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Meet Melvin Ray, the Undercover Leader of Auburn's Receivers

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn's veteran receiving corps has several potential leaders for an offense determined to throw the ball more in 2014.

There's junior Sammie Coates, a freakishly athletic star who finished third nationally in yards per catch as the run-heavy Tigers' lone deep-ball threat in 2013.

There's also junior college transfer D'haquille "Duke" Williams, who has been described as a game-changer by coaches and teammates for his attack mentality toward passing thrown his way.

And don't forget about Ricardo Louis, a still-developing former running back and the now-legendary receiver of "The Miracle at Jordan-Hare."

The same goes for Quan Bray, a senior looking to end his Auburn career by living up to his high school hype, and junior Jaylon Denson, who made a name for himself as a physical playmaker before tearing his ACL midway through last season.

But these wide receivers already have a player they look up to—25-year-old junior Melvin Ray.

"What I like about him is he brings a maturity to the room," Denson said. "He's somebody we can go to when something goes wrong. He's obviously been here longer than we have. He's like the big brother of the room."

Ray's journey to the Plains was not the prototypical one by any means.

A standout baseball player from his youth, he did not start playing football until he was a high school sophomore. 

"I loved [baseball], I played it my whole life," Ray told AL.com's Brandon Marcello in 2013. "It was the first sport I ever played, following my dad and my brother. And it was something that I loved. Once I started football around 10th grade, I realized that was a sport that physically was probably better for me overall."

As a young wide receiver at North Florida Christian in Tallahassee, Ray emerged as a highly rated recruiting target for some of the South's biggest programs.

He was a 4-star recruit out of high school after a 1,058-yard, 16-touchdown senior season in 2007 and committed to play for Alabama over programs such as Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Miami.

But baseball came calling back several months after he committed to play for the Crimson Tide. Ray was picked in the 33rd round of the 2008 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, and he decided to step away from football to follow his dream of playing professional baseball.

The two-sport star did not enjoy the same success that he had in high school in the Dodgers' minor league system—he had a .189 batting average with 14 RBI and 95 strikeouts over three seasons, according to Baseball-Reference.com—and he soon realized how much he missed the gridiron.

"It's actually a very hard grind, especially starting at the bottom in the minor leagues," Ray told Auburn's official website earlier this year. "It's not the lifestyle that people think about playing professional baseball. College football is a whole lot more enjoyable than the minor leagues."

Ray enrolled at Alabama early in 2011, but he never saw the practice field for the team that once held his commitment.

He then started looking down the road to Auburn, where he said he was impressed by the level of the school's academics and the program's football facilities—things he was not necessarily worried about during his original recruitment.

After taking a redshirt year in 2011, Ray was a contributor on special teams in the 2012 season.

"When I got here, I spent that whole first year away from the team," Ray said. "I was with them at practice, and then the redshirt workout with everybody, so I had that whole year to get my body back in football shape. So by the time that I did come back, I was really ready to go; it was just about getting the mental part of it back as far as plays, being a wide receiver again."

When Gus Malzahn and his staff arrived in Auburn, Ray got a few opportunities to showcase just how far he had come.

While he made a few catches against FCS-level Western Carolina and one against Georgia, he made a name for himself in the BCS National Championship Game.

Ray scored his first collegiate touchdown, a wide-open 50-yard reception, against his hometown Florida State Seminoles just outside of Los Angeles, the home of the baseball team he dreamed of playing with in the pros.

"Obviously, that game didn't come out the way we wanted to come out, but it felt good to do that," Ray said. "The goal is just to get back, however that is. If I make a play or don't make a play, I just want to make sure we end up [making] it back."

That selfless attitude has made an impact on Ray's fellow receivers.

"His attitude [is] what makes him a leader and a really cool dude," junior Tony Stevens said. "He knows when to play around and have fun with us and he knows when it's time to get on us and be serious. He knows everything about playing receiver here and he knows what the coaches want at every spot."

On the field, Ray is hoping to carry over his success from the national title game.

He showed his speed on the touchdown grab against the Seminoles, and his 6'3" frame makes him the kind of big target Auburn coaches want on the inside and the outside.

"If someone went down, and it’s even a position he’s not playing you could move him there and he’s be able to plug in and play," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, per the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer's Ryan Black. "Melvin will have a role, and he’ll help us win."

Although newcomer Williams has been the talk of fall camp with his big-play ability, teammates say the junior college stud has not made the best play of practice so far. That honor belongs to Ray.

"Probably the play Melvin Ray made in the first scrimmage," Denson said. "It was a long ball. He went up between two defenders and caught it. It was like a 50-yard gain."

