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Oklahoma State Confirms Football Program Is Under Investigation by NCAA

The Sports Illustrated story that was supposed to shake Oklahoma State's football program to the core is finally getting closer to having a ripple effect. A university spokesperson confirmed to ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy on Monday that the school is still undergoing a formal NCAA investigation.  

"The inquiry continues and it is hoped that it will conclude within the next few months," the spokesperson said. "The university anticipates releasing a report after the NCAA concludes its process. Since it is an ongoing inquiry conducted in cooperation with the NCAA, the university is unable to comment further at this time."

In September, Sports Illustrated published a five-part series detailing rampant malfeasance of Oklahoma State's football program. The series alleged school officials, coaches and boosters knowingly broke NCAA rules when it came to recruiting student-athletes and retaining their eligibility. The violations included monetary payment, fudging of player grades and even the use of sex with Orange Pride girls.

The series made national headlines but has come under some scrutiny.

Multiple people involved, including former head coach Les Miles, have denied the allegations. McMurphy's report also cites numerous inaccuracies, including the graduation status of some athletes. Players who were even quoted in the story came out in its immediate aftermath to deny they took illicit benefits—or even spoke with Sports Illustrated at all.

Dom Cosentino at Deadspin also claimed SI was irresponsible when reporting the story, including Sports Illustrated's unwillingness to allow the school to address claims made before publishing:

The magazine also declined to give OSU the opportunity to address specific claims or corroborate basic information about players, coaches, tutors, and professors. Partly, this was a tactical decision by journalists not wishing to leave footprints all over Stillwater while reporting a sensitive story, but it would backfire when it turned out that a key source's claims could have been refuted with a simple phone call.

Sports Illustrated was recently named in a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Fellowship of Christian Athletes representative John Talley, per Randy Ellis of The OklahomanTalley claims the magazine knowingly printed false information about his relationships with athletes.

The controversy surrounding the story helps explain why it has taken so long to come to a conclusion. Oklahoma State hired Charles E. Smrt to investigate the situation, and he has spent almost nine months doing so. The spokesperson told McMurphy their internal investigation is almost over.

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Re-Evaluating Notre Dame's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

Notre Dame was well-represented at The Opening, with the Irish's four current commitments all having a very successful week at Nike headquarters.

C.J. Sanders' electric speed was on display. Cornerback Shaun Crawford wasn't too far behind him. Tristen Hoge made a case to be the top center in the country. And Jerry Tillery showed the athleticism that saw him finish as the No. 2-rated offensive lineman in the SPARQ competition. 

But if the week in Oregon showed anything, it's that even though Brian Kelly's recruiting class has swelled to 17 commitments in mid-July, the Irish are nowhere near finished. For a class that many expected to stay below 20, the Irish coaching staff is still actively chasing some of the nation's top talents. 

Let's take a fresh look at the Notre Dame recruiting class with The Opening in the rearview mirror. 

 

Top Targets

As we recapped late last week, Notre Dame is after some very big fish. And with the Irish's current recruiting efforts currently ranked No. 8 in the country by 247Sports, the addition of any of these blue-chippers is likely going to give Notre Dame a huge bump.  

Iman Marshall ranks as one of the nation's top 10 players, and his performance at The Opening solidified that. It also solidified his legitimate interest in Notre Dame. The 6'2", 195-pounder has size and a physicality to his game that football coaches at all levels covet, making it very good news that Marshall guaranteed Notre Dame a visit.

Marshall caught up with Rivals.com's Adam Gorney (subscription required) to discuss Notre Dame, who are among his favorites with Florida State and local powers USC and UCLA:

For official visits I'm going to take one to Notre Dame, I know that for a fact, and most likely I'll take one to Florida State, too. Unofficially, my dad and I still need to talk about some of the visits I'm going to take.

Notre Dame's program speaks for itself. The tradition like Long Beach Poly, I'm coming from a school with a rich tradition. At Notre Dame they have that, too. The connections and networks you get from Notre Dame are across the world and that's really important to me. 

The Irish went down to the wire with another Long Beach Poly product in last year's recruiting cycle, losing John "JuJu" Smith to USC in the end. But all you can ask for is sincere interest, and chasing a cornerback like Marshall, even with Nick Coleman, Crawford and Ashton White committed, is worth the effort. 

While the secondary is well-stocked in the 2015 class for Notre Dame, the Irish are still looking for a defensive end to get after the passer. And with early playing time available and a sales pitch pretty obvious after collecting mostly 3-4 defensive ends the past four years, The Opening gave Irish fans a great look at multiple targets who are all planning to take a closer look at Notre Dame. 

Five-star pass rushers Byron Cowart and Keisean Lucier-South are two of the top 20 prospects in the country, and both told Blue & Gold Illustrated's Tom Loy that they planned on using an official visit at Notre Dame. 

Cowart is as close to a ready-made prospect as you'll find. At 6'3.5" and 258 pounds, Cowart passes the eyeball test and brings a combination of speed and power that could play immediately, with Ishaq Williams in his final season for the Irish.

Cowart confirmed the news that he'll be back on campus after taking an unofficial visit that impressed him, watching the Irish play Stanford in the first week in October. He also talked about the sales pitch Tony Alford is giving him, and his receptiveness to the message should be music to Irish fans' ears. 

"When you think about committing somewhere, I'm not thinking about football," Cowart told Loy. "Football will take care of itself, when it's time to practice and strap up, it's going to take care of itself. It's about academics. What can Notre Dame do for me from an academic standpoint? And they can do a lot for me." 

At 6'4" and 211 pounds, Lucier-South will need to grow into his body, but he's the type of speed rusher off the edge the Irish don't have on the roster. He confirmed to Loy that he'll be at Notre Dame for the Stanford game as well, a weekend that's shaping up to be a big one both on and off the field. 

It's hardly 5-star-or-bust for the Irish at defensive end, and Austin Bryant or Porter Gustin are far from consolation prizes. Both were very impressive in Oregon and are making plans for visits to officially see South Bend. 

