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Ohio State Football: 5 Takeaways from the Buckeyes' Final Depth Chart

Two days later than most schools, Ohio State released its first official depth chart on Tuesday, providing insight into who stands where for the Buckeyes heading into the 2014 season.

There weren't too many surprises to be found, as only three starting spots remained up for grabs as of Monday, and head coach Urban Meyer anticipates those battles continuing throughout the week. But we now have our first official look at what Ohio State's lineup should look like on Saturday, when the Buckeyes take the field in Baltimore for their season opener against Navy.

What follows is Ohio State's first official depth chart, followed by a look into what we should make of it.


Takeaway 1: Line 'Em Up?

Replacing four multiyear starters from one of the country's most talented units over the course of the past two seasons, there still appears to be a lack of clarity on the OSU offensive line, with singular starters not being named at either center or left guard. It will either be Jacoby Boren or Chad Lindsay lining up at the former for the Buckeyes, and Joel Hale or Billy Price at the latter.

That could present an issue for OSU, as cohesiveness is needed more on an offensive line than any other unit on a football roster. It could be viewed as encouraging that the Buckeyes have what's perceived as depth at both positions, but also alarming that a player hasn't grabbed hold of either spot.

With Virginia Tech's aggressive defense looming in Week 2, look for Ohio State to use this weekend to seek clarity at both positions this weekend in Baltimore. With a first-year quarterback starting behind it, all eyes will be on the OSU offensive line this season, as it certainly has lofty expectations to live up to.


Takeaway 2: Receiver/Running Back Rotation

While seniors Devin Smith and Evan Spencer reclaimed their starting spots from a season ago, that could be viewed as a "name-only" status, as Meyer stated on Monday that the Buckeyes currently possess a rotation of receivers that goes six players deep.

"I couldn't tell you the starting receivers right now," Meyer said a day ago. "All of them could march in, and they all deserve playing time, so it's just a matter of who breaks the huddle first."

It appears that those players will be Smith and Spencer, although it shouldn't be long until we see Corey Smith and Michael Thomas also on the field. Add in highly touted H-backs (and co-starters) Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, and Ohio State appears to have a plethora of playmakers available at J.T. Barrett's disposal.

As far as running backs are concerned, it was long assumed that Ezekiel Elliott would be the Buckeyes' lone starter, but he now finds himself listed as a co-starter alongside fifth-year senior Rod Smith and true freshman Curtis Grant. Given Barrett's inexperience, Ohio State will likely rely heavily on its run game this weekend, and perhaps for the foreseeable future.

While they may be unproven as players, Meyer seems to like what he sees in his skill players this season. Those players living up to those expectations will be all the more important this season, as Barrett attempts to play the role of distributor in Ohio State's spread offense.


Takeaway 3: Defensive Depth

As opposed to a season ago, when the Buckeyes hardly rotated on any unit on the defensive side of the ball, Ohio State finally appears to possess the depth that Meyer has been craving since arriving in Columbus in 2012.

Even with Noah Spence suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season, the Buckeyes go a legitimate eight-deep on the defensive line, with the first four being as good as any in the country. The backups aren't too shabby, either, mixing a blend of experience (Rashad Frazier) and youth (Tyquan Lewis) that should help fulfill defensive line coach Larry Johnson's desire to constantly rotate players. It's also worth noting that senior captain Michael Bennett is listed as co-starter alongside Tommy Schutt, who Meyer said has had one of the best training camps of any Buckeye this fall.

Ohio State could make the most of a rotation at linebacker as well, with Raekwon McMillan spelling Curtis Grant at middle linebacker and Chris Worley possessing a skill set similar to starter Darron Lee. Cam Williams also adds experience and versatility and shouldn't be shellshocked if forced to see the field.

In the secondary, Eli Apple and Gareon Conley have been named co-starters opposite Doran Grant at corner, but each should see significant snaps in Chris Ash's press-coverage system. True freshman Marshon Lattimore was also expected to be a part of the rotation but was slated to undergo surgery on Wednesday morning.

While Cam Burrows and Vonn Bell are listed as co-starters at free safety, expect for Burrows to slide down to the dime back position when the Buckeyes are facing obvious passing situations. Erick Smith cracking the two-deep as a true freshman is also intriguing, as the hard-hitting safety from Cleveland Glenville has the potential to be an X-factor on the OSU defense.


Takeaway 4: Fear the Freshmen

Speaking of Smith, it is worth noting the number of freshmen lining the Buckeyes' depth chart, with seven first-year players finding themselves in the OSU two-deep. That's Meyer making good on a promise he made in the offseason, as he's constantly bemoaned the lack of impact that last year's freshman class made.

Of the freshmen who made the Buckeyes' first depth chart, look for Samuel to get the best look at making an immediate impact, perhaps as soon as this weekend. While not currently listed on the depth chart, Jalyn Holmes should also see his name called sooner rather than later, as Ohio State looks to improve its pass rush in Spence's absence.

Erick Smith aside, most of the impact from the Buckeyes' other freshmen could come on special teams—at least in the early part of the season. But making the two-deep this early in one's college career is certainly something worth noting, as it provides insight into who has been impressing the OSU coaching staff.


Takeaway 5: Special Unit

One of the less talked about position battles on the Ohio State roster during fall camp, true freshmen Sean Nuernberger edged out senior Kyle Clinton for the right to be the Buckeyes' starting kicker this fall. A 3-star prospect by way of Buckney, Kentucky, Nuernberger has been lauded for his leg power since arriving on campus and will get the first crack at replacing four-year starter Drew Basil.

