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University of Miami Mascot Sebastian the Ibis Walks Bride Down the Aisle

It may not be traditional, but the Miami Hurricanes mascot Sebastian the Ibis made a bride's special day extra special when he stepped in to walk her down the aisle.

According to her Facebook page (h/t Lost Lettermen), Jennifer Sullivan lost her father and wanted to make her entrance special, so she was escorted by the mascot, who was wearing a jersey with her dad's nickname on the back.

[Lost Lettermen]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

A Scout's Take on the 2014 Wisconsin Badgers

I had another opportunity on Friday to talk with NFL scout Chris Landry on Steve Duemig's radio show, which was guest hosted by Ronnie Lane.

I wanted to get Landry's take on the 2014 Wisconsin Badgers football team, as well as how they will match up with the LSU Tigers, who they will take on in the opening game of the season on August 30 at Reliant Field in Houston.

Chris knows all about the LSU football program. Before becoming a scout, Landry was on the coaching staff for the Tigers in the 1980s. Landry also lives in the area.

The game with the Badgers and the Tigers will be a big test for both teams. In the updated divisional format in the Big Ten, the Badgers are now in the West division, which also includes Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue.

You will note that the East division has perennial powers Michigan and Ohio State in it, as well as last year's Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion Michigan State, plus there is Penn State, Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers.

It appears the Badgers caught quite a break being in the West. Not only that, but Wisconsin doesn't have to play Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan in 2014.

Landry talked about that set of circumstances:

The Big Ten has shifted. No more Leaders and Legions divisions. So quickly, it's East and West. And right now the strength is Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.

Bob is right when he says that Wisconsin got a break. That's a pretty soft division when you look at it. Iowa is going to have their run every couple of years. Northwestern is going to be a tough out at times. I think Jerry Kill, God Bless him if he can stay healthy, has gotten the Minnesota program better.

Illinois and Purdue are a long ways away. So it's Nebraska and Wisconsin. It's a two-team race and if they struggle, then that's going to bring in Iowa, Minnesota or Northwestern into the picture.

The Badgers will have an opportunity to have a special season in 2014. They have a favorable Big Ten schedule, plus they get to play Nebraska at Camp Randall Stadium

Besides their game against LSU, the Badgers will also take on Western Illinois, Bowling Green and South Florida in non-conference games.

That's why a win against a quality opponent like LSU could really jump-start the season for the Badgers.

Landry gave me his overall view of Wisconsin:

Wisconsin is going to be good again. Their offensive line is going to continue to be good. They are going to run the football. Melvin Gordon is an outstanding running back. If he plays well early, particularly against LSU, then he'll be a Heisman candidate.

I think this is going to be a physical run-team. They are going to miss Jared Abbrederis, and they are going to miss tight end Jacob Pedersen.

Wisconsin defensively, they are one of the few teams that run a 30-front (3-4). They are going a little bit quicker and a little bit more athletic. I like what Gary Andersen is doing there.

When the Badgers take on LSU to begin the season, they will be taking on a team that won national championships as recently as 2003 and 2007. In addition to that, the Tigers play in the best conference in college football in the SEC, plus they have to play in the West division of that conference, which features teams like Alabama and Auburn.

So, how does Landry see the Wisconsin-LSU contest?

It's going to be difficult for both LSU and Wisconsin to have a lot of success passing, but the one who can throw it a little bit better is going to win that game.

I think it's going to be a really good game. LSU is not right now settled at quarterback. I think Brandon Harris is going to wind up winning that job, and he's a true freshman. Anthony Jennings might win it because he's got some experience, not much, but a little bit.

They are going back to be a running-football team again. They lose their two great receivers. They lose the quarterback who can throw it. But they are going to be running and working on the defense. LSU is a little more athletic and I expect them to win. But I expect that game is going to be a lot closer than most people think.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

ACC Media Days 2014: Full Schedule, Live Stream and Participants

For the first time since 2000, the Atlantic Coast Conference will begin the college football season with the reigning national champion in its ranks.

Just like back then, the Florida State Seminoles are the team defending their title. All eyes will be on Heisman trophy winner and Noles' starting quarterback Jameis Winston. He will attempt to lead his team to another title, and perhaps a second-straight Heisman.

Winston is one of the player representatives who will be on hand for the ACC Media Days on Sunday, July 20 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Winston will be joined by Florida State defensive back P.J. Williams. Here's a list of the other players and coaches who will be available to the media during the two-day event.

ACC Media Days can be seen via live stream on the ACC Digital Network.

 

