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1 Thing Top 25 Recruits in Class of 2015 Must Improve on

All top-tier recruits have incredible talent. Their skill sets got them to where they are now, but each has at least one thing in his game he needs to improve upon.

Looking at the top 25 recruits in the 247Sports composite rankings, a weakness can be found in every prospect's game. A 5-star quarterback needs to improve his mobility, while a 5-star offensive tackle must get stronger.

Strength is also a concern with a 5-star defensive end, while a few cornerbacks need to work on their tackling techniques.

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Alabama Stud WR Commit Calvin Ridley Makes Sick 1-Handed Catch at The Opening

Wide receiver Calvin Ridley is making a name for himself at Nike's The Opening in Oregon. The Alabama commit has shown that he can make unbelievable catches on any given play. How many more highlight-reel grabs will we see from this stud?

Check out the video to see Ridley snag a one-handed reception with ease.

 

Rankings from 247Sports' composite ratings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: 5 Toughest Players Hurricanes Will Face in 2014

Throughout the 2014 college football season, the Miami Hurricanes will face some of the nation's toughest individual talents.

The Atlantic Coast Conference may not be an elite league overall, but Jameis Winston and a few other athletes are elite players.

A few honorable mentions are also discussed because it was not fair to exclude every second-tier opponent. The remainder of the list is organized chronologically, not necessarily by merit.

Additionally, Bleacher Report's Brian Pedersen tabbed the 50 best college football players for the 2014 season, and his rankings will be referenced when applicable.

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SPARQ National Championship 2014: Live Results, Ratings and Analysis

Ten of the nation’s most talented recruits competed in the SPARQ Rating National Championship Tuesday night. 

Kirk Merritt, the 4-star all-purpose back from Destrehan, Louisiana, came out on top.

Merritt entered the competition as the leader, registering the best cumulative score from the preliminary drills early Tuesday morning. His overall athleticism was on full display during the vertical jump, agility shuffle and power ball throw, and his impressive 40-yard dash clinched the championship over 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat.

We watched the competition and provided live analysis throughout.

 

All recruiting information per 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Make-or-Break Games for College Football's Perennial Powers in 2014

The college football season is a long one, but championships often come down to moments. Those moments add up to wins and losses, some of which weigh more heavily than others. 

For college football's blue-blood programs, the ones with their eyes fixed on a national championship, there are games that could set the tone for the rest of the year. Or, in some cases, there are games that could could put an official stamp on the direction of the season. 

In other words, they usually begin a tough stretch of the season or fall on the tail end. In any case, they're important for playoff hopes. 

Which games fall under the make-or-break category for college football's perennial programs? The answers, as always, are in the following slides.  

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College Football's Top 10 RBs and Their NFL Counterparts

A solid group of running backs return to college football in 2014—so solid, in fact, that I had trouble narrowing this list down to a top 10. At least five and as many as 10 other players could have easily cracked the ranking.

The 10 players who did make the cut, however, stood out for a number of reasons. Most have proved they can dominate over at least one full season and oftentimes two or three. The others—while maybe not as qualified on paper—have looked so dominant in a smaller sample size that it was difficult to keep them off this list.

Here is an NFL comparison for the 10 running backs I decided, based on what I have seen, would be the scariest to have to defend in 2014. They don't have to be draft-eligible prospects, necessarily, even though nine of the included players are. They just have to be players that will keep opposing defensive coordinators awake at night.

Chime in below, and let me know (a) whom else you would have included—again, there were five to 10 other players who easily could have made this list—and (b) whom you would compare them to.

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Clemson Football: Upperclassmen Who Must Prove Themselves in 2014

The Clemson Tigers' potential success in 2014 will depend on the play of two groups of players. There's the young guys on both sides of the ball who will need to step up, but there's also the veteran guys who have to prove themselves this fall.

These players are guys who will be taking on much larger roles than in previous years. The amount of success the Tigers have this season will depend on how well the veterans fill those new roles.

 

Cole Stoudt, Quarterback

We will start off with Stoudt because he is the most important player on this list. The three-year backup to Tajh Boyd, Stoudt will take on a much larger role this fall as the starter.

The senior has proven that he is capable of making plays and running the offense efficiently, but he hasn't felt the pressures that come with being the main guy.

The amount of wins the Tigers have in 2014 really depends on how well he can run the offense. With a defense that will be improved from previous years, he doesn't have to put up Boyd's numbers, but his leadership and efficiency will be important.

 

D.J. Howard, Running Back

Howard is the starter at running back going into the summer, and with his experience, it could likely stay that way, at least until the season opener against Georgia.

Howard, a senior, has played a backup role in his time at Clemson but will be asked to step up this fall. The running game will be important early on, with road games at Georgia and Florida State by Week 3. If Howard is able to get some good carries, it will take pressure off Stoudt.

 

Charone Peake, Wide Receiver

Being a big-time recruit isn't always easy to live up to, and Peake has faced pressure to break out and become the main guy at receiver.

Last fall, it appeared as if he was ready to have that breakout season, but an injury hindered his progress. With Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant off to the NFL, Clemson will look for that playmaker at wide receiver.

Adam Humphries is a player who will likely line up inside and be counted on during important downs, but either Peake or Mike Williams will become the downfield threat and big-play receiver this year.

Peake was able to escape pressure in his first few seasons with guys like Watkins stealing the spotlight, but in 2014, he will be counted on more than ever to perform well.

 

Which Offensive Lineman Will Step Up?

The offensive line is a bit of a question mark going into this season with the little amount of experience it has. Isaiah Battle, Shaq Anthony, Joe Gore and Eric Mac Lain all have the potential to step up and be consistent performers, but which guy will it be?

For the Tigers offense to be successful again in 2014, finding consistency on the offensive line will be a major factor.

 

Which Cornerback Can Provide Depth and Leadership?

Mackensie Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley appear to be the best cornerbacks on Clemson's roster, but two veteran defensive backs will be asked to step up as well.

Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins, both seniors, won't necessarily be asked to perform in a larger role if Alexander and Tankersley start, but both are important because of their experience and leadership in a secondary that is very young.

 

Ammon Lakip, Kicker

Anyone could make the argument that Lakip is the most important guy on this list and you wouldn't look at them crazy. Why? Because he's replacing Chandler Catanzaro.

Catanzaro, first in points in school history, was almost automatic in his career. He was 13-of-14 on field goals in 2013 and went 67-of-82 on field goals in his career.

Bradley Pinion is a more-than-capable place kicker as well, but there will be a fair amount of pressure on Lakip to perform well this season. Clemson fans have grown accustomed to solid field-goal kicking the last four years and don't want to see the kicking game hold this team back.

 

Tony Steward, Linebacker

For a senior who hasn't been a starter, there will be pressure on Steward to prove himself in 2014. The former 5-star recruit will likely be the starter at weak-side linebacker in a defense that is expected to be really good this year.

The play of the linebackers will be very important in contests early on against Georgia and Florida State because of those two programs' running games. Last year, we were able to see Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony shut down the running game at times, and Tiger fans will expect Steward to do the same in 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Opening 2014: Daily Results, Highlights, Reaction and Updated Schedule

When it comes to recruiting events, Nike's The Opening is one of the premier competitions during the college football recruiting process.   

Several potential stars at the college level will announce their decision to commit in front of the ESPNU cameras. As 162 of the best players in the country take the field in Beaverton, Oregon, each will be looking to prove he is the best at his position.

Before the players ever took the field for The Opening, they were given help on the mental side of the game. Trent Dilfer of ESPN and St. Louis Rams running back Tre Mason spoke to the prospects, per the Elite 11 and The Opening accounts:

Players like Josh Rosen, Josh Sweat, Martez Ivey and Malik Jefferson will all be present, hoping to shine on the big stage. Surrounded by other players looking to overtake all four at the top of the position chart, The Opening will be several days of intense competition.

With the competition getting underway on Tuesday, here's a look at the day-by-day recap of the massive event.

 

Day 1 Recap

Of all the players who felt at home in the Oregon setting, one quarterback shined on the first day of The Opening.

Travis Waller, who committed to Oregon last week, was on the first Elite 11 list released on Monday and continued to stand out on Tuesday. Jeremy Crabtree of ESPN notes his improvement during the two events:

Waller also spoke about his progress and skill set during his time in Beaverton, via Aaron Kasinitz of The Oregonian:

Something I never thought I'd do is just go through those progressions. My footwork from when I got here to how I am now is night and day. They've taught me so much in two days.

My running skills, that's what a lot of people know me for, but really this year I want to focus on passing the ball more, being more of an actual quarterback. I want to known as the guy that, 'Hey, that guy can really throw the ball.'

Currently the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback according to 247Sports' composite rankings, Waller is proving to be a huge get for the Ducks. In a competition with the country's best players, Waller can only improve throughout the event.

Another quarterback who stood out on Day 1 of The Opening was Torrance Gibson. Currently listed as a dual-threat signal-caller, Gibson showed why he's also the No. 1 athlete by 247Sports' composite rankings on Tuesday.

Barton Simmons of 247Sports gives a glimpse of Gibson's 40-yard dash:

Not currently on the list for the Elite 11 after Monday's showing, Gibson might just have a shot to prove his worth throughout the rest of the competition.

During the SPARQ prelims, many of the top recruits once again flashed their talents, but one of the biggest standouts was Sweat. The 6'5", 240-pound defensive end put on a show and finished inside the top five out of every prospect.

