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The Weird Saga of Alabama's 2014 Quarterback Battle

Perhaps, as offseason chatter in need of definitive answers tends to do, media folks jumped the gun on anointing Florida State transfer quarterback Jake Coker the future at Alabama. 

On the eve of the Crimson Tide's season opener against West Virginia in Atlanta, head coach Nick Saban still hasn't officially announced a starting quarterback. He did, however, drop a hint that redshirt senior Blake Sims will take the field first.

Via Andrew Gribble of al.com: "We have faith, trust and confidence in Blake Sims. We're not going to evaluate Blake and he doesn't have to look over his shoulder while he's playing. I think there may be some occasion where the other guy deserves an opportunity at some point in time this season to show what he can do."

That quote was supplemented by a report from Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com, which stated that Sims would "start" against the Mountaineers—and "start" is a loose phrase. Coker could see the field in Week 1 as well, though that has not been confirmed either. As of Aug. 25, the two are listed as co-starters on the depth chart. 

It's been the most-watched quarterback battle in college football given Alabama's preseason No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches poll

That battle unofficially began when Alabama announced in January that it had signed Coker, who had lost the Seminoles' quarterback competition to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston the year before. 

Since the Tide were replacing AJ McCarron, who helped lead the program to a pair of national titles, the initial assumption was that Coker—a 6'5", 230-pound physical specimen with a great arm—would be the successor. And why not? Coker was immediately eligible upon his graduation at Florida State, and quarterback transfers have been a vogue trend lately.

For instance: Michael Brewer, the former Texas Tech quarterback, was recently announced as Virginia Tech's starting quarterback earlier this month. A graduate transfer quarterback is the most identifiable quick fix. 

So when ESPN college football analyst David Pollack said in June (h/t Knox Bardeen, Fox Sports South.), "You can go ahead and hand it (the starting job) to [Coker]," it fell in line with the narrative. 

But the longer the competition went on, the less the narrative played out according to plan. As Bleacher Report's Ray Glier reported earlier this month, Coker has had his struggles in practice: 

Judging from a pass-heavy Aug. 16 scrimmage, Coker, the transfer from Florida State, is not there yet. He was not Bradford, Luck or Bridgewater. He was just a new quarterback trying to learn a playbook in three weeks and find his way with a new set of receivers nine months after undergoing serious knee surgery (meniscus).

It is a daunting task, and Coker scuffled, according to various people who witnessed the closed scrimmage.

One practice doesn't make or break anyone's chances to start—Sims wasn't all that impressive in Alabama's spring game—but Saban has been high on Sims throughout the offseason. In a situation that lacks a definitive answer, this much is clear: Sims won't, nor was he ever going to, take a back seat to Coker. 

"Saban is giving Sims the first snap here because of his experience in the offense and his familiarity with the players," said Marc Torrence, B/R's Alabama Lead Writer. "His teammates love him, and they barely know Coker."

To be clear, Coker could still start for Alabama. His physical tools are obvious, and it could be a matter of the light turning on for him. It would appear, based on practice reports, that Sims has an edge, but that could change in live game situations. Though Sims is the "program guy," he's every bit as unproven as Coker.

It's Saban's job to find out which quarterback can prove himself. That could take a week, or a month. According to Torrence, Saban isn't in a major rush to name a starter (nor is he interested in hypothetical situations). Rather, he's content to let things play out. 

"The feeling is that they don't have to name a permanent starter until Florida [Sept. 20]," Torrence said. 

It wouldn't be the first time Saban has done this. In 2011, McCarron and another Sims—Phillip—split snaps in the Tide's season-opening win against Kent State. That season, if memory serves correctly, turned out alright. 

"Is Coker the better talent who will eventually win the long-term starter role? I think so," said Torrence. "Is Sims the best option right now, all things considered? Yes."

Alabama, along with the rest of the college football world, will find out Saturday. The quarterback two-deep may be a fluid situation, but Saban's history in Tuscaloosa suggests it'll level out eventually. Anxious minds just have to get on Saban's level of patience. 


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

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College Football Playoff 2014: Preseason Rankings and Postseason Predictions

The 2014 college football season is officially underway, and the talk has already begun regarding the new playoff system. With the archaic BCS gone and a traditional four-team postseason in its place, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the sport.

After the final rankings of the year are released, the top four teams will be seeded in the semifinals of a bracket-style playoff system. The winners of each semifinal matchup then advance to the championship game January 12.

With plenty of teams fighting for the honor of being the first to run the college football playoff table, here are the preseason rankings and the postseason predictions.


*Full Amway Coaches and Associated Press Top 25 polls.


Breaking Down the Final Four

The departure from the traditional BCS postseason is a dream come true for most college football fans. While many were hoping for a more expansive playoffs (possibly eight or 10 teams), the fact that actual change was implemented is a step in the right direction.

Now, the focus shifts to which four teams will contend for the national title.

Last year’s defending champion Florida State Seminoles will be a favorite to repeat this season with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston under center once again. While the roster has encountered a high turnover after the NFL draft, the recruiting from Jimbo Fisher has helped the program replenish the voids.

Florida State starts the season as the No. 1 team in both the AP and the Amway Coaches polls. The pressure will be on the Seminoles from Day 1, but if the program can withstand the scrutiny throughout the season, Florida State will be tough to beat in the postseason.

One team who won’t let Florida State win without a fight will be the Alabama Crimson Tide.

While Alabama is known mostly for its elite play on the defensive side of the ball, the team boasts an underrated offensive unit this season that will shock the SEC. Led by senior quarterback Blake Sims, the unit also features talented running back T.J. Yeldon and standout wide receiver Amari Cooper.

The Crimson Tide may start the season as the No. 2 team in the nation, but with a more difficult schedule than Florida State (the SEC is superior to the ACC), expect the two programs to be fighting for the top spot in the nation throughout the season.

Another team looking to spoil the Seminoles attempt to repeat will be the Oregon Ducks, with quarterback Marcus Mariota leading the dynamic offensive unit against a tough Pac-12 conference schedule. If Oregon can beat the likes of Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford this season, there will be no doubt that the Ducks advance to the four-team playoff.

There are questions about how the Oregon defense will be able to withstand the talent of the tough competition on the schedule, but the program has the firepower to stun many of the top teams in the nation. If the Ducks beat Michigan State in Week 2, expect the team to remain part of the championship conversation all season.

One team not getting the love it deserves is the Auburn Tigers. After stunning Alabama last season, Auburn looks to capitalize on a schedule that doesn’t look as strong as it once did. While a meeting with Texas A&M could prove to be tough, matchups against rebuilding programs such as LSU and Ole Miss could help build confidence among the players in the program.

If the Tigers were able to knock off Alabama in the Iron Bowl to close the regular season, the team would be a serious championship contender. Even if Auburn loses the final game, a stellar regular season could still earn the program a berth in the postseason.

Regardless of which four teams make the new playoff format, the excitement from college football fans across the country will make it feel special. It’s good to have the BCS gone, and it’s even better to have a postseason format the fans can support.

Predicted National Champions: Alabama Crimson Tide


*Stats via CFBStats.com.

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Alabama Football: What to Make of Blake Sims Starting Reports and Other Notes

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban all but laid out his plans for his quarterbacks Thursday night during his first weekly Hey Coach radio show of the season.

"We have faith, trust and confidence in Blake Sims," Saban said, according to Andrew Gribble of al.com. "We're not going to evaluate Blake, and he doesn't have to look over his shoulder while he's playing. I think there may be some occasion where the other guy deserves an opportunity at some point in time this season to show what he can do."