Notre Dame is still sitting pretty with Tevon Coney, with the Florida prospect seemingly down to the Irish and Florida. While Notre Dame missed out on 5-star linebacker Justin Hilliard, the Cincinnati native raised a few eyebrows when he only checked in at 6'0 and 225 pounds (and ran just a 4.72 40-yard dash), shorter than Coney, who stood 6'1" and weighed 222 pounds. 

On the offensive side of the ball, the Irish are still in the mix for Soso Jamabo, an elite running back who played up to that reputation at The Opening. But they've also continued kicking the tires on LSU commitment Nick Brossette, who sounded very open to Alford's pitch for early playing time. Notre Dame is hoping to add another back alongside Josh Adams, and either would be a huge pickup. 

 

Notre Dame's Commits

When you have prospects who are committed to your favorite team, you really just hope for two things: that nobody gets hurt and nobody looks overmatched. 

For the Irish, things went perfectly. Nobody got hurt. And nobody seemed close to overmatched, with all four commits acquitting themselves more than well. 

While class rankings—especially in mid-July—are pretty meaningless, you've got to expect a minor bump for the prospects' performances in Oregon, most notably those of C.J. Sanders. Elevating Sanders to a top-100-250 prospect puts the receivers group in a different light, especially paired with Miles Boykin and Jalen Guyton

Entering his fifth season at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly has shown more than a little courage in his convictions, recruiting players regardless of their star rating. So while it likely doesn't matter to him how a recruiting analyst views his current class, it does matter to the other recruits who are considering Notre Dame. 

That's good news right now. Because with 17 commits and some big names circling, The Opening gave us a look at a recruiting class that might be much better than most expected. 

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Why It Was a No-Brainer for Auburn to Leave Nick Marshall Out of SEC Media Days

HOOVER, Ala. — I was wrong.

When news broke that Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall had been cited in Reynolds, Georgia, for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and illegal windows tinting, my first reaction was that he should absolutely still attend SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama, during Auburn's session Monday afternoon.

He should own it. Be a leader. Stand up in front of the assembled masses at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel and say, "I messed up."

After sitting out Media Days and, as a result, becoming the biggest storyline of the event, it's clear that this punishment was enough.

It hurt.

"It's a privilege and a reward to come to this event and represent Auburn University," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "Last Friday, he lost that privilege."

Brandon Marcello of AL.com wrote over the weekend about what drives Marshall and, in particular, his motivation to be successful in his football career to help his family.

Marshall wrote this text message to his mother Shalena Cliett, according to Marcello:

I go hard for one reason. I go hard because my mama doesn't want to work no more. I just want to say I love you more than you think I do mom. I have got older and see things different than what I used to. I appreciate everything you have done for me up until this point. You're my role model and Lord willing this season goes how it should, I'm ready to pay you back in return. Owe you every penny. Love, Pie Face.

Auburn making a spectacle of the incident at the highest-profile event of the summer and leaving Marshall at home hurts his reputation—something quarterbacks need to have intact when they leave college and embark on a professional career.

"He's going to have some consequences to pay," Malzahn said. "I haven't decided on what they are. Up to this point, he's been a model student, model teammate and a model citizen. But there's going to be a price to pay, and he's going to do that."

He's going to have to answer those questions now at the next level. While that may not seem severe in the world of college football, it's very important to players—particularly to quarterbacks, who are supposed to be leaders of the team.

What happens if Marshall does miss some time during the season?

Malzahn and several of the Auburn players were complimentary of backup Jeremy Johnson in nearly every stop along the Media Days circuit.

"Jeremy Johnson is a guy who could start for the majority of teams in college football," Malzahn said. "He can really throw it."

Center Reese Dismukes echoed those sentiments in the main ballroom, according to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com.

Make no mistake—Marshall will be punished.

He already has been.

By pulling him at the last minute in favor of tight end C.J. Uzomah, Auburn sent the message to Marshall that even though he's been a model citizen, he's expected to be better, act better and carry himself as a leader.

Last Friday in Reynolds, Georgia, he forgot that. By missing SEC Media Days, he will be reminded of his poor judgment for the next several months.

That's punishment even if he doesn't miss any games.

 

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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Construction Worker Trolls Texas A&M by Hanging Alabama Flag at Kyle Field

Football season is fast approaching, and that means college football fans are gearing up as well. With Kyle Field, home of the Texas A&M Aggies, undergoing renovations, a construction worker seized the opportunity to troll the Texas A&M fanbase.

Someone on the Kyle Field job site wants to get fired. pic.twitter.com/zbjGnR884r

— Doug Keegan (@doug_keegan) July 14, 2014

It's no secret that there is some bad blood between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Aggies. In 2012 the Aggies handed the Tide their one and only loss of the season, a 29-24 final in Tuscaloosa that knocked them out of the No. 1 spot in the AP and BCS rankings.

The next year, Johnny Manziel did all he could, but ultimately the Tide got their revenge, beating A&M 49-42 in College Station.

According to Outkick the Coverage, the construction worker that hung the flag was fired shortly after. He is also not an Alabama alum. 

[Twitter, h/t CBS Sports]

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UCLA Football: Re-Evaluating Bruins' Recruiting Class After 2014 Opening

The Opening proved to be very good for Jim Mora and the future of the UCLA football program.

The committed prospects participating in the event—in addition to the vast number of interested prospects at the camp—truly does illustrate UCLA's newfound prominence on the national landscape of college football.

UCLA picked up three commitments during the camp. In addition, two previously committed prospects—Alize Jones and Josh Rosen—were also present. 

There is considerable buzz surrounding the program at this time. A good chunk of the talent in attendance do have legitimate interest in Mora's squad. These prospects will be detailed below. 

 

Top Targets

Of the prospects on the West Coast, the list starts and begins with elite outside linebacker/defensive end Keisean Lucier-South

The Scout.com 5-star product has been compared constantly to former UCLA Bruin defender Anthony Barr. A very active Twitter user, Lucier-South constantly talks about UCLA. I'd think the Bruins will be in it until the very end for the Orange Lutheran High School product. 

