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Texas A&M Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from SEC Media Days

SEC media days are now completed. The annual event did offer some interesting insight into some of the developments around the Texas A&M football program and how the program is perceived.

Typically head coaches attend media day without having seen their team since spring practice. This is the first year that coaches can participate in the summer workouts, so they have a better grasp of where their team stands.

It also allows them to get an early look at the incoming freshman class and how ready they are to contribute in the upcoming season. This means that the coaches have more to share than simply a rehashing of what happened during spring practice.

This is a look at some interesting quotes and takeaways from the 2014 SEC media days.  

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Five Unheralded Players That Will Be Crucial to the Blue Devils' Success

The Duke Blue Devils return many players from last season’s spectacular run. Quarterback Anthony Boone, running back Josh Snead and wide receiver Jamison Crowder are all back as seniors to try and make a third straight bowl appearance.

While those three players in particular are familiar names, some less obvious players will need to step up if the Blue Devils are going to repeat the success of the previous two seasons.

The five players that follow, though lesser known to football fans, will all be integral to Duke’s fortunes this season. They’ll be responsible for doing the unheralded dirty work, expanding Duke’s offensive threat or mitigating the problems facing a potentially weak defensive.

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Ohio State Football: Why 2014 Is a Make-or-Break Season for Urban Meyer

In college football, momentum is everything. Urban Meyer has admitted as much. And after back-to-back losses in the Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl to end the 2013 season, the Ohio State coach no longer knows whether or not he has it on his side.

"That's a great question. I don't know," Meyer answered when asked if his program has maintained its momentum through its skid. "Obviously we hit a speed bump. A real big speed bump."

Whether the Buckeyes have or don't have momentum is a story for another day and a different column. But in the event that Ohio State has indeed lost its mojo, it better find it soon. Because 2014 is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for the Buckeyes, in more ways than one.

That may seem like hyperbole, given that Meyer has accumulated a 24-2 record in his first two seasons in Columbus. Any program, regardless of its size and stature, should be thrilled with those results, regardless of when and where the two losses came.

No, this isn't about a lack of success for the Buckeyes, because under Meyer they've enjoyed plenty. But for a coach and program who are both ultimately judged by championships, 2014 presents each with their best chances of ending their respective droughts as a series of factors have made the present brighter than the immediate future in Columbus.

 

Braxton's Senior Send-Off

If you believe in the importance of the quarterback position—and Meyer does—then it's tough to undersell the value in the Buckeyes making the most of Braxton Miller's senior season. Already a two-time Big Ten MVP, Miller has been the one constant in the OSU offense under Meyer and has carried the Buckeyes on his back at times.

Miller's mere presence is enough to make a team a title contender as most times they take the field, the Buckeyes will have the best player on it. Add in Miller's abilities in Meyer's spread offense and you have the makings of something special, with both a national championship and Heisman Trophy becoming obtainable goals in Columbus.

Behind Miller, however, Ohio State isn't quite as fortunate at the quarterback position. At least not yet.

Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones is unproven, and neither redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett nor true freshman Stephen Collier have taken a snap at the college level. Barring the arrival of a JUCO transfer or immediate-impact freshman, one of those three will be the Buckeyes' starting quarterback in 2015, and each would present a significant drop-off from his predecessor.

Sure, a first-year starting quarterback has won each of the past two Heisman Trophies as well as last year's national championship. But behind Miller, nobody on the OSU roster possesses the talent of a Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston, which only increases the importance for the Buckeyes to make a run in 2014.

 

Strengthening the Schedule

The good news for Ohio State is that its 2014 schedule is much more impressive than its much-maligned 2013 slate. The bad news? After that, it's only getting stronger.

This season, Ohio State's three most marquee games include an out-of-conference matchup with Virginia Tech, a Big Ten Championship Game rematch with Michigan State and the annual Michigan rivalry game. Of those three contests, only the Buckeyes' showdown with the Spartans will be played on the road.

In 2015, Ohio State will move to a less home-friendly schedule as the Buckeyes will repay the Hokies and Wolverines with trips to Blacksburg and Ann Arbor, respectively.

Remember how OSU will be breaking in a new starting quarterback that season? His first start could very well come during the Buckeyes' Monday night prime-time 2015 opener against Virginia Tech in hostile Lane Stadium. That's not ideal.

As for 2014, early betting lines have Ohio State favored in every one of its game, except for its Nov. 8 trip to East Lansing, Michigan, according to the Golden Nugget's sportsbook (via SB Nation). Las Vegas currently pegs Michigan State as just a one-point favorite over the Buckeyes, and a lot can obviously change between now and November.