Ray already has the respect of his teammates on and off the field as a veteran offensive leader. This season, he is hoping to come from an under-the-radar player to a playmaker who will command the respect of SEC defenses.

Just ask the players who have to cover him every day in practice.

"He’s got a big body and he knows how to put his body in front of you and place the ball," said senior Trovon Reed, a former Auburn wide receiver now playing cornerback. "He’s just a guy waiting on his turn, waiting on his breakout time. He’s going to shock the world."


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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Biggest Dark-Horse Contenders for the 2014 Heisman

Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Braxton Miller are easy picks to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy. However, this season's college football crop boasts several under-the-radar talents capable of stealing the spotlight.

Who will be this year's Heisman dark horse? Watch B/R's experts break down a few possibilities.

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Boise State Will Wear Orange Helmets for Game Against Ole Miss in 2014

The Boise State Broncos are known for their blue uniforms and blue turf, but they will have a bit of a different look when they take the field against Ole Miss this season.

On Aug. 28, the Broncos and the Rebels will battle in the Georgia Dome, and the Boise State players will be sporting new orange helmets.

The players loved the new helmets.

This isn't the first time that Nike has come up with a new helmet for the Broncos. Boise State has worn both a blue helmet and a black helmet in the past with similar designs.

[BSU Recruits, Boise State Broncos

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Nebraska Football: How Huskers Will Survive Latest Player Injuries, Suspensions

The first week of fall camp wasn't perfect for the Nebraska football team. By the time the second week rolled around, the Huskers faced three season-ending injuries and one suspension.

Both junior defensive back Charles Jackson and sophomore linebacker Michael Rose suffered knee injuries. Redshirt freshman Adam Taylor, on the other hand, broke his ankle. As for sophomore safety LeRoy Alexander, he was suspended from the team with no explanation.

That's enough to have any Nebraska fan's head reeling. Some may even be wondering how the Huskers survive this.

While a definite blow to the depth, Nebraska is still in a decent position. The defense took the hardest hit, but there's still no reason to panic yet.

For Jackson, he was expected to start at nickelback this season. While he mostly excelled on special teams in 2012 and 2013, the offseason was beneficial for him on defense. Bo Pelini and the team expected a lot from the junior.

“That’s a huge loss right there. We needed Charles this year," said sophomore defensive tackle Maliek Collins, as reported by Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star. "We just have to stay strong and be good teammates to him and help him get back for next year.”

Who will replace Jackson? Pelini is confident the job will now belong to junior college transfer Byerson Cockrell, as per Huskers.com: “I love Byerson Cockrell, he is a really good player,” Pelini said. “He is a very smart and very intelligent football player.”

However, the secondary didn't just take a hit with the loss of Jackson. Alexander's suspension also stings at the safety position. Per The Associated Press (via DetroitNews.com), Nate Gerry looks to be the likely replacement to start opposite of Corey Cooper. The job wasn't Alexander's yet, which makes the loss a little easier to deal with.

As for Rose, the linebacker position does have depth. In his absence, sophomore Josh Banderas will move into the top middle linebacker spot. Per Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, senior Trevor Roach will back up Banderas at the middle linebacker spot: "Trevor's played a lot of Mike linebacker for us," Pelini said. "He's a good football player."

The defense may have taken the biggest hit, but the offense did face one season-ending injury during Saturday's practice. Pelini confirmed that Taylor suffered a broken ankle that would keep him out indefinitely.

While the loss of Taylor is not ideal, it's not a major concern for the offense.

“I feel bad for Adam,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said, per Jon Nyatawa, Rich Kaipust and McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald. “He had a great spring and was really playing well in the fall. My heart goes out to him. He’s worked extremely hard. But on the same token, it’s a very loaded position for us.”

For a group stacked with Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby, there is little concern after the loss of Taylor. The depth at I-back is just fine for the 2014 season.

When it comes to the defense, it's not all bad news. The defense line, for example, is still very healthy. As McKewon said, the line is "young, but not necessarily inexperienced." They're the ones that will ultimately lead the charge in 2014.

Plus, the team itself doesn't seem too worried. As Christopherson tweeted, senior wide receiver Kenny Bell doesn't think it's an issue.

Injuries and suspensions aren't ideal. For Nebraska, it's truly not the end of the world at this point though. In fact, the Huskers are still in a good position.

It all depends on if the rest of the team can stay healthy from this point forward.

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Georgia Football: Questions Still Unanswered for Dawgs' High-Powered Offense

It doesn't take too much analysis to understand why Georgia fans are excited about the Bulldogs' offense in 2014.  