One of the most impressive feats for the big man was his 40-yard dash, as Chris Coleman of TechSideline.com notes:

While he stood at the top of the list after finishing, Sweat was soon overtaken by another elite defensive prospect.

Jefferson, a 5-star outside linebacker who remains uncommitted, put down phenomenal numbers to rise to the top of the list. The 6'3", 215-pound prospect posted his ridiculous numbers on Twitter:

Despite his strong numbers, Jefferson would eventually fall to second behind another top prospect. The Opening gives a look at the final top 10 from the prelims:

The man at the top was Kirk Merritt, a 4-star prospect from Destrehan High School in Destrehan, Louisiana. Listed as the No. 3 all-purpose back by 247Sports' composite rankings, Merritt has yet to announce his commitment heading into The Opening.

As for the actual results, Merritt shared his numbers on Twitter:

Ranking inside the 99th percentile in each category will certainly help him draw attention.

If speedy athletes aren't quite your cup of tea, there were several other strong defensive linemen who had great showings on Day 1 as well.

One of those players was Rasheem Green, who came into the event as 247Sports' composite ratings' No. 3 defensive tackle. Simmons provides video of the lineman running in a drill:

A prospect who showed shear strength on Day 1 was Breiden Fehoko. The Texas Tech commit posted the highest amount of reps in the bench press workout, per player personnel director Todd Huber:

Following the workouts on Tuesday at Nike, the prospects will now play in the seven-on-seven tournament with six different teams involved on Wednesday. The games will be broadcast on ESPNU as the top prospects look to show off on television.

With the opening day of competition behind them, the linemen will take center stage at the start on Wednesday morning. The big men will then give way for the start of seven-on-seven play as pool play begins throughout the afternoon.

Just two more days remain for the players to make their mark at The Opening, so the pressure will be on for each of them to prove themselves. Many of the events will now be broadcast on TV as each player hopes to make his case as one of the best in the class.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Former 5-Star DL Kenny Bigelow's Torn ACL Means for USC

USC defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow, a redshirt freshman who was one of the highest-rated recruits in the country in 2013, suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during voluntary workouts and will miss the entire 2014 season.

The Trojans' athletic department confirmed the news Tuesday:

Coming out of high school, Bigelow was the No. 9 overall player and the No. 2 defensive tackle on the 247Sports composite rankings.

Every other defensive lineman in the overall top 35—Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss), Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA), Montravius Adams (Auburn), Chris Jones (Mississippi State), Carl Lawson (Auburn) and A'Shawn Robinson (Alabama)—saw the field as a true freshman and showed signs of becoming a high-level contributor in the future.

In this regard, Bigelow, who still hasn't played a down at the college level, was behind the curve even before the injury. On a personal level, missing another season to rehab his knee sets him back even further from his peers. But the impact his loss will have on USC's team next season might be just as pivotal as the one it will have on his career.

With George Uko gone, Bigelow was being counted on to rotate with Antwaun Woods at nose tackle, right beside All-America candidate Leonard Williams. Reign of Troy tweeted that he and Williams were paired together on the interior in a special formation this offseason, adding that he was supposed to be a "cornerstone" of the line:

USC already had questionable depth along the defensive interior, and now those questions loom larger. Woods will have to play more snaps at nose tackle, and Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons, who impressed coaches this spring, might also have to play some tackle (or prove reliable enough at end that Williams can slide inside).

"You can tell that he's played in college already," said defensive line coach Chris Wilson of Simmons, who started 12 games for the Red Raiders in 2012, per Greg Katz of ESPN.com. "There are moments when you see him flash and do some really neat things."

Bigelow's injury also means increased pressure on JUCO transfer Claude Pelon and a beefed-up role for redshirt junior/career-backup Cody Temple. If everybody steps up, the Trojans have the bodies to get through this loss and still field a solid defensive front, but the margin for error has gotten considerably smaller.

This all but guarantees that USC will not run a 4-3 defense in 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Former 5-Star DL Kenny Bigelow's Torn ACL Means for USC

USC defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow , a redshirt freshman who was one of the highest-rated recruits in the country in 2013, suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during voluntary workouts and will miss the entire 2014 season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Texas A&M Football: 5 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practice

The Texas A&M football team returns 14 starters from a team that went 9-4 in 2013. If they want to improve on that record in 2014, then they are going to need a number of true freshmen to step in and make significant contributions. 

The Aggies need immediate help at wide receiver, on the defensive line and at linebacker. There is also the small matter of finding a starting quarterback. 

Texas A&M was a very young team in 2013. Head coach Kevin Sumlin made the decision to go with talented youth over experience and had 14 true freshmen in the two-deep who saw significant action. 

