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UCLA Football Best Quotes and Takeaways from Pac-12 Media Day

With the college football season nearly upon us, UCLA head coach Jim Mora, quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Eric Kendricks gave the media a look into the UCLA football team on Thursday afternoon. 

Mora provided immense information on the team's outlook for this upcoming season. Both Kendricks and Hundley spoke about the development of the team in the offseason, including the enhanced expectations for the squad this year. 

Here's a recap from Pac-12 media day with the UCLA Bruins. 

 

A catalogue of pictures, video and an assortment of other things relating to the Pac-12 media day can be found here

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UCLA Football Best Quotes and Takeaways from Pac-12 Media Day

With the college football season nearly upon us, UCLA head coach Jim Mora, quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Eric Kendricks gave the media a look into the UCLA football team on Thursday afternoon...

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How Oklahoma Football Got Its Swagger Back

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is more fun when he's feisty Bob Stoops. 

And Stoops has been more outspoken—snarky, if you will—lately. He has every reason to be. He and his team are still buzzing from their Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama—a program-boosting win no matter who you are—and were picked to win the Big 12 by the media. Life is good, and media members are there to scoop up the dripping confidence. 

Stoops was more reserved during conference media days, but he opened up during ESPN's car wash, taking jabs at Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M's non-conference schedule. 

It's all in good fun, but Oklahoma's momentum, the sudden (don't call it a) comeback of "Big Game Bob," almost didn't happen.

The Sooners needed a last-minute touchdown to beat Oklahoma State 33-24 in the season-ending Bedlam game. If Oklahoma finished the season 9-3 instead of 10-2, it would have been passed over for a Sugar Bowl appearance altogether. No Sugar Bowl, no recruiting bump, according to Stoops. 

"In the end we were fortunate that we were able to build, finish recruiting in a really positive way," Stoops said during media days. "I think that really did give us a boost in the last week or two of recruiting."

The Sooners closed hard, landing eight commitments in the final weeks before national signing day in February. That gave Oklahoma the top class in the Big 12 and the No. 14 class nationally, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. 

Bob Pryzbylo of Sooner Illustrated explained the recruiting impact of the Sugar Bowl to Alex Apple of The Dallas Morning News

The Sooners were right on the cusp with a number of top recruits before the upset win against Alabama. All that win did, according to the coaches, was reaffirm to the recruits that OU is the place to be…And boy did it ever. OU landed eight signees from Jan. 4 until Wednesday, giving the Sooners a 2014 class of 26 signees and the No. 1-ranked class in Scout’s Big 12 rankings and No. 13 overall.

It also gave the Sooners locker room a boost. 

"And then it also, I think, as much as anything, inspired our players to really build on it in the winter in the way we trained, the way we went into spring." Stoops said. "We had a fabulous summer. One of the best." 

Perhaps no other player has felt the impact of the post-bowl momentum like quarterback Trevor Knight, who threw for four touchdowns in the win over the Tide. The second-year starter is already getting Heisman attention from OddsShark.com—albeit long-shot odds at 25-to-1. 

"We definitely rode that momentum after the win," Knight said. "It's the foundation for this season. But, at the same time, we're not complacent."

This team can't afford to be. The 2013 Sooners, which featured many of this year's returning starters, were far from Stoops' best team. Twice, in losses against Texas and Baylor, Oklahoma got outclassed. It happened in 2012, too, when Oklahoma got pummeled by Notre Dame early in the season and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. 

The year before that, the Sooners lost at home to Texas Tech, which would lose every remaining game that year, and got blasted by Oklahoma State, 44-10. 

Those types of losses didn't traditionally happen under Stoops. It was fair to wonder if "Big Game Bob" was starting to lose his edge—even if only a little. 

The Sugar Bowl showed that nothing could be further from the truth. As Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman wrote, Stoops is now back among the fraternity of coaches viewed as the best in college football: 

Coaches at places like Oklahoma go through changing status. Mostly, what’s-he-done-for-us-lately, followed by he-can-do-no-wrong. Stoops is in one of the latter phases now, so it’s In Bob We Trust.

From the players' point of view, nothing changed about Stoops. "He's the same every day," said defensive end/linebacker Geneo Grissom. 

How things looked in practice didn't change either. When asked at what point the offense clicked last season, offensive lineman Daryl Williams said, "I don't know. We saw it in practice every day. There wasn't really a moment." 

The tape tells a slightly different story. When Knight returned from his knee injury against Iowa State on Nov. 16, he looked like a better player than the one who tossed two interceptions against West Virginia in Week 2. 

But it was just Iowa State, right? The following week in a win over Kansas State, a team playing as well as anyone at the time, Oklahoma's offense put up 301 yards rushing in a 41-31 win. 

When the Sooners found out they were headed to the Sugar Bowl, they knew they could hang with the defending national champions. The team was talented enough, but more importantly, Oklahoma had a coaching staff that did its best job in years preparing for a game. 

Call it a fluke if you must, but Oklahoma put together a better game plan than Alabama. Now, the players and coaches are seeing the benefits. The only difference within the program now is that they have some extra confidence to exude. 

And there's nothing wrong with living it up. 

 

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

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OL Recruit Commits to Florida by Holding Up Live Baby Gator

Committing to a school by choosing a hat has been done before. That's why George Brown Jr. decided to take things to the next level to show how committed he is to his school of choice. 

The Winton Woods High School (Cincinnati, Ohio) senior, who 247sports.com lists as a 3-star recruit, had Alabama, Florida and Kentucky as his finalists. When it came time to reveal who he would play for, he had a little bit of help.

Here's a better look at Brown and his pal:

This makes you wonder what Brown would have done had he picked Alabama.

[Vine, Twitter; h/t SB Nation]

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Oregon Football: Ducks Defense Will Make or Break Playoff Bid

As linebacker Derrick Malone streaked toward the end zone in Oregon's Alamo Bowl rout of Texas last December, his play punctuated one era of Ducks football with an exclamation point.

Malone ran back an interception 38 yards to slam the door on the Longhorns' last-ditch rally effort. Oregon's 30-7 romp sent defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti into retirement with style.

And while the Alamo Bowl closed a chapter for Oregon, that performance began a new one—a chapter that could end with the Ducks hoisting a national championship trophy.

“The sky’s the limit,” Malone said at Wednesday’s session of Pac-12 Media Days. The linebacker referred to the Oregon defense, but his sentiment could describe all facets of the 2014 Ducks.

Expectations are characteristically high for Oregon heading into the season. Voters picked the Ducks to win the Pac-12 championship, and the win over Texas validates some of that confidence. It also gives new defensive coordinator Don Pellum a building block for 2014.

The Ducks defense shutting down the Longhorns made an emphatic, and much needed, statement.

“There were a lot of questions of can we stop a running team,” Malone said. “Once we did it in the last game, that carried over great momentum into the spring.”

Coming into the Alamo Bowl, Oregon’s defense suffered through a few lackadaisical performances—particularly against the run. Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney effectively took the air out of the ball in the Cardinal’s 26-20 upset of the Ducks on Nov. 7.

Two weeks later, Arizona All-American Ka’Deem Carey gashed Oregon for 206 yards and four touchdowns, while dual-threat quarterback B.J. Denker averaged 7.3 yards on his 14 carries in the Wildcats' confounding 42-16 rout of the Ducks.

The losses kept Oregon out of the national championship hunt and drew scrutiny on the defense—not all of it warranted, according to head coach Mark Helfrich.

“It’s a full-end deal,” he said. “It’s everybody [who is responsible for team performance].”

Nevertheless, an inability to stop the rush vexed Oregon right down to the very end of the regular season.

Thanks to quarterback Marcus Mariota’s touchdown strike to wide receiver Josh Huff in the waning moments, Oregon salvaged its win streak over rival Oregon State to end the regular season. But the Beavers forced a photo finish by scoring 35 points, powered in part by 231 rushing yards.

Oregon State averaged just 94.4 rushing yards per game all season, which ranked the Beavers No. 11 in the Pac-12.

Helfrich attributed Oregon’s late-season inconsistencies to execution, and “execution is coached.”

Execution was not a problem against Texas. The Ducks limited the Longhorns to 4.1 yards per carry and completely stifled any attempt at a passing attack.

Malone also credited “a sense of urgency and aggressiveness” for the turnaround against Texas. That mindset was on full display as the Ducks took two interceptions back for touchdowns to bookend the blowout.

Of course, one strong performance on its own cannot buoy a team from week to week, much less into a new season. But for Oregon, it served as a springboard into an offseason in which the Ducks aggressively tackled the weight room.

“We made a concerted effort to [get stronger] on both sides of the ball,” Helfrich said. “On the field in the spring, I think it made an absolute difference.”

One area in which the Oregon defense could see improvement from its offseason regimen is in getting to the backfield.

Applying pressure behind the line of scrimmage is crucial for generating turnovers, a key component of the Ducks’ defensive strategy. Oregon ranked No. 82 nationally in tackles for loss last season. In contrast, the Ducks were No. 19 in 2011, their last Pac-12 championship-winning season, and No. 10 in a 2010 campaign that culminated with a BCS Championship Game appearance.

"For me personally, it was a little bit of hesitation,” Malone said. “I'm very [much a] perfectionist in that the decisions I make are just precise, just right.”

Combining that meticulousness with the level of aggression that made former Ducks linebacker Kiko Alonso a headache for opposing offenses could make Malone one of the top defensive playmakers in the Pac-12.

“Derrick’s a guy along the lines of Don Pellum,” Helfrich said. “He can walk into every position meeting room and have instant credibility.

“He’s the kind of guy [who] walks a walk and always talks the talk,” the coach added.

That’s exactly the kind of confidence Oregon needs from its linebacker corps, the most veteran and deepest unit on the defensive side. Malone leads a group that includes returning starters Tony Washington and Rodney Hardrick, as well as up-and-comers Joe Walker, Tyson Coleman and Torrodney Prevot.

The Ducks face considerable turnover on the defensive line and in the secondary, but Malone likes the outlook of both groups. He offered considerable praise for the line, a unit vital to Oregon’s pass-rushing efforts.

“They’re getting bigger and stronger, just like everyone else,” Malone said. “They’re ready to take off. They say there’s a lack of experience because there aren’t many starters [returning], but they’re going to be great.”

He added he likes the potential of DeForest Buckner. Malone called the third-year defensive lineman “a beast.”

The challenge now for Oregon is replicating that Alamo Bowl performance for 12 regular season games and a Pac-12 Championship tilt. If it can, a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff is within reach.

“Defense did a great job this spring, and from all accounts this summer, of raising the bar to a higher standard of accountability and effort,” Helfrich said. “In fall camp … we’ll see how that went.”

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com.  

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Ducks Defense Will Make or Break Playoff Bid

As linebacker Derrick Malone streaked toward the end zone in Oregon's Alamo Bowl rout of Texas last December, his play punctuated one era of Ducks football with an exclamation point...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

LSU's Mike the Tiger Received a Meat Cake for His 9th Birthday

Even tigers like birthday cake, especially when it's a meat cake.

LSU's Mike the Tiger turned nine years old on Thursday, and he was lucky enough to get a meat cake for his birthday.

That must have made for a great day.

[Twitter, h/t SB Nation

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Inside Look at How Lane Kiffin's Offense Will Look at Alabama in 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what the biggest story of Alabama’s offseason was.

It wasn’t coach Nick Saban’s contract extension and raise. It wasn’t cornerback Eddie Jackson having major knee surgery that will keep him out indefinitely. It wasn’t even quarterback Jacob Coker transferring in from Florida State, giving the Crimson Tide a bonafide option under center after AJ McCarron’s departure. (Saban wearing a Luigi hat was pretty close, though.)

No, Alabama’s biggest offseason story was, unquestionably, Saban hiring former Tennessee and USC coach Lane Kiffin to be his offensive coordinator.

The jokes were plentiful at first and showed their heads again during spring practice, when we had our first visual confirmation that Lane Kiffin was, indeed, Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

But for now the dust has settled (until Kiffin gives his only public comments before a potential bowl game at the start of fall camp), and we can turn our attention to how Kiffin will actually coach the offense—what will change and what will stay the same.

Based off of comments from players, coaches and Kiffin himself, along with observations from practice, here is what we know so far about how Kiffin’s offense will look at Alabama.

 

Introducing a fullback

Alabama has never really used a fullback in the traditional sense under Saban, but we’ll be seeing one now with Kiffin.

Previously, it would shift a tight end or H-back into the backfield as a lead blocker, and someone would line up there on the goal line. Otherwise, it was a one-back offense.

Jalston Fowler will be the biggest beneficiary of the change.

“I play the fullback a lot,” the 6’1”, 250-pound Fowler said during spring practice. “That’s the type of offense that we run, a fullback-based offense, so I’m pretty much in there most, all of the time.”

Fowler has been a versatile weapon for Alabama in the past, lead blocking, carrying in short-yardage situations and catching his signature play-action touchdown on the goal line (last year he caught seven passes for 15 yards—and five touchdowns).

This year, he’ll likely be doing a lot more blocking, still some receiving but likely not as much running. And that’s all right with him.

“I like blocking and opening up those holes for those guys,” he said. “It’s pretty fun, going against the D every day. It might be harder in the game, but right now it’s pretty easy because I’m going up against these guys and we know each other pretty well. I like it so far.”

 

Creativity in the passing game

Even in McCarron’s third year as a starter, the passing game got stale at times.

It was a lot of short throws and bubble screens, mixed in with some play-action passes over the top and McCarron’s signature corner route connection with Kevin Norwood.

Kiffin is adding some creativity and changing things up, however. Junior wide receiver Amari Cooper offered up on example of this during spring practice.

“Coach Kiffin calls plays based on matchups and what he sees,” Cooper said. “Like I said before, it's a simple offense. If he sees they are in man-to-man coverage and I have a hitch route, it converts if he's close to me. We are going to throw a little fade route and make something out of it.”

That will also include using pass-catchers in different ways.

“Versatility,” wide receiver Christion Jones said. “Guys doing different things, being able to play different spots, different positions. Instead of having a set for these type of receivers and these type of tight ends, anybody can play any position.”

 

Getting the ball to playmakers

A major criticism of the offense under Doug Nussmeier was its underutilization of key weapons.

The most common example cited is tight end O.J. Howard. Howard, a 5-star and the top tight end in the class of 2014, showed off his athleticism on a 52-yard catch-and-run against LSU, where he blew by the secondary for a go-ahead score.

But at the end of the season, he had caught only 14 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns.

“It's like getting our athletes in space and showing off our ability,” Howard said of Kiffin. “We have a lot of speed on the offensive side of the ball. It's going to really help our athletic ability and show it off for us.”

Cooper could be another who benefits from these tendencies.

“Obviously he's a guy that we want to get the ball to as many times as we can,” Saban said of Cooper. “Lane will do a really good job of getting the ball in the playmakers' hands.”

 

Still goes through the run game

For all the talk of the passing game, though, this offense is still going to start with the run game. As it should.

Alabama has a loaded backfield, with returning starter T.J. Yeldon headlining the group, bruising Derrick Henry looking to build off of a big Sugar Bowl and the lightning-quick Kenyan Drake providing a change of pace.

Kiffin recognizes as much.

“As you guys know extremely well, I think the offense is led by the tailbacks,” he said, according to AL.com’s Mike Herndon. “There probably aren't three more talented tailbacks in the NFL on a roster than we're fortunate to be able to work with at Alabama."

Pete Roussel of Coachingsearch.com took a look at Kiffin’s offensive tendencies compared to Alabama’s since 2009, and he ran the ball 51 percent of the time compared to 60 percent for Alabama. Look for that number to stay somewhere in that range this year, especially with Kiffin and Alabama breaking in a new quarterback.

Kiffin will bring much-needed changes to the passing game, but the running game that has become a trademark for Saban isn’t going anywhere.

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from cfbstats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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10 College Football Players We Wish Could Be Traded in 2014

There are a couple of ways around the NCAA's transfer policy, which requires athletes sit out one season after switching colleges. Graduate students are granted immediate eligibility, as are certain players who apply for a hardship waiver.

Unfortunately, there is no waiver for players we just want to see at a different program. There is no manual override for a trade that just makes sense on paper, that would make the upcoming season more entertaining to watch.

Trades like that pop into our minds all the time, however, forcing us to indulge hypotheticals such as this. Why can't that blue-chip recruit see the field sooner? What if that small-school star played in the SEC?

But this list did not include all of the best players from outside the power conferences. No matter their skill level, and no matter how much we would love to see them play against the best competition, a player was not considered if he is one of the leaders on a team with a realistic shot of making a College Football Playoff Bowl this season.

The list of players omitted under this clause includes: Shane Carden and Justin Hardy (East Carolina), Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler (Marshall), Deontay Greenberry (Houston), Chuckie Keeton and Kyler Fackrell (Utah State) and Derron Smith (Fresno State).

This was done because it doesn't seem right to wish a star player away from a team that could become this year's Central Florida. Blake Bortles wouldn't have been wise to leave last season…right?

Instead, we've highlighted 10 players whose change of school would make this season more objectively fun for college football fans, along with the ideal program we would want them to play for in 2014.

Sound off below with any other trades you can think of!

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SEC Football Q&A: Will Texas A&M Need to Use Two Quarterbacks in 2014

Do you smell that? It smells like football is in the air.

SEC media days is in the books, and pads will start popping in just over a week when fall camps open around the country. So to hold you over until we have real, tangible practice reports to discuss, let's resume the Friday tradition of SEC Q&A after a week off recovering from Hoover.

Who will take the snaps in College Station? What should you make of Tennessee's quarterback situation? What are the must-win games for LSU? Take a look at this week's SEC Q&A.

 

@BarrettSallee Do you think Coach Sumlin will play both QBs Allen and Hill, or select one starter and stick with him until proven otherwise?

— aggiedave (@aggiedave) July 25, 2014

No. Ideally Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin will choose either sophomore Kenny Hill or true freshman Kyle Allen for the No. 1 job and let the winner run with it unless he fails miserably or gets hurt.

Who that quarterback should be has changed frequently for me this offseason. First I was aboard the Allen bandwagon, then I started thinking that Hill gives the offense a little more stability because he's similar in stature and skill set to former dual-threat stud Johnny Manziel.

Now I'm back in the Allen camp. 

After talking to Billy Liucci of TexAgs.com and some other folks in Hoover at SEC media days, it seems like all the momentum is with the true freshman from Scottsdale, Arizona. That, coupled with Sumlin's refusal to discuss the quarterback position makes me lean his way.

"I didn't come here today to tell you who the quarterback was going to be, so we can eliminate those questions," he said. "That will play itself out. I think we're looking at a couple weeks before we play South Carolina that we'll name a starter."

That will give Allen plenty of time to win the job.

The only caveat is, if Allen wins the job, Hill may have an impact in certain packages that are designed for him to take advantage of his dual-threat capabilities. That's the only way I see them both playing unless the winner tanks or gets hurt.

 

@BarrettSallee How about Tennessee's QB situation? Should Butch Jones be concerned?!

— Phil Webber (@61Webhead) July 22, 2014

He shouldn't be concerned quite yet.

Jones had four in spring and he had essentially narrowed it down to two—Justin Worley and Riley Ferguson—prior to the spring game. Sophomore Joshua Dobbs had a fantastic spring game and Ferguson reportedly left the program, so the battle is still essentially between two guys, which is a departure from last season when a four-man battle went deep into fall camp.

While contenders played musical chairs, Worley stayed in the mix. I expect him to win the job. Tennessee has a completely new offensive line, so it's not unreasonable to expect some breakdowns. When that happens, having Worley—a senior who has been around the block a time or two—will be invaluable. 

He doesn't have the same upside as some of the others, but he knows when to throw it away and when to check down, which will be very important for this Vols' team.

Now if August 15 rolls around and there's still no clarity, then maybe it'll be time worry. The last thing Jones needs is for another quarterback battle to drag on late into fall camp, because then No. 1 reps are getting taken away from the eventual winner.

 

@BarrettSallee What is the first must win game of the season? #tigersoul#lsu#lsu18#GeauxTigers#lplg

— CesLSU (@ceslsu) July 25, 2014

I'm assuming you mean for LSU, and it's definitely the Mississippi State game in Death Valley on September 20.

I know, I know. Wisconsin is the opener, and LSU absolutely has to win that one.

Well, for national title purposes, maybe. But winning the SEC, as I wrote earlier this month, is the more important part of that equation because I feel the committee will put far too much emphasis on conference championships.

Because of that, LSU—particularly the LSU offense—needs to get off to a good start against a Mississippi State team that returns 19 of 22 on its defensive two-deep and should be able to give the new-look Tiger offense a major test in late September.

That's a tricky game for LSU, and if it goes south, the rest of the season could follow in a hurry.

 

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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Michigan Football: Brady Hoke in the Crossfire Between AD and Regents

On one side is athletic director David Brandon, who has been nationally lauded for his business acumen and overseeing the transformation of the University of Michigan's athletic department.

On the other is the Michigan Board of Regents, who thus far have been willing accomplices to Brandon’s dramatic reinvention of Michigan football tradition.

The gap between the two sides became apparent last week when the regents rejected a request from the athletic department to have fireworks at two games this season. Regent Mark Bernstein’s comments reported by The Detroit News echo the sentiment of many fans—that Brandon’s attempt to make every game an event is negatively impacting the distinctive nature of the Michigan game-day experience.

“We are not Comerica Park, Disney World or a circus…I love Michigan football for what it is...and for what it is not. It remains and should be an experience, a place that resists the excesses of our culture; intentionally simple. The fireworks should be on the field, not above it.”

Caught in the middle is Brady Hoke, who is just trying to win football games and deliver a Big Ten title. Hoke has wisely stayed out of the fray, but the retirement of former University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman has changed the equation for the athletic department. Hoke can bring these two sides back together if his team can unleash some offensive fireworks when the season begins.

Fans will return to Michigan Stadium if Hoke’s offseason changes bear fruit. Offensive players are raving about new coach Doug Nussmeier and fans can’t wait to see top recruit Jabrill Peppers hit the field.

Warming up on the sidelines is new Michigan president Mark Schlissel, a scientist and former Ivy League administrator who seems a little puzzled that his new job began with questions about whether he supported fireworks during a football game.

Schlissel shared how athletics fit into his overall vision of Michigan with Melanie Maxwell on MLIVE.COM:

What I want to be sure of is that athletics exist in an appropriate balance with everything else the university does. Athletics isn't part of the mission statement of the university. We're an academic institution, so I want to work on the appropriate balance between athletics and academics.

For years, Brandon has been wildly successful at filling the coffers of the athletic department.

But this season a combination of factors has the athletic department scrambling to fill Michigan Stadium for its home opener. Overall enthusiasm has been dampened by last season’s 7-6 record, a lackluster slate of home games and a steady rise in ticket prices.

Many fans were disappointed when Hoke was hired to replace Rich Rodriguez, but Brandon has been steadfast in his support. Now Brandon faces scrutiny from a new boss and the regents, who need to approve any future initiatives.

It's time for Hoke to justify Brandon’s support. Brandon has provided lavish facilities for the football program and given Hoke the resources to hire top coaches for his staff.

If Michigan stumbles out the gate and attendance falters, Hoke won’t be the only one on the hot seat.

 

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

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@PSCallihan

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Five Nebraska Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

Nebraska football fans are always looking for surprises as fall camp opens. While the established stars are well-known, fall camp provides an opportunity for new playmakers to arise and take the stage for the upcoming season.

So while “sure to surprise” is a bit of a contradiction in terms (much like the advice from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to “expect the unexpected”), here are five players who might be a bit off fans’ radar screens but could play a major role this season.

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Jimbo Fisher Predicted 2014 BCS Title in Pitch to FSU QB Commit De'Andre Johnson

De'Andre Johnson is ready to show what he can bring to the Florida State Seminoles. This Florida native has been committed to Jimbo Fisher and the FSU program since 2012. Johnson took some time to talk to Bleacher Report about his recruitment and relationship with Jameis Winston. 

How well do you think this stud will do in Tallahassee?

Watch the video to see this future Seminole answer some questions out at The Opening.

Rankings from 247Sports Composite.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why USC's Leonard Williams Will Be Best Defensive Lineman in College Football

Playing in a new scheme that utilizes his versatility and no longer hindered by injury, USC junior Leonard Williams is poised to be college football's premier defensive lineman in the coming season.

Williams returns as the Trojans' defensive leader from a 2013 campaign in which he recorded 73 tackles, five sacks, four quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. It was enough to earn Williams All-American recognition—and he did it all with a lingering shoulder injury that required offseason surgery.

Back at full strength and ready to lead USC's front seven, a group head coach Steve Sarkisian calls his team's strength, Williams said at Wednesday's Pac-12 media days session he's prepared for 2014.

"The coaches expect me to be more of a leader this year," Williams said. "Being able to be healthy affects that because I can be out there a lot more than I was last year [when] I had to step out a few plays because my shoulder was nagging me.

"I don’t feel any pain at all practicing or lifting weights," he added.

The surgery took Williams out of commission for the Trojans' spring season, which was also the team's formal introduction to Sarkisian and his staff.

"I'm blown away. He's in great shape," USC Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian and new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox may have yet to see the All-American defensive lineman at full strength since Williams is currently working out in player-run practices that prohibit coach attendance, but Sarkisian is well aware of Williams’ potential.

"I can only imagine Leonard at 100 percent of what he’s going to look like in the fall,” Sarkisian said.

While Sarkisian and Wilcox have yet to truly see what Williams can do, Williams credits USC strength coach Ivan Lewis for maximizing the lineman’s potential in the weight room—and the lineman’s efforts show.

Sarkisian estimated Williams’ current weight at 310 pounds. He played last season at 300 pounds, which on his conservatively listed 6’5” frame made blocking Williams a unique challenge for opposing offensive linemen.

"His body type is perfect," Arizona State offensive lineman Jamil Douglas said. "He’s a great player, great motor."

Williams certainly doesn’t mind mixing it up with the biggest and best blockers the conference has to offer. Hailing from Daytona Beach, Florida, Williams mentioned growing up in the heart of SEC country. And indeed, he brings some of the nastiness in the trenches often associated with the SEC to the West Coast.

Last year in former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s 52 scheme, Williams primarily played tackle, lining up against opponents’ guards on the interior. He’ll continue to operate in the trenches in 2014, but Williams said Wilcox is introducing new wrinkles to the playbook that will see him play more end.

"I'm going to be lined up on the tight end a lot more," Williams said. "In a passing situation, I'd like to play in a 3-[point] technique. But in run downs, I'd rather play on the tackle and tight ends."

Wilcox similarly used Hau’oli Kikaha last season for Washington, lining him up on the end and interior depending on situations. Kikaha responded with 13 sacks, tied with Clemson’s Vic Beasley for third-most in the nation.