In the return game, Ohio State should be as explosive as its been in years, as Wilson not only reprises his role as kick returner but takes over punt return duties as well. More than that, the Buckeyes now appear to have a plethora of options when it comes to returners, as Marshall and Samuel have both been lauded for their ability in open space.

Superb special teams was always a hallmark of Meyer's success at Florida, and Ohio State's makeup in that area currently resembles that of one of his Gators team.


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

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AAC Betting Odds: UCF Pegged as Favorite to Repeat in 2014

Following a stellar 2013 campaign that saw them claim the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural title with a perfect 8-0 conference record, the University of Central Florida Knights start the 2014 season as 7-4 co-favorites to repeat as AAC champs in college football future betting.

The Knights joined the newly formed AAC in 2013 following eight seasons in Conference USA, during which they won two conference titles and made five bowl game appearances.

“The American” undergoes further changes this season with the departure of the Louisville Cardinals to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to the Big Ten, along with the arrival of the East Carolina Pirates, Tulane Green Wave and Tulsa Golden Hurricane from C-USA.

The Cardinals’ departure following a strong 12-1 season has created opportunity for a number of teams in The American to improve their college football futures betting odds.

The Cincinnati Bearcats struggled down the stretch last season, dropping their last two games, including a 39-17 loss to North Carolina in the Belk Bowl, to finish the season at 9-4. But that has not kept Cincy from being pegged as a co-favorite in The American.

The Houston Cougars moved to the AAC from C-USA along with UCF a year ago. The Cougars posted a middling 5-3 conference record, but owned the second best defense in The American, allowing just 16 points per game against AAC competition. The Cougars start the 2014 season with betting odds of 5-2 to win the AAC title and are a 27-50 bet to win at least nine regular season games in 2014.

East Carolina completes the list of favorites to win The American conference title with betting odds of 7-1. The Pirates compiled a respectable 10-3 record in their last season in Conference USA, including a 37-20 win over Ohio in the Beef 'O' Brady’s Bowl.

The betting line on total regular-season wins by the Pirates is set at 6.5, with the over favored with a moneyline of 77-100, while the under is pegged at 9-10.

The Memphis Tigers lead the back of the pack with betting odds of 20-1 to finish atop The American this season. They are followed by the Southern Methodist Mustangs and Tulsa at 33-1, and the South Florida Bulls at 50-1.

Three teams share long-shot status in The American with the Connecticut Huskies, Temple Owls and Tulane all trailing at 66-1.

Tulane is first in action Thursday against Tulsa, and the Green Wave is a 6.5-point road dog, according to Odds Shark.

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NCAA Football Props Betting: Heisman Odds, Passing, Rushing Stats

Jameis Winston is favored to win the Heisman Trophy and favored to lead the ACC in passing touchdowns, but he's only even odds to lead his conference in passing.

That is just one of the interesting wrinkles in college football odds as props kick into high gear ahead of Week 1 of the college football season.

The Florida State Seminoles quarterback is pegged as the 9-2 favorite to win his second straight Heisman award and 2-3 to lead the ACC in passing scores. But at least one sportsbook monitored by Odds Shark had him as an even-odds bet to lead the conference in passing yards.

For the serious college football betting fan, there are other props betting options focused on team and player performance over the course of the 2014 season, including betting lines on the season stat lines of a number of Heisman Trophy candidates.

The betting line on Winston’s total passing yards during the 2014 regular season is set at 3,474.5. The national championship MVP threw for 3,490 yards during the 2013 regular season, but it is the UNDER that is slightly favored in this college football props bet, with moneyline odds of 10-13.

However, Winston remains a solid 2-3 bet to lead the ACC in passing touchdowns this season, and is also a 5-6 bet to lead the conference in passing yards.

"Some of these wagers may seem quite novel but fans who follow their teams closely can churn a profit over the course of the season," said Jack Randall, an analyst at OddsShark.com, which provides daily odds to Bleacher Report.

Team props betting opportunities are also available, focused on the inaugural College Football Playoff, as well as betting lines on total regular season wins for dozens of Division I-A teams.

The Seminoles again lead the way in College Football Playoff betting, with odds of 2-5 to qualify for the four-team tourney. After finishing last season with a 12-0 regular season record, en route to a perfect 14-0 season and the national championship, the betting line on Seminoles regular-season wins is set at 11.5, with the UNDER favored with moneyline odds of 20-27.

The Auburn Tigers, who fell to the Seminoles in the BCS National Championship after posting an 11-1 regular-season record, are pegged as a solid 20-27 moneyline bet to win OVER 9 games in 2014, but enter the 2014 season as 2-7 underdogs to qualify for the football’s new Final Four.

Led by QB Marcus Mariota, who closely trails Winston with Heisman Trophy betting odds of 5-1, the Oregon Ducks start their season as heavy 20-33 favorites to go OVER their regular season win total of 10.5, and are perched among the leaders in College Football Playoff betting with 6-5 odds of qualifying for the tourney.

Stats and odds courtesy of Odds Shark. Quotes obtained firsthand.

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UCLA's Kenny Young Next Frosh Phenom to Star for Bruins

That young star you can expect to see making plays for No. 7 UCLA Saturday at Virginia, and all season long, is Kenny Young. 

A true freshman from New Orleans, Young was impressive enough at training camp to perhaps earn the starting job at inside linebacker for the Bruins' season opener Saturday at Virginia. 

"What I've seen is a young man who is very serious about being an outstanding football player," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.