Schedule of Coverage Sunday, July 2012:30 p.m.Commissioner's Forum2:00-6:00 p.m. Student-Athletes Interviews
2:00 p.m. Virginia, Kevin Parks and Anthony Harris
2:15 p.m. Duke, Laken Tomlinson and Kelby Brown
2:30 p.m. Clemson, Cole Stoudt and Vic Beasley
2:45 p.m. North Carolina, Marquise Williams and Norkeithus Otis
3:00 p.m. Florida State, Jameis Winston and P.J. Williams
3:15 p.m. Wake Forest, Jordan Garside and Kevin Johnson
3:30 p.m. Boston College, Andy Gallik and Dominique Williams
3:56 p.m. NC State, Tony Creecy and Art Norman
4:11 p.m. Virginia Tech, Willie Byrn and Luther Maddy
4:26 p.m. Georgia Tech, Shaquille Mason and Quayshawn Nealy
5:01 p.m. Pitt, Tyler Boyd and Ray Vinopal
5:16 p.m. Miami, Duke Johnson and Denzel Perryman
5:31 p.m. Louisville, DeVante Parker and Lorenzo Mauldin
5:46 p.m. Syracuse, Sean Hickey and Cameron Lynch Monday, July 211:00 p.m.Preseason Media Poll and Preseason Player of the Year Announced2-6 p.m. Coaches Interviews
2:00 p.m. North Carolina, Larry Fedora
2:15 p.m. Virginia, Mike London
2:30 p.m. Wake Forest, Dave Clawson
3:10 p.m. Boston College, Steve Addazio
3:25 p.m. Duke, David Cutcliffe
3:40 p.m. Florida State, Jimbo Fisher
3:55 p.m. NC State, Dave Doeren
4:10 p.m. Miami, Al Golden
4:25 p.m. Pitt, Paul Chryst
4:40 p.m. Syracuse, Scott Shafer
4:55 p.m. Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson
5:10 p.m. Louisville, Bobby Petrino
5:25 p.m. Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer
5:40 p.m. Clemson, Dabo Swinney Wednesday, July 2311:00 a.m.2014 Preseason All-ACC team announced

 

Potential Highlights 

Winston's Interview

Will someone actually have the gall to ask Winston about crab legs? Probably not, but it seems a given that his offseason issues may come up during the 15-minute interview.

Aside from the unfortunate shoplifting incident, Winston also competed for the Noles' baseball team. He clearly has a lot to talk about. His time with the media should be interesting.

 

Fisher's Interview

Generally, Fisher is fairly quotable and prophetic. At the 2010 ACC Media Days, Fisher said this per Seminoles.com:

"That's why I wanted the Florida State job. hat's why I waited and turned down other opportunities because I wanted a place where I thought we could win it all. I know we're not there yet but we have a chance in the future if we do things right."

You have to love when a plan comes together. Unless of course you're Auburn.

 

Petrino Back Again

Bobby Petrino is back for his third stint as a coach with the Louisville Cardinals. He was an offensive coordinator for the program in 1998. He left for the NFL.

Petrino returned to take the head coaching job in 2003. He lasted until 2006 when he again tried his hand at the pro game. After stumbling through another stint in the NFL, and dealing with some self-inflicted personal issues, Petrino is again the man on the sidelines for the Cardinals.

Not everyone is enthused that Petrino was rehired. The panel for CBS Sports' Pre-Show tore into the hiring and Petrino.

It'll be interesting to hear what he has to say on Monday.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What 2015 QB Recruit Sam Darnold's Commitment to USC Means for Trojans

The mystery man of this recruiting class is staying in Southern California.

Quarterback Sam Darnold, a San Clemente High School prospect with fewer than 800 career varsity passing yards, committed to USC on Friday. The Tritons football program announced his decision on Twitter:

Darnold, a 6'4", 208-pound prospect, missed the majority of his junior season while recovering from a foot injury that required surgery. Utah extended a scholarship following a sophomore season that saw him play tight end, quarterback and linebacker, but after being sidelined in September he wondered what would happen to his college recruitment.

"Getting hurt early in my junior year was definitely tough to deal with since I thought I could pick up some offers during the season," Darnold said earlier this month. "It was really hard for me to miss seven games."

Despite the disheartening development, Darnold managed to put together a quality highlight reel in just three starts. He completed 63 percent of his passes for 337 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, per MaxPreps.

Due to his large physique, Darnold may not look like a rushing threat when you first lay eyes on him, but his game tape proves otherwise.

He averaged nine yards per carry, gaining 322 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Darnold devastated defenders with a hard-nosed, north-south running style that should make him a dynamic force in the red zone.

His athleticism is also apparent on the basketball court where he was the Sea View League MVP as a sophomore. Darnold returned from the foot injury in impressive fashion, tallying 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in his first game back after missing the season's first 10 contests.

A blend of strength and agility progressively vaulted Darnold up 247Sports' composite rankings. He is rated the ninth-best dual-threat quarterback in the country.

Impressive performances at regional camps earlier this year earned Darnold an invitation to the Elite 11 finals in Beaverton, Oregon. He attended the event last week and proved his limited track record shouldn't prevent him from being considered a top-tier prospect at the position.

"I've done my best to work on everything I can as a quarterback to prepare for this fall," Darnold said after an Elite 11 session. "I'm trying to step my game up and see where I can go from here."

During the revered camp, Darnold received tutelage from Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer, along with current and recent college standouts like Blake Bortles, Bryce Petty and Everett Golson. He anticipates a strong senior season once he finally returns to live game action.

"You'll see cleaner mechanics, especially after being at the Elite 11," Darnold said. "I think my decision-making is going to improve and really just understanding how to attack defenses."

He flashed a strong arm and solid accuracy in Oregon, earning respect from fellow quarterbacks and top receiver recruits. Ricky Town was among those quarterback contemporaries throughout the week.

The 5-star prospect from Ventura, Calif. committed to USC in January. He previously pledged to Alabama before backing off that verbal pact to join the Trojans.

Town plays the position with a style that contrasts Darnold. He is far more polished from a mechanical standpoint, particularly when it comes to footwork.

However, he is strictly a pro-style pocket passer. Town is able to deliver passes on the run to buy himself time and can gain chunks of yardage on the ground when necessary, but he doesn't compare to Darnold when it comes to giving defenses something to stress about as a rusher.