It'd be in the best interest of the Buckeyes to take advantage of this year's schedule before 2015 presents a rockier road.

 

Big Ten Betterment

Of all of the factors that have worked in Meyer's favor since he arrived in Columbus, perhaps the most important has been the unimpressive nature of the Big Ten. Michigan's been down, Penn State's struggled with sanctions, Wisconsin went through a coaching change and Nebraska had to adjust to the league as a whole.

Altogether, it's actually been relatively easy for the Buckeyes to remain one of the league's elite.

But if Meyer's theory on momentum is correct, that won't be the case for long. Because the Big Ten certainly has it on its side.

Michigan State certainly does as it sits atop the Big Ten mountain as the league's reigning champion. It doesn't appear to be heading anywhere anytime soon, either, as Rose Bowl MVP quarterback Connor Cook is only a junior and the Spartans have made their mark on the recruiting trail.

As has Penn State, which, according to 247Sports.com, boasts the nation's fifth-ranked 2015 recruiting class. And whether he's coaching them a year from now or not, Brady Hoke continues to add loads of talent to a Michigan roster that was depleted of such when he arrived in 2011.

2014 may be a bit early to start writing the Return of the Big Ten narrative, but come 2015 it could very well be in full effect. And with a new quarterback and unfavorable schedule already in the fold for the Buckeyes that season, year three is shaping up to be the most pivotal of the Meyer era in Columbus.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Purchases Insurance Policy for OL Cedric Ogbuehi

Texas A&M has broken new ground in the NCAA by purchasing a loss-of-value insurance policy of more than $50,000 for offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi so that he could return to school for his senior season. 

According to Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com, Ogbuehi was deciding between a return to school or entering the 2014 NFL draft, in which he says teams put a first-round grade on him.    

Ogbuehi had to think of the "financial implications for his family," including the possibility of taking out an insurance policy, which a lot of high-profile potential draftees take out, but his family couldn't afford the massive premiums. 

The report notes that there was a new NCAA rule that allowed schools to help students out through a Student Assistance Fund that covers "things such as the cost of post-eligibility financial aid, or if a student-athlete can't afford to travel home in cases of emergency, or if they need a suit to wear to university functions or events like SEC Media Days."

Feldman wrote that there's a limit to the amount each school can spend, with the SEC office telling him that last year "each of its members allotted $350,000 for the fund" and "the tab for Ogbuehi could reach $60,000 for Texas A&M."

You think about that dollar amount as substantial for a school to pay—it covers nearly four years of tuition at Penn State, according to CBSNews.com—but the value Ogbuehi provides Texas A&M is also significant. 

The senior offensive tackle was named to the preseason All-America team, according to Phil Steele's College Football Preview Magazine, via 12thMan.com. NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com listed Ogbuehi as the top senior tackle in the country:

As Feldman noted, Ogbuehi is so important to the Aggies program that head coach Kevin Sumlin, offensive line coach B.J. Anderson, associate athletic director for football Justin Moore and veteran director of football operations Gary Reynolds all visited his home to convince him to return to school. 

Ogbuehi said in the article that without this insurance policy he probably wouldn't have returned for the 2014 season, so Texas A&M was able to provide the player some reassurance. 

That's a micro view of this scenario, though. The big-picture perspective involves the windows this opens for every school across the country. Texas A&M's assistant director of compliance told Feldman that this could "hypothetically" become part of a team's recruiting pitch.

The top-tier players aren't likely to change their minds about going to the NFL, nor are the guys who feel they are ready and want to help out their families. But players whose skills need more refinement, or even running backs who feel the need to declare early because of how devalued the position has become in the NFL, could decide to return to school knowing that there is less risk involved in the event of injury if a school is able to help with an insurance policy. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

 

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Why RB Ezekiel Elliott & Safety Vonn Bell Are Key to a OSU National Championship

The Ohio State Buckeyes are expecting to do big things during the 2014 season. With key players heading to the NFL, the Buckeyes will need a few players to step up and become huge components on both sides of the ball. Who do you think will break out in Columbus?

Watch Bleacher Report's Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down exactly who will become breakout stars for the Buckeyes in 2014.

 

Rankings from 247Sports Composite.

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

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Georgia QB Hutson Mason Lauded at SEC Media Days, but Will He Deliver on Hype?

The Georgia Bulldogs enter the 2014 season without the Southeastern Conference’s most prolific passer, Aaron Murray. If the mood at SEC Media Days was any indication, that doesn’t seem to matter to the Dawgs.

“The blessing for us is Hutson Mason being in the program going into his fifth season,” head coach Mark Richt told the media contingent in Hoover, Alabama, on Thursday (according to the press conference transcript furnished by ASAP Sports).

But it’s evident that the Dawgs’ confidence in Mason isn’t merely lip service or a byproduct of the senior’s playbook knowledge. Mason is not a placeholder; he’s a leader capable of guiding the team to great ascents.

But can the new man under center deliver on the hype?  If surrounding talent and Bulldog history are factors, then he's certainly poised to do so.

Richt expects the offense’s plethora of weapons to pay dividends for Mason, who has been a pinnacle of patience over the past four seasons:

He's really sacrificed a lot for this team.  He's staying because he loves Georgia and he especially loves his teammates.  But he also knew that this season was going to come and he was going to be surrounded by a lot of skill guys, a lot of great backs, receivers, some veteran linemen, a defense that should be matured from a year ago.

Despite the return of Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and a host of talented receivers, it may be Mason who adds the most value to this team. Throughout the day, Richt and others were quick to laud Mason’s ability as a passer, his intricate knowledge of the playbook and his leadership.

 

Additionally, history is on Mason's side.  In 2005, D.J. Shockley took over for David Greene, a four-year starter in Athens. Fans had seen glimpses of Shockley and knew what he was capable of, but expectations heading into the season were tempered by the quarterback transition. Shockley responded by leading the Dawgs to a conference title.

Now, lofty expectations are being placed on Mason. “When D.J. came in, he played great. Our quarterback situation was SEC-championship caliber,” Richt offered at media days. “I’m hoping the same with Hutson.”

Mason, who played well in two games as a starter last season and in backup duty over the preceding years, favors Shockley’s story. Truth be told, Mason could have transferred multiple times during his waiting game behind Murray. He would have been a welcomed addition to many programs.

Alas, Mason's commitment to Georgia remained strong (as did Shockley’s), and he’s now poised to pursue the highest of callings: an SEC championship. Winning the conference would give him an opportunity to achieve something in one season that Murray failed to do in four.

But talk alone is cheap at this point in the year.

For Mason, more of the same won’t be enough in 2014. In his two starts last season, he started slow and at times struggled to find chemistry with his receivers. This year, a still-developing Georgia defense will need to be countered by maximum production from Mason and his unit—particularly early in the season.

With the Bulldogs opening the season against Clemson and South Carolina (two teams with capable but very different offenses), Mason needs to be ready to play from the very first snap. The margin for error will be practically nonexistent.

Fortunately, he’s been preparing for this season for years—literally. In June, the senior signal-caller told Seth Emerson of Macon’s Telegraph he was preparing to go out with a bang. “Hopefully I can make an impression that can last,” he said.

Based on what was said Thursday at media days, it sounds like Georgia is expecting that type of special season.  The fifth-year senior is ready for an SEC championship season, which would be quite a finish for a player who threw a touchdown on his very first collegiate pass attempt back in 2010.

 

 

Unless otherwise noted: All quotes from Mark Richt's press conference at SEC Media Days courtesy of ASAP Sports. 

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SEC Media Days 2014: Hits and Misses from Media's 2014 Preseason Predictions

The All-SEC first, second and third teams, as voted by those who cover the conference, were released on the final morning of SEC Media Days. Also released was the projected order of finish for each of the divisions and the league as a whole.

Alabama was voted the preseason favorite to win the conference, although that title has been a bit inauspicious. Per Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com, the media is 4-of-22 trying to pick the correct champion and 0-of-5 picking Alabama as said champion.

The Tide also led with eight players elected to one of the all-conference teams, including seven who appeared on the first team. Even after losing so much talent, this team knows how to reload.

But what else did the record 293 voters decide on? Where did they err, and where did they hit the nail right on the head?

Here is a quick recap.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports Composite Rankings.

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SEC Media Days 2014: Tracking Highlights, Comments, Twitter Reaction from Day 4

The fourth and final day of SEC Media Days 2014 is stacked to say the least as it features many of the best coaches and players the power conference has to offer.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban will garner much of the interest during the afternoon session, but there is plenty to monitor throughout the day, which includes Georgia head coach Mark Richt, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and a myriad of talented players.

SEC Media Days used to last for just three days, but Thursday's star power proves that expanding was probably the right move. With that said, here is a look at the most noteworthy comments from Day 4 of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama.

 

Day 4 Recap

Richt took the podium first and was immediately met with questions regarding his quarterback situation. That was to be expected since SEC great Aaron Murray has moved on to the NFL since last season.

He expressed confidence in senior Hutson Mason's ability to step in and be the leader of the Bulldogs' offense, but he didn't hide the fact that Murray's departure is a challenge that his team will have to overcome, according to ESPN's Brett McMurphy:

Most consider Alabama and Auburn to be the odds-on favorites to win the SEC in 2014, but Georgia is a definite threat in the SEC East and Richt believes the SEC as a whole is very much up for grabs, per McMurphy:

Richt believes that quarterback play will be a huge factor in the landscape of the SEC this season. There aren't particularly high expectations for many SEC signal-callers with stalwarts like Murray, Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron and others in the NFL.

Even so, Richt feels as though the level of quarterback play in the SEC this season can still be great, per Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Bulldogs haven't always lived up to their fullest potential during Richt's 14-year tenure, but he has had a great deal of success at Georgia. With that in mind, Richt's intention is to coach in Athens for the remainder of his career:

Richt was also asked about the school's stringent anti-drug policy. He dismissed the notion that it puts them at a competitive disadvantage and made it clear that the policy is important in terms of keeping players clean, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

The new College Football Playoff has been a hot topic of discussion throughout SEC Media Days since several teams within the conference figure to be candidates to make the tournament.

Most coaches have expressed uncertainty regarding the selection process and Richt echoed that sentiment:

Richt's Bulldogs will be top contenders in the SEC East this season, but they have some top competition to deal with. When asked about rival South Carolina being favored to win the division, Richt made an interesting prediction, per Josh Kendall of The State:

Even though much of the hype within the SEC surrounds Alabama and Auburn, Richt has no interest in tempering expectations for his team, according to Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee:

If Georgia is going to compete in that regard, then star running back Todd Gurley needs to have a monster season. That is precisely what Richt expects as he considers Gurley to be one of the best players in the nation, per Sallee:

In addition to Gurley, Georgia boasts an impressive stable of backs that includes Keith Marshall, who is coming off an injury like Gurley and so many of Georgia's other offensive weapons. Gurley is confident that he and Marshall will be ready to produce in a big way during the upcoming season:

Perhaps nobody was more impressive during the early session than Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley. He was incredibly personable and discussed everything from football to Star Wars. Jacques Doucet of WAFB is among those who really enjoyed listening to Conley:

Feldman agreed as he suggested that Conley stole the show with his outgoing personality:

Georgia as a whole did a fantastic job and Richt led the way. Richt was as comfortable and well-spoken as any coach who has spoken at SEC Media Days this week. He has truly become the face of Georgia's football program and it is clear why the program is so well respected as he carries himself with a great deal of poise.

Richt faced a wide array of questions and some were difficult, but he answered all of them directly and offered some great material for the media.

The Bulldogs definitely have some question marks on defense this season and it remains to be seen how Mason will fare under center. Even so, Georgia should be a top team in the SEC East and vie for a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

After Richt and Georgia's top players met with the media, Freeze and Ole Miss took center stage. The stage is set for the Rebels to take a big leap forward this season after going 8-5 in 2013. Freeze addressed that as well as several other topics regarding his team and the conference.

Freeze started by saying that he and his team are "all in" when it comes to making strides in the SEC. At the same time, he admitted that more leaders need to step up in 2014, per Steven Godfrey of SB Nation:

Despite Mississippi's potential shortcomings, there is no denying the fact that improvements have been made under Freeze's watch. Even Freeze himself is surprised by the progress that has been made already, per McMurphy:

According to Robbie Neiswanger of ArkansasNews.com, Freeze has received a great deal of support from some of the SEC top coaches during his tenure at Ole Miss:

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Top 5 Storylines to Watch at Big 12 Media Days

The college football offseason is slowly morphing into college football preseason. How do we know? Conference media days are underway. The SEC is holding its media days this week, and the Big 12 will have its media days next Monday and Tuesday (July 21-22). 

The storylines for Big 12 media days are aplenty. From the College Football Playoff to Heisman candidates and expectations for Texas, it will all be on the table next week in Dallas. Whether those stories get legitimate answers remain to be seen. 

Which stories are sure to get the most attention? Our answers are in the following primer. 

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2014 All-SEC Team and Final Standings Predictions Revealed by Media

As we move closer to the start of the 2014 college football season, the media is going to start rolling out its picks for the top teams and players in each conference. The SEC, which has been king of the college landscape for a decade, got the royal treatment on Thursday.  

Coming on the heels of the SEC Media Days, all of the conference beat writers gathered together to release their picks. 

On the team front, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Alabama is once again the favorite to win the conference with a strong conglomerate behind the Crimson Tide, via Bleacher Report's SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee:

Going deeper into the process, Michael Casagrande of Al.com provided point totals from the media vote. It turns out that Alabama's lead over the rest of the conference is wider than you might think.

Alabama's 154-point total as SEC champion is more than the seven other teams that received a vote combined. 

No team reloads better than Alabama. Nick Saban had the top recruiting class in the country with 21 players rated at four stars or better, according to 247Sports.com. He does have to develop a new quarterback with AJ McCarron graduating to the NFL and rebuild a defense that lost Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and C.J. Mosley. 

You can also see the impact Johnny Manziel had on Texas A&M, which is predicted to finish second from the bottom in the SEC West just ahead of Arkansas. 

The defending conference champion Auburn Tigers aren't far behind Alabama, predicted to finish second, but the team is in a state of flux right now. Star running back Tre Mason went to the NFL and quarterback Nick Marshall being cited for tinted windows and marijuana possession, according to Rick Karle of Birmingham's WBRC Fox 6. 

Despite the recent run in with police, Marshall's stock doesn't appear to have taken much of a hit. Sallee also posted the list for All-SEC teams with the Auburn quarterback leading the first-team offense. 

As you can see, Alabama also leads the SEC in first-team players with a total of eight. Running back T.J. Yeldon will take on an expanded role with McCarron no longer around, combined with his 1,235-yard, 14-touchdown performance last year, made him a no-brainer. 

According to Fox Sports college football analyst Bruce Feldman, Yeldon wasn't the leading vote-getter for the All-SEC team:

One of the biggest surprises is LSU only having one preseason first-team player (La'el Collins), though it did have 10 total players make it including the second- and third-team. There's a lot of competition in the field, but Les Miles has done a fantastic job bringing high-impact talent to Baton Rouge. 

Keep in mind this is just a preseason ranking, meant to be taken as a prediction of what is expected to happen. The media certainly isn't infallible, Casagrande mentions that only four times in the last 22 years has the preseason favorite won the actual conference championship and not once since Florida in 2008. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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SEC Media Days 2014: Day 4 Schedule, Live Stream, Participants and Predictions

The four-day preseason bonanza known as the SEC media days will come to a close on Thursday. Although the event rarely yields ground-breaking information, the mere fact the return of football is right around the corner helps generate buzz.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is the headline participant on the final day. His Crimson Tide group highlights another full slate of four programs, which also includes Georgia, Ole Miss and Kentucky to complete the event.

Let's check out all of the important details for the last two sessions of the conference's media days. That information is followed by a schedule of anticipated interviewees and some predictions for what to expect from Thursday's action.

 

Viewing Information

Where: The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama

When: Thursday, July 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPNU

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Day 4 Schedule

 

Predictions

Nick Saban Will Create Plenty of Headlines

It's not because Saban will say anything overly interesting. He's a veteran of these media-day spectacles and has learned that the less you can say, the better. Rather, the position he's in means whatever he says will become headline news for the 24 hours that follow.

Alabama's consistent dominance over the past handful of years is unmatched. Saban's recruiting power has played a crucial role in that success. It was even enough to draw praise from one of his SEC rivals, as noted by USA Today Sports:

His response to those remarks as well as those about his team's outlook, as it's once again viewed as a top contender, are the most likely to yield headline-grabbing answers. That said, regardless of what he says, he'll probably be the most talked about person when the day ends.

 

Todd Gurley Begins to Understand Heisman Pressure

Gurley has racked up over 2,900 yards from scrimmage and 33 touchdowns over his first two seasons at Georgia. Now, with quarterback Aaron Murray having departed for the NFL, the running back is likely to take on an even bigger role in the offense.

So his appearance at the media days will feature questions about his Heisman chances. One thing he already made clear to Edward Aschoff of ESPN is that he doesn't plan on seeking a reduced workload with an eye on saving himself for the next level:

That's never been the case for me. The NFL isn't going anywhere. It's not like I'm going to be getting drafted [this fall]. I just have to make sure I'm focused on now and getting better every day so that can help me out for my future and basically doing it for my team.

One thing that comes with rising expectations is more external pressure. More media attention is part of that, which will start on Thursday and continue to build if he has a monster season. Handling those potential distractions is key for Gurley.

 

There Won't Be Any Controversial Comments

Every year people wait for any controversial or outlandish comments to emerge from these media days. Rarely does anybody deliver because there's an understanding that's exactly what people are waiting to jump on.

That's particularly true by day four of the event. By now, everybody who's speaking on Thursday has seen how even the smallest things can become a notable talking point. So expect to hear a lot of basic stock answers from players and coaches alike.

Make no mistake, every effort will be made to create a little tension, but don't expect any verbal fireworks. The programs have all prepared their representatives for the day ahead. It should come and go without any major developments.

 

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Questions We'd Love to Ask Every Coach at Pac-12 Media Days

Pac-12 Media Days are nearly upon us and with the event comes the grand smell of college football along with many high hopes and dreams of successful 2014 campaigns.

Each coach will get his moment in the spotlight as he sits down in front of a sea of reporters who will ask about everything from the backup running back situation to what a perfectly ripe plum should taste like. Okay, so we made that last one up, but topics will inevitably range from silly to serious and back again.

As much as we'd love to ask Mike Leach for a history lesson, however, what we're really excited about is football. Hopefully those at the helm of each program will give us some interesting tidbits to hold us over until the season starts.

Take a look now at one question that we'd love to ask every Pac-12 coach during Media Days.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com

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Questions We'd Love to Ask Every Coach at Pac-12 Media Days

Pac -12 Media Days are nearly upon us and with the event comes the grand smell of college football along with many high hopes and dreams of successful 2014 campaigns...

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LSU Football Recruiting: 10 Best Tiger Recruits from BCS Era

Since the start of the BCS era in 1999, LSU has been a dominant recruiting program. The Tigers have signed several highly ranked classes, and many talented recruits have decided to call Baton Rouge home.

The 2014 class was not considered, since coaches knew during that recruiting cycle a college playoff system was coming and the BCS era was ending. However, whittling down this list to 10 recruits prior to last year's class was awfully difficult.

The Tigers signed a 5-star cornerback from Florida in 2008, while 2003 was the year a strong-armed quarterback came to Baton Rouge from Alabama. LSU also nabbed a dominant defensive lineman in 2001.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.All stats are from Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

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2014 ESPY Best Play: Winner, Acceptance Speech and Twitter Reaction

We can have an argument about whether Chris Davis' 109-yard field goal return against Alabama is the greatest play in Auburn football history. What's no longer a question is whether it was the single best play in sports of the last year.

Davis came away with the 2014 ESPY Award for Best Play on Wednesday, winning the fan vote after nearly a month-long process. The top overall seed in a 16-play bracket, Davis' return came out on top of a final four that included teammate Ricardo Lewis' Hail Mary touchdown against Georgia, Paula Creamer's 75-foot putt and Damian Lillard's playoff buzzer-beater against the Rockets.

Even though all four plays were impressive in their own right, Davis came in as a considerable favorite for good reason.

Sent back on a whim by Gus Malzahn, the Auburn cornerback caught Alabama kicker Adam Griffith's 56-yard field goal attempt with his back foot inches away from the out-of-bounds line. Davis proceeded to allude one tackle around the 20-yard line, another at midfield and go the rest of the way unimpeded as his special teams unit did a marvelous job of holding their blocks.

The touchdown snapped Alabama's 15-game winning streak, ended the Crimson Tide's run at a three-peat national championship run and vaulted Auburn into its rival's place. It also helped cap off one of the more remarkable one-year turnarounds in college football history, as Malzahn flipped the script on a 3-9 team and turned them into the national runner-up.

"He wanted to return punts. He made that very adamant with us," Malzahn told Jim Crepea of USA Today in May. "So I'm glad our coaches gave him an opportunity."

Davis' return tied the longest field goal return in college football history. Some, including Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, called it the single best ending in the history of sport. We're not going to judge the veracity of such claims, but it goes without saying there was a reason Davis' return was considered far and away the favorite.

The play that arguably came closest was also from the Tigers' magical season. Down 38-37 with 36 seconds remaining and facing a 4th-and-18, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall stepped up in the pocket and threw what could nicely be described as a wildly ill-advised pass. The ball, flung in the middle of three Georgia defenders, bounced into the hands of two colliding defensive backs, popped up into the air and then landed in the hands of Lewis, who just so happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Without that moment—rightly dubbed the Prayer at Jordan-Hare—Davis' touchdown wouldn't have had nearly as much meaning. Given how momentum sometimes works with college athletes, perhaps it wouldn't have happened at all.

That said, neither Auburn moment came in the playoffs. The same can't be said for Lillard and Creamer.

The Portland Trail Blazers' game-winner might have been the best single basketball play since Ray Allen's three in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. With 0.9 seconds on the clock, and only a catch-and-shoot opportunity awaiting, Lillard came flying off a screen, caught Nicolas Batum's pass in stride and hit a cold-blooded three as time expired.

Of course, it wasn't just the shot itself that was impressive. It was everything the shot represented. The Blazers, having taken a 2-0 series lead on the Rockets' home floor, were suddenly in danger of going back to Houston for a series-deciding Game 7. A Rockets win would have flipped the script of the entire series.

Instead, Lillard continued to cement his reputation as the game's best crunch-time scorer and the ascending Blazers advanced. 

We're using wordplay to include Creamer in the transition—her 75-foot eagle putt to win the HSBC Women's Champions came in a playoff, the golf equivalent of overtime—but it's nonetheless impressive. Her miracle putt went over ridges, up hills, down hills and made one big left swing to go right into the center of the cup.

In previous years, any number of these plays could have been voted the best. But when some are talking about yours in the same breath as the all-time great moments our parents grew up telling us about, that's something special. Davis won and deserved to. There was never a doubt. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Breaking Down How Top 10 4-Star Recruits Can Earn Coveted 5th Star

There's been some changes and shuffling in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. New 5-star recruits have emerged, but several 4-star prospects just missed being awarded an extra star.

Don't worry, there's still enough time for each 4-star recruit to earn a fifth star. Some need to have big seasons this fall, while others just need to show they've improved in a weak area or two.

A 4-star receiver must show he has improved his speed, while a 4-star safety needs to display better ball production. Plus, a 4-star athlete can get a fifth star by continuing to add bulk to his frame.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Clemson Football: 5 Backups Critical to Tigers' Success in 2014

The Clemson Tigers are just weeks away from the beginning of fall camp, and most of the starting positions are locked up. However, if the Tigers expect to win 10 games or more for the fourth season in a row, they'll need depth.

Clemson has recruited well over the past four years. That depth will be put to the test this fall as several younger players—specifically in the secondary—ascend into starting positions for the first time in their college careers. 

And there's always injuries. What happens if All-American defensive end Vic Beasley goes down?

The best teams in sports are the ones that survive when a star goes down. Those teams have backups ready to step in at a moment's notice and pick up right where their predecessor went down.

Remember Frank Reich? Reich is most famous for being the architect behind the biggest comebacks in both NFL and college football history. Reich was the backup quarterback for each of those teams.

What about Tom Brady? Arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history was an unknown backup when he stepped in for an injured Drew Bledsoe and never looked back. 

Not everyone who fills in for an injured starter will be a star, but it's those backups who come in and quietly perform well that help teams win championships.

Here are five backups who are critical to Clemson's success in 2014.

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High Praise of Leonard Fournette at Media Day Puts Added Pressure on Freshman RB

HOOVER, Alabama — Les Miles has outdone himself. 

Miles is crazy. It would take more words than a dictionary to describe all of Miles' mischievous activities. But for SEC media day, he shared updates of his daughter's softball tournament and his affinity for Derek Jeter's All-Star Game performance. 

Just Miles being Miles. 

Yet even Miles, arguably the most successful coach in LSU history, did the unthinkable when describing his talented freshman running back Leonard Fournette. 

But before getting to Miles' ridiculousness, check out this scenario. 

Imagine being compared to the greatest athlete of all time. Imagine being compared to the greatest athlete of all time by your coach. Imagine being compared to the greatest athlete of all time by your coach, who you have never played a game for. Imagine being compared to the greatest athlete of all time by the coach you have never played a game for in front of quote-hungry media members.

Welcome to Fournette's world, where this is now a reality.   

“He’s got speed, size and strength, he’s goal oriented and he expects more of himself,” Miles said per The Advocate. “Michael Jordan was not coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan expected himself to do something special. That’s the kind of player Leonard Fournette is."  

Really Miles? Michael Jordan? 

Fournette is undoubtedly the next great thing. But Miles did the unfathomable Fournette hype no favors at SEC media day in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Comparing any human to Michael Jordan is nonsensical. Jordan is a deity who can do no wrong in the eye of the public. Heck, King James cannot even stay within the same breath of "His Airness" without outrage.

Can Miles at least wait for Buga Nation to play a game?

LSU senior running back Terrence Magee made a more reasonable comparison: the Minnesota Vikings' Pro Bowl workhorse Adrian Peterson. 

"To be honest, I think he (Adrian Peterson) is the only guy that's playing running back right now that you can compare him to," said Magee. "He is fun to watch and mentor. And his work ethic is off the charts." 

Magee also said Fournette could be the best running back ever. 

Even Charlie Chaplain is impressed by how much Fournette has accomplished today without saying anything. 

Hypothetically, if Fournette averaged 150 yards per game, which is unlikely considering he will share carries with Magee and Kenny Hilliard, comparing any mortal human to Jordan is nefarious in American sports culture. Some would even call it blasphemous. 

Magee rushed for 626 yards last season and will likely start in the season opener against Wisconsin. Hilliard is a touchdown vulture, having accumulated 21 career touchdowns on only 212 carries in three seasons.

Fournette was the No. 1 recruit in the country for a reason. He is a damn strong football player, which probably would have been a better, and more familiar, way for Miles to describe him.  

But do not expect anyone to label Fournette as "Air Buga" anytime soon, or ever.  