Young arrived at UCLA boasting an already impressive resume. Billed as a high 4-star recruit, he recorded a remarkable 122 tackles with four sacks for John Curtis High School in 2013, per 247Sports. 

His outstanding play earned Young numerous national honors, including distinction as a U.S. Army All-American. Not content to rest on his prep accolades, Mora said Young is diligent in his preparation for the college game.  

"He can't get enough film study. He works hard in practice," Mora said. "He's not what you imagine a typical 18-year-old is like. He's very mature and focused." 

Mora attributes Young's maturity and focus to his prep background.   

"There's a level of intensity with him you don't see in many young men his age," Mora said. "That comes from his background. I think it comes from playing at John Curtis and playing for that family, in that conference, in that environment."  

Not coincidentally, "mature and focused" are two adjectives Mora also used to describe the Bruins' 2014 roster. To reach that point collectively, UCLA had to endure some growing pains. 

Mora has not shied from playing true freshmen in his brief tenure at UCLA. Last season, 18 of them saw action for the Bruins. 

The qualities that now define the team were shaped on the field a year ago. 

And, while a rash of injuries thrust some of UCLA's first-year contributors into contributing roles ahead of schedule, others were prepared to immediately flourish.

UCLA landed three on the Football Writers Association of America's 2013 Freshman All-American Team. Offensive lineman Alex Redmond and defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes represented the Bruins in the trenches. 

Young finds himself in a similar position to UCLA's third 2013 Freshman All-American, Myles Jack.

Jack immediately jumped into the starting rotation of a veteran linebacker corps last season and thrived. His exploits on offense that made Jack UCLA's leading ball-carrier by season's end are renowned, but he spent the two previous months wreaking havoc at outside linebacker. 

Mora said there are consistent characteristics evident in freshmen like Jack and Young that better prepare to play immediately. 

"First of all, it's a physical maturity. You have to have that physical maturity to hold up," he said. "I'm talking about strength and endurance, and probably some size and speed.

"But I think there's a mental toughness. Some guys have it innately," he continued. "Some guys learn it. Some guys never get it." 

A portion of the true freshmen who played in 2013 fall into the category of having learned the mental toughness on the job. Young's quick acclimation suggests he's more that innately tough player. 

Combine that with the experience he is about to gain, as his UCLA career begins in earnest Saturday, and Young has the pieces to be the Bruins' next star. 

"He's a special young man," Mora said. "I'm excited to see him play on Saturday. I'm excited to see him develop through his time here at UCLA." 


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. 

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UCLA's Kenny Young Next Frosh Phenom to Star for Bruins

That young star you can expect to see making plays for No. 7 UCLA Saturday at Virginia, and all season long, is Kenny Young...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Playoff Odds: Florida State, Alabama Top Betting Picks

The defending national champion Florida State Seminoles lead the way as 2-5 betting favorites to qualify for this season’s inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.

The new playoff format features four teams playing in two semi-final games, with the winners advancing to the national championship game. It replaces the controversial BCS championship, which relied exclusively on votes and was a perennial source of problems.

The Seminoles last season won their first national championship since 1999 on the strength of a perfect 14-0 season, and they enter 2014 as 4-1 favorites to repeat in college football future odds, according to shops monitored by Odds Shark.

Joining the Seminoles at the top of the College Football Playoff betting odds are the Alabama Crimson Tide. The top-ranked team in the nation through much of the 2013 season, Alabama was denied a berth in last season’s national championship game after a heartbreaking 34-28 overtime loss to the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl.

However, the Crimson Tide enter the new season as 6-5 favorites to return to the top of the SEC and own 5-6 odds of qualifying for the College Football Playoff. Alabama are also the Seminoles’ closest rival to win the national championship, with betting odds of 5-1.

Despite their success in 2013, Auburn trails the favorites with 9-4 odds of qualifying for the final four. Indeed, the Tigers are heavily favored to miss the four-team playoff with odds of 2-7.

Auburn’s greatest obstacle in its battle for a top-four berth is conference rival Alabama. The Tigers trail the Crimson Tide in SEC championship betting, with odds of 9-2, and are 10-1 in national championship futures betting.

But just like last season, the battle for a berth in the SEC championship game—and a shot at a spot in the four-team playoff—may not be decided until Auburn and Alabama meet in the regular-season finale on November 29.

The Oregon Ducks and Oklahoma Sooners round out the list of top-four betting favorites to qualify.

The Ducks open their season with 6-5 odds of qualifying for the four-team playoff. Their solid College Football Playoff odds are in line with their position as EVEN money favorites to win the Pac-12 conference and 15-2 odds of winning the national championship.

After posting an 11-2 record, but falling short of a berth in last season’s Big 12 championship game, the Sooners are strong 4-5 college football betting favorites to win the Big 12 this season, and a 3-2 bet to qualify for the four-team playoff.


Odds and stats courtesy of Odds Shark.

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Florida State Football: What to Expect from 'Noles Freshmen in 2014

This is the time of year when all the time spent recruiting student-athletes pays off. Coaches are only as good as the recruits they bring to campus.

Then they must develop that talent and put players in game situations to see how they will fare (and possibly succeed).

Florida State University coach Jimbo Fisher has the luxury of utilizing a 2014 signing class that was ranked No. 4 by 247Sports. It's a group that included eight true freshmen on FSU's depth chart, which was released on Monday in advance of the Oklahoma State game.

"I don't think we had a bad area of camp as far as development of our younger players," Fisher said. "I've been pleased with all of those freshmen. They made a lot of developments."