The Aggies will again be forced to rely on true freshmen to step in and, in many cases, assume starting roles in order for the 2014 season to be a success. Texas A&M will put a young team on the field again, but the level of talent that is present should help overcome some of the inexperience. 

This is a look at the freshmen who the coaches need to see shine in fall practices. 

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UCLA Football: Once a Concern, Bruins Secondary Now Among Pac-12's Best

Among the more pressing concerns facing UCLA before the 2013 season was the development of a talented but wholly inexperienced secondary. 

Fast forward to 2014, and the script is flipped. The Bruins open preseason camp in just four weeks. When they do, the secondary will provide one pillar from which to build their championship dreams. 

Worries about the Bruins secondary a year ago were certainly warranted, coming off a season in which UCLA ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-12 against the pass. Compounding the problem: The Bruins did not return a single starter to the unit. 

Head coach Jim Mora spoke last season of the team's collective inexperience.

In few phases was UCLA's youth more evident than in the secondary, where sophomores Ishmael Adams, Fabian Moreau and Randall Goforth were the unit's grizzled veterans. 

And Moreau was converted to defensive back from running back. Of course, Mora is starting to establish something of a track record for finding defensive talent in floundering running backs and helping to develop stars. 

He did so with first-round NFL draft pick Anthony Barr, and it looks like Moreau will follow in a similar career arc. 

Mora explained to Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register

Fabian is on the verge of being a great cornerback. And I’m not using that word lightly. I think he’s on the verge of being a great cornerback, like being one of the best in college football. If he has one of the years I think he’s capable of, he’s an All-American to me.

Moreau made significant strides in his new role in 2013, defending four passes and forcing a fumble. Opposite him is the unit's lone contributing senior, Anthony Jefferson. 

Perhaps the most electrifying member of UCLA's defense is the junior Adams, a ball hawk who led the Bruins with four interceptions in 2013. 

Mora's reliance on first-year contributors in 2013 translates to invaluable experience in 2014. In the secondary, Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman were two of the 18 UCLA true freshmen who saw playing time.

Goodman and Goforth handle safety duties. Willis was a highly touted 4-star recruit at cornerback in 2013, but after appearing in limited capacity last season, he could see an expanded role at safety. 

Willis told Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News in April that he's motivated by his pedestrian freshman year and willing to take on any role asked of him. 

It wasn’t the year I wanted. I wasn’t happy with it, but everyone learns differently. Sometimes, you can’t just be a Myles Jack. Sometimes, people learn much slower. That was the process for me. 

Depth is a point of emphasis entering preseason camp with new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich taking over. Ulbrich is introducing a 4-2-5 scheme to replace departing Lou Spanos' 3-4 base. 

That means more defensive backs on the field in nickel and dime packages and more defensive backs rotating in and out of the lineup. 

Reinforcements arrive in another stable of talented prospects. Safety Jaleel Wadood and cornerback Adarius Pickett, two 4-star prospects, should compete for playing time immediately. The Bruins also return John Johnson, a 4-star recruit in the 2013 class who missed all of last season with a separated shoulder.  

Expect to see the secondary also get plenty of help from the linebackers corps—namely sophomore Myles Jack.

The versatile Jack gained national attention in 2013 for playing both linebacker and running back, but he proved to be multidimensional well before seeing any action on offense. 

Jack broke up 11 passes last season—some while bringing pressure, others in coverage. He also picked off two passes, returning one for a touchdown. 

Ulbrich's new scheme should allow Jack the freedom to roam, including dropping back into coverage when the play necessitates it. 

All told, pass defense in general and secondary play in particular is a decided strength for the Bruins heading into the 2014 campaign. Quite a difference just one year makes. 

 

All statistics compiled via CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Once a Concern, Bruins Secondary Now Among Pac-12's Best

Among the more pressing concerns facing UCLA before the 2013 season was the development of a talented but wholly inexperienced secondary. Fast forward to 2014, and the script is flipped...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

JaWand Blue, Alex Figueroa Dismissed by Miami After Admitting to Sexual Assault

Two members of the Miami Hurricanes football program have been dismissed after both admitted to sexually assaulting a 17-year old girl on campus this past weekend.   

JaWand Blue and Alexander Figueroa, two outside linebackers and both 20 years old, were kicked off the team, per a release from Miami athletic director Blake James, via Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald:

Earlier today, I permanently dismissed Jawand Blue and Alexander Figueroa from the UM football team. The University has also suspended the students from school and barred them from all campus facilities while the University conducts an internal investigation and continues to cooperate with local law enforcement.

Any allegation of a sexual assault is extremely serious, and the University will not tolerate conduct that threatens the sanctity and safety of our students and our campus. We hold all of our students -- especially student athletes -- to the highest standards of moral conduct. The University is committed to maintaining a safe campus environment for all.