FOX Sports reporter Greg Biggins noted the newest USC commit doesn't seem phased by Town's presence:

Darnold, who landed a USC offer in late June, hadn't discussed the circumstances with Town through two days of Elite 11 action.

"I haven't brought it up to Ricky yet, but I want to talk about it with him while we're out here together," Darnold said on July 7. "I want to find out where he stands with the coaches and how he feels about the situation at USC."

It's certainly an element of the 2015 recruiting cycle that will be discussed at length as national signing day approaches. The Trojans now carry two Elite 11 quarterbacks in a class that ranks 10th nationally in 247Sports' composite team ratings.

Town, a long-established national prospect who committed to the defending national champions before his junior year, then made in-state fans rejoice by jumping from Alabama to USC's burgeoning bandwagon.

Darnold, an under-the-radar, seldom-seen recruit, rose to prominence this spring and stunningly collected offers from the likes of Tennessee, Northwestern and Oregon without totaling double-digit touchdown passes in his high school career.

It's certainly an intriguing new storyline to follow as first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian begins to make his mark on the storied program.

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What 2015 QB Recruit Sam Darnold's Commitment to USC Means for Trojans

The mystery man of this recruiting class is staying in Southern California. Quarterback Sam Darnold , a San Clemente High School prospect with fewer than 800 career varsity passing yards, committed to USC on Friday...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Texas Football: 5 Toughest Players Longhorns Will Face in 2014

Football season is a little more than a month away, and the Texas Longhorns will need to prepare for the talent they will face in 2014.

Head coach Charlie Strong's team has a decent number of questions that will need to be answered soon in order to keep up with the competition.

According to CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm, the Longhorns' schedule is the toughest in the Big 12. Nonconference opponents BYU and UCLA will be no walk in the park, and many of Texas' conference opponents have returning starters who have a history of producing against the Longhorns.

Here's a look at the five toughest players the Longhorns will face in 2014.

Begin Slideshow

Bold Predictions for Top College Football Freshmen in 2014

It was a good year for blue-chip true freshmen in 2013.

Of the top 22 players on the 247Sports composite rankings, 18 saw at least a fair amount of playing time—everyone except for Reuben Foster, Matthew Thomas, Kenny Bigelow and Max Browne—and appear to be on track for nice college careers.

Further down the list of top 50 overall prospects, players such as Alabama defensive end A'Shawn Robinson, Ole Miss safety Tony Conner, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Arkansas running back Alex Collins also flashed signs of nascent superstardom.

In order to enjoy such a promising freshman season, a player must have a mix of talent, opportunity and health. Those were some of the factors in constructing this list, which takes a look at 2014's top prospects and attempts to predict the unexpected.

Keep in mind that not all of these are actually likely. Otherwise they wouldn't be bold. But they aren't exactly far-fetched, either.

In the case of true freshmen, it's always hard to tell.

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football: Freshman Jonathan Bonner Was the World's Best Eighth Grader

When Jonathan Bonner signed with Notre Dame, it didn't give the Irish much of a bump in the recruiting rankings.

A 3-star prospect from Missouri, Bonner only checked in at 599th on the 247 Sports composite rankings. While he had offers from the home-state Tigers and Michigan State, his offer and commitment after attending the Irish summer camp raised a few eyebrows. 

But Bonner was a late-bloomer on the football field. He was named the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, and a first-team All-State player. 

Yet upon signing Bonner, Notre Dame's staff was incredibly impressed by not just the player on the field, but the student-athlete off of it. Veteran defensive coach Bob Elliott had this to say about Bonner, per Notre Dame Football's site. 

This is one of the great stories in my 35-year college career. As we were walking back to our car, Coach Kelly and Jonathan in front and I was behind with the parents and coaches. As we turned down the hall and around the corner, we came right by the lunch room. And in the lunch room of his high school Parkway Central, there were probably 300 kids eating at the time. And when they saw Jon walking around the corner with Coach Kelly, they all stood up and applauded for Jon Bonner. It was maybe the most impressive thing I've ever seen, a testament to a kid who is so highly respected and loved in his school.

Yet more impressive than anything Bonner has done on the field is a letter he wrote himself in the eighth grade. Part crystal ball, part maturity and wisdom beyond words, Bonner shared the typed letter he sent himself on the eve of high school and posted it on Twitter

Dear self, 

This is you from eighth grade. I hope you're doing okay. Off to college, huh? You better be. Think about how much freedom you'll have. You've grown up and now you're off on your own. You have a lot to look forward to. 

It's almost the end of your eighth grade school year. Right now you were looking forward to summer, high school, and the biggest thing, football. You need to get either that TE or DE position. Did you get it? Right now what you don't what being a freshman will be like but you are anxious. Hopefully you played hard enough to go off to Notre Dame. If not, you better at least be going off to college. 

In college there are some things you must avoid. First off, stay away from drugs and alcohol. If you have touched a drug I consider you a failure and you better change now or you are wasting your life. Same thing with alcohol, it will make you do stupid stuff and you will end up in bad situations. Second, stay away from knuckleheads (words from mom). They will get you into trouble. Finally, try to stay away from weapons. The only reason you should be using one is if you are going off into the army or you are in physical threat. DON'T LOOK FOR REVENGE! Use your hands if necessary. This should also be a last resort. 

Here are some things you need to work hard at. First and most importantly, school. You will not get anywhere without it. Second off, work hard at football so, you can get yourself off to the NFL and make some money. You must also be respectful and responsibility to others and they will do the same to you. Your main goal is just to succeed. 