Here's a look at the eight true freshmen on the depth chart and what they could contribute in 2014:


RB Dalvin Cook

Analysis: Florida's Mr. Football in 2013, Cook has been praised by Fisher in August for his physical running style and also his pass-blocking skills. The latter comment is a strong indicator of playing time; Fisher expects FSU's running backs to be proficient blockers, so the fact that he is able to stay on the field in passing situations will translate to plenty of opportunities. 

Cook and sophomore Mario Pender are vying for the No. 2 tailback job. Fisher likes to go with the "hot hand," so who gets more carries could be a game-by-game situation.

Prediction: Fisher loves to spread the carries among two backs. In 2013, Devonta Freeman (173), Williams (91) and James Wilder Jr. (81) shared the carries. So expect Williams to get a Freeman-like share of the rushes and for Cook and Pender to have 80-90 carries apiece. 


WR Ja'Vonn Harrison 

Analysis: Harrison is often the forgotten receiver, overlooked at times because of 5-star prospects Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane. But Harrison is 6'2'', 200 pounds and has distinguished himself as someone who can contribute.

"Nobody really talks about him much," senior receiver Scooter Haggins said. "He has the ability. You can see it in practice. He's smart. The way he's learning and how fast he is learning jumped out at me."

Prediction: Harrison will find playing time on special teams and at wide receiver late in games. With receiver Isaiah Jones declared academically ineligible, it opens up another spot for another wideout to contribute. Jones' misfortune could lead to more playing time for Harrison.


LT Roderick Johnson

Analysis: At 6'7'' and 330 pounds, Johnson is a massive yet athletic left tackle. He will apprentice under Cameron Erving, who is considered one of the nation's top left tackles. It's a perfect situation for FSU and Johnson. There's no reason to play Erving late in blowouts, and Johnson is an ideal option for the Seminoles to use with the second-team offense.

Prediction: Johnson will play often in the fourth quarter of games. It's great preparation for 2015, when he will likely start.


WR Ermon Lane

Analysis: Lane is 6'3'', 205 pounds and is technically the tallest receiver who will suit up for FSU in 2014 (Jones is 6'4'', and a large group of receivers are 6'2''). He's fast, physical and a good route-runner. Travis Rudolph and Lane are co-backups to Christian Green. Lane isn't as far along as Rudolph in terms of his grasp of the offense, but Lane's playing time will gradually increase as the year goes on.

Prediction: Lane will earn playing time in the second half of games. The experience will help him as he looks to develop into a starter in 2015 (Rashad Greene and Green will have graduated).


S Trey Marshall

Analysis: Fisher has consistently praised the versatile Marshall, who enrolled early and has quickly absorbed the defense. Marshall is a fast, physical safety in a secondary that is very deep. "That guy is going to be a heck of a football player," Fisher said. "We will find ways to get Marshall on the field."

Prediction: Marshall will likely see playing time as the dime (sixth) defensive back, similar to how Nate Andrews was used as a freshman in 2013.


LB Jacob Pugh 

Analysis: Pugh is just 235 pounds but is athletic and strong. "Jacob Pugh is doing a heck of a job," Fisher said. "I've been really pleased." 

Pugh will find that one-on-one matchups against ACC right tackles will be challenging, but will be experience for the future. He will need to learn to keep running backs contained and not let them bounce off tackles and find the open field.

Prediction: FSU likes to rotate its pass-rushers. It's fair to expect that he will be productive, accumulating some tackles and making a few sacks.


WR Travis Rudolph

Analysis: Fisher hasn't been able to contain his enthusiasm about the 6'2'', 190-pound Rudolph. He's a well-rounded receiver with no weakness and just needs more practice and playing time to refine his skills. 

"You talk about a guy who is very mature way beyond his years," Fisher said. "He has a little setback with the foot, but he’s back to full speed. He knows three or four positions. He can play the slot on both sides, he can play outside at X and Z. That is extremely rare for a guy that young."

Prediction: Rudolph may not start but will see plenty of playing time. His versatility means he could be used in three- and four-receiver sets, so there will be plenty of opportunities to make catches. For comparison, Rashad Greene had 38 catches in nine games as a freshman in 2011. Rudolph should enjoy similar success, especially over the course of a season that could be between 12 and 15 games.


FB Johnathan Vickers

Analysis: While Vickers is listed as the No. 2 fullback behind sophomore Freddie Stevenson, he likely won't play much until late in games. Stevenson will earn the majority of the playing time, and Fisher also likes to use defensive tackles as fullbacks to provide extra muscle on 3rd-and-1 or goal-line situations.

Prediction: Vickers will pick up some fourth-quarter carries and also a couple touchdowns.


Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats and bio information from FSU media guide or game notes. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Will Auburn Dominate Arkansas Despite Nick Marshall's Suspension?

The Auburn Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks are going head-to-head during the first week of college football.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss this big-time matchup and some new faces who will make an impact in this game. Who do you think will win?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Manziel Gone, How Will Kenny Hill Handle South Carolina's Defense Week 1?

The South Carolina Gamecocks and Texas A&M Aggies are going head-to-head during the first week of college football.

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses this big-time matchup and some new faces who will make an impact in this game. Who do you think will win?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Who the Experts Are Predicting to Reach First Ever College Football Playoff

Preseason picks have officially reached their due date. 

Abilene Christian and Georgia State kick off at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, and once they do, all predictions on who will make the College Football Playoff are docked half a letter grade for this and every subsequent day they are late.

But most college football experts are better students than that; they know how to hit a deadline. Their CFP predictions were submitted with time to spare, and with all that data floating around the Interwebs, we were eager to look at the critical consensus.