The players were arrested on Tuesday, according to ESPN:

Two University of Miami football players arrested on sexual battery charges against a "physically helpless" 17-year-old girl were dismissed from the team and suspended Tuesday.

Court and jail records show JaWand Blue and Alexander Figueroa were booked on the charges Tuesday. Both are 20-year-old linebackers for the Hurricanes.

According to the police report, obtained by The Palm Beach Post, both players admitted to buying drinks for the victim, bringing her back to Figueroa's dorm room in the early morning hours of July 5 and performing sexual acts, including intercourse, without her consent while she was "physically helpless to resist."

Navarro notes that the assault took place in the early morning of July 5 at Pearson Hall, according to police reports. The players "administered or had knowledge of someone else administering to the victim a narcotic, anesthetic or other intoxicating substance that mentally or physically incapacitated the victim without her prior knowledge or consent."

Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post provides more details on the situation for Blue:

Both Blue and Figueroa were scarcely used last year, combining for two starts during the 2013-14 season. Figueroa finished with 17 tackles during the nine games in which he appeared.

In addition to dismissing them from the program, James stated both players are also suspended from the University and "all campus facilities" during an internal investigation.

The crime has clearly ruined what might have been a great career for Figueroa and Blue in the future, but was dealt with swiftly by the Miami program. With both now off the team, Miami can potentially avoid any distraction as the season approaches.

The Hurricanes open the 2014 season on the road against the Louisville Cardinals on Sept. 1.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 5 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practices

In order for Tennessee to reach its first bowl game since 2010, the Volunteers need several freshmen to make major contributions this season—starting with the first fall practice in August.

The bad news is that the Vols have one of the youngest, most inexperienced rosters in the country, as noted by Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The good news is that the freshmen who enrolled between January and June of this year are some of the most talented players on the team.  

The 14 early enrollees who arrived on campus in January got the benefit of participating in winter workouts and spring practices and will be ready to hit the ground running in August. They also got a taste of playing at Neyland Stadium during the 2014 Orange and White Game. 

However, the bulk of the freshman class who arrived in June won't have the luxury of taking their time to adapt to college life and the speed of SEC football. Many will be asked to log significant minutes during the upcoming season, and some are already in the mix to start by Week 1.

That said, there are no guarantees in life or college football. While many players in the 2014 recruiting class arrived on campus to high hopes and expectations, a quick glance over previous SEC recruiting classes shows that star rankings don't always translate to on-the-field achievements.

Here are the five Tennessee freshmen who must prove themselves and live up to their recruiting rankings during fall practice to give the Vols a fighting chance at playing in December. 

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College Football Picks: Florida State Seminoles vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Oklahoma State Cowboys lead the nation in forcing 163 turnovers since 2009, which is important to consider when making your Week 1 college football picks, as they prepare to take on the Florida State Seminoles at AT&T Stadium.

Sports bettors will find that the Cowboys are 20-point neutral-site underdogs in the NCAA football odds, with no betting total established in the marketplace.

Let's take a closer look at this nonconference matchup from a betting perspective, while offering up a prediction along the way.

 

Gambling stats via SBR Forum

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3 Long-Shot National Title Contenders to Put Your Money on

Last year, Auburn fan Mark Skiba asked his father to put $100 down on the Tigers' 500-1 odds to win the BCS National Championship. 

With Auburn coming off a 3-9 season with no SEC wins, 500-1 odds may have appeared generous. But first-year coach Gus Malzahn coached the Tigers to an undefeated regular season and came 13 seconds away from winning it all. 

The bet looked silly at the time, but Skiba came oh-so-close to winning $50,000. 

Will anyone find a long shot that surprises like Skiba did last season?

According to Odds Shark, Bovada released updated national championship odds, and the usual suspects are at the top. Florida State is still the favorite at 11-2, with Alabama at 6-1 and Oregon at 8-1. Auburn? It's doing, er, "marginally" better this year at 9-1 odds to win it all. 

But there are also some teams who could make a championship run despite being listed at longer odds. Here are three teams with at minimum 50-1 odds who could do it: 

 

Clemson (66-1)

The Tigers are in the same division (the ACC Atlantic) as Florida State. Unless the Tigers can get into the College Football Playoff without winning their division, let alone the conference, getting past the Seminoles on Sept. 20 in Tallahassee is going to be important. 

In all, Clemson has three key games in an otherwise manageable schedule: The aforementioned road trip to Florida State, the season opener at Georgia and the season-ending rivalry against South Carolina. The Tigers could go 9-3, and it would be completely understandable. 

But Clemson looks to have a remarkable defense capable of being one of the best in the country, especially up front along the defensive line. ESPN Insider Travis Haney explains

For those who haven't followed the Tigers all that closely, the defense is going to catch people by surprise this fall (and might even be the ACC's best). Chad Morris' offense has been ahead of Brent Venables' defense the past couple of seasons, but that could easily flip in 2014. In fact, Morris agreed with that sentiment when I suggested it to him a month ago.

If you can believe it, Clemson's questions lie on offense given the departures of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins. But Cole Stoudt has already been named the starting quarterback, and Morris has a history of plug and go at the skill positions. The group is going to have to gel and grow up quickly in the first month. If it can, there's plenty of reason to be excited about its future. 

It would be counterintuitive, and one could go so far as to call it an injustice, for Clemson to compete for a national championship one season after Boyd and Watkins leave. The odds are long for a reason, but the Tigers have the talent to make a surprise run. 

 

Missouri (66-1)

Missouri caught just about everyone off guard with its 12-2 season a year ago. Had it not been for a crushing overtime loss to South Carolina—the Gamecocks' comeback was the most Missouri thing to happen to Missouri since Fifth and Goal in 1990—and a shootout loss to Auburn in the SEC title, the Tigers may have been playing for it all. 

Several key names depart from last year's team: quarterback James Franklin, receiver Dorial-Green Beckham (dismissed), running back Henry Josey and defensive linemen Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. That's an impressive list, and in no way is this to suggest that replacing them will be easy.

That said, the proverbial cupboard isn't bare in Columbia. Markus Golden, Matt Hoch, Shane Ray and Lucas Vincent were key players along the Tigers' defensive line; they just didn't get the attention Ealy and Sam did. Quarterback Maty Mauk probably should have played the entirety of the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma State with Franklin struggling. Mauk is a dynamic talent who, if he can improve his decision-making, can be one of the SEC's best. 

There's talent and some production returning on offense, just not as much as Mizzou fans may want. 

Mizzou has a key stretch in September and October with games against Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. If the Tigers can somehow get through that relatively unscathed, they have a good chance to make it to Atlanta. And, maybe, a playoff appearance. 

 

Kansas State (100-1)

It feels like folks are sleeping on Kansas State, which is usually when the Wildcats are at their best. Matt Brown of Sports on Earth certainly thinks so. 

Oklahoma is the early favorite to win the Big 12 and get to the playoff (12-1). Vegas is also higher on Baylor (28-1) and even Texas (40-1). But K-State returns one of the conference's better quarterbacks, Jake Waters, the league's best receiver, Tyler Lockett, and a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, defensive end Ryan Mueller. 

Also, last time anyone checked, Bill Snyder is still the head coach. 

Elsewhere, Snyder reeled in a JUCO-heavy recruiting class this past February to fill in the gaps. The question is whether K-State can pick up where it left off, winning six of its final seven games in 2013. 

An early-season game at home against Auburn (Sept. 18) will be a fantastic litmus test for the Cats. B/R colleague Adam Kramer tabbed it his early pick for "Game of the Year." A stunning win over the Tigers—Auburn opened as a 13-point favorite via Golden Nugget (h/t National Football Post)—would propel K-State into the national title conversation. 

Not to mention, it would provide some leeway if the Wildcats dropped a conference game later in the year. 

 

Honorable Mentions: Nebraska (50-1), Arizona State (66-1)

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Tennessee's QB Competition Should End Soon and Who Should Be the Starter

Butch Jones is entering his second year on Rocky Top, and this offseason has been a sequel to the last at one important position—quarterback.

As was the case last year, Tennessee is still searching for the right man to take the snaps with essentially the same cast.

Justin Worley is back for his senior season on Rocky Top, after an up-and-down campaign as a junior that saw the Rock Hill, South Carolina, native win the job exiting fall camp, struggle with consistency downfield, get benched, come back back and play well only to suffer a season-ending hand injury in the Alabama game in late October.

Joshua Dobbs took his place, and the then-true freshman made plenty of true freshman mistakes. The Alpharetta, Georgia, dual-threat signal-caller threw only two touchdowns and six picks for the year. But he came on strong in the spring game with 199 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and 59 rushing yards with a rushing touchdown, according to stats released by Tennessee.

Redshirt sophomore Nathan Peterman has taken a back seat in the battle, and reports surfaced earlier in the offseason that redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson is leaving the program, via John Brice of Rivals.com (subscription required).

So who should win the battle?

It should be Worley, and it should happen early in fall camp, provided he shows that he hasn't regressed.

Yes, I know, Dobbs showed he had big-play ability in the spring game. But Jones told B/R during spring practice that Worley had improved his accuracy downfield.

"Justin Worley has really improved greatly, from leadership to his ability to make all of the throws, particularly the deep balls," Jones said.

He's also put on weight in the offseason, as Wes Rucker of GoVols247.com notes:

Few mention this because he’s a pure passer, but #Vols QB Justin Worley is so much bigger than he was 4 years ago. He’s a legit 224 now.

— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) June 6, 2014

For Worley to lose the job, he needs to show massive regression and have Dobbs set the world on fire in fall camp. Otherwise, Jones would be wise to stick with the senior, who has the experience under his belt for this particular Vols team—which has a small village of weapons outside, including Marquez North, Josh Malone and Von Pearson.

With no returning starters on the offensive line, it's safe to guess that protection may be an issue for the Vols in 2014. Maybe Dontavius Blair emerges as a superstar at tackle and the entire unit comes together during fall camp, and if it does, that's a bonus. But Jones can't count on that.

Tennessee needs someone taking snaps who won't press the issue and take risks when the pressure comes in his face. It needs someone who will take the checkdown or throw it away when it's appropriate. 

That's Worley.

In his final two starts before further injuring his thumb against Alabama, Worley looked pretty solid, throwing for 394 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks in the overtime loss to Georgia and upset win over South Carolina.

Jones can't let this battle linger like it did last year, when Worley won the job in the week leading up to the season-opener vs. Austin Peay. It was clear from the moment toe met leather that Worley was uncomfortable under center, and he only got comfortable after getting benched prior to the Florida game.

Tennessee needs stability, and Worley brings stability.

Because of that, he should be Tennessee's starting quarterback, and it needs to be set in stone sooner rather than later.

 

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

 


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Mackey Award Watch List 2014: Full List Released

The best tight ends in the college football landscape have been identified as the John Mackey Award Selection Committee has announced its 2014 preseason watch list.

A prestigious award given to the top tight end in the nation named after NFL Hall of Fame member John Mackey, heralded by many as the best to every play the position, the 13-year history of the award touts elite collegiate alumni such as Dallas Clark, Kellen Winslow II, Heath Miller, Marcedes Lewis and Fred Davis.

While far from an indicator of future pro success, even placement on the preseason watch list validates the talent of each individual and their future potential as one of the best overall players in the country.

As the NFL continues to place a bigger importance on the position, recent winners such as Dwayne Allen, Tyler Eifert and Austin Seferian-Jenkins were able to translate the honor into critical pro roles. The following names can parlay the watch-list nomination into something special with excellent campaigns.

 

 

Stars to Watch

Nick O'Leary, Florida State

The only thing that can stop Nick O'Leary—because it sure isn't any defense in the country—is himself.

O'Leary is one season removed from reeling in 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior, but has already missed time this spring thanks to his second motorcycle accident.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher noted that he hopes the event is a wake-up call for his three-year tight end, who holds the school record for touchdowns at the position with 11, as captured by ESPN's Jared Shanker:

He wrecked a motorcycle again. He's skinned and got a swollen ankle and can't practice but he'll be fine. ... He's skinned from head to toe. He needs to be frustrated. It's not important if I'm frustrated. What's important is if he's frustrated and learned his lesson.

A semifinalist for the award last year, O'Leary is hailed by most as the top senior tight end in the 2015 NFL draft class, including ESPN's Mel Kiper (subscription required). It helps that O'Leary gets to work with elite quarterback Jameis Winston, although his numbers have consistently increased with more playing time regardless of who resides under center:

No matter how it is sliced, O'Leary is a strong candidate to nab the award this season before possibly going on to a lucrative pro career, health permitting.

 

Ben Koyack, Notre Dame

In what is perhaps best described as "Tight End U" at the moment thanks to recent graduates such as Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack is next at the plate as a massive target who can split out wide to create mismatches.

The No. 3 senior on Kiper's board and the No. 2 overall tight end on Matt Miller's big board, Koyack has just 14 career receptions to his name in three years with the Fighting Irish, but his potential and size (6'5", 261 pounds) ensure a major role next season with the depth chart above him finally clear.

For his part, Koyack has finally fulfilled his sole reason for attending Notre Dame, as he told ESPN's Matt Fortuna:

You don't come here unless you want to do that. Coming here a freshman, every one wants to get out here and be that No. 1 guy, especially with the reputation like we have. That's pretty much the reason I came here, to have that role. It's something I do definitely look forward to.

There is no doubt Koyack will shine in his final collegiate season as the main safety valve and red-zone target of either Everett Golson or Malik Zaire. His breakout season will add some intrigue to the final race for the award in late November, to say the least.

 

Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State

One of the nation's most violent blockers in the run game, Jeff Heuerman also put on a show last year in the aerial department of the Ohio State offense as a junior.