Someone you need to be nice to is your sister. At this age in eighth grade she means everything to you and if you have lost her, you have lost yourself. You need her almost as much as you need yourself. She has been there for everything and your entire life so don't even try to bail on her. Who knows? You may need her someday. 

As you should see you have grown and you have a lot of life left. Make it worthwhile and don't screw up. 

Yours Literally, 

Jonathan Bonner

Bonner might not turn into an All-American at the college level. But that doesn't mean he's not the perfect role model. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from SEC Media Days

SEC media days are over. And Les Miles, yet again, was one of the brightest stars of the show. 

Miles gave updates on all three of his kids, "Smacker," Manny and Macy, multiple times throughout the day before briefing the media. He also shared his affinity for the World Cup and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's performance in the MLB All-Star Game.

Miles' also shared a story of a family vacation to Austin, Texas. He said conditions were not ideal. 

"It was miserable. I hated it. But we it was great fun. I meant, it was not a beach, it was not sand, but it was my family, and that was the best," said Miles.

But Miles and three of his seniors, left tackle La'el Collins, linebacker D.J. Welter and running back Terrence Magee, also addressed topics regarding their football team. Overall, there was no breaking news to share, but there were some interesting comments regarding the 2014 Tigers.

Begin Slideshow

Wisconsin Football: 4 Backups Critical to Wisconsin's Success in 2014

With so many departures from last year's Wisconsin football team, depth becomes something of an issue throughout the team.  As the Badgers' talent level continues to increase, who fills in those key backup spots will be important as they look to improve off last year's 9-4 season.

With a lot of the starting spots still up for grabs, let's take a look at four players without a home in the starting lineup that will be vital to the Badgers' success if they are to return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship and potentially progress to the inaugural playoff.

 

DE Alec James

While Alec James may be the odd man out when it comes to a starting spot, his skill set as either a linebacker or on the end will prove extremely valuable for the Badgers this season.  Both him and Chikwe Obasih are incredibly talented and will prove a formidable tandem going down the road, but for this season, James can provide the type of pressure defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is looking for.

James was highly touted out of high school. A 3-star player out of Brookfield, Wisconsin, he held offers from a number of top programs, choosing to stay in-state over Oregon.

If James can rotate in along the line and provide some hurries on the quarterback to go along with strong run support, he will quickly find himself in the situation that Tyler Dippel was in as the third defensive end that played as much as the starter.

 

WR Robert Wheelwright

Robert Wheelwright could find himself on the outside to start the season; however, injuries throughout the spring will probably hold him back from taking that role.  With that being said, Wheelwright is far and away the most talented of the returning receivers.

Wheelwright had two catches last season for nine yards, and with a dearth of proven receivers, he will show in due time that he can be a solid option for whomever ends up at quarterback—whether it's Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy.

Depth at this position will become even more important with the report that both Chris Jones and Dareian Watkins will not join the team due to various reasons, as per Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com:

 

TE Austin Traylor

With the departures of Jacob Pedersen and Brian Wozniak, both of whom currently find themselves vying for a spot on the Atlanta Falcons, the depth at the tight end position will be tested this season.  Sam Arneson will likely be the starting tight end, leaving Austin Traylor as the key backup at this position.

The Badgers employ quite a few two-tight end sets, and Traylor is certainly in line to pick up his first career grab.  The 3-star recruit looked pretty good in the spring and has the frame at 6'3", 243 pounds, to provide a big body and a good target in the passing game.

 

CB Devin Gaulden

With the departure of Nate Hammon, depth in the secondary could be a concern, but at cornerback, the Badgers have depth beyond their wildest dreams.  Sitting behind the dynamic duo of Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary is Devin Gaulden.

Gaulden has struggled with injuries, tearing his ACL in 2012 and sitting out 2013; however, throughout the spring, Gaulden looked like one of the best and most experienced players on the field.  Gaulden in the nickelback role, where he can both line up in coverage and as a blitzing corner on the edge, will be an invaluable asset to the Badgers defense.

 

Recruiting star rankings and information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Which Trojans Must Step Up on Defense to Stop Uptempo Offenses

A point of pride for USC in 2013 was overcoming its limited numbers. The toll of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, combined with the typical build-up of injuries during a season, left the Trojans' roster thin. 

The number 13 is now etched in USC lore, roughly equivalent to the 300 of Sparta. Thirteen is the number of defenders USC played in its upset of then-No. 5 Stanford last November—and as Reign of Troy notes via Twitter, the Trojans' ranks were actually closer to 12 that night: 

Playing such a truncated rotation just isn't feasible for an entire season. Head coach Steve Sarkisian is implementing an uptempo offense that promises to keep the Trojans defense on the field longer than the 26:56 it averaged a season ago. 

More importantly, USC needs both depth and strong performances from its starting defense to contain the Pac-12's hurry-up opponents. After all, Stanford has become something of an anomaly by continuing to huddle.

Even the Trojans spurned the traditional strategy, joining Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, UCLA and Washington State among the Pac-12's uptempo ranks. Sarkisian also introduced a similar philosophy a season ago at Washington. 

Such systems have presented the Trojans with problems in recent years. Pac-12 South foes Arizona State and UCLA combined to score 97 points against USC, resulting in two of its losses. 

 

CBs Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw 

In 2014, the Trojans face four of the five teams with the most pass attempts in the Football Bowl Subdivision a season ago. Three—California, Fresno State and Washington State—play an uptempo style. 