Who are the majority favorites to reach the final four?

The table below cites the 23 expert predictions at ESPN.com, the 20 anonymous coaches' predictions at ESPN.com, the nine (earnest) predictions at Grantland, the seven predictions at NFL.com and the five predictions at USA TodayBeneath that, it cites a collection of non-aggregated predictions (which is where you'll find your B/R experts). A full list of those can be found on the spreadsheet here.

Here is how the numbers shook out:

Others receiving votes: LSU (5), Ohio State (4), Wisconsin (4), Stanford (3), USC (1), Virginia Tech (1), Michigan (1)


Florida State: The Team We Are All Scared to Pick Against

Florida State isn't just the majority's pick to reach the CFP; it is everybody's pick to reach the CFP. Well, almost. Of the 83 voters we tallied, one brave soul did not have the Seminoles making the final four.

The identity of that one brave soul? Good question. It came from the anonymous coaches' poll, so there's no way for any of us (save Travis Haney of ESPN) to put a name to his picks. Everyone who did sign themselves to a public prediction, however, included Florida State.

The Seminoles return a ton of talent from last year's 14-0 national champion, highlighted, of course, by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. He'll play behind an offensive line that starts five seniors, and his defense should be just as impregnable as last year's.

Florida State's schedule also includes zero teams from the Top 15 of the Associated Press Poll, and the only two teams included in the rankings at all (Clemson and Notre Dame) both come to Tallahassee.

So, yeah. There's a reason this was near-unanimous.


Georgia is 50 Percent More Popular Than South Carolina

Georgia received 15 votes to South Carolina's 10.

On the surface, that is not particularly jarring. Both teams return a lot on offense, but Georgia returns more on the other side of the ball and made the SEC Championship Game as recently as 2012.

At the same time, though, South Carolina gets to host Georgia in Week 2 and was voted the favorite to win the SEC East during media days, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com. Thirty-one voters tabbed the Gamecocks to win the SEC at large; only 19 had the Bulldogs.

It's not clear where the discord here occurs. Has time treated the Bulldogs' outlook kindly? That is, has looking at their roster and reading the reports from fall camp actually changed voters' opinions? Or do local scribes just look less fondly on Georgia than the rest of us?

It's hard to say for sure. What we can say for sure is that Georgia is trending upward: ESPN's Desmond Howard and Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee even had it playing for the national championship:

"No," said Georgia head coach Mark Richt when asked if he agreed with his team being picked behind the Gamecocks at media days, per Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. "I'd have us first."

Apparently he's not the only one.


The Braxton Miller Ripple Effect

This table does not include any predictions from before Braxton Miller's injury. When the two-time reigning Big Ten Player of the Year/star quarterback of a preseason top-five team goes down with a season-ending shoulder tear, folks should be allowed to readjust.

That's kind of a big deal.

The biggest ostensible beneficiary of the Miller injury was Big Ten East rival Michigan State, which surely would have placed in the top 10 of this list regardless but now becomes the No. 5 overall favorite. Even with a road game at Oregon looming as a potential (if not likely) loss in Week 2, the Spartans are sitting in a good spot. ESPN experts in particular made note of that, voting MSU into the playoff on 15 of 23 ballots.

Ohio State still got four votes despite Miller's injury, and Wisconsin and Michigan (huh?) combined to give the Big Ten another five, so it's not like Michigan State has as clear of a path as, say, FSU. But Sparty beat a Miller-led Buckeyes team by 10 on a neutral field last season, and now they get a Miller-less Buckeyes team in East Lansing for what should (still) be the game that decides their division.

Getting 37 percent of the vote feels about right.


Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Notre Dame Football: 4 Things Irish Need to Know About Rice

SOUTH BEND, Indiana — There’s a palpable buzz in the air as Notre Dame football gets set for its season opener Saturday against Rice.

There’s the excitement of a new season, the uncertainty of an academic investigation, the unknown of a new defensive coordinator and new defensive starters and, of course, the return of quarterback Everett Golson. Rightly so, these topics have dominated much of the discussion throughout the preseason and during the first few days of game week.

Little has been said about Rice. The Owls are fresh off a 10-win season and their first-ever Conference USA title.

But what more do Irish fans need to know about Saturday’s opponent?


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah's Approach to 2014 Is Win First, Accolades Last

When it comes to his legacy, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah has a lot of potential ahead of him. The senior has a chance to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher in school history. However, that possibility is far from the top of his list of priorities during the 2014 season.

"It’s probably like 49th on my list I would say," Abdullah said. "Win is like one through 38. And then you’ve got championship 39 through 47.”

Abdullah's approach to the 2014 season should be a great sign for Nebraska fans. The I-back has not only been named a captain, but it's clear he plans to truly lead this team:

Well for me personally we are all teammates. We do a lot of things outside the football stadium and we get close as a team. I’m not reluctant to talk to anyone on the team. I have a pretty good relationship with guys, walk-on guys, walk-on freshman even at this point. I never hold back to talk to anyone if need be.

That relationship will be crucial as the season goes on. Abdullah's attitude will be as well.

Since Abdullah made the decision to return to Nebraska for his senior season rather than declare for the NFL draft, he's made it a point to do anything and everything he can to benefit the team. That has included being a part of special teams.

Some fans have wondered if it makes sense to let Abdullah play on special teams. Many worry about potential injuries that could occur, but the senior isn't concerned. Instead, as Hail Varsity's Grant Muessel noted during fall camp, Abdullah sees no reason he shouldn't be contributing on special teams:

I consider myself one of the better players on this team, so I want the best players out there at all times. Just because you play a pivotal role on the offense doesn’t mean you can’t contribute on special teams, because you want the best 11 out there at every phase of the game.