Other local prospects included offensive lineman Dru Samia, defensive backs Dechaun Holiday, Marvell Tell and Iman Marshall and defensive end Rasheem Green.

Per Greg Biggins of Scout.com (subscription required), UCLA is recruiting Samia extremely hard. The talented offensive tackle from Danville, California, is very impressed with the UCLA coaching staff—particularly offensive line coach Adrian Klemm. It wouldn't be a surprise to see an eventual commitment to the Bruins in the future. 

Also according to Biggins (subscription required), UCLA is doing well with Holiday. As is the case with Tell, it could ultimately become a UCLA-USC battle for the duo. The Bruins and Trojans will likely also battle over Green and Marshall. I'd expect both schools to be on their respective short lists up until the signing period in February. 

Multiple out-of-state prospects also like the Bruins considerably. 

Outside linebacker Osa Masina out of Utah currently has UCLA in his top five. Ultra-talented running back Soso Jamabo out of Plano, Texas, also has the Bruins on his short list

Other prospects at the event with sincere interest in the Bruins include receivers Cordell Broadus and Ryan Newsome, defensive end Austin Bryant, linebackers Porter Gustin and Roquan Smith and athlete Ray-Ray McCloud. 

Ironically, former Oregon State receiver and first-round NFL draft pick Brandin Cooks has been recruiting Newsome to UCLA. Cooks was committed to the Bruins under former head coach Rick Neuheisel, before switching over to the Beavers and Mike Riley. Rosen was also in the ear of the Texas receiver throughout the week. 

 

Commitments at the Event

Rosen and Jones entered as the two preexisting commitments at the camp. 

Jones didn't participate much in the seven-on-seven portion due to a concussion. However, he did test exceptionally well. At 6'5", 220 pounds, he's a nightmare matchup for any defensive back. His 4.67 time in the 40 was above-average, and his 4.03 shuttle time is outstanding. 

There's no question the Bishop Gorman High School product is one of the most impressive looking athletes on the West Coast. 

Per Bleacher Report analyst Michael Felder and 247Sports analyst Ryan Bartow, Rosen "wowed" at the camp with his physical tools. Tyler Donohue also had Rosen listed as the top quarterback at The Opening.

UCLA is getting a star at the position. Aside from his impressive physical tools, Rosen is an extremely intelligent individual. He's attempting to graduate early in order to enroll in January. 

With Brett Hundley likely leaving after this season, there's no reason to think Rosen can't compete for—and potentially win—the starting gig as a true freshman. 

He's that talented. 

Athlete Stephen Johnson out of San Leandro, California, was the first of the three UCLA commitments at The Opening.

The 247Sports 3-star chose the Bruins over offers from Oregon, Cal and Arizona State, among others. Johnson flashed immense explosiveness at the combine, running a 4.37 in the 40 and also registering a 34'5" vertical leap. 

Johnson performed as both a corner and a receiver. His competitiveness makes him a valuable prospect, as does his ability to return kicks and punts. At this point, Johnson told 247Sports analyst Justin Hopkins he's "done and committed. I'm 100-percent Bruin."

With Johnson's strong showing, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him eventually bumped up to a 4-star rating. 

The second of UCLA's commits came in the form of talented offensive tackle Andre James from Herriman, Utah. 

UCLA beat out Southern Cal, Ohio State, Oregon and Oklahoma for his services. It was definitely a massive coup for the coaching staff. 

At 6'4.5", 278 pounds, James still has room for physical growth. He'll need to gain both weight and strength in order to play on the next level. Regardless, he's blessed with ideal quickness and agility. His feet will enable him to potentially protect the quarterback's blind side. 

Paul Myerberg of USA Today spoke very highly of James' performance in Oregon, and specifically mentioned his potential upside. With a strong senior season, the Scout.com 4-star could be propelled to a 5-star status. 

The last of UCLA's three commitments was offensive lineman Fred Ulu-Perry out of Honolulu, Hawaii. 

Ulu-Perry elected the Bruins over offers from many West Coast programs. At 6'2.5", 295 pounds, his future primarily will reside in the interior of the line—ideally at center. 

Ulu-Perry impressed considerably at the event. Biggins reported "it'd be tough to imagine a better center prospect anywhere in the country."

Scott Schrader of 247Sports also had glowing praise for the Hawaiian. Schrader mentioned Ulu-Perry showed "tremendous feet, strong hands, good hand placement, toughness and resiliency."

As a result of Ulu-Perry's performance, 247Sports recognized the talented lineman as a member of the "Dream Team" for offensive and defensive linemen in attendance. 

There's no doubt this was a massive addition for UCLA. With the commitments from Ulu-Perry, James and Scout.com 4-star guard Tevita Halalilo, it has the makings of a very good offensive line class. 

If one goes by the Scout.com composite ranking system, UCLA has commitments from the top center on the West Coast (Ulu-Perry), the second-best guard out West (Halalilo) and the second-best tackle (James) on the entire West Coast. 

This also doesn't include the top quarterback nationally (Rosen) and the No.2 tight end prospect (Jones) in the country. 

It's safe to say UCLA is recruiting at an elite level for '15. 

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UCLA Football: Re-Evaluating Bruins' Recruiting Class After 2014 Opening

The Opening proved to be very good for Jim Mora and the future of the UCLA football program. The committed prospects participating in the event—in addition to the vast number ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Re-Evaluating USC's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

USC football has long made its bones on the recruiting trail, and the Class of 2015 is no exception. Head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff already have an impressive group committed, evidenced by the performance of some of the pledged prospects last week at The Opening.

More primary targets for the Trojans in 2015 also shined at the event in Beaverton, Oregon. Expect USC to continue to make a splash in its first recruiting cycle since NCAA sanctions were lifted, particularly among prospects who commanded the spotlight at The Opening.  

 

USC's Top Targets

USC featured some great defenses during the program's run of seven straight conference championships in the 2000s. The 2015 recruiting class could very well bring the Trojans their next great defense, if some of the top prospects from The Opening commit to Sarkisian. 