USC fared well defensively against all three last season, but a thin rotation of defensive backs must be ready for a peppering of passes once again in the coming season. 

USC has some of the top secondary talent in the Pac-12 with safety Su'a Cravens and the cornerback tandem of Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw. The issue for the Trojans isn't the quality, but rather the quantity. 

Depth at cornerback in particular could be an area of concern. Josh Shaw moved to cornerback from safety to address the issue and performed admirably. His four interceptions a season ago were tied for second most on the team.

Seymour is developing into a potential shutdown-style cornerback on the other side.     

Behind them, however, the outlook is murky. Anthony Brown moved to running back, and incoming prospect Adoree' Jackson's role is unknown. Jackson was a star recruit at cornerback, but could play wide receiver. 

With the Trojans boasting one of the stingiest rush defenses in the Pac-12, opponents must test the secondary. That means both Seymour and Shaw will get quite a workout throughout the 2014 campaign. 

 

DT Delvon Simmons

Stopping the run is critical to USC containing the conference's uptempo offenses, and the Trojans need Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons to emerge up front. 

New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox told Caroline Deisley for USCTrojans.com that Simmons made considerable strides during spring workouts:

Delvon has improved daily, and he's played obviously in college football before, but I think he's a guy who will continue to develop and get better and better. He just needs to continue to develop fundamentally, but I think he's a guy that can definitely help us.

Simmons is a big body capable of plugging gaps. Last season against uptempo teams, the Trojans were at their best when meeting ball-carriers at the line, thus forcing opponents to abandon the run early. Simmons could play an integral part in that process now that he's eligible after a mandatory redshirt season.  

 

LB Scott Starr 

The injury bug plagued Scott Starr for much of his USC career, but a clean bill of health in 2014 could make him a key for the Trojans pass rush.

Starr explained the benefit of a healthy offseason to Keely Eure of Annenberg TV News:   

To have a full offseason [for the first time] since I've been at SC, it's proven to be very helpful. I can have a full offseason [strength] coach Ivan [Lewis] to get stronger in the weight room and be out here [on the practice field to practice my technique. 

Starr shined in the Trojans' spring game. He has positive momentum on which to build in preseason camp and could challenge J.R. Tavai for a starting job. But no matter his place on the depth chart, Starr's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks is crucial with Wilcox implementing a new, 3-4 base scheme. 

Starr must also be able to drop back into pass coverage, a key trait Devon Kennard brought to the position a year ago. 

 

Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: Which Trojans Must Step Up on Defense to Stop Uptempo Offenses

A point of pride for USC in 2013 was overcoming its limited numbers. The toll of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, combined with the typical build-up of injuries during a season, left the Trojans' roster thin...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema Appears to Be a Fan of Bijhon Jackson's Body

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema may have given us the best sports quote of the year during a media session Wednesday. 

When talking about freshman defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson, Bielema had nothing but good things to say about the player—or at least his body. The Razorbacks coach's quote definitely makes for an awesome Vine.

Arkansas players should be able to have some fun with both Bielema and Jackson about that fantastic quote.

Warning: Vine contains NSFW language.

[Vine]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Urban Meyer's 5 Breakout Players to Watch in 2014

The notion that Urban Meyer is obsessed with speed is more of a fact than it is an opinion. A year ago, I was watching high school prospects run 40-yard dashes at Ohio State's summer camp when a recruiting reporter turned to me following a particularly impressive showing.

"Urban's not going to be able to help himself," the reporter said with a smile.

No more than 10 minutes later, wide receiver Terry McLaurin had a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes.

But while Meyer's need for speed may be the worst-kept secret in Columbus, circumstances have diverted the attention of the third-year Ohio State head coach elsewhere for the foreseeable future. Because after the Buckeyes' disastrous defensive showing in 2013, it's clear that it's been "D" and not speed that's been on Meyer's mind lately.

So much so that when Meyer was asked to name a few breakout players for the upcoming season two weeks ago, the first three that came to mind were from the defensive side of the ball. Sure, some offensive options followed, but when it comes to what Meyer has had his eyes on this offseason, the message was clear: Beware of the Buckeyes defensive backfield.

What follows are the five (really, six) players Meyer mentioned when asked which Buckeyes will have breakthrough seasons in 2014.

 

Vonn Bell

A former 5-star prospect, as per 247 sports, Vonn Bell served as one of the headliners of Ohio State's highly touted 2013 class. A rangy safety with a knack for making the big play, Bell chose to play for the Buckeyes over the likes of Alabama and Tennessee.

But when the Rossville, Georgia native showed up in Columbus, his immediate impact was minimal. As Ohio State struggled to the nation's 76th-ranked pass defense, Bell predominately watched from the sideline, with the majority of his presence being made on special teams.

That all changed in the Orange Bowl, however, when Meyer decided that he had seen enough from the old guard and inserted the true freshman into the Buckeyes' starting lineup. Facing Clemson's pass-happy offensive attack, Bell responded admirably, recording seven tackles and an interception in his starting lineup debut.

Bell appeared to have the Buckeyes starting free safety spot locked up heading into the offseason before an MCL injury kept him out of the majority of OSU's spring football session. He'll battle with classmate Cameron Burrows come training camp, but all indications are that Bell will be given every chance to realize his seemingly limitless potential on the Buckeyes defense this fall.