As for where he'll contribute specifically? That has yet to be determined.

"Kickoff. All of them. You guys will have to wait and see," he said.

The main point behind Abdullah's mentality is that the team matters far more than he does as an individual. His goal is to get the Huskers to the Big Ten Championship, and he knows he can't do that if his focus is on his own accolades.

So Abdullah's focus will be on his team. He plans to be the leader who keeps the Huskers motivated far beyond the first game:

As the season goes on you get worn out and kind of lose that fire, but I want to be the spark for the team. I want to lead the right way. I want to set the tone of what it means to be a winner. And the way that we win is excellent leadership and staying the course throughout the year.

It's hard to imagine that Abdullah's attitude won't have an affect on those playing around him. It's also hard to imagine that if his goal to build up his team works, he won't reach that 1,000-yard benchmark anyway.

But for Abdullah, it's Big Ten Championship or bust. Everything else is just icing on the cake.


All quotes obtained via the Huskers' Aug. 25 press conference, unless otherwise noted.

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Michigan Football: Hoke Unifies Team by Rotating Captains

The turbulence of last season's 7-6 record has resulted in a new offensive coordinator, a shake-up of the defensive staff and now the ditching of a longtime tradition.

Head coach Brady Hoke has confirmed that he will not name team captains for the season until after the Ohio State game. Captains for each game will be selected on a weekly basis from among his upperclassmen.

"We've had unbelievable leadership throughout the team," said Hoke. "We've talked about if you're good enough, you're old enough."

Hoke stressed that his decision was not intended as a slight toward his seniors.

"We've got great leadership in our senior class, especially on the defensive side of the ball," said Hoke. "Devin [Gardner] has been absolutely fantastic."

The move recognizes the talent and growing influence of Michigan's freshman and sophomore classes while closing a fissure that developed last season.

An undercurrent of discontent developed among younger players as Michigan collapsed during 1-4 stretch last November. 

It appeared that some of the seniors had developed a sense of entitlement. The most visible example was offensive tackle and team captain Taylor Lewan, who narrowly averted penalties for unsportsmanlike behavior and was involved in some off-the-field situations that resulted in unneeded distractions.

After sifting through the debris of last season, Hoke decided to remove some of the perks of being a senior—including preseason voting on captains and canceling the annual leadership retreat with the Navy SEALs. He also instituted a leadership council of players from every class to help promote team communication.

The dismantling of senior privilege opens up opportunities for freshmen like Jabrill Peppers, Mason Cole and Freddy Canteen to seize the spotlight once reserved for upperclassmen.

When former coach Rich Rodriguez made a similar decision to name captains after the season, fans howled with disapproval. The reaction to Hoke's announcement has been muted.

After six mostly disappointing seasons, fans are now much more concerned about the overall state of the program than how and when captains are picked. 

According to Hoke his freshman and sophomore classes "have a little bit more of an edge."

He's counting on that edge and greater team unity to bring Michigan back to national prominence.


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

Follow @PSCallihan

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Bleacher Report's Preseason 2014 Heisman Power Rankings

The Heisman Trophy isn't won in August or September, but that's not stopping anyone from guessing who the winner will be. 

Just as the preseason is a time for predicting the first four-team playoff field, it is a time for predicting who has a legitimate shot to win college football's top honor. It's also the perfect time to throw out a list of names who have an outside chance.

Remember, everyone is undefeated before Week 1. Everyone has a shot.

How do Bleacher Report's preseason Heisman power rankings look heading into season openers? The answers are on the following slides. And, of course, any omissions are purely out of hatred for your team.

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10 Freak-of-Nature Athletes in 2015 College Football Recruiting Class

While Jadeveon Clowney and Julio Jones rose to stardom in college, both players were deemed freaks of nature as recruits long before they stepped foot on campus. 

The 2015 recruiting class is stocked with athletic phenoms who have the nation’s top coaches in hot pursuit of their services. 

Defensive end Josh Sweat, the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, is a 6’4”, 245-pound bundle of fast-twitch burst and power who runs a sub-4.5 40-yard dash. However, he's hardly alone in the category of special athletes in this class.

Which other players in the 2015 class are candidates to acquire the “freak” label before they move on to the next level?

*Players listed in alphabetical order.

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Jeff Whitaker's Hard-Fought Return to the Top of Auburn's Depth Chart

AUBURN, Ala. — Even without the likes of Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae, Auburn's defensive line is loaded with players who made their mark on the field in 2013.

Just look at the Tigers' two-deep depth chart for the season opener against Arkansas.

Gabe Wright started 11 games at defensive tackle last season, but the versatile senior is going to be a first-team defensive end, where he will be backed up by fellow senior and former starter LaDarius Owens.

Sophomore Elijah Daniel, who featured in all 14 games of Auburn's SEC Championship run, will make his first career start opposite Wright. His backup, DaVonte Lambert, might be a newcomer, but he spent 2013 standing out from the pack at Georgia Military College as the nation's No. 1 JUCO defensive end.

Senior Angelo Blackson, a starter at defensive tackle, played in every game for the Tigers in 2013, along with backups Ben Bradley and Montravius Adams.

"It’s almost lineman by committee," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "We’ve got about eight or nine guys there, and some of them have had better performances and have more experience, but I don’t think [defensive line coach Rodney Garner] has got any concern of putting any one of nine guys on the field right now."