Reading between the lines, that looks pretty much like Sims is the starter, for now, while Florida State transfer Jake Coker will continue to be brought along and up to speed.

A few minutes later, CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler said that "barring any unexpected last-minute changes," Sims will start, but that Coker "is expected to play."

Fowler's report made waves through college football Twitter last night as everyone watched the late-night games. But it shouldn't come as any surprise, since that's very much in line with what Saban has said all throughout fall camp, most recently on that Thursday radio show.

There's been no indication whatsoever that Coker was going to start this game.

Sims' teammates love him, having known him for going on five years now. He's the epitome of a "program guy." Sims has changed positions a couple of times without complaint and has always been a helping hand and welcoming presence, even though he hasn't been a starter during his career.

He also has a much better understanding of the offense in terms of what Saban expects from a quarterback. At this point in the game, the coaches simply trust him more, a huge factor for Saban and his staff when deciding who goes out under center.

"Blake has a lot more familiarity with the system, having been here longer," Saban said Monday. "I think he's more comfortable in doing the things that we do and has done a really good job. Has played really, really well in this fall camp, has played well in the scrimmages. The team has had a good rhythm when he's in there at quarterback.

"Jacob is obviously the newer guy of the two, who doesn't have the same knowledge and experience. I think we're just trying to get him more and more familiar so that he plays with the rhythm that we need to play with offensively."

That's not to say that Coker is out of this, by any means. He just isn't quite where the coaches want him to be from a trust and confidence standpoint. The coaches know what they have in Sims. He's a proven commodity while Coker gets assimilated into the system.

"Starter" for this game is a fairly meaningless term, anyway. Yes, he'll take the first snap, but that doesn't necessarily mean that whoever it is has been declared the winner of the quarterback competition, or even will play 100 percent of the snaps.

Both guys will likely play, and this thing is far from over.

Here are some other notes before the Chick-fil-A Kickoff.


Freshmen abound

Alabama fans should get plenty of opportunities to see members of the Crimson Tide's No. 1 2014 recruiting class (per 247Sports) on the field Saturday. Alabama listed 16 players from that group on its official depth chart, including 14 true freshmen.

Several of those will play key roles.

Most notably, 5-star recruit Cam Robinson, the No. 4 overall player in that 2014 class, is expected to start at left tackle. The other starting freshman is JK Scott, who has handled punting duties during fall camp and could make a cameo at kicker if called upon.

Otherwise, Josh Frazier, Da'Shawn Hand and Rashaan Evans provide depth in Alabama's front seven, and those three could rotate in at some point up front. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown, both 5-star recruits, could be called upon in the secondary, with Brown the early favorite since he enrolled in the spring.

Saban cautioned, though, against expecting any of them to light the world on fire from Day 1. This age of recruiting coverage, combined with the national exposure of college football, has placed tremendous pressure on the shoulders of 18- and 19-year-olds to perform right away, when in reality their full development as a college player takes a couple of years.

"We wouldn't put guys in the game if they weren't ready to be in there," Saban said. "We also don't expect them to play perfect."


Saban's country roads

Nick Saban isn't the least bit shy of his upbringing. He frequently cites his West Virginia roots and working at his dad's gas station as the foundation for his mentality and coaching philosophy that has brought him so much success.

It also means that his childhood college team growing up is the one his Crimson Tide will face Saturday.

"That was the biggest thing going when I was a kid, to go to Mountaineer Field and watch West Virginia play. That was like the highlight of my year," Saban said.

"I still have great memories of home and great memories of the people and relationships that I have at home. I've always kind of been a Mountaineer fan. I remember as a kid sitting in the old Mountaineer Fieldhouse. I used to sit in the upper deck with my feet hanging over the deck looking in between the rails watching Jerry West play. I remember that. I was probably only seven, eight, nine years old or something, but I remember that."

Saban still has plenty of relationships from those days, including U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, whom Saban nominated for his Ice Bucket Challenge.

TideSports.com's Tommy Deas traveled to Saban's hometown to report on a piece that is well worth your time and provides excellent insight into his childhood and what made him the way he is today.

"You don't forget stuff like that," Saban said. "But now I'm Alabama's coach. I'm an Alabama fan. We don't really have to be concerned about any of that. We want to do what's best for our team and the relationships that we have here.

"But we also respect their traditions and the relationships that we've developed through the years in West Virginia."


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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Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly's Final Thoughts on Irish Offseason

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football kicks off its regular season Saturday when it battles Rice inside Notre Dame Stadium.

It’s been an eventful offseason for the Irish, especially over the past two weeks since news of the academic investigation broke. So while we have one final opportunity, let’s break down some of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s final thoughts on the offseason.


Everett Golson Named the Starting Quarterback

When Kelly named quarterback Everett Golson the starter just more than two weeks ago, the expectation finally became a reality. Asked this week how Golson has looked since being named the No. 1 signal-caller, Kelly pointed to the senior’s consistency.

“I think there is still room for growth there in that position, but consistency, decisiveness, those are good words to use with the quarterback's growth,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I think I've seen that. As a leader I think could probably use the same thing relative to consistency. He's consistently been that vocal leader on the offensive side of the ball.”

Kelly said the expectations for Golson don’t change even though his last live game action came during the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama—some 600 days ago. The head coach did say Notre Dame needs to be cognizant of the long layoff and focus on getting Golson back into an early rhythm.

“I think once he starts to get comfortable playing the game at a fast pace, then we just call the game like we normally would,” Kelly said.


Young Defense Will Be Tested

Six freshmen crack Notre Dame’s two-deep this week.

Six sophomores join them.

It became clear early in the offseason that Notre Dame would feature a remarkably young and inexperienced defense in 2014. For Kelly, while the unit is certainly green, he also highlighted the raw ability.

“Defensively it's one of the more inexperienced groups, but it's probably one of the more athletic groups, too,” Kelly said. “So there is a give and take there from that perspective.”

With all that youth on the defensive side of the ball, Kelly said Notre Dame must adjust the learning curve while also recognizing the need to play with a high level of sophistication.

“I think you're always teaching to the level that allows you to be successful,” Kelly said. “You can't say, well, we just have a bunch of young guys—we have to be basic. They've got to catch up to us.”

Kelly admitted there will assuredly be times when the Irish coaches are “gnashing our teeth,” but he said it’s important to trust the athleticism of the youngsters.


Early Expectations

It has been almost exactly eight months since Notre Dame last took the field, when it topped Rutgers, 29-16, in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. A lot has changed since then, and a lot of work has been done.

So when the Irish square off with the Owls on Saturday, Kelly said he wants to progress from the offseason.

“You want to know that all the work that you put in is paying off a little bit, that we’ve put in since January,” Kelly said Thursday.

Kelly said he’ll look for a strong start. He wants solid fundamentals. He wants to avoid turnovers and sloppy football. In other words, Kelly wants what every coach wants in a season opener.

But he’s also looking for steady quarterback play from Golson and confidence for some of those aforementioned young defensive players.

“I think if that comes out of a win, obviously it’s going to be a great day for us,” Kelly said.


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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K.J. Hill to Arkansas: Razorbacks Land 4-Star WR Prospect

One of the top playmakers in the 2015 class is headed to Arkansas.

K.J. Hill had offers from dozens of schools across the country but had narrowed his decision down to Arkansas, Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida and Ohio State. In the end, he announced on ESPN's SpreeCast he wanted to play for the Razorbacks, according to John Talty of AL.com. 

The North Little Rock star posted huge numbers in high school as a big-play receiver who has shown the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue takes a look at the player's production as a junior:

As he continued to move up in various rankings, Kipp Adams of 247 Sports explained why:

Hill is considered the No. 22 receiver in the nation and No. 1 player overall in the state of Arkansas, according to 247 Sports' composite rankings. He is a 4-star prospect in most publications and has the potential to be a true impact player at the next level.

While the 6'0" receiver does not have elite size or speed for his position, he has good agility that allows him to escape trouble. He is elusive in traffic and uses that ability to turn short passes into long plays, even without typical breakaway speed.

Many believed Hill was set to stay home and sign with Arkansas, especially after coming away so impressed with the visit. His stepfather Montez Peterson gushed about meeting coach Bret Bielema to Richard Davenport of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette:

Coach B made sure somebody reported to him about how they were doing and what they were doing while he was there. He doesn’t want anything to happen to our son while he’s there. And you factor all the other things with him saying the way K.J.’s character is and how he is as a person.

This ended up making a big impact on the player himself as he will now be a big part of the Hogs' future.

With Hill's strength and offensive impact, it would not be surprising to see the young player see the field early in his college career. The only thing that could hold him back is a lack of understanding the playbook. 

Either way, his new team will be thrilled to have him as he possesses as much upside as almost anyone else in the class. If he can continue to improve, he can become one of the best at his position.


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

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Michigan Football: Jabrill Peppers Ready for Prime Time

At some point during the first quarter of Michigan’s home opener, its defense will force Appalachian State into a fourth-down situation. A player wearing the No. 5 jersey will fall back and wait to receive the punt while 100,000 fans wait in breathless anticipation for the Jabrill Peppers era to begin.

Peppers began practicing with the team during fall camp—unlike teammates receiver Freddy Canteen and tackle Mason Cole, he didn’t enroll early.

Once he arrived on campus, he immediately showed why he was one of the top recruits in the nation. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Peppers was a 5-star recruit and the No. 3 overall player in the 2014 class.

Brady Hoke was asked how he could place a true freshman back in a position to return kicks in his first collegiate game playing before the largest crowd in the United States.

“Watching him over the course of that last 27 days of practice, field punts, be in those situations, the confidence he has gives me confidence,” said Hoke.

Entering his fourth season in the wake of last year’s 7-6 finish, Hoke’s confidence is a big gamble.

Michigan faces a conundrum in its home opener versus Appalachian State—no win will be big enough to erase the embarrassment of the program’s last loss to the Mountaineers while any mistakes will add to perception that Hoke is on the hot seat.

Enter Peppers, the highly touted freshman recruit who will stand alone waiting to return the first kick of his collegiate career in front of the largest crowd of his life and a national television audience.

They'll all be waiting to see if he can live up to the hype of his recruitment and wondering if Appalachian State can deliver another upset.

The hype surrounding Peppers’ recruitment has been extraordinary, and he reveled in the attention. His recruitment was covered by The Washington Post and he blogged for USA Today.

As a potential two-way player, he was immediately compared to Charles Woodson, who won the Heisman Trophy at Michigan and continues to star in the NFL.

Peppers was tagged by Hoke to start the season as a nickelback, but he has worked his way into the rotation at cornerback by impressing defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

"He’s played tremendously fast, he’s played with great confidence,” said Mattison. “He’s a very confident young man. Every practice he comes out with great energy. Everything we’ve done at practice, he’s been what we thought he would be.”

Hoke has repeated the “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” mantra several times during camp when talking about the progress of his younger players.

Peppers is a prime example of a freshman and sophomore class that “have a little bit more of an edge,” according to Hoke.

Peppers has been waiting for this moment since he committed to Michigan.

According to his coaches and teammates, he’s ready.

On Saturday, we'll get to see what everyone has been raving about.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.

Follow @PSCallihan.

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Nebraska Football: What to Expect from Huskers in 2014

The Huskers enter the 2014 season ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll. That's not bad, but it doesn't tell fans much. As Bo Pelini prepares for his seventh season at the helm of Nebraska football, fans want to know what to expect.

So, what will Pelini and his team accomplish in 2014? Let's take a look at the top expectations fans can count on and look for during the new season.


Ameer Abdullah will Break 1,000 Yards (Again)

If there is one thing Husker fans can count on in 2014, it's that I-Back Ameer Abdullah will surpass 1,000 yards this season. If he does so, the senior will be the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher in school history.

Abdullah made it clear that he's about more than just the accolades. That doesn't mean he won't obtain those accomplishments, though.

The depth at the wide receiver position will likely have Abdullah's carries lower that in the past. However, an improved offensive line should still increase his production.

Needless to say, expect at least 1,000 yards from Abdullah in 2014. Don't be surprised if he smokes that number, though.


Improvement on Turnovers

It's no secret that turnovers have been an issue for the Huskers under Pelini. In fact, Hail Varsity's Brandon Vogel took a look at the issue in both 2012 and 2013.

During the 2014 offseason, turnovers were a focus. As Grant Muessel of Hail Varsity reported, John Papuchis is aware of just how important it is to fix the turnover problem:

One of the things that you hear a lot about our football program is our turnover margin, we’ve got to get better at it. Well, half of that is on us…getting takeaways is half of the battle in terms of the turnover margin, and we gotta hold up our end of the bargain. In some of the games where we may have had some turnovers and people point at that, we didn’t have very many takeaways either, so there’s a lot to be said for a defense equaling things out, so that’s something we’ve been stressing and harping on.

The time and attention during fall camp and the offseason should help. Plus, quarterback Tommy Armstrong now has some experience under his belt that should help potential turnovers.

While he had eight interceptions in 2013, per Huskers.com, Armstrong knows what he needs to do. He talked extensively about his role on the team during Nebraska's annual fan day.

Pelini also talked about the need to show improvement in this area during Friday's Big Red Breakfast.

What should fans expect? The easy answer is less turnovers. That's a simple expectation to have, but it's a major factor in keeping Nebraska from a Big Ten Championship title.


10 Wins or Bust

Pelini's first six seasons with Nebraska have had at least nine wins. That also means four losses. That's not bad, but it's not what fans want.

So, will 2014 be different? As CBSSports.com put it, "Aside from a quarterback who needs some seasoning (Tommy Armstrong), the Huskers have the goods to take the East (weaker of the two reconfigured divisions). Bo Pelini has loosened up to the point that a 10-win season - finally! - seems likely."

The 2014 season just feels like one where Pelini will finally break the nine-win trend. However, that could always mean it goes the other way, which would be a bust.

Fans can expect either a season that finally puts an end to the annual four losses or a season that falls apart at the seams. It just doesn't seem likely that the middle-of-the-road season (or nine wins) is on the agenda.

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Ole Miss Unleashes the Hit Stick on Boise State, Levels Every WR in Sight

Boise State received a violent gut check Thursday night.

The Broncos came into their season opener at the Georgia Dome looking for an upset. Instead they found Ole Miss lying in wait with a boom stick, fully prepared to dish out a painful and unceremonious welcome to the South.

Bystanders watched as the Rebels defense—a project long in the works—unloaded pound after pound of hurt on Boise State receivers.

Every time a Bronco caught the ball, a crimson blur snapped his body backward.

Vine user @sp0rts brings us footage of the carnage laid down by Ole Miss defensive back Cody Prewitt (No. 25), linebacker Keith Lewis (No. 24) and DB Tony Conner (No. 12).

They are terrifying men. Remember their names.

While it made for excellent television, Ole Miss' "destroy first, count the bodies later" defense came at a price.

An above-the-shoulders hit by Serderius Bryant on Boise State quarterback Grant Hedrick in the first quarter ended in ejection for the Ole Miss linebacker.

Officials flagged Bryant for targeting and sent him to the locker room to decompress. The linebacker maintains that he scarcely touched Hedrick.

"I barely even hit him, to tell you the truth," Brant told Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel. "If I had hit him hard, then I think it [would have been] worthy of a flag, but I barely hit him."

Here's a GIF of the hit, courtesy Nick Bromberg of Yahoo Sports. You be the judge:

In any case, this is not your typical Ole Miss defense.

This is an entirely different monster, and if Thursday night was any indication, more than one opposing receiver will leave Vaught-Hemingway Stadium icing his kidneys this season.


Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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Meet QB Jarrett Guarantano, the Best First-Year Starter in High School Football

Years before he took over as a full-time high school starter, Jarrett Guarantano began receiving scholarship offers. The New Jersey quarterback now holds nearly 30 of them despite throwing just three varsity touchdowns.

Guarantano, a junior at Bergen Catholic High School, is among the most coveted class-of-2016 prospects and has a chance to match the hype this season as he assumes primary duties behind center. The 6'4", 200-pound passer began to see significant playing time during the final stretch of his sophomore campaign, closing out a frustrating two-win season with four starts.

He begins the fall on a mission to help a proud program rebound by meeting high individual expectations.

"This year is big for Bergen Catholic and for me," Guarantano said. "We both have a lot to prove."


Sky-High Potential

Guarantano finished the fall by throwing for a career-high 151 yards against Don Bosco Prep, per MaxPreps. His 449 total passing yards provided a small sample size of what he can do, though senior quarterback Colin McGovern (993 yards, six touchdown passes in 2013) received the bulk of snaps as starter.

Now the undisputed offensive leader, Guarantano has a chance to consistently show off skills that have colleges clamoring. He described those attributes during a self-assessment.

“I’m more of a pro-style quarterback who operates better under center then a guy who wants to take off running all the time," Guarantano said. "I can read coverage, go through my progressions and get the ball out in a hurry. But I can also use my feet when I need to. I’m a good enough athlete to get around the corner.”

He flashes a lively arm, above-average mobility and displayed improved passing mechanics during Nike's April football camp at the New York Jets' facilities. Those abilities have many anticipating a bounce-back season for his squad.

Expectations continue to mount as he finally takes the keys to Bergen Catholic's offensive attack. Early returns are impressive, including a 395-yard, four-touchdown passing performance in a scrimmage last Thursday, per JJ Conrad of NorthJersey.com.

"It's all about making improvements to get where you want to be," Guarantano said. "Proving yourself is important."


Focusing on His Finalists

Collegiate coaching staffs across the country are already believers. His offer list includes Penn State, Louisville, UCLA, Michigan State and Tennessee, along with several other Power 5 conference members.

Guarantano, the son of Rutgers Hall of Fame wide receiver James Guarantano, landed his first verbal offer from the Scarlet Knights as a rising freshman. Interest quickly spread beyond the state borders.

His recruitment became so regionally diverse that none of his four "finalists" share a conference.

He identifies Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson and Alabama as teams still under consideration. The choice to narrow his focus to just a few teams sends the message that Guarantano plans an early commitment.

"Cutting my list down to four teams gave everyone an opportunity to see that I’m really looking to reach a decision rather than wait a long time and have this process go into next season," he said.

Guarantano, rated sixth nationally among 2016 pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, is targeting late winter as the time frame to end his recruitment. There's plenty to consider before then.

"There's a lot to think about during the recruiting process," he said. "It's important to collect as much information as you can."

Guarantano has already been diligent in that regard, visiting three of his four finalists. Oklahoma is the one exception, though he can cross them off his list in September.



He plans to attend the team's Sept. 13 matchup against Tennessee. It's a big weekend for the Sooners, who will also welcome 5-star Florida quarterback prospect Torrance Gibson to campus.

Guarantano views the program as a proven bridge between high school and professional football.

"Oklahoma always seems to produce NFL quarterbacks because of the way they use and prepare players at the position," he said. "My main goal after college is to play in the league, so Oklahoma stands out. I’m excited to get out there for a visit and see how they get their quarterbacks ready for games."


Ohio State

Guarantano already has a solid understanding of the process at Ohio State, where Urban Meyer made a strong impression on him during camp and throughout his recruitment.

“I’d have to say my closest relationship is with Coach Meyer," he said.

The two-time national champion has produced multiple first-round picks at the position and routinely puts quarterbacks in Heisman Trophy contention. Guarantano gained a strong indication of how the Buckeyes view him when Meyer compared elements of his game to two star quarterbacks he's coached.

"He made it clear to me that I’m more like Alex Smith with my passing abilities, but he thinks I’d also be able to run the read-option offense like Braxton Miller does," Guarantano said. "Ohio State likes that I can do both."

Guarantano admires the way Miller competes and is compelled by the offense partially because of his success in Columbus. He was saddened to hear the Buckeyes leader will miss this season.

“It’s just awful what happened to Braxton, especially right before his senior year," he said. "He could have been a Heisman Trophy candidate and helped get Ohio State to the national title game. He’s definitely one of the country’s best players.”



Guarantano weighed in on another hot topic in preseason college football conversations: Alabama's quarterback battle. Nick Saban has yet to officially announce whether the Crimson Tide will roll with Jake Coker or Blake Simms.

“I think Coker will wind up as the starter," he said. "Alabama has handled the situation very well in my opinion. They’re letting things play out and giving both guys a chance to earn the job."

Whoever takes over the spot is in good hands with Lane Kiffin calling plays, according to Guarantano. The first-year offensive coordinator is a big part of the reason he views Tuscaloosa as a possible landing spot.

“USC was a team I always grew up watching because I loved their offense and what they did with quarterbacks," Guarantano said. "With Coach Kiffin in Alabama, I think it’s going to be a big deal, especially with all the talent they bring in down there.”



He views Clemson as another program currently stockpiling playmakers on offense. The promise of a strong supporting cast with the Tigers presents an alluring opportunity.

“The amount of athletes they're getting at Clemson is pretty crazy," Guarantano said. "That definitely matters as a quarterback because you want to play with talented guys who can make big plays. The Clemson coaching staff is one-of-a-kind, and they're getting the job done."


Possibilities Loom Large

Though Guarantano is set on four finalists moving forward, he's leaving the door open for a pair of programs that could soon extend offers.

"Stanford and Notre Dame stand out," he said. "I’ve had a lot of contact with them lately, and I’d really like to get offers from both programs. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to earn those this season."

He hopes to visit Palo Alto sometime soon. Stanford recently offered fellow New Jersey quarterback Brandon Wimbush, a 2015 Penn State commit whose team faces Guarantano and Bergen Catholic on Sept. 11.

If the Cardinal decide to reach back into the Garden State for a 2016 passer, interest would be mutual.

“Stanford is one of the best schools to have an opportunity to attend because of their academic history," Guarantano said. "Their football team isn’t too shabby either. They’ve had a lot of success lately, and there’s a lot to like about the offense.”

The Fighting Irish are on his radar particularly because he likes the positional outlook. Head coach Brian Kelly may not pick up a passer in the 2015 class, creating an obvious need for 2016 recruiting efforts.

“Notre Dame’s depth chart at quarterback looks like I could have an opportunity to compete early," he said. "That’s important to me, and I think there’s some potential there."

Potential is the key word when breaking down Guarantano's game. We still aren't exactly sure what to expect from the coveted signal-caller this season due to limited reps at the varsity level.

Based on strides he made late last season and improvements that have followed during camp appearances and preseason scrimmage, Guarantano appears to be on the verge of validating early praise and earning his spot among America's elite quarterback prospects.

"I'm ready for the challenge, and I know my team is too," he said. "It's an opportunity I've been waiting for."


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

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Alabama Brewery Finds a Way to Work Lane Kiffin into 'The Birth of Venus'

Lane Kiffin has yet to be on the sidelines for an Alabama game, but one brewery has taken the liberty of turning the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator into a work of art.

The former Oakland Raiders head coach is known for being a good offensive mind, so someone decided to work him into Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. The new work of art is titled The Birth of Offense.

Given that Kiffin has yet to make an appearance with Alabama, it's a bold move to create a mural of the offensive coordinator. This shows just how much people in Alabama love their football.


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College Football Rankings 2014: Updated Outlook Before Week 1 Saturday Games

Thursday’s packed schedule of college football games has created a genuine buzz among fans of the sport, and the start of the 2014 season has put the focus on the rankings as Saturday’s slate of games approaches.

With No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama and 19 other ranked teams in action on the first Saturday of the regular season, college football fans must find a comfortable chair, kick their feet up and enjoy a schedule full of action.

Here are the full Amway Coaches and the Associated Press Top-25 polls and a preview of Saturday’s most intriguing matchup.



Saturday’s Must-Watch Game: Penn State vs. UCF

One of the most intriguing games of the Week 1 schedule is the battle between Penn State and UCF Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET in Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland. You read that correctly—these two teams will go to battle overseas to start the regular season.

The Nittany Lions are entering a new era under head coach James Franklin. The 42-year-old coach spent the last three seasons as the leader of the Vanderbilt Commodores and took the Penn State job during the offseason.

Franklin will be leaning heavily on sophomore starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg to start the year fast, but there are plenty of weapons on the offensive unit. With wide receivers like Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton, plus a tough running back like Bill Belton, the Nittany Lions will be dangerous on offense.

While much of the focus for fans will be on the revamped Penn State offense, the defense has made strides this offseason as well. With several fifth-year seniors returning for one last shot at glory, the Nittany Lions could be a major contender if the chemistry is there from Day 1.

Using a strong defensive line to cause havoc in the rushing and passing attacks, the program’s vaunted linebacker group led by Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell and a secondary that includes hard-hitting players like cornerback Jordan Lucas and safety Adrian Amos, Penn State should be able to pull out the victory on Saturday.

UCF will not go down without a fight, though.

The Knights will begin the season with redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo as the starting quarterback, so Penn State should be expecting a simplified offense for a player who has never taken a snap in college football before.

Look for the team to lean heavily on running backs William Stanback and Dontravious Wilson as DiNovo gets acclimated to the offensive system. A strong group of receivers, which includes Rannell Hall, J.J. Worton and tight end Justin Tukes, will help make the transition easier, but expect the Nittany Lions to bring pressure on the inexperienced QB early and often.

There will be no home-field advantage across the Atlantic Ocean, so the stage has been set for the best overall team to walk away victorious. While the Knights were the better team last season, the lack of Blake Bortles will doom UCF on Saturday morning.

Penn State should roll to a decisive victory.

Predicted Winner: Penn State 40, UCF 20


*Stats via CFBStats.com.

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6 Teams Struggling on the 2015 College Football Recruiting Trail

Recruiting is the lifeblood of every college football program, and success on the recruiting trail can often be an indicator of whether a team is heading in the right direction.

With national signing day a little more than six months away, a few marquee programs have work to do in order to put together a strong class for the 2015 cycle. 

A few schools that made coaching changes highlight the list of schools who fit this category, while other powers are just off to a slow start.

Which notable schools are in danger of landing a 2015 class that ranks below their usual standards?

Begin Slideshow

Florida State Football: Rashad Greene Could Be 'Noles Best WR of All-Time

If there's one thing missing from Rashad Greene's game, it's the flash. 

The Florida State senior will showcase his speed and soft hands. He's a smooth route-runner but also a tenacious blocker.

What's lacking is the flash. The prima donna mentality that is almost engrained in the DNA of an elite receiver is sorely lacking.

Greene has built quite the resume through quiet consistency. He's led FSU in receptions three straight seasons and could become the first Seminole to do that in four consecutive years.

He is fourth on FSU's all-time list for career receptions (171), sixth in career receiving yards (2,465) and seventh in career receiving touchdowns (22).

Greene, not surprisingly, isn't concerned with the fact that he's within striking distance of placing his name atop FSU's lists.

"It's definitely not something that I set up as an individual goal," Greene said. "It's just a part of the work that I put in, and that's the result. That's a great accomplishment, but at the same time I don't think it will hit me until I am done playing football."

Greene only needs 10 touchdowns to pass Peter Warrick for the all-time lead. That's more than Greene has ever had in a single season at FSU, but it's possible if he stays healthy, is productive and FSU could play a 15-game season if they reach the national title game.

Greene was an All-ACC pick in 2013, but his name was left off the major All-American teams despite grabbing 76 receptions (the second highest in a single season in school history) for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. The AP team, for example, selected a first, second and third team but did not mention Greene.

Part of that is Greene's consistency was often overlooked because he was part of a trio of talented receivers last year with Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, both of whom are now in the NFL.

But ESPN analyst Desmond Howard, a Heisman Trophy winner and receiver at Michigan in the 1990s, loves Greene. Howard argues that there simply weren't enough receptions to go around between the trio—as well as standout tight end Nick O'Leary.

Still, Greene has been the primary target, first for quarterback EJ Manuel in 2011 and '12 and then for Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston last season. Greene missed a few games as a freshman with an ankle injury yet still led FSU in receptions with 38. He had 58 catches in 2012 before a breakout junior season.

"It's very challenging to do that year after year after year," Howard said. "That speaks volumes to me. After one season, if you're the leading receiver on a team, coming into the next season everybody's defensive scouting report is going to be, 'We have to take this kid away. He was the leading receiver a year ago, so we have to give him extra attention.'

"For him to be able to do that for three seasons is nothing short of remarkable."

His production year after year has put him in select company. The easiest of the records to break would be career receptions. Greene is just 42 away from Ron Sellers, and that's a number that he could reach in early November (he's averaged 4.6 receptions per game in his career but hit 5.4 catches per game in 2013).

Greene was a star prospect coming out of Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas Aquinas in 2011. As a senior he had 43 receptions for 943 yards (21.9 yards per catch) with 13 touchdowns.

Yet Greene was often overlooked by fans who were more enamored with another receiver from the 2011 class: Benjamin. He was taller (6'5") and bigger (260 pounds) and physically looked like an impossible matchup for college corners.

But Benjamin turned out to be a project, a receiver who needed to redshirt and then more time to refine his skills. Greene, however, arrived polished and ready to contribute.

"In camp his freshman year, I realized that this kid was going to have a chance to be a good football player," said FSU receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey, who was a Seminoles wideout and played for seven seasons in the NFL in the 1990s. "I knew he had a chance to be special if he worked hard."

Greene did just that. He caught a touchdown pass in his first five games as a freshman and capped 2011 with 99 receiving yards and a 15-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown in a bowl win over Notre Dame.

In 2012, he became the first Seminole since Peter Warrick in 1999 to score receiving, rushing and return touchdowns in the same season. Greene contributed in every game as FSU won an ACC title, but it may not have happened had he not taken a short catch from Manuel and sprinted 39 yards in the final minute to defeat Virginia Tech on the road in November.

Last year, he had five 100-yard games and sparked FSU's biggest wins en route to a title. In an October top-five showdown at Clemson, Greene caught eight passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He added a season-high nine receptions for 147 yards against Auburn in the national title game, including a 49-yard catch-and-run down to the Tigers' 23 with 1:05 left. In a game full of big plays, that was right up there—and it set up Winston's game-sealing touchdown toss to Benjamin in the final seconds.

He has at least three receptions in 19 straight games.

"Consistency," Dawsey said. "Showing up in the big games. Making plays."

Greene contemplated (briefly) leaving for the NFL after his junior season. He knew Shaw was a senior and would be gone. Benjamin was a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore and was weighing his options.

But just days after the win over Auburn, Greene had made up his mind to stay.

"I considered it at one point, but then I realized that I could never get this time back," Greene said. "All of the advice that I got from people (was) it's no rush. You can never return to college and have that experience at any point in your life but you can always go to the NFL. I wanted to get my degree, that's something that my father wanted me to achieve."

Try picturing an FSU receiving corps in 2014 without Shaw, Benjamin and Greene. His decision to return was huge for Winston and the offense.

"It's real big," Winston said. "He's a true brother to me. When adversity hit our team, we got that brotherhood together. I love him."

Greene felt there was more to accomplish. A degree. Another national title. But Greene also wanted to take FSU's young wide receivers under his wing. He wanted to mentor sophomores like Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones as well as freshmen Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane and Ja'Vonn Harrison.

Greene is extremely soft spoken. But he is a leader (often by example) and loves to teach.

"(I) just try to be a leader to those younger guys because I knew we were restocking at receiver," Greene said. "Show them the way so that they could always have that trait to pass it on and pass it on."

And thus Greene has a chance to pass all of the FSU receiving greats. Many of the numbers Greene is chasing belong to Ron Sellers, an FSU star in the 1960s. Sellers is atop FSU's career charts in receptions (212) and receiving yards (3,598). Greene is pursuing Warrick, who had 31 TD receptions from 1996-99.

"I think he's outstanding," Sellers said of Greene. "One of the greatest receivers of all time at Florida State."

Perhaps, by the end of the season, the greatest.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats and records courtesy of FSU media guides. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Florida State Football: Confidence in Coordinator, Player Talent Key for Defense

There’s a good reason why Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher isn’t worried about opening the season Saturday night with a new defensive coordinator for the third time in as many seasons. 

Actually, there are two good reasons:


1. Fisher is confident in Kelly

Fisher is undoubtedly comfortable with Charles Kelly, whom he promoted to Seminoles defensive boss earlier this year following the surprise defection of coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to the same position at the University of Georgia. Kelly was promoted to his current post after coaching the ‘Noles linebackers for one season.

“The guy is hired to do a job and he knows how to do it,” Fisher said this week. “I’m very comfortable with what he’s done. I know who he is and what he’s done. We’ve got a great staff. Charles has been in a lot of battles and situations throughout his career and I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Despite the change in coordinators, the Seminoles’ overall defensive scheme hasn’t changed.

With Pruitt in charge, FSU was much more aggressive defensively than when Mark Stoops was calling the plays. Pruitt may have replaced Stoops when the latter was hired to coach Kentucky, but it was Fisher’s decision to emulate Nick Saban's Alabama formula for defensive success and transform into a more multiple and attacking style of scheme—a choice that paid off last year when the Seminoles proved to be one of the nation’s premier defensive teams.

With Kelly, that mindset hasn’t changed; only the person calling the plays.

"We were a very tight-knit group last year, and I feel we're the same way this year," Kelly said at FSU’s media day earlier this month. "When you have the camaraderie or whatever it is that you manage and you're on the same page, when you hear ideas from other people ... just the trust factor and the more you're together, that's important."

Helping make the transition from coordinator to coordinator is made all the more easier by the quality of the coaching staff as a whole. Kelly has his own 20-year career of experiences to draw upon as he embarks on this new chapter, but having longtime coaching veterans like defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins, linebackers coach Bill Miller and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri collectively working together makes for an ideal ingredient in the recipe for success.

Oh, and the quality of players doesn’t hurt either...


2. Fisher’s defense is loaded with talent

Terrence Brooks, Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith are all now in the NFL, but FSU has the chance to be even better defensively than it was a season ago when the Seminoles faced a staggering 963 total offensive plays but allowed just 12.1 points per game.

There are some key players missing from that excellent effort, yes, but Florida State still returns a group of players who combined to register 521 total tackles in 2013. Despite not having a single senior starter on defense, the Seminoles have more than enough talent and experience returning in 2014 to pose problems for opposing offenses.

Fisher’s defensive secondary returns three starters (four if you count the healthy return of Tyler Hunter) in Jalen Ramsey, P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, who contributed to the country’s best pass defense a season ago. Williams and Darby are widely considered to be the best cornerback tandem in the nation, and Ramsey could be on the verge of solidifying himself as a college football superstar.

Terrance Smith is an underrated starter with a lot of experience at the linebacker spot, and Fisher’s defense also features Mario Edwards Jr., who at 300 pounds has the ability to play effectively inside or outside on the defensive line. DeMarcus Walker, Reggie Northrup, E.J. Levenberry, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Chris Casher, Nate Andrews and several more defenders are each expected to step up and play at a sustained high level as well. 

“We have a lot of talented guys,” Goldman said. “Everybody knows what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. We definitely want to be better this year [than last year].”

Brandon Mellor is a Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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Ohio State Football: Realistic Expectations for JT Barrett in His Buckeyes Debut

Discussing what he expects to see from J.T. Barrett in the first start of his college career, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman used a mixed metaphor to explain the responsibilities of the quarterback in the Buckeyes' spread offense.

"We don’t do a whole lot on offense, despite what some think we may or may not do,” Herman said. “We don’t ask the quarterback to be a rocket surgeon by any stretch of the imagination."

But while Barrett won't be playing the role of "rocket surgeon" when Ohio State takes the field for the Buckeyes' season opener against Navy on Saturday, the redshirt freshman won't be without responsibility. No matter how much the OSU coaching staff downplays Barrett's role, the fact remains that he's the player tasked with replacing two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller, who was sidelined for the season a week ago with a torn labrum.

And while it's far-fetched to think that Barrett could replace the 263.5 total yards per game that Miller averaged a season ago right away, there's no denying that a large burden of the Ohio State offense has been placed on the Wichita Falls, Texas, native's shoulders. 

So how does Herman plan on reconciling Barrett's obvious inexperience with his undeniable responsibility? It starts with a simple game plan that won't require a rocket surgeon to employ.

"You want to make sure that you call plays that maybe you guys might say are conservative, but yet don't have all the ifs, this's and thats attached to them," Herman told reporters. "We kind of live in that world anyways, especially with our tempo."

Keeping the X's and O's simple is one thing, but keeping Barrett's nerves intact? There's no accounting for that.

Just a month ago, Barrett was little more than the Buckeyes' third-string quarterback, a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option at football's most important position. Now? That emergency has happened, and the redshirt freshman finds himself preparing for the first start of his college career—and on the road nonetheless.

To a certain degree, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit knows exactly what Barrett is experiencing. An Ohio State quarterback from 1989-92, Herbstreit knows what it's like to be preparing for one's first start with the scarlet and gray—and all of the feelings that come along with it.

But asked by B/R what Barrett needs for a successful week, Herbstreit didn't add pressure to the second-year signal-caller. Rather, the College GameDay analyst said that this is where Herman and OSU coach Urban Meyer will earn their money as they get Barrett prepped for every possible predicament.

"If you’re worried about, ‘I’ve never seen this coverage last week in practice, I didn’t see this front with this coverage,’ if you get into that, that’s a slippery slope," Herbstreit said. "So, I think it’s really up to Urban and Tom Herman to put these guys in as many difficult situations as they can. If they do a good job of that, then you can just go out and kind of react to the game."

And if Barrett can do that, then surely Herman will feel much more secure with such an inexperienced player directing his offense. Right?


Not because Herman isn't confident in Barrett's ability—he's actually had nothing but praise for the former 4-star prospect this past week—but rather because there are certain situations Herman himself is rarely comfortable in. Asked if he's ready to see Barrett face his first third-down conversion attempt, the OSU offensive coordinator admitted he's not, but that would still be the case if it were Miller taking snaps for the Buckeyes.

"I haven't felt OK in 12 years in that scenario," Herman said with a smile. "It's no different than any other time."

So with so much unknown about both Barrett and the OSU offense heading into his first start, what are realistic expectations for both the Buckeyes and their new quarterback on Saturday? It's tough to tell. But Herman certainly likes what he has in his new starter, rocket surgeon or not.

"He's a grown man. He's a grown dude. And I know the enormity of the moment may or may not hit him at some point," Herman said. "I know there's a lot of schools that would take our scenario over what they got."


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Braxton Miller Loss May Not Sink Buckeyes' Title Hopes

To hear most pundits, Ohio State's season is over before it begins.   

The Final Four?

Forget about it.

A conference crown?


A top-10 ranking?

If they're lucky.   

That's largely been the chatter following the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by starting quarterback Braxton Miller last week.

I'm not buying the premise.

The boys in Las Vegas dropped the odds of Ohio State winning the national championship from 12-1 to 50-1.

I'll take those odds.  Apparently, lots of people did as well since the Buckeyes have now been slotted at a more reasonable 20-1.

There is little doubt that last week was a tough day for many football fans in Columbus.

"A devastating blow," said Yahoo Sports' highly respected columnist Pat Forde. A similar sentiment was expressed by former Ohio State QB and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who picked OSU to win the national championship, but then backed off after the injury to Miller.

It's an awfully long limb to go out on to predict a national championship for the Buckeyes with unproven redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett (Yes, I know what Jameis Winston was.) at the helm, but the landscape is different this season.

With a four-team playoff, the Buckeyes do not need to climb to No. 1 or No. 2 to be in the mix.

Even so, it's not difficult to see that by Halloween, the Buckeyes could be 7-0 and sitting very comfortable in the No. 5 slot they occupied in the AP pre-season rankings before Miller's injury.

Look at the OSU schedule. Navy (in Baltimore) Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati (in Columbus) at Maryland, Rutgers (in Columbus), at Penn State. See any monsters?

And ponder this: When was the last time anyUrban Meyer-coached team didn't pay attention, especially in the first game of the season. That's a rhetorical question.

Despite the loss of Miller, the Buckeyes still have as much talent as any team in the Big Ten, thanks to three straight Rivals top-five recruiting classes, a revamped defense led by returning linebacker Joshua Perry and defensive end Noah Spence and a coach with two national titles to his credit.

Oh, they might struggle a bit as they get used to an offense being run (for now) by the untested Barrett. And there might be some shaky moments against Navy at the start, but this upset is not going to happen on Saturday, even with the Midshipmen riding a season-ending five-game winning streak and the Buckeyes trying to erase the memory of a loss in the Big Ten title game and the Orange bowl.

After what could be a somewhat ugly win, Ohio State is likely to get better each week as the experience factor kicks in. If they are undefeated at Halloween, the Buckeyes will be very much in contention to be playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 and in Dallas two weeks later.

The secret lies in Urban Meyer's track record with quarterbacks.

At Utah, he inherited a young QB named Alex Smith, who had thrown only four career passes when Meyer arrived. With Meyer running the show, Smith piled up 5,200 passing yards and 47 touchdowns, while only throwing seven interceptions.

At Florida, Meyer helped sign nine QBs in six seasons with the Gators, including Tim Tebow, who would win a Heisman and is in the discussion as one of the greatest college quarterbacks in history.

Meyer won a national championship with Tebow at QB. He also won at national championship with Chris Leak as the Gators' QB.

In short, where Meyer goes, quarterbacks prosper.

At his first weekly press conference this week, Meyer talked about the future—Barrett—rather than the past (for now) Miller.

"[Barrett]'s a calm guy," said Meyer. "He's not someone you have to watch to see their demeanor because it's the same as it was two weeks ago. We all know what's coming down the barrel at him but he's handled it all very well.''

So has Meyer, many times before. For three years, he has upgraded the talent at Ohio State. With or without Miller, Ohio State will be a factor in the national championship derby.

Tale of two programs

It was the best of times and the worst of times for two SEC programs in their season-opener.

A year ago, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney eliminated himself as a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy with a lackluster performance in the Gamecocks' 27-10 pre-Labor Day win over North Carolina.

Fast forward to Thursday night in Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks, boosted by three consecutive 11-win seasons, kicked off the 2014 season against a Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M team as 10.5-point favorites.

They came into the game ranked ninth (in the AP poll) with visions of an SEC title dancing in their heads. The Aggies were ranked 21st.

Final score: Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28.

Say goodbye to the Gamecocks as national championship contenders. The Gamecocks could well win the rest of their games, but the memory of this beating—and it was very much that—will stick. Oh, they could still make the Final Four with 11 wins during the regular season and a victory in the SEC title game, but there were few indications defensively against A&M that the Gamecocks were capable of making such a run.

A year ago, the Gamecocks gave up more than 31 points only once all season—a 41-30 loss to Georgia. On Thursday night, they allowed 31 by the end of the first half.

Say hello to the Aggies as a dark horse contender in the same way Auburn emerged a year ago when the Tigers went from unranked to SEC champion, before barely losing to FSU in the BCS title game.

Texas A&M redshirt sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill made his debut as Johnny Football's replacement and immediately replaced him in the Aggies record book for most passing yards in a game (511) as he connected on 44 of 60 attempts, including three touchdowns.

The Aggies likely will see a boost in their rankings over the next four games before hitting the road at Mississippi State and beginning a three-game stretch that includes Ole Miss and Alabama. They also have to deal with Auburn and LSU in November.

For all the Aggies' win could mean for both schools, the immediate lesson is clear regarding the SEC, which had a record eight teams ranked in the AP pre-season top 25. When voters cast their ballots, they should merely put in SEC-1 or SEC-5 or SEC-8 instead of a school name because every team in this conference seems interchangeable.

And in the wild SEC, anything seems possible.

Milestone victory

In case you missed it, Georgia State opened its season Wednesday night with a 38-37 win over transitional FCS opponent Abilene Christian.

What's the big deal? The win snapped a 16-game losing streak and was Georgia State's first victory ever at the FBS level. The Panthers were 0-12 in their transitional season to the FBS level.

And in the "whatever happened to" department, former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator and former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski started his second season as the Georgia State offensive coordinator in fine fashion, as the Panthers piled up 560 yards in total offense.

"Watch Out" game for FSU?

Recent history suggests the defending national champions had better be careful in their season-opener against Oklahoma State on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.

If you don't believe me, here's what Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said in his media conference call this week.

"We have to play a great Oklahoma State team. Mike Gundy is a great football coach. He's been there for nine years and has done a great job. He's won 41 games the last four years. He had a 10-win season last year. A couple of years ago he was a game away from playing for it all. They have great players."

That's four "greats," which is a lot this early in the season, even for Fisher.

Let's look at reality. The Vegas odds list No.1-ranked FSU as an 18-point favorite. The OSU defense only returns four starters from last season to deal with Heisman Trophy-winning QB Jameis Winston and his friends.

Still, this will not be a Cupcake U game for FSU; that comes next week against The Citadel. But it doesn't look like all that much heavy lifting for the Seminoles. The game also will give them a chance to get used to the surroundings in the stadium where the national championship will be held in January.

Of course, if Florida State doesn't win, a return visit to Texas will be much more problematic.


Easing into the season?

If you are Clemson Tigers fan, take a long look at that No. 16 AP pre-season ranking and cherish it. The team that won 32 games over the past three seasons is gone. Also missing are the starting quarterback, running back and wide receivers. And those weren't just any starting QB or WR, but the heart of the Tigers offense the past few years in Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd set a career ACC record for touchdown passes; Watkins was a first-round pick (No. 4) of the Buffalo Bills.

The new Tigers won't have the luxury of easing into the season. After Saturday's opening game at No. 12 Georgia, a trip to Tallahassee to play No. 1 FSU awaits two weeks later.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who is rebuilding with lots of talent—their top three recruits are Rivals five-star QB Deshaun Watson and four-star wide receivers Artavis Scott and Trevion Thompson—took an optimistic view of a tough schedule.

"You play Georgia every year, you play South Carolina every year and you play your conference schedule," Swinney said in the ACC teleconference this week. "Hey, you can get through that; nobody is going to say you don't play anybody."


Game of the Weak

Western Michigan at Purdue—Bet you missed this one, didn't you? No it's not South Carolina vs. Texas A&M, nor is it Miami-Louisville. But here's the fun part. Purdue anchored the Big Ten—and we do mean anchor—last season with a 1-11 record. Western Michigan co-anchored the MAC—which had its share of bottom feeders with Miami of Ohio (0-12), UMass (1-11) and Eastern Michigan (2-10)—last season with a matching 1-11 mark.

For entertainment purposes only, Purdue is an 11-point favorite.

Pick: Purdue 35, Western Michigan 31.


You've got to be kidding

1. Success in college football is based on a lot of things, including what is known as the "arms" race—facilities and amenities. But as our buddy Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Timespointed out this week, Oregon—backed up by Phil Knight's money—is the runaway leader.

Consider some of the features of the $68-million, 145,000 square foot Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, which go above and beyond normal

• Barber shop

• German-made lockers, which cost $26,000 each

• A locker room ventilation system that purifies the air of all smells associated with a football locker room.

• Wallpaper made of real football pigskin.

A barbershop? Wonder why the traditional red and white pole is not green and yellow

2. USC wide receiver Josh Shaw leaps from a second-floor balcony, injures both of his ankles as he saves his seven-year old nephew who cannot swim and has fallen into a swimming pool.

Wow. Great story, right? Only problem is it was just that: A story that Shaw made up. 

Here's a more embarrassing part for USC. The "story'' was not generated by any news outlet. It came from USC's own website, which obviously didn't do much of a vetting process.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian has suspended Shaw from all team activities as the team, and police, investigate what really happened.

3. Tennessee is recruiting a defensive tackle named Shy Tuttle and photoshopped a cover of Rolling Stone with a picture of Tuttle and pop star Beyoncé walking together.

4. Tulane opened its season on Thursday night against Tulsa with a freshman long snapper named Aaron Golub on the depth chart who is…legally blind. Golub was born with no vision in his right eye and limited vision in his left eye.


Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, the Dallas Morning News and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.

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Will Georgia's RB Todd Gurley Be Enough to Defeat Clemson?

The Georgia Bulldogs take on the Clemson Tigers in the first week of the 2014 season. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses which factors will determine the outcome of this big-time matchup.

Who do you think will win? Watch the video and let us know. 

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Florida Chalk Talk: Why Kurt Roper's New Offense Will Save Will Muschamp's Job

The Florida Gators take on the Idaho Vandals in the first week of the 2014 season. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses Kurt Roper's new offense and its personnel. Will Florida be able to bounce back from the 2013 season?

Watch the video and let us know.

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The Legend of Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette is considered one of the most polished recruits in the last decade. Now an LSU freshman, Fournette is looking to show the world what he has to offer.

How well do you think this freshman will do this year?

Watch the video and see how the legend of Leonard Fournette developed. 

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5 Bold Predictions for LSU's 2014 Season

LSU head coach Les Miles has been remarkable.

Miles has won 95 games in nine seasons, which is eight more than any other SEC program in that span. LSU has gone to a bowl game and finished in the AP Top 25 in each of those years as well. 

This season could be Miles' toughest. LSU enters 2014 with much uncertainty, especially on offense. But a talented class of freshmen could lead the Tigers back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

Here are five bold predictions for the Tigers this season. 


LSU Wins 10 Games

LSU will finish 2014 with a final record of 10-3, making it five straight years the Tigers will have accumulated double-digit wins.

A win to start year No. 10 of the Miles era will not be easy. Saturday, LSU will face Wisconsin in the 2014 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff in Houston, Texas. The Tigers and Badgers were ranked No. 13th and 14th respectively in the preseason AP Top 25

LSU's SEC West slate will be brutal. Alabama and Auburn are the popular picks to top the conference, but emphatic wins from Texas A&M and Ole Miss on Thursday night showed they will be in the mix. Arkansas and Mississippi State are no pushovers either, as both teams return experienced starters on both sides of the ball. 

The Tigers have rough patches throughout their schedule, highlighted by back-to-back road contests against Auburn and Florida. Nevertheless, expect LSU to find a way to make it to 10 wins. 


Leonard Fournette Rushes for Over 1,100 Yards

LSU running back Leonard Fournette will captivate the college football world in 2014. 

Fournette is LSU's most talented running back despite never having played a college down. Seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will still get carries, mainly though to give the 5-star talent from New Orleans a breather.

Quarterback Brandon Harris and receivers Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre are other true freshmen that will get their opportunity to shine. But expect Fournette, Miles' most prized recruit ever, to lead the way. He accumulates over 1,100 yards and scores eight touchdowns. 


DeSean Smith Scores Five Touchdowns

LSU has not had a tight-end catch a touchdown pass in the past two seasons. Sophomore DeSean Smith will look to change that trend in 2014. 

Smith's 6'5'', 242-pound frame will give defenses nightmares in the red zone. He has great hands and displayed better separation skills in his route-running this spring. 

A tight end can be a young quarterback's best friend. Whether it is freshman Brandon Harris or sophomore Anthony Jennings under centre, expect them to target Smith often. 


LSU's Secondary Will Be the SEC's Best

Class will be back in session for "Defensive Back University" in 2014.

Sophomore cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson will form the best duo in the conference. White and Robinson's ability to play man coverage will open up the playbook for innovative defensive coordinator John Chavis. Backups Jalen Collins and Ed Paris will also contribute. 

Chavis must find the two safeties that work together the best. Jalen Mills, Corey Thompson, Rickey Jefferson and Ronald Martin all return with starting experience, but 5-star freshman Jamal Adams has created buzz at fall camp for his playmaking ability. 

Mills and Dwayne Thomas will be effective blitzers when Chavis' runs his 3-2-6 "Mustang" package. The Mustang was the most effective formation for the Tigers' 2011 SEC Championship Unit.

LSU's defense will lead the conference in interceptions and passing yards allowed in the SEC. 


Kwon Alexander Makes First Team All-SEC

It is time for LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander to shine. 

Alexander started last season at strongside linebacker and averaged five tackles per game. He moved to weakside this offseason to replace leading tackler Lamin Barrow.

The position switch will free up Alexander to make more plays. In the spring game, he returned an interception for a touchdown.

Alexander's athleticism allows him to play both the run and pass effectively. Chavis will use this to his advantage next season when calling plays. 


Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com, 247Sports.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me @CarterthePower  

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