 

Doran Grant

While Bell will attempt to bring something new to his unit, Doran Grant will try to bring something better. The cornerback from St. Vincent-St. Mary endured an up-and-down junior season in 2013, but Meyer has been given reason to believe that Grant's senior season could be something special.

"Doran Grant has been the most impressive guy in spring and summer workouts from what I'm hearing," Meyer said at his annual youth football camp in July.

A big senior season from Grant would provide an obvious boost to the Buckeyes, which are now without first-round pick Bradley Roby at the cornerback position. That means that the ultra-athletic Grant will have plenty of chances to show the strides he's made, as he'll often match up with opposing teams' top receivers.

 

Tyvis Powell

Regardless of whether it's Bell or Burrows starting at free safety for the Buckeyes, they'll have an experienced running mate in strong safety Tyvis Powell. Ohio State's nickelback a season ago, Powell recorded 48 tackles, one interception and defended three passes in his redshirt freshman campaign.

But the Bedford, Ohio native provided Ohio State with perhaps its most important moment of the 2013 season. With 32 seconds left on the clock in Ann Arbor, it was Powell who intercepted what would have been a go-ahead two-point conversion in the annual Michigan game, preserving the Buckeyes' undefeated season in the process.

The big play clearly instilled a newfound confidence in Powell, as evidenced by his impressive sophomore spring. Meyer said that you can go ahead and etch his name in the starting lineup with ink for the fall and expects big plays to be the norm from the big 6'3", 205-pound Buckeyes safety.

 

Jeff Heuerman/Nick Vannett

It's an annual tradition in Columbus: hyping up Ohio State's tight end position in the preseason and receiving minimal returns from it in the fall. But both Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett showed enough last season to prove that this year will be different as Meyer aims to add flexibility to his spread attack.

"We have two really good tight ends," Meyer said. "We're not a big (two-tight end team), but we will be."

Last season, Heuerman was the Buckeyes' third-leading receiver with 26 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns. Playing more sparingly, Vannett added eight catches for 80 yards and a score in 2013.

Both big bodied and capable blockers, Heuerman and Vannett will only see their respective roles increase with the departure of leading receiver Corey "Philly" Brown from last year's squad. Heuerman has already proven to be one of Braxton Miller's favorite targets but should be featured more prominently as a senior, while Vannett could slide into Heuerman's old role as the Buckeyes' de facto safety valve.

 

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott, the sophomore running back from St. Louis, Missouri, has been chosen by many as a breakout player for the Buckeyes, and Meyer apparently agrees. He only saw limited playing time as a freshman behind Big Ten Running Back of the Year Carlos Hyde, but when he was on the field, he showed both the size and the speed that made him one of Ohio State's top recruiting targets in 2013.

Appearing in seven games as a running back a season ago, the true freshman rushed for 262 yards and two touchdowns on just 30 attempts. That may not be enough of a sample size to truly judge how effective Elliott can be at the college level, but the fact that he has already managed to jump elders Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball on the Buckeyes depth chart is telling.

He may not have a stranglehold on Ohio State's starting running back spot just yet, but that shouldn't be the case for long. Having added 15 pounds of muscle since the end of his freshman season (now up to 225 pounds), look for Elliott to provide the dynamic of speed and power in the Buckeyes backfield that Meyer so desperately covets.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4 Issues We Would Love Oregon's Mark Helfrich to Address at Pac-12 Media Days

For Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, the 2013 season was about settling in and getting a feel for his new role. His second year is more about putting his own signature on the Ducks after following the tough act of predecessor Chip Kelly.

"When you go through something more than once, you better be more efficient and better," Helfrich said on the coaches teleconference call in May, via Pac-12.com

Helfrich is through his second spring practice season, and next week in Hollywood is another major milestone: Helfrich's second Pac-12 media days.

The coming campaign is one of high potential and high expectations for Helfrich's Ducks. Oregon is a popular pick for the new College Football Playoff, but qualifying likely means Helfrich winning his first Pac-12 championship. 

Media days should offer insight into the Ducks' preparation for the season and continued acclimation to their no-longer-so-new leader.

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4 Issues We Would Love Oregon's Mark Helfrich to Address at Pac-12 Media Days

For Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, the 2013 season was about settling in and getting a feel for his new role. His second year is more about putting his own signature on the Ducks after following the tough act of predecessor Chip Kelly...

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from SEC Media Days

Alabama's turn finally came on Day 4 of 2014 SEC media days, and with only Kentucky—a team that hasn't won a league game since 2011—in the room during their session, the Tide had the lion's share of the spotlight to themselves.

Nick Saban and his three carefully selected players held court in their home state after what has been an interesting offseason. Most of the players on this team are used to ending the season with a national championship trophy—not a humbling loss in the Sugar Bowl.

With another No. 1 recruiting class and a controversial new offensive coordinator (to put it lightly) joining the program in 2014, there was no shortage of things to talk about in Hoover Thursday afternoon.

Here are some highlights from the session.

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Brandon Kennedy Commits to Alabama: What 4-Star OG Brings to Tide

Alabama beefed up its offensive line again Friday morning, adding a fourth 4-star commitment to its ranks. Brandon Kennedy, an in-state 2015 standout, chose the Crimson Tide over Auburn during an announcement ceremony at Wetumpka High School:

The 6'2.5", 295-pound prospect provides Nick Saban with yet another option in his expansive arsenal of elite blockers. Kennedy, rated 16th nationally among offensive guards in 247Sports' composite rankings, pledged to the program one month after receiving an offer while attending a camp in Tuscaloosa.