Rasheem Green showed off his 5-star credentials in defensive line workouts last Thursday. The prospect from Southern California prep powerhouse Junipero Serra wowed those in attendance when playing to his full potential.   

Serra has been a top recruiting pipeline for USC in recent years, and the Trojans could again strike it big there in 2015. Green's not the only 5-star recruit from Serra on USC's radar. 

Linebacker John Houston did not participate at The Opening due to a back injury. He made the trip, however, and detailed his plans to Greg Biggins of Scout.com

The schools I know will make the cut are Florida, Florida State, Oregon, Notre Dame, USC and UCLA. I plan to take all five of my official visits and I don't plan on making my choice until Signing Day. A lot can change over the season so I want to take as much time as I can and make sure I'm doing the right thing.

While that's a while to wait, Justin Hopkins of 247Sports tweeted one tidbit from Houston's appearance at The Opening that should excited Trojans fans: 

USC is also in the mix for another Southern California-based 5-star defensive standout, Orange Lutheran product Keisean Lucier-South.  

Lucier-South suffered an injury in the final days of The Opening but garnered praise before that. Bleacher Report's Michael Felder touted Lucier-South—currently projected at defensive end—as an outside linebacker:

USC is also targeting prospects in the secondary who made their presences felt at The Opening. DeChaun Holiday, a 4-star prospect from Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, California, told Scout.com's Greg Biggins of his interest in USC. 

Holiday said the Trojans are looking at him as either a cornerback or safety. That flexibility could play a role in the talented defensive back's decision. 

 

USC's Top Commits 

USC scored a high-profile commitment at The Opening, when 4-star defensive back Isaiah Langley pledged to the Trojans.

Langley posed for the below photo alongside fellow 2015 Trojans commits and Opening participants Cameron Smith and Ricky Town:

With Langley en tow, USC now checks in at No. 9 on B/R college football recruiting writer Tyler Donohue's top 25.  

Meanwhile, highly touted 5-star quarterback commit Town overcame a slow start in Elite 11 competition to wow Trent Dilfer. The former Fresno State and NFL star told Paul Myerberg and Daniel Uthman of USA Today that Town turned a corner during The Opening:

It popped this morning. It was like the weight of the world was taken off his shoulders. He had so much confidence, his personality started coming out; he had some sauce to him. One play and it was like, 'This is mine. Bye, Coach Dilfer, you can go away. Everybody else can leave, I got this.' That's the first time I've seen it in him. If I see that in the 7-on-7 games, you're going to get a special kid.

Town did indeed exhibit that same fire in 7-on-7 play. Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth told Justin Hopkins of 247Sports that he saw Town make strides as the quarterback played with less pressure: 

If you look at him the last couple of months, he wasn't having a lot of fun. And now over the last 5 days, he told me yesterday he's never had more fun playing the game. He's smiling, and as he's smiling, he's completing passes, he's not attaching himself to outcomes.

Fellow 5-star prospect Chuma Edoga impressed throughout the week. The most highly rated commit in the Trojans' 2015 class demonstrated quickness and power at the line.  

All told, The Opening suggests a return to prominence in the Pac-12 may not be far for the Trojans. 

 

Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores unless otherwise noted. 

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Re-Evaluating USC's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

USC football has long made its bones on the recruiting trail, and the Class of 2015 is no exception. Head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff already have an impressive group committed, ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Carl Lawson Injury: Updates on Auburn Star's Recovery from Knee Surgery

Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson underwent knee surgery in May in hopes of being back in time for the 2014 regular season. While his progress is impressive, Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn is beginning to start the process of mitigating expectations.    

"That's yet to be determined but he is an unbelievable worker," Malzahn told Brandon Marcello of AL.com when asked if Lawsom will be back this coming season. "He's a physical specimen put together extremely well, so he's very determined and so we'll kinda see where that goes."

Lawson, a rising sophomore, underwent surgery on his left knee on May 1. The full extent of Lawson's diagnosis had not been made public, and Marcello initially reported last month that it was not an ACL tear. However, Malzahn changed course on Monday by indicating the surgery was indeed to repair his ACL.

One of the nation's highest-touted defensive end recruits in 2013, Lawson made 20 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and four sacks as a freshman. He was expected to be the Tigers' primary pass-rushing option after the departure of Dee Ford to the NFL. Coupled with fellow 2013 recruit Montravius Adams and seniors Gabe Wright and LaDarius Lewis, Auburn was expected to be among the nation's best defensive lines.

Losing Lawson casts a little shadow of doubt into a unit that Malzahn needs to be a strength. The Tigers boasted an explosive, run-oriented offense last season but saw their defense nearly collapse their season on multiple occasions. Their national championship game loss to Florida State saw the Seminoles come back from a 21-3 deficit to score a 34-31 win. 

"Carl's a young man that, he's going to work his tail off to get back as quick as he can," defensive line coach Rodney Garner told reporters last month. "It's an opportunity for somebody else to step up."

While Malzahn and Garner have kept a cautious stance, those close to Lawson insist he'll play when healthy. Carl Lawson Sr. told Marcello that missing the entire 2014 season is not even a consideration for the family at this point. 

"He definitely wants to play this year and everybody wants to get a chance to right the wrong from that 13 seconds (against Florida State in the BCS National Championship), so I think the thing is he wants to be out there contributing and trying to help Auburn win a national title," Lawson Sr. said.

Having goals and accomplishing them are two different things when it comes to knee injuries. It's best not only for Auburn but also Lawson himself to make sure he's 100 percent healthy when he returns. If that means missing the entire 2014 campaign, Malzahn can throw a medical redshirt on him and retain his last three years of eligibility.

With more than a month still remaining before Auburn kicks off its season Aug. 30, it's safe to say we'll get a better idea of Lawson's status in the coming weeks.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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5 Issues We Would Love Michigan's Brady Hoke to Address at Big Ten Media Days

The Big Ten begins gearing up for the season with its annual event for media and fans in Chicago. Big Ten Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon will be held July 28-29 and feature 42 players and coaches from the conference schools.