 

*Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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SEC Media Days Buzz: Biggest Stories of Day 3

The third day of the 2014 SEC media days is in the books in Hoover, Alabama. Missouri, LSU, and Arkansas took center stage Wednesday as players and coaches fielded questions from the media.

Watch Bleacher Report SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee break down the biggest stories coming out of Day 3, including the controversy between Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema and Tigers coach Gary Pinkel regarding the 10-second rule and player safety.

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

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Michigan Football: Are Willie Henry and Ondre Pipkins the Real Deal?

Willie Henry and Ondre Pipkins have yet to reach stardom, but they're most certainly two of the most important pieces to Michigan's defensive line.

Primed to pounce, Henry could very well be one of the best-kept secrets in the Big Ten. Really, the Wolverines probably aren't entirely sure about what he can do—it's not like he's an established mainstay.

However, while relatively untapped in terms of potential, the husky, 6'2", 297-pound redshirt sophomore is coming off an incredible spring—one which promises to catapult him to the top of coordinator Greg Mattison's depth chart.

There's no real reason why he shouldn't see waves of playing time this fall. 

At 6'3" and 313 pounds, Pipkins has the ideal size for a mean-streaked interior D-liner. Of course, there's a little more to go on with him—he was one of the top recruits of the 2012 class and was expected to develop into something (at least close to) special. 

Prior to meeting Minnesota in 2013, he appeared to be on his way up the ladder. But an unfortunate ACL tear further delayed progress. Now a junior, there isn't much time remaining for Pipkins, who will be an invaluable asset for the Wolverines if he can remain intact. 

 

Oh, Henry!

In 2012, Henry took a redshirt. In 2013, he tallied three tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks in 12 games. Those aren't dominant numbers, but the TFLs are promising. Once in the backfield, Henry's akin to a very wild animal, running loose in a small room full of delicate, extremely breakable things. 

Of course, this year's spring game was enough to erase what little doubt remained about the powerful and versatile lineman. Before the O-line knew it, they were facing their own end zone while trying to track down Henry—he burst through with ease and nearly intercepted the center-quarterback exchange. 

Instead, he just showed how much work his offensive teammates have to do before the season starts. That's all. 

Back in the spring, Henry, via MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner, said that he was pleased with his progress and suggested that the game is slowing down to a degree:

My confidence grew (last year as the year went on), the coaches saw something in me that they thought could help the team, that helped me confidence-wise, it helped me grow. I got used to what the speed of the Big Ten is like, there was a lot of competition.

(Right now), I'm just trying to get better.

Of course, it'll take a lot more than "confidence" to make an impact. But by most accounts, Henry's far from a flash in the pan. Spring was no fluke.

But is he the real deal? Yes and no.

In practices and in spurts? Absolutely. But that doesn't compare to making a key stop to help seal a victory over a bitter rival, nor does it compare to a momentum-shifting quarterback sack—both of which he's more than capable of doing. 

 

Ondre the Giant

In 2012, "Pee Wee" had seven tackles (two solo) and 0.5 sacks in 13 games. In 2013, he had seven tackles (one solo) and 0.5 sacks in the five games prior to his ACL tear versus the Gophers.

After a quick calculation, it would have been easy to project a 25-tackle, two-sack year for a healthy version of Pipkins, who should eclipse those numbers in 2014.

Realistically speaking, his "debut' is long overdue. But this year could be the one that he claims what's been perceived to be his rightful place on the D-line. By the sound of things back in October, he was on the doorstep of something meaningful, only for another stroke of bad luck to take its toll. 

Brady Hoke, who enters his fourth year as Michigan's head coach, said the following about the unfortunate circumstances, via NBC College Football Talk:

You hurt for Ondre, and I really do because I coach him and he’s in my meeting room every day. He was really starting to turn the corner on the field and become a productive football player for us. The good news is he’s young, he’s a great kid and he has a lot of great football ahead of him.

We will help him get through this.

He has all of the tools in the world; he just has to stay committed to rehabbing from his setback.

"He's coming right along according to schedule," Mattison said last week during an interview with Inside Michigan Footballper MLive.com's Brendan F. Quinn"He's working very hard at it and he wants to play."

In all likelihood, Pipkins will go head-to-head with Ryan Glasgow, a senior, and Bryan Mone, a true freshman, for most of the reps. Talent-wise, Mone can tangle with Pipkins. However, experience-wise, Pipkins has the advantage. 

And perhaps his hurdle-spiked path will further motivate him to show that he's indeed the "Pee Wee" that Michigan recruited three years ago. He's a "real deal" that remains in negotiation. 

 

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

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