He landed an Auburn offer the same day, setting the stage for the latest skirmish in a series of recruiting showdowns between the bitter SEC rivals. The teams routinely go toe-to-toe for Alabama's top talent.

Alabama gained an edge in this battle thanks in large part to offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, who continues to emerge as a highly effective recruiter.

"It was good to talk to (Cristobal)," Kennedy told Charles Power of 247Sports (subscription required). "He's always fired up and intense. Great guy."

Cristobal is in an enviable position when it comes to depth along the offensive line.

Kennedy joins fellow 4-star Crimson Tide commits Richie Petitbon, Dallas Warmack and Lester Cotton in a class listed No. 1 overall in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

Alabama welcomed five freshman offensive linemen to campus this summer, including four 4-stars and top-ranked 2014 tackle Cameron Robinson. Dating back to 2013, Saban has secured commitments from 10 4-star offensive linemen and two 5-stars.

Clearly, Kennedy isn't afraid to compete for playing time.

He projects as a stout interior lineman who is already a polished run-blocker. His hand placement is consistent and he's quick to get his paws on an opponent, gaining immediate leverage.

Kennedy doesn't rely on his size to do the work for him, persistently pushing defenders downfield with a strong base. It's also important to note his aggressiveness, which shines on game film and provides an indication that he's intent on finishing off plays through the whistle.

He displays enough short-area quickness to disengage from his initial assignment in time to take out a linebacker or safety at the second level. Kennedy's biggest improvement must come as a pass-blocker, but he'll have the benefit of spending at least a few seasons polishing his overall technique as a reserve.

Alabama could implement Kennedy as a center or guard at the next level, depending on roster needs.

Wetumpka head coach Tim Perry praised his diligence.

"He works hard and is very coachable," Perry told John Talty of AL.com. "He's a very conscientious athlete. He wants to improve, pushes himself and does everything that you ask him to do."

That effort earned Kennedy a vast collection of offers that includes Clemson, Louisville, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

The Tide have now landed four pledges this week. Kennedy joins 4-star 2016 prospects Shyheim Carter (cornerback), Demetris Robertson (athlete) and Benito Jones (defensive tackle) as new additions.

 

Recruit ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Best Value Bets for Every Power 5 College Football Conference

It would be easy to circle the conference favorites, light up premature victory cigars and call it a day. But where on earth is the fun in that?

Let us dig deeper—much deeper—and search for the longshots with the kind of value that could lead to the backyard swimming pool Clark Griswold committed kidnap over.

As the college football world braces for actual football, the sportsbooks—in Las Vegas and online—are prepping for games by offering up point spreads and betting options on players, teams and conferences.

The latest odds posted by Bovada.lv (h/t Kegs ‘n Eggs) center on the power-five conferences, and more specifically, the chances each team has of coming away conference champion. From Florida State at a value-drained 4/11 in the ACC to Purdue at a robust 250/1 to win the Big Ten, the brands that will soon consume your Saturdays are all included.

And while it’s difficult to bet against a handful of these favorites—they are the chalk for good reason—the search for value is far more entertaining and rewarding. In an effort to find a big score (and hopefully a pool with a diving board that won’t break after a few faulty cannonballs), here are a handful of teams down the oddsboard that could make noise if things go their way.

 

Big Ten

The Value Pick: Iowa (14/1)

At first glance, it's almost as if a portion of the schedule was somehow cut off. Maybe the Internet stole it; maybe your dog ate it, or maybe the Scheduling Gods decided it was time to throw Kirk Ferentz a bone.

The Hawkeyes won’t play Ohio State or Michigan State. They will play Wisconsin and Nebraska, although both games will come at home to close out the year. This, more than some intriguing pieces in place, is why Iowa makes some sense. Well, that and the division.

Remember: Legends and Leaders is no more. The Big Ten is now geographically set with East and West, which means the Hawkeyes need to beat out Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. That’s not a given, but it certainly helps to be across from Ohio State and Michigan State in a year such as this.

In the end, winning the West won’t cash in 14/1. But all you want is a shot and a trip to the championship game.

Led by Brandon Scherff at left tackle—arguably the best offensive lineman in the country—and a backfield that is talented, versatile and (for now) healthy, the offense has a chance to be one of the best Iowa City has seen in years. Jake Rudock, who was quietly efficient at quarterback a season ago, should be much better than he was a season ago.

Defensively, Carl Davis will anchor a line that could be one of the better units in the conference. It’s not on Ohio State’s level in terms of talent and depth, but almost everyone from last year’s more-than-stellar group is back.

Overall, it remains unlikely that Iowa will conquer the more talented teams if it comes to that. At 14/1, however, this is an off-the-pack team that figures.

 

SEC

The Value Pick: Missouri (30/1)

Ole Miss at 12/1 and Florida at 15/1 are appealing, although let’s dig a little deeper. Down the oddsboard we go, and we stop at the Missouri Tigers.

It’s easy to forget that Missouri represented the SEC East in the SEC Championship. It’s also easy to lose sight of the fact that the Tigers were a blown field goal away from an undefeated regular season. Of course, it would be an unfair not to highlight that this season occurred with the likes of Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, Dorial Green-Beckham, L'Damian Washington and Henry Josey, none of which will be back for 2014.

You cannot replace talent like this with a snap of the finger, and I will by no means paint a picture that says otherwise. Missouri, however, does have some things working in its favor.