But even with all those players who are coming off successful seasons, the last name on the two-deep defensive line—a starter at defensive tackle—did not play a single snap in 2013 due to injury.

That doesn't matter to Auburn's coaches.

They have full confidence in Jeff Whitaker.

"Jeff is one of our leaders," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "He’s got a lot of experience. He’s healthy now, and I think that’s a big factor. He’s got experience in this league."

Although he has not recorded a tackle since Nov. 10, 2012, Whitaker will be one of the first defensive linemen on the field for the final season opener of his collegiate career.

Johnson hinted at Whitaker's surprise push to become a starter Sunday night, and Malzahn confirmed it Tuesday with the team's official depth chart release.

The fifth-year senior, who is jokingly referred to as the "old man" of the defensive line by his teammates, has been a leader for the Tigers' defense throughout the last several seasons.

"He's one of the guys we look up to all the time," Blackson said. "He's one of those guys who is a great leader. It's great to have him another year. I came in after him, and leaving with him, and it's a blessing."

Whitaker arrived at Auburn in the fall of 2010 as one of the nation's top defensive tackles. The former 4-star wasted no time in cracking the rotation as he played in all but one of Auburn's 14 games, including the BCS National Championship win against Oregon.

As a sophomore, Whitaker was named a starter prior to the 2011 season opener against Utah State and did not let go of that role.

However, the end of Gene Chizik's tenure in 2012 coincided with the beginning of some major health woes for Whitaker.

After starting the first six games of the season, he missed three consecutive games with an injury. When he came back to action against his home-state Georgia Bulldogs, the Warner Robins native failed to make any impact on the field for the woeful Tigers.

Following a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and a full offseason of work, Whitaker was sidelined with an ACL injury the week of the season opener against Arkansas. He originally planned to return against Texas A&M, but he was forced to redshirt the entire 2013 campaign.

"Life has a mean right hook," Whitaker told AL.com's Joel A. Erickson in April. "It came down to me making a mature decision. This was the right decision in my mind, but it was not probably the most popular decision I wanted to hear at the time."

But adversity was nothing new for Whitaker, who watched from the sidelines as his team made a return to the national title game. His mother died before he started high school, and his grandmother had recently passed away.

An injury and a redshirt season seemed small in comparison for Whitaker, and he decided to come back in 2014 for one more year with his teammates.

"I was focused on coming back and taking this opportunity," Whitaker said earlier this fall. "Redshirting was a decision I had to dig deep into making, which I feel like was the appropriate decision. I felt like it was a positive decision at the end of the day, which I think is the best decision. The best is yet to come."

Whitaker's teammates said his return has boosted the entire defensive line, which already has a lot of experience back for the new season.

"He just makes us better," Adams said. "Jeff is a great leader and just brings all of us together. I talked to a lot of guys from that 3-9 season, and that’s what they said they were lacking, everybody wasn’t together. With us all being together, it just makes everybody better."

But, with his return to the top of the depth chart, Whitaker has proven he is more than just a feel-good comeback story or a veteran voice on the sidelines—he still has something to bring to the team.

With former defensive tackle Wright moving out to end, the Tigers can definitely use the size of the 6'4", 322-pound Whitaker now that he's feeling "like the old Jeff again."

Arkansas' power-rushing, ball-control offensive style calls for more bulk from Auburn's defensive line heading into Saturday's season opener. Whitaker will provide extra power against a team that will be content to keep pounding at the middle of the defense.

When asked about how he will matchup against the Razorbacks' offensive line, the big-bodied Whitaker's response was simple and enthusiastic, per the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea:

Whether Whitaker is moving into the starting lineup permanently or for a one-off advantage against Arkansas, the veteran tackle knows he will get his chances this season in Garner's heavily rotating line. 

"The rotation is good, and I think it's good competition as well," Whitaker said. "It brings out the competitive nature. You root big for everybody, but you see somebody do something good, you want to come in there and do the same thing. And then you feed off of that. 

"If someone in there is playing good ball, it's like tag team. I'm a big wrestling fan. It's like tagging in, tagging out."

Even after a devastating injury and long road of recovery, this veteran underdog has shown he hasn't tapped out of the match yet.


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

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Tennessee Football: Why Vols' Wideouts Will Be Difference vs. Utah State

Tennessee sophomore wide receiver Josh Smith broke out with one of the most productive camps of any player on the Volunteers roster. Yet when UT released its official depth chart Monday, Smith's name was absent from the starting lineup.

That distinction belonged to the trio of Marquez North, Pig Howard and Von Pearson.

Smith will still play plenty, but if his camp performance failing to yield first-team reps isn't a testament to Tennessee's depth of able options at receiver, nothing is.

Head coach Butch Jones can throw waves of talented targets at opponents. It's going to be such a drastic mismatch for the Aggies' revamped secondary, the Vols will ride that advantage to a season-opening win.

All the ingredients are present for UT's young receivers to get off to a rousing start that could build the swagger necessary to grow into a special group.

USU coach Matt Wells must replace four defensive backs who were invited to NFL camps, led by fourth-round selection Nevin Lawson. Also gone are Quinton Byrd, Tay Glover-Wright and Maurice Alexander.

Even though the Aggies have enough promising players throughout their roster to present UT a major test, the secondary is one of their biggest concerns, along with the offensive line.

Seeing the size and athleticism of Tennessee's receivers understandably makes Wells shudder.

"I look at the secondary and know that we lost three guys to the NFL and that scares the heck out of me," Wells said at his weekly press conference Monday, according to USU's official website. "We've got good, talented players, but they haven't done it yet."