Hutson Mason, a new starter, but a fifth-year senior, will quarterback an offense led by one of the deepest running back units in the nation, and in the passing game he'll have three targets with more than 1,200 career yards to their names.

The fire power that has come to define coordinator Mike Bobo's offense is there.  But if some major questions aren't answered soon, this offense may struggle to produce the results Dawg fans have grown accustomed to.


Personnel Questions

Everyone knows names like Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett, and newcomers Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are asserting themselves into the conversation now, as well.

But can the average Georgia fan name the Dawgs' five starters at offensive line?  Probably not, seeing as the Bulldogs coaching staff has thus far been unable to settle on a lineup.  David Andrews is a lock at center, but every other position is in limbo with the following personnel contending for spots:

  • John Theus: Left or Right Tackle
  • Watts Dantzler: Tackle or Guard
  • Kolton Houston: Tackle or Guard
  • Brandon Kublanow: Guard
  • Greg Pyke: Guard

Head coach Mark Richt told Seth Emerson of Macon's Telegraph that both the first and second units are playing well, but it would serve the team to have a starting five locked down.

As an extension of the offensive line, the tight end position remains a major question mark.  Jay Rome was expected to carry the torch passed down from Arthur Lynch in a long line of successful Bulldog tight ends.  Unfortunately, his struggles with injuries have continued.  If he's unable to perform at a high level, the Dawgs will be left with a number of less desirable options.

Quayvon Hicks certainly has the athleticism and tenacity to play the position, but he's never done so in a game.  Hicks was a fullback prior to this spring.  Jordan Davis was highly recruited but has struggled to pick up blocking schemes and boasts no game experience.  Jeb Blazevich, a true freshman, is performing well in practice and is looking more and more likely to contend for early playing time.

To be fair, all of the players above (as well as Joseph Ledbetter, a late addition to the roster) may prove more than capable within this offense.  

But Rome offered such an obvious solution.  He knows how to block, he's athletic enough to get down field and has tremendous hands.  Combine those traits with his preexisting rapport with Mason, and the tight end position could have been another spot defined by security and high expectations.  

Instead, it's an unknown variable.

Equally up in the air is the fullback position.  Hicks' move to the tight end and H-back role has left junior Merritt Hall isolated as the lone player with meaningful experience at the position.  Hall has been out of practice and, as Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week, he could be out for a while.  

His absence has resulted in Taylor Maxey, a senior walk-on with no game experience, getting reps with the first team.  Additionally, freshman linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes is cross-training at the position.


Schematic Impact

The common denominator among Georgia's unanswered questions at offensive line, tight end and fullback is that all three position groups play a pivotal role in blocking within Bobo's offense.  That point may be redundant and overtly obvious when discussing any team's offensive line, but at Georgia fullbacks and tight ends do not see the field if they are not willing and able to block.

Accordingly, if these three units operate at less than optimal capacity, suddenly the capabilities of Georgia's most prolific playmakers could be stunted.  

Even a running back of Gurley's caliber would be limited by downgrades at tight end and fullback and a non-cohesive offensive line.  

In the passing game, Georgia tends to rely heavily on tight ends.  That option could evaporate in the hands of an unproven offensive threat.  And Mason's dream senior season could turn to a nightmare without protection.

Fortunately, Bobo and the rest of the offensive coaching staff have built enough goodwill over the past few seasons to merit confidence in identifying solutions.  Prior to the opening of camp, Bobo told Ethan Burch of Scout.com that the focus for camp was simple: everyday improvement.  "That's our job as coaches - to keep them focused on that," he offered.

His job's not done yet.  Georgia has all the weapons in the world offensively.  But the Bulldogs won't be fully loaded until these concerns are addressed.

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Notre Dame Football: Chris Brown's Emergence and the Importance of a No. 2 WR

Irish head coach Brian Kelly turned heads Saturday when he discussed Notre Dame football’s wide receiver position.

“He was clearly this week our best receiver consistently,” Kelly said to reporters following Saturday’s practice.

“He” might not be whom you’d expect. “He” was junior Chris Brown, the owner of 17 career receptions and one touchdown in two seasons.

Granted, senior DaVaris Daniels, the expected top target, was limited during the first week of fall camp with a groin issue, per Kelly. Still, Brown has risen from last season’s crop of unproven wide receivers behind starters TJ Jones and Daniels. With Daniels suspended for the spring semester and away from the team, Notre Dame was without an active, proven commodity after Jones’ ascension to the NFL.

Without Daniels, Brown’s 17 career receptions led the active receivers.

Without Daniels, Brown’s 50-yard reception against Oklahoma in 2012 gave him one of just two grabs by an Irish player from a current Irish quarterback.

And without Daