this year without an under-the-lights type of event. Alabama is the best recruiting program in the nation and [Nick] Saban doesn't have a single 'Dawg Night'-style event. But when you look at Mississippi State adding seven or eight commits in one day at their 'Big Dawg Camp' or Georgia adding two five-stars in the class of 2016 in one evening, it's hard not to see a serious benefit to a well-run event."

 

The Forefathers of Showcase Recruiting Events

Georgia recruiting coordinator Bryan McClendon remembers when head coach Mark Richt and his staff were in the early stages of discussing a showcase recruiting event.

The rival Gators had changed the recruiting game with "FNL," and the Dawgs had all these resources they wanted to show off, too. Before long, the elements started coming together.

It would be a night camp under the lights at Sanford Stadium. They'd turn on the scoreboard and even open it up to media so the kids who didn't show could get a glimpse of what they missed. It would also be scheduled at a time when they weren't competing with AAU basketball or track for players' attention.

Most importantly, they'd make it cost-efficient.

"To be honest with you, one of the things we always want to do—and it's very, very tough to do now—is try to make it as cheap as possible," McClendon said. "This is a camp where you know you’re not going to get any kind of profit from in that regard. It's very available to them, and you’re able to attract people and say, 'This is too good of a deal to pass up.' It’s the cheapest camp we have.

"We wanted to make sure the bang for your buck was too good to pass up for people out-of-state to pass us to go do something else."

Almost immediately, Georgia had an immense success on its hands. It didn't take long for rivals to know it was time to worry if a target was heading to Athens that weekend.

This year, UGA made two important tweaks, splitting the event into a two-session, all-day camp, according to GoDawgs247's Rusty Mansell (subscription required). The Bulldogs also used utilized modern technology to sell it.

While "Dawg Night" has enjoyed major staying power, the pedigree from Florida's forerunning camp is unprecedented. From the year it started in 2005, "FNL" has become a national showcase.

The camp has featured 13 first-round NFL draft picks and 36 players taken in the draft, according to GatorBait's Thomas Goldkamp (subscription required). Several of those participants became Gators, especially in Meyer's tenure. That's a big reason he won two national championships in Gainesville.

Though Will Muschamp's uncertain future led to less star power than normal this year, according to ESPN.com's Derek Tyson, the Gators still hosted plenty of elite players like Martez Ivey, Jeffrey Holland and Byron Cowart.

These recruiting events aren't just huge recruiting tools for locals, either.

"The competition level down there (the Southeast) is just really not comparable to here," said Eason, a Lake Stevens, Washington, resident.  "You have guys from Florida, Alabama, Georgia at the (Dawg Night) camp—everywhere you go, the competition is pumped up.

"Everybody plays at a higher level down there, and you could really see it."

The best want to play with the best, and Eason said that played a factor in his ultimate decision to head south for his college career. Now, the quarterback becomes part of the camp's pedigree, woven into the fabric of why future prospects will keep thinking "Dawg Night" is special.

"Kids look forward to it every year," McClendon said. "Certain coaches look forward to it every year. As soon as it’s over with, guys are asking about when’s the next one we’re having. It’s one of the premiere camps in the country. It really is.

"It's kind of like that one party nobody likes to miss out on."

 

'Shocking the World'

Mississippi State—a school in the sticks of the state, far from any big-city lights—had its own recruiting party July 18 when the Bulldogs received eight commitments at its annual "Big Dawg Camp."

The historic haul elevated the Bulldogs from the nether regions of the recruiting rankings all the way up to 11th place, according to 247Sports Composite. It was the kind of day that veteran recruiting coordinator Tony Hughes said in more than 20 years of coaching he'd "never seen happen before."

"It was just one night that it all came together," Hughes said. "It was work over a long period of time, not just the one night. It's just like that one game you get in and you've got that great opponent and every play you call works and it's executed, and you say, 'Wow! Look at that!'"

The MSU coaches didn't do anything different this year, Hughes said. Like always, they turned on the lights at Davis Wade Stadium, lit up the scoreboard and the jumbotron and coached the prospects like they would if they were their own players.

The intensity level elevated, the swagger followed and, before long, multiple players began committing to spend the next four years in Starkville.

It was the kind of night reserved for the white-collar world of college football—teams such as Alabama, Ohio State, Southern Cal, Texas and Florida.

Perhaps it wasn't a surprise because of that last example. You see, MSU head coach Dan Mullen was on Meyer's staff when "FNL" originated.

There are elements from that foundation camp nearly a decade ago present in MSU's version.

"We try to be different and out-in-front, and you have to be at Mississippi State," Hughes said. "You have to use your imagination and do things to reach out. We can’t do what Alabama does, or what LSU does or Georgia does because we don’t have the same clientele, the same finances, the same budget, you know? If we can be different and use our imagination, we can shock the world like we did that weekend.

"Ours is the real deal because it comes from the original. Coach Mullen understands how it works and how to make it an event."

Another coach who obviously understands the gauntlet of SEC recruiting is Tennessee coach Butch Jones.

In his first two full recruiting classes at UT, Jones has escalated the talent level on Rocky Top. Already on campus are 32 signees from a class ranked seventh in the 2014 cycle. Joining them in the '15 class are 22 verbal pledges in another seventh-ranked group.

Eleven of UT's commitments have come since June 9, fueled by two "Orange Carpet Day" events that produced seven pledges, including 4-star former Alabama running back Alvin Kamara.

Though some "Orange Carpet Day" details are kept quiet, tight end commit Kyle Oliver said the players didn't even work out for UT's coaches. Instead, the event was set up to impress the prospects and to enable them to spend one-on-one time with Jones and his assistants.