With Williams playing more end, expect him to improve upon his 12.5 tackles for loss last season. Williams should also be more of a threat to sack opposing quarterbacks, like in his freshman season when he recorded eight. All the while, he'll remain central to the Trojans' run-stopping efforts.

It's a full plate, but nothing Williams can't handle.

Last season, he led USC in total tackles—an almost unheard-of accomplishment for a defensive tackle.

Surely the possibility of opponents double-teaming Williams could limit his statistical output, and Williams recognizes it.

Wilcox’s shifting of him from end to tackle is in part designed to keep offenses guessing, thereby eliminating some of the potential for double-teaming. But the talent surrounding Williams should keep opponents from being able to focus too much attention on the All-American.

“I expected that I’ll be getting double-teamed a lot this year,” he said. “But we have a lot of guys coming. We have transfers Claude [Pelon] and Delvon [Simmons] here. Antwaun Woods is just a phenomenal player and guy. He’s a great leader this year, and he’s going to step up big time.”

Williams also has plenty of support in a talented linebacker corps, featuring tackles leader Hayes Pullard. Williams said he’s been impressed with the development of Jabari Ruffin in the offseason.

Sarkisian and his staff are leaning on Williams to tie all the Trojans’ defensive potential together.

"Being a three-year starter, the coaches expected me to step up this year. We had a talk about it, and they told me I should start being more vocal.

"I guess I could say I’m a natural leader, but I’m more by example by working hard and showing them how to do it the right way," he added. "I’m not a vocal leader; I don’t like to hop on guys if they’re doing something wrong. I’d rather them see me doing it right and follow in my footsteps."

While Williams’ footsteps are quite difficult to follow, one quality fueling his success that can be infectious for the Trojans defense is his love for the game, as described by Sarkisian.

"When you watch Leonard play, he loves playing. He loves playing," Sarkisian said. "And he plays hard."

With a healthy shoulder and new responsibilities, that tenacious style should manifest in 2014 in Williams establishing himself as the nation’s top defensive lineman.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless other cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.

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Why USC's Leonard Williams Will Be Best Defensive Lineman in College Football

Playing in a new scheme that utilizes his versatility and no longer hindered by injury, USC junior Leonard Williams is poised to be college football's premier defensive lineman in the coming season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Playoff Contenders Forced to Start Inexperienced Quarterbacks

To win a college football national championship, a strong quarterback is a must.

Contenders must have someone who can handle the pressure, someone who isn’t afraid to face a fourth-quarter deficit and lead his team on a crucial drive with 80,000 hostile fans screaming in his ear.

Teams need someone they can trust. Ideally, a veteran.

This fall, some college football playoff contenders won’t have that luxury. While Jameis Winston proved in 2013 that experience isn’t a must while he led Florida State to a BCS National Championship (picking up a Heisman Trophy along the way), coaches prefer an experienced quarterback whom they can count on in the toughest situations.

That said, here’s a look at some College Football Playoff contenders who’ll be forced to start inexperienced quarterbacks this fall.

All quotes for this article were obtained from ASAP Sports transcripts of Big 12 and SEC media days.

 

Begin Slideshow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Joe Bergeron Reportedly Dismissed from Texas Football Team for Rule Violations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begin Slideshow

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

A Few Big Fish Left in the Pond

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

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

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

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

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

The SEC Network will add more homes before launch.

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

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

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

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

 

Where's the Love for South Carolina?

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

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

— Ryan Wood (@rwood_SC) July 24, 2014

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

— William Gunter (@WillGunter560) July 24, 2014

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

— Matt Connolly (@MattConnollySHJ) July 24, 2014

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

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

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

 

Rearview Mirror?

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

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

So what becomes of Marshall now? 

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

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

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

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

 

A "Big" Loss?

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

So what does it mean for the Bulldogs defense?

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

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

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

 

Strong Progress on the Rivalry Front?

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

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

Thank you, Coach Strong.

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

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

 

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

 


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