Brady Hoke enters this season with his honeymoon in Ann Arbor definitely over after a late-season slide that knocked his team out of Big Ten title contention and included disappointing losses to both Michigan State and Ohio State.

Hoke will be joined in Chicago by a trio of seniors—defensive end Frank Clark, quarterback Devin Gardner and linebacker Jake Ryan.

Here is a wish list of issues fans would love to hear Brady Hoke address as his team prepares for a season that could make or break his tenure at Michigan.

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5 Defensive Players Who Could Be Heisman Trophy Finalists in 2014

In all likelihood, regardless of how immaculate the resumes may look by the time December rolls around, a defensive player will not win the Heisman in 2014.

Such proclamations don’t exactly require the “BREAKING NEWS!” or “SPOILER ALERT!” tag at this point. The force field standing between defensive players and the most prestigious award in all of college football seems impenetrable, despite a handful of quality attempts in recent years.

Ndamukong Suh should have won the award for Nebraska in 2009. Unfortunately, not enough voters felt that way at the time. Manti Te’o made things interesting in a dream season at Notre Dame just a short time ago, finishing second in voting with good—but not great—overall numbers. And just last year, Aaron Donald generated a few Heisman ripples with his Suh-ian performance for Pitt. The overall team performance simply didn’t cooperate, thus his campaign fell short.

Admittedly, I’ve longed for a defensive winner for as long as I can remember. It’s not that I’m simply a subscriber to chaos. The award—including the way players are selectively chosen—is in dire need of a reboot.

As it stands now, the notion of a reboot seems like a stretch in 2014. There is no Jadeveon Clowney-like buzz for a defensive player, at least as the season inches closer. That doesn’t mean winning the award is impossible, but the preseason hoopla is an integral part of the process.

A combination of wins, statistics, marquee moments and flair will be essential for defensive player to alter the Heisman trend. It doesn’t hurt to contribute in other ways, either. As for the select few who are capable of turning the brass statue on its side if everything plays out perfectly, here are a few defenders to keep an eye on.

 

Vernon Hargreaves (Florida, CB)

As a true sophomore, he might be the most important defensive player in the country. As we’re well aware by now, however, oftentimes this label doesn’t equate to Heisman success and acclaim.

The evaluation process on cornerbacks is unique from any other position on the field. Silence is a valued commodity and, ultimately, that likely will be what keeps Florida’s magnificent cornerback out of consideration for an award that is about generating noise. Well, that or an offense that might not keep the team in enough games.

If Florida is able to bounce back after a dismal, injury-filled year, however, its best player will undoubtedly get the praise he deserves. And if Hargreaves is able to come up with a few interceptions on the limited instances quarterbacks throw in his direction, perhaps he can sneak into the conversation.

A few snaps on offense and a few more punt and kick return attempts wouldn’t hurt, either. He returned three punts and one kickoff last season. Ultimately, those chances will have to increase for him to receive serious consideration.

Regardless of whether he gets those opportunities, this is one—especially if you’re an SEC quarterback thinking about throwing to his side—worth keeping an eye on.

 

Mario Edwards Jr. (Florida State, DE)

The Heisman conversation for Mario Edwards begins with the team he plays on. That is by no means an insult to his unique style and unlimited potential, but rather an understanding of the state of the award.

Florida State will likely be favored by double digits in every regular-season matchup in 2014, and the value of collecting wins in large amounts cannot be overstated. For proof of this, Edwards can talk to teammate Jameis Winston.

Edwards, however, will have to win the Heisman in much different fashion. In fact, part of his inclusion is simply assuming that he takes that next step that he has yet to reach.

At nearly 300 pounds, Edwards will likely move up and down the Seminoles’ defensive line in 2014. While the sack totals and overall numbers may not equal some of the others included in this piece, his influence could be far greater than any defender in the country.

Again, it comes down to evaluating. If voters are looking beyond simply sack totals and batted balls—and goodness, they better—then Edwards could surprise.

 

Joey Bosa (Ohio State, DE)

At 6’5” and 285 pounds, Joey Bosa can do a backflip. Here’s proof.

I’m not exactly sure what that tells us about the sophomore’s Heisman chances, but it does provide a glimpse of how much athleticism is bottled up in this colossal frame.

Bosa meets a few of the necessary checklist items for hopeful defensive players, the first being the team he plays for. Ohio State, much like a season ago, is poised for another national championship run. Zeroing in on his scenario a bit closer, Bosa won’t be terrorizing quarterbacks by his lonesome.

Playing alongside Michael Bennett, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, Bosa will be given ample opportunities to dominate one-on-one matchups, and thus enhance his sack total. Last season he finished with seven-and-a-half sacks, although his production increased as he got deeper into his freshman season.

For Bosa to have a serious chance at the award, he’ll likely have to double that total. Given Ohio State’s schedule—along with the talent on the defensive side—such lofty goals should not be considered unreachable.

 

Vic Beasley (Clemson, DE)

Here’s where the resumes become a bit more familiar.

After forgoing a shot at the NFL, Vic Beasley returns to a Clemson defense that should be one of nation’s elite. While that’s not something we’re accustomed to saying about the Tigers, this has the makings to be a ferocious group. And such ferocity begins with a star defensive end who was everywhere in 2013.

Beasley’s 12 sacks in 2013 put him on the map. The buzz surrounding his play isn’t Clowney-esque yet, but he made a name—and a whole lot of money—for himself last year.

Now, what does he have in store for an encore? And what does Clemson have in store after an Orange Bowl win?

For Beasley to be in the Heisman conversation, the Tigers must first find replacements for quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. That may seem like a strange place to begin, but again, this award focuses on wins as much as it does individuals numbers. The offense has some catching up to do.

Beasley, if healthy, will post numbers. The defense, if healthy, will be one of the best in the country. If the offense can do its part and Beasley shows out in the Tigers’ high-profile games—zeroing in on a Sept. 20 matchup against Florida State—perhaps the Heisman chatter will start to hum.

 

Myles Jack (UCLA, LB)

UCLA’s best running back might be the best linebacker in the country. If you watched Myles Jack operate for the Bruins as a freshman—which is still somewhat hard to fathom—this bizarre statement should also seem to fit.