It was also a paparazzi-style atmosphere, Oliver said, treating the players as if they were already stars.

"When I got there, there was an orange carpet waiting for us, and they took a lot of pictures," Oliver said. "It did set them apart. It was a very great experience, and I couldn't see a reason why I wouldn't want to commit.

"It was like a family day type of thing, and that's what I really wanted when I was looking for a college. I feel like it played a big role for me."

Jones reiterated the Vols tried to make both of their summer events a down-home atmosphere. It was such a success the first time, UT held another one in July.

These types of intimate settings have been staples at all three of Jones' head coaching stops, he said. Each year, they'll switch things up a bit, but the ultimate goal never changes.

"The big thing for the 'Orange Carpet Day' was geared toward a lot of these individuals have been here a number of times, so how can we make it different?" Jones said. "But really, it’s just an opportunity to spend quality time, get to know one another, and have fun; kind of like a family reunion, so to speak.

"That's what it's all about—them getting to know us as people and coaches."

That family feel is something many coaches try to recreate. Few succeed.

Auburn, for instance, does it well at its "Big Cat Weekend," which has been a cornerstone of its recruiting success. AL.com's John Talty said the weekend is "essential" to the Tigers' recruiting philosophy.

Pick [a] Southeastern Conference school and they inevitably have their own catchy recruiting night. The difference is that Auburn's Big Cat Weekend doesn't focus much on football; it's all about bonding. During past Big Cat Weekends, top recruits participated in scavenger hunts and water balloon fights.

When the atmosphere strikes a chord with the players present, they take to Twitter, go to national camps and tell everybody about what is happening at School X. Before long, an event makes a name for itself.

With the world of recruiting shrinking, everybody talks to everybody else. That word-of-mouth buzz is the best advertisement colleges can get. If your camp is something kids are talking about, it spreads like wildfire.

Then, coaches know they've got a keeper.

"It's less of a cattle call and more of a true interaction with the coaching staff and a showcase of the best versus the best," Simmons said. "These events are the camp version of a VIP section. It's a velvet rope event for the camp season."

 

Imitation Is the Truest Form of Flattery

As long as these on-campus event camps are producing commitments, the concepts are going to be copied.

While recruiting is mostly about relationships, there's also a major element of not falling behind.

"A program's 'cool factor' has never been a bigger deal in the recruiting process than it is today," B/R recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue said. "Social media changed the game, and every team is trying new things to keep the attention of prospects."

With recruiting, it's difficult to find exclusive territory.

If one school sends 100 handwritten letters to a recruit, 10 more do the same. Georgia had a fresh idea with the hand-drawn portraits of players, and soon, others were doing the same thing with a different spin.

Camps are no different.

"Like anything and everything in our program, you're always looking to grow it, always looking to elevate it," Tennessee's Jones said. "We quality-control everything and ask, 'How do we make it better?' And we take input from our players as well, so there’s a lot that goes into the overall structure.

"It's pretty much standard at every school now. At the end of the day, it's just being who you are but spending that quality time just talking and maybe not just talking football but talking about life; getting to know aunts and uncles and grandparents."

McClendon is a guru at utilizing cutting-edge recruiting tactics and coming up with new ideas, and he was named 247Sports' recruiter of the year in 2014 for his success. It doesn't bother him that other schools out there have taken the "Dawg Night" concept and morphed it into their own.

Recruiting is a dog-eat-dog world, and one of the Dawgs who goes to war on the battlegrounds every day knows it as well as anybody.

"Once people see it, other people are going to copy it; it doesn’t surprise me at all," McClendon said. "But you're always trying to find a new way to kind of stand out to people, to grab people's attention and to keep Georgia on their mind."

These specialized camps may work for others, but it's still doing just fine for Georgia, too.

After all, Eason visited the past two national champions, Alabama and Florida State, prior to setting foot between the hedges. At "Dawg Night," he saw what he needed to see to ensure it was where he wanted to play his college football.

After all these years, that original concept is still producing Bulldogs.

"Part of me wanted to wait [the recruiting process] out, and another part of me wanted to get it over with," Eason said. "But Georgia came, and I thought, 'Why wait?' I wanted to commit to them before anybody else got that spot.

"A lot of the actual players were out there and down on the field. You look around and see all this competition, and there's music playing and a D.J., and it's just a fun environment to be around. I just knew."

 

All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports composite. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

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Winners and Losers from the Recruiting Trail for the Month of July

July is over, which also signals another month of college football recruiting has concluded. Although July Fourth is a great day of celebration, several schools had fireworks go off at other various times of the month.

Other programs are happy to see August has arrived, as they took some lumps on the recruiting trail in July. Clemson and USC scored a few key commitments, while Northwestern and Notre Dame saw key prospects opt against joining them.

Plus, July was a big month of recruiting news for Ohio State.

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Ohio State LB Joshua Perry Has Added a Lot of Muscle to His Body in 2 Years

If you saw a picture of Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry from 2012 and one from this summer, you probably wouldn't know that you were looking at the same person.

The Buckeyes linebacker has done a lot more in the past two years than just get a haircut. He is now 31 pounds heavier than he was at the beginning of 2012, and judging by the picture, he's put on a lot of muscle.

This is just another chapter added to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Last week, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers showed off how much muscle he has added in just four weeks. Some believed that Peppers' lack of flexing at the beginning may have made the final result look much better.

There's no denying that Perry's hard work has paid off. 

[Joshua Perry, h/t College Spun]

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