For starters, this is the side of the SEC you want to be on. While South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and others present a challenge, the SEC East is still ripe for the taking. It may not open up as it did last year for Mizzou, but nothing is decided. It remains wide open.

Helping the Tigers is a schedule that isn’t horrible by SEC standards. Games at South Carolina and Florida are no fun—neither is a home game against Georgia and a tricky late visit to Texas A&M—but there are much worse SEC slates.

And then there is Maty Mauk, the nation’s ultimate wild card. In limited time at quarterback last season, Mauk looked the part of a future star. How he performs over the course of an entire season will dictate how far Missouri can take yet another underdog role.

 

ACC

The Value Pick: Louisville (15/1)

Here’s the reality of the ACC: Each team not named Florida State—including North Carolina, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Miami—should be considered enormous underdogs. The only difference between these teams and everyone else is that they’re not getting true underdog odds.

That’s where Louisville comes in at 15/1; the great unknown in a conference that many have already decided on.

It’s hard to argue with. The talent gap between Florida State and every other ACC team—maybe even nationally—is significant. But because betting the chalk is incredibly boring and not all that lucrative, let’s bet on Bobby Petrino instead.

The truth is we don’t know much about Petrino’s second stop in the City of Bourbon, especially as he inherits a roster he is still learning. We do know that few coaches can teach offense like he can, however, which is a great place to start.

Gone are Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Preston Brown—four players that were integral to the Cardinals’ success over the past two seasons. The cupboard has been cleaned out, but it is nowhere close to empty.

Even without Bridgewater, the offense is in wonderful shape. DeVante Parker is one of the nation’s premier pass-catchers, while Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer should be one of the better duos in the conference. There are weapons everywhere—particularly at wideout and tight end—which is a great way to set the table.

The real question, of course, comes at quarterback, where Will Gardner is expected to take over. His 32-of-37 spring game was certainly an encouraging start, although take from that what you will.

The defense has enormous holes to fill, but there is talent on this roster. More importantly, there is value in a team that doesn’t have a tough road slate and will at least get Florida State at home on an unassuming Thursday. Look out for that one.

 

Big 12

The Value Pick: Kansas State (10/1)

This is, without question, the least value-packed selection of all five picks. While Oklahoma and Baylor are considered the chalks of the Big 12—and rightfully so—plenty of prognosticators will tab the Wildcats as their preseason pick. No one will laugh at them for doing so.

When you can get 10/1 on a team ripe with offensive promise and a coach who has achieved wizard status, you take it. And that’s exactly what we’ll do here.

Unlike every other conference, the Big 12 comes with a caveat: There is no championship game, which means the work will have to be done in the regular season. Because of this, scheduling is critically important.

Now, Kansas State is not perfect. The offensive line is under construction while running back doesn’t have a convincing fix yet. But even with these holes, there should be a flood of optimism.

Tyler Lockett is the nation’s most productive wide receiver, and Jake Waters is poised to star at quarterback now that the job is all his. He flashed glimpses last year, finding the end zone 18 times in his final seven games.

The schedule, which includes an early out-of-conference game against Auburn, is not easy. K-State will travel to Oklahoma and Baylor, and the Wildcats also draw Texas and Oklahoma State at home in back-to-back weeks.

As tough as it may seem, Oklahoma and Baylor—while loaded—are beatable. Kansas State should at least be mentioned with these two when talking about the cream of the conference, and that’s exactly why we're happy with 10/1.

 

Pac-12

The Value Pick: Arizona State 12/1

Does it feel good to bet against Oregon, UCLA and Stanford? Not particularly, but we're going to do it anyway today.

The chalk in the Pac-12 is pretty defined. Oregon is just about even money—meaning 1/1—while UCLA, Stanford and even USC are all 6/1 or less. For our Pac-12 pick, however, we're doubling those odds and tabbing Arizona State at 12/1 as a team that fits what we're looking for.

Let us not forget that this team represented the Pac-12 South in the Pac-12 Championship last year. Many of the offensive players that made this possible will be back in 2014.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly will have DJ Foster and Jaelen Strong—two of the conference’s premier playmakers—at his disposal yet again. If Kelly can improve on his play just a little bit (and he has already been quite proficient), this offense could be one of the nation’s best. That’s the good news.

The bad news is the defense, and this is why Arizona State checks in at 12/1 and not 6/1. The Sun Devils have to replace just about everyone, including defensive tackles Will Sutton and Davon Coleman along with linebacker Carl Bradford. Todd Graham has a handful of intriguing JUCO players he hopes to lean on, although these won’t be easy voids to fill.

On the schedule front, Arizona State also has work in front of it. The month-long stretch between September 25 and October 25 includes a home game against UCLA, a trip to USC, a home game against Stanford and a road trip to Washington. We’ll learn a lot about Todd Graham’s team in that point, and the Pac-12 South will take shape sooner than later.

It’s by no means impossible—especially with this offense—but that 12/1 will have been earned. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down New No. 1-Ranked HS Recruit in Country, Freak Athlete Josh Sweat

Defensive end Josh Sweat is now the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2015 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. The 6'5", 240-pound athlete is an absolute monster.

He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash in the SPARQ event at The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon, and obviously has the potential to immediately impact whichever college program lands his talents in 2015.

What makes him so special? What is the best part of his game?

Watch as CFB analyst Michael Felder breaks down Sweat and explains why he is such a special prospect.

 

Highlights courtesy of recruit757.com.

Watch Sweat's full highlights.

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