The whole thing is so natural, it’s almost scary.

Jack wasn’t just one of the best defensive players in all of college football out of the gate—finishing with 77 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and a touchdown—but he also averaged seven yards per carry and found the end zone seven times on 38 attempts.

Because of his unique, two-way presence, Jack feels like a logical front-runner in this category. Obviously this will depend a great deal on how he’s used going forward, although the splash has already been made.

Linebacker is his position of the future. There’s no questioning this. But even if Jack plays a small (but impactful) role on short yardage plays and red-zone opportunities, the rest of his resume will look a little more pronounced.

Aiding this potential Heisman run is a team loaded with young talent on defense, intriguing wideouts on offense and a quarterback on the brink of stardom. Outside of Auburn, there is no team in the country with more program momentum.

The ingredients for a Heisman run are all in place. Now it’s a matter of tackling history. Or, in the case of this potential two-way star, running right over it.

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Re-Evaluating Oregon's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

Recruiting for the 2015 cycle is gaining steam for the Oregon Ducks, with six of their 11 total commits pledging since June. Oregon climbed to No. 18 nationally, per 247Sports, and the performance of a few Ducks prospects last week at The Opening points to a home run haul for head coach Mark Helfrich and Co. come national signing day. 

 

Oregon's Top Targets

Byron Cowart proved his 5-star standing at The Opening. Charles Power of 247Sports praised him as the top defensive lineman in attendance, writing: 

Cowart led the linemen in Tuesday’s NFTC portion of The Opening, showing off his burst off the ball and an array of pass rushing moves that left offensive tackles asking for a crack at a rep against the 6'4", 250-pounder...[He] went undefeated in one-on-ones, making quick work of Clemson commitment Mitch Hyatt and 5-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey.

Below is Cowart at work during The Opening, via Craig Haubert of ESPN: 

Cowart is just the piece Oregon needs in its 2015 signing class. Defensive line coach Ron Aiken is his primary recruiter, and he'll likely have a few more months to pitch the 5-star prospect. Luke Stampini of 247Sports reports that Cowart plans to announce his commitment in January at the Under Armour All-American Game. 

Oregon has not pursued 4-star safety Marvell Tell quite as intensely as it has Cowart, but that may change after his performance at The Opening. 

The prospect out of Crespi High School in Encino, California, has a top three of UCLA, USC and Texas A&M. However, Tell told Aaron Kasinitz of The Oregonian that the Ducks intrigue him:

I actually like Oregon a lot. ... I want to take an official up there and learn more about the program. I don't know too much. I've talked to the coaches more off and on, but I definitely want to take that trip.

Fellow Southern California-based defensive back recruit DeChaun Holiday is another standout from The Opening for whom the Ducks could make a late push.

Holiday told Greg Biggins of Scout.com, "I like UCLA and USC a lot," but Oregon is also a factor. Should the 4-star recruit from Mission Hills High School in San Marcos not make a choice soon, Ducks defensive backs coach John Neal will have time to make a push:

As for when I'll decide, I'm still battling that right now. A part of me wants to commit early but I want to wait until I'm 100% on that and right now, I'm only 50-50. If I'm not ready by the end of the summer, I'll take my official visits and wait until the fall to commit anywhere.

Currently, Oregon has two defensive backs committed to its 2015 signing class: 3-star prospects Jihree Stewart and PJ Locke. The addition of Tell or Holiday—or both—gives this unit the kind of juice that the Oregon secondary is known for. 

 

Oregon's Top Commits

Running back Taj Griffin came to The Opening with 5-star billing from 247Sports, but his Composite score rated him as a 4-star prospect. His blazing speed and No. 7 overall SPARQ score, via StudentSports.com, might land Griffin that coveted fifth star. 

The speedy Griffin proved himself as exactly the type of back that flourishes in the Ducks' uptempo offense. 

Likewise, quarterback Travis Waller should find himself right at home in Oregon. Waller pledged to the Ducks just days before The Opening.

The 4-star dual-threat prospect out of Servite High School in Anaheim, California, commemorated the occasion with the first of what could be many stellar performances in the state of Oregon. 

Waller finished No. 3 in the Elite 11 quarterback competition through last Thursday. His combination of mobility on the run and presence in the pocket make him an invaluable addition to this signing class, particularly after the Ducks missed on recruits Kyler Murray and Blake Barnett. 

Waller's pass to Alabama commit Calvin Ridley was perhaps the play of The Opening. 

 

Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores unless otherwise noted.  

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Re-Evaluating Oregon's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

Recruiting for the 2015 cycle is gaining steam for the Oregon Ducks, with six of their 11 total commits pledging since June. Oregon climbed to No...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Bleacher Report's Top 25 2015 Recruiting Classes After The Opening

The 2015 recruiting cycle reaches a pivotal stretch this time of the year, as just a few weeks of summer separate us from the senior seasons of top college prospects. Many of these premier recruits attended The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon last week.

Bleacher Report was on hand for all the action at Nike's world headquarters, where several players announced commitments and shook up the recruiting spectrum moving forward. In the wake of a star-studded event, we rank the country's top 25 recruiting classes at this point, placing more value on quality than quantity.

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Re-Evaluating Alabama's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

According to the 247Sports team rankings, Alabama has had the top recruiting class in the country in each of the past four seasons, and it's out to the pole position once again in 2015.

That was made clear last week at Nike's The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon, which was attended by 10 of the Tide's 19 committed players. More than half of their current class was deemed good enough to join the most prestigious camp in America.

But it wasn't just committed Alabama players in attendance in the Beaver State. A small group of top Alabama targets was there as well.

Even though they're staked out to a pretty substantial lead, the Tide cannot hold onto their No. 1 ranking by resting on their laurels. They don't have a current commitment from any of the top 30 players in the country. For context, they had five in the top 15 last cycle.

Here's a post-Opening look at the state of Alabama's 2015 class, including both targets and current commitments.

How did everyone fare during their week in Beaverton?