Jones could echo those same words about his receivers too, but that doesn't change the fact that they've got immense ability and were hotly recruited. The two-deep depth chart is a veritable stable of stars—23 combined, according to the 247 Composite rankings.

They're also sneaky experienced, much more so than Utah State's secondary.

A season ago, UT took some serious lumps at receiver as freshmen were thrust into action before they were ready. Now, the Vols return nearly 83 percent of its receptions from a season ago.

That was boosted even more when Howard returned to the team after a bizarre hiatus and worked his way back to a starting spot. Senior quarterback Justin Worley said Howard is a "tremendous asset" to UT's passing game.

Add talented prospects Pearson, Malone and Vic Wharton into the fold, and that lineup has the potential to be too much for some of the nation's best defenses to handle, much less one that has to replace as much talent as the Aggies.

That's not even to mention UT's talented tight ends. Worley looks around him and feels comfortable because of a considerable security blanket.

A couple of years ago, Utah State sophomore cornerback Daniel Gray was part of Tennessee's young talent. He also was forced into action as a freshman and was consistently torched throughout his one season in Knoxville, most notably in his lone start versus Troy.

After transferring to USU, Gray returns to Neyland Stadium to anchor an inexperienced group of Aggies defensive backs.

Some of Gray's former teammates such as recently graduated defensive end Corey Miller is a little more confident in Sunday night because of it.

If Worley is sharp, there's little reason to believe the Vols can't orchestrate an air assault.

The average height of the Aggies cornerbacks listed in their two-deep roster is 5'10", which isn't bad at all. But they still give up an average of four inches to the six receivers in UT's two-deep.

That talent isn't lost on Wells, who heaped even more praise on Tennessee's receivers, which is normally reserved for impressed coaches at weekly teleconferences.

Tennessee is known as 'Wide Receiver University' and I don't think I'd argue that. They have 11 first-round draft picks in the last 40 years at wide receiver. That's unbelievable. There may be four more on this roster. We talk about Marquez North. Von Pearson is a very talented slot, similar to [USU receiver] Jojo Natson. Josh Malone, it goes without saying is tremendously talented. He had 180-some yards in the spring game with three touchdowns. He lit it up, unstoppable. The guy is Mr. Tennessee Football. That's a big time honor in a very good state of high school football.

With that size and talent, throwing in SEC speed and athleticism, Tennessee's receivers are going to be too hard to handle.

While USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton will certainly lead his team to some points, UT's receivers will enable the Vols to match scores in a shootout.

Once the fourth quarter rolls around, Tennessee's superior talent, the cross-country trip for the Aggies and the humidity on a late-August Knoxville night will be the difference.

A new chapter of Wide Receiver U has begun, and the nation is about to see the future of the position is in good hands on Rocky Top.


All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com. Quotes and observations were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here: 


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West Virginia QB Admits His 1st Kiss Came Courtesy of Nick Saban's Daughter

West Virginia kicks off its season this Saturday like any other program will: a soft-boiled, gimme game at the Georgia Dome against No. 2 Alabama.

Why do the Mountaineers have this one handily in the bag? For starters, their phenomenally named quarterback Clint Trickett knows the enemy all too well.

The son of Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, Clint grew up around Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s family thanks to his father’s past roles on Saban-led teams.

Somewhere along the line, Clint met Saban’s daughter, Kristen, and according to the Mountaineers signal-caller, the two indulged in some young-love smoochery.

Clint admitted in a press conference on Tuesday morning that Saban's daughter was his first kiss, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt. Here are Clint’s comments in their full, less-than-steamy context:

They were six years old, guys. Let’s all have a snow cone and chill out.

Or we could take this side story and sprint for the hills with it, which Mountaineers fans will surely do come sign-scrawling time on Saturday morning.

In any case, you can’t knock Clint for taking a trip down memory lane. Your first kiss is a special, Fruit By the Foot-flavored moment. Clint’s just happened to be with the daughter of the coach he’s playing against this weekend.

In regards to Saban, I’m positive he doesn’t mind. As a dad, you hope your daughter meets a nice boy named Clint Trickett.

Worst-case scenario is he turns out to be Daniel Boone's affable, pigskin-throwing sidekick.


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

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College Football Week 1 Predictions: Picking All Top 25 Games Against the Spread

The most important thing, above all others, is that college football has returned.

This is an actual game week featuring actual football that will be played in actual stadiums packed with actual fans. And to remind you that this is all entirely real and you won’t be waking up anytime soon, these games have actual point spreads.

Here’s where it gets complicated, though. Although we welcome football’s homecoming with the most intense (but lovable) bear hug we can muster, the matchups are not quite in midseason form just yet.

Of the 22 games featuring AP Top 25 teams, 15 have a spread of three touchdowns or higher. And yes, two games even feature spreads of 50 points or higher. This actually made the prospects of finding available point spreads rather taxing.

Could the games be better? Absolutely. Should that stop you from being overly enthusiastic, to the point of scaring strangers? Of course not.

There's plenty to be excited about, and to prove it to you, we’re picking each Top 25 against the spread.

If the exercise looks familiar, that’s because it is. We posted the same picks last season, and apparently the selections were acceptable enough to get picked up by programming for another year. You will not hear any complaining. 

Let’s get to it.


All spreads are courtesy of Oddshark.com unless noted otherwise.

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Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 1

Week 1 of the 2014 season is finally here. Bleacher Report's college football analysts break down what they think will be the headlines following the Week 1 matchups. Who do you think will win these big-time games?

Watch the video and let us know.

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