Thanks to his size at 6'6" and 250 pounds, Heuerman is a chess piece coach Urban Meyer utilizes often to create mismatches in the passing game. His 26 receptions for 466 yards and four scores—with a per-catch average of almost 18 yards and his longest score coming from 57 yards out—suggests big things for the Florida native in his senior campaign.

That said, he too will have to get healthy after it was revealed he will miss the spring with an injury.

"Jeff is going to be fine. I think it's been right about the normal number of injuries, Meyer told ESPN's Austin Ward. "But we should have [Heuerman] ready to go full speed by June."

The No. 2 senior per Kiper and No. 10 overall for Miller has an upside and leaping ability (above 36 inches, per the former)  that makes him a standout, especially when one considers he will spend his final year catching passes from Heisman contender Braxton Miller.

While a bit of a sleeper as he has yet to become a household name, it won't take long for Heuerman to secure his status as a finalist for the prestigious award and make the lives of the selection committee much more difficult than most previously anticipated.

 

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Michigan Football: 5 Less Proven Wolverines Who Must Shine in Fall Practices

Improvement is a universally accepted byproduct of experience. In theory, the longer one does something, the better he or she gets. Now apply that principal to Michigan football, because there is a host of Wolverines who are barely on the outside of the bubble, just on the cusp of seeing meaningful and productive playing time each Saturday. 

Offensively, Michigan has linemen in training and a respectable stable of running backs who’ve yet to make an impact on the field for Brady Hoke’s program. Defensively, there are ends, tackles and linebackers who’re nearly there as well.

 

Matt Godin

What else can be said about Godin that hasn't already been said? Think about that. 

Because since high school, not much has been floating around about the former Detroit Catholic Central, quarterback-destroying DE. The 6'6", 283-pound redshirt sophomore has been around long enough to learn the ropes, and this season is the time for him to put those lessons to work on the field. 

Due to Keith Heitzman's move to tight end, ends such as Godin will get reps. At the moment, he should be on your radar as a potential anchor. Yes, an "anchor." As one of many untapped talents, he's yet to show Wolverines fans his true worth. He's not just a solid option to spell a starter, and he's not just a "depth" guy. 

 

Someone on the O-Line? 

O-line, O-line, O-line...had enough of it yet? 

This past offseason was crammed with discussion about the O-line: How would it improve? Who would take over for Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield? How long will it take for Doug Nussmeier, the new offensive coordinator, to revamp and implement his system? 

Michigan followers will find out this fall. And until then, any reports of anyone doing anything that remotely resembles improvement on the O-line should catch your attention. 

 

Henry Poggi

Poggi generated a little buzz prior to signing with Michigan in 2013 and promises to live up to that billing sooner rather than later. In fact, he’s one of several players on defense cited as up-and-comers by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who spoke about his personnel during the Sound Mind Sound Body (SMSB) camp in Detroit.

At 6’4” and 271 pounds, the redshirt freshman is ready to make his presence known on a hearty D-line that will feature Ondre Pipkins and Willie Henry, among others. Poggi’s been on the ascent since bowl practices and should earn a prominent role within Mattison’s game plan.

 

Chris Wormley

Yet another one of Mattison’s students, Wormley, a 6’4”, 292-pound redshirt sophomore, is a guy who gets talked about to no end; it’s either fans praising his potential and begging for Michigan to play him more often, or it’s the opposite.

So, yeah, viewing Wormley gets tricky. Not to beat a dead horse, but that conversation with Mattison back at SMSB was telling. While detailing who’s doing what, Mattison couldn’t contain his energy. He was exuberant when speaking of Wormley, who had 19 tackles, 4.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks in 13 appearances in 2013.

Mattison expects a lot from him. You should, too.

 

Derrick Green

During a recent radio interview, Nussmeier commented on Green’s physique, saying that he “looked great” and is showing signs of progression. At 5’11” and roughly 230 pounds, Green—a former 4-star out of Richmond (Va.)—has the ideal, bulldozer-like frame suited for the Big Ten.

In Week 1 of 2013, he burst for 58 yards on 11 carries during the Wolverines’ romp of Central Michigan. However, he never really found his stride after that, fading away into the sunset as Fitz Toussaint saw most of the action.

It wasn’t until late in the season that Green once again began to turn a few heads. He wasn’t a star by any means versus Ohio State, but his 12 carries for 47 yards certainly helped Michigan stay afloat during the 42-41 loss at the Big House.

Green recently stressed the importance of pass protection, per Nick Baumgardner of MLive, and CollegeFootballTalk noted that Green feels more explosive heading into the new campaign. 

He was supposed to be the next great thing in Michigan’s backfield, and he was supposed to be a real-deal workhorse who could put the offense on his back. So far, he’s a sophomore with nothing but doubters to shake and things to prove. This season could be the difference-maker in Green’s career in Ann Arbor.

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

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