 

Top Targets

Alabama's top uncommitted targets at The Opening included a pair of 5-star defensive linemen and a 4-star (but top-100) offensive tackle.

Here's a quick look at all of them:

 

DE Byron Cowart (Seffner, Florida)

Florida native Byron Cowart is the No. 15 overall player in the class, and he showed why in Beaverton. He earned rave reviews throughout the week, earning a flurry of glowing tweets from analysts:

The videos that came out do not belie those reviews:

Cowart is enamored with Oregon and is also fond of nearby Florida. Of the top three Alabama targets at The Opening, he is probably the longest shot to end up in Tuscaloosa.

But he did have some nice things to say about the Crimson Tide in March, per Mike Herndon of AL.com, and after the showing he just had in Beaverton, Saban should prioritize his recruitment.

 

DT Daron Payne (Birmingham, Alabama)

Daron Payne from nearby Birmingham, Alabama, is the No. 16 overall player in the class, and even though he didn't perform as well as Cowart did, he definitely didn't look poor up in Beaverton.

At 348 pounds, Payne has the size and frame to become a nose guard in Alabama's 3-4 defense. He could be an anchor against the run.

His bullrush already looked SEC-capable:

Payne also got a stuff test (and perhaps future practice preview?) against Alabama offensive line commit Lester Cotton:

Payne was once a strong Auburn lean on the 247Sports Crystal Ball, but he has since skewed heavily toward Alabama. He is currently listed as a 96 percent favorite to land in Tuscaloosa.

 

OT Drew Richmond (Memphis, Tennessee)

Offensive tackle Drew Richmond made an impact on and off the practice field in Beaverton, stepping up as one of the best blockers but also one of the most affable, well-liked players in the camp.

Here he is chiming in on No. 2 overall prospect Josh Sweat:

Richmond is the No. 78 overall player in the class and would fill a need for the Tide, who do not have a big-time 2015 offensive tackle.

He spoke with Charles Power of 247Sports (subscription required) during the event to give an update on his recruitment, listing Ole Miss, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio State, Memphis (yes, Memphis), North Carolina and UCLA as teams that are after him the hardest.

"[The May visit] was cool getting to know [the Alabama offensive linemen], because I had one type of perception that I thought they were and they are way cooler than I thought," Richmond said of his official visit to Tuscaloosa. "I still talk to Josh Casher sometimes and Cam [Robinson] and I Tweet from time to time."

Richmond will announce his decision on September 9.

 

Current Alabama Commits

Alabama sent 10 already committed players to The Opening, and, especially toward the top of the class, those players showed very well.

I went into further depth on the subject here, but three of the Tide's highest-rated players—cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, receiver Calvin Ridley and quarterback Blake Barnett—all received some sort of tangible accolade during the week in Beaverton. Fitzpatrick made the SPARQ National Championship with a preliminary score of 130.41, Ridley was named the overall MVP of The Opening and Barnett was named the MVP of the seven-on-seven tournament and the Elite 11.

Cotton, who was shown blocking Payne in the previous section, also showed well, and fellow offensive line commit Richie Petitbon caught the eye of Bleacher Report's on-site analyst, Michael Felder:

Athlete Shawn Burgess-Becker didn't flash as often as 'Bama fans might have hoped, but he did show some nice instincts and had a few impressive pass breakups during the seven-on-seven games:

He could be the next in the line of physical, athletic safeties.

The most important takeaway from The Opening, though, might have been the cohesion between the Alabama recruits.

The players all got along with one another—or at least it seemed that way to an outside observer who was following along from the opposite end of the country—and no one was talking about seriously reopening their recruitment to other schools this coming season.

Here's a group of former Tide players with Barnett's family:

There's a reason this class ranks No. 1 on the 247Sports team rankings. And there's a reason it will probably stay there.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

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Re-Evaluating LSU's Recruiting Class After the 2014 Opening

The Opening proved LSU has much to look forward to in the near future. 

Only the best high school prospects are invited to The Opening, the most coveted preseason camp in Beaverton, Oregon. Luckily enough for the Tigers, they are in the running for numerous players who competed. 

The biggest news from the The Opening was arguably the re-commitment of 4-star cornerback Xavier Lewis. Lewis gave his original vow to the Tigers last August but de-committed in February, per The Advocate

Lewis' decision now gives LSU 13 commitments in the 2015 class, four of whom competed in The Opening. The Tigers now rank No. 10 on 247Sports' Recruiting Team Ranking, which is good for sixth in the SEC.  

There were plenty of other LSU targets that competed as well, some of whom Les Miles would love to see commit to the Tigers.

 

Top Targets

LSU, like many other elite programs, is hoping to bring in elite 5-star recruits. The nation's No. 1 defensive end Josh Sweat and offensive tackle Martez Ivey both turned heads. No defensive end came close to Sweat's amazing SPARQ score, while Ivey was voted the offensive-line MVP.

LSU will probably not land Sweat or Ivey, but the two are on Miles' radar. Other 5-star hopefuls who shined include Malik Jefferson, Iman Marshall and Torrance Gibson. 

The most likely 5-star commitment for LSU will be Tyron Johnson. There were few receivers, if any, better than Johnson in The Opening's seven-on-seven tournament. He, alongside quarterback and USC commit Ricky Town, carried the Land Sharks team to the finals.

One of the most fascinating prospects was Johnson's fellow New Orleans playmaker Deonte Jackson. The 5'11'' Jackson played impressively on both sides of the ball, earning a spot on 247Sports' Barton Simmons' "Opening Dream Team." Simmons said Jackson was a candidate for the overall MVP.

 

LSU's Top Commitments

The future "Defensive Back University" looks pretty bright with the performances of Lewis and Kevin Toliver II. They both picked off multiple interceptions in the seven-on-seven tournament and looked fluid in all drills. 

LSU offensive tackle Maea Teuhema was measured at 6'5'', 340 pounds per ESPN's Gerry Hamilton. But Teuhema did not compete in the one-on-one drills, which was a big opportunity for him to show off his skills against other elite prospects.

Nick Brossette was LSU's lone offensive skill-position commit to compete at The Opening. Brossette showed off his catching ability coming out of the backfield but will be remembered for his slick move against Tennessee commit Cecil Cherry. 

 

Conclusion

The overall talent in the state of Louisiana is down after 2014's historic crop, but that doesn't mean there aren't difference-makers throughout The Boot.

Lewis proved this weekend that he has phenomenal playmaking ability. He plays his high school football at East St. John, the same school that produced Ryan Perrilloux, but his name gets lost in the elite cornerback class of 2015. 

If uncommitted prospects Johnson, Jackson and Destrehan, Louisiana's Kirk Merritt join the Tigers, expect LSU to rise dramatically in the team rankings. Merritt was the surprise winner of the SPARQ title and can play both running back and receiver.  

 

*Rankings and additional recruiting information provided by247Sports.com. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.  

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Lombardi Award Watch List 2014: Full List Released

The 2014 college football season is approaching fast, and the focus has shifted to the Rotary Lombardi Award watch list and which linemen and linebackers will be fighting for the prestigious honor throughout the season.

The award is given to the best lineman (offensive or defensive) or linebacker in the country, and the voting is done by Division I head coaches, sports media and former winners and finalists of the honor.

While 123 names on the list is a lot right now, over the course of the regular season, the top players will prove their worth and others will falter under the pressure. By the end of the year, there will be a clear tier of elite players to be considered.

Here is the full watch list and a breakdown for one of the top contenders to win the 2014 Lombardi Award.

 

Player to Watch: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss

There are few players who entered the college football ranks with as much publicity as Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche. In his freshman season with Mississippi, Nkemdiche learned on the job and blossomed into an elite player.

The Rebels are hoping for even more progress in 2014.

With his older brother Denzel on the team as well, the transition to college football was seamless and Robert has taken advantage of every opportunity afforded to him on the field. Not only is the team proud to have the defensive star, but now he is also garnering the national attention he deserves.

Besides the Lombardi Award nomination, Ole Miss reporter Evelyn VanPelt talked about the other watch list Nkemdiche made this summer:

Rotary Lombardi Award committee chair Brian Carr commented on why he loves the summer and the watch list, via James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser:

This is one of our favorite times of the year. The dog days of summer are when people start thinking about college football again. We are ready to see who is going to distinguish themselves this year, and we look forward to tracking the progress of each player on this list.

Nkemdiche should be one of those players who progresses with each passing week.

There are high expectations on the sophomore after such a strong freshman campaign, but he has the potential to live up to them. Nkemdiche managed to rack up an impressive 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks in just 11 games.

With a year to develop under the training staff of Ole Miss and the focus on improving his game this offseason, the Rebels will be looking for Nkemdiche to become a difference-maker starting in Week 1 and help carry the team throughout the season.

Ole miss has a real chance to contend in the SEC, and Nkemdiche will be one of the keys to how much success the program finds. If he embraces a leadership role and leads by example on and off the field, a Lombardi Award is a very realistic possibility.

Yet he'll have plenty of worthy competition, as evidenced by the impressive list of names he's set to contend with for the honor.

 

*Stats via CFBStats.com.

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College Football Gets a New Championship Trophy for the Playoff Era

College football is getting a brand new trophy to go along with the new playoff format starting this year. 

The trophy was unveiled at a press conference on Monday:

ESPN's Brett McMurphy provided some more details on the trophy: 

Here's a look at the crystal ball trophy that has been presented since 1986 and will still be awarded to the team at the top of the final coaches poll of the season: 

[College Football Playoff, Associated Press]

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Notre Dame Football: 6 Backups Critical to the Irish's Success in 2014

With fall camp around the corner, Notre Dame football position battles are set to be won and lost.

Starters will be named, and the depth charts will be penciled in.

And while the starters and the decisions behind those choices will deservedly garner plenty of attention, let’s focus here on the indispensable backups—the lifeblood of a great and deep team—who are vital to Notre Dame’s success in 2014.

In some cases, it’s unclear if a player here will, in fact, be a backup when the season kicks off. There are some assumptions that certain players will begin the season as second-stringers.

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SEC Media Days 2014: Tracking Highlights, Comments, Twitter Reaction from Day 1

Following a long offseason—too long for SEC fans—the college football season is nearly here. Before the season gets underway in late August, the SEC Media Days are always special for one of the biggest conferences in the country. 

Multiple new faces will be in attendance on Monday, including first-year head coach Derek Mason of Vanderbilt. After taking over for James Franklin, Mason has a quarterback battle and expectations to address in his first appearance at the event.

As for some that won't be present, Nick Marshall will not attend after a recent marijuana citation. That leaves coach Gus Malzahn, who led the team to the National Championship Game last year, answering questions for his star quarterback.

With the opening day of the event in Hoover, Alabama getting underway on Monday morning, here's a look at all of the latest from the always entertaining occasion.

 

Pre-Event

While last year's event was headlined by a polarizing figure in Johnny Manziel, the 2014 version already has controversy before it starts.

Marshall choosing not to attend the event leaves three of his teammates and Malzahn to respond to constant queries about his recent citation. Prior to the announcement, Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report wrote what he believed Marshall should have done on Monday:

Being a leader and owning the moment will make those columns published Monday night and the radio fodder that follows seem silly and outlandish. 

Marshall should take advantage of the cards he dealt himself, not fold when the stakes are high.

For some, the decision was hardly an attempt to hide but more of a chance for Malzahn to help the situation. Paul Finebaum of ESPN and Larry Williams of Rivals provide their thoughts on Marshall's absence:

After last season with a loaded quarterback crop that included Manziel, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, this year doesn't quite have the same list. Without Marshall, the other signal-callers on the program are Jeff Driskel, Bo Wallace, Dak Prescott, Maty Mauk and Dylan Thompson.

That's hardly comparable to the 2013 slate. In fact, Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports believes Marshall would have been at the top of the list:

As the official opening of the event nears, Auburn will have plenty of buzz surrounding their team. While they should after a great season last year, much of the questioning will be about their absent quarterback.

 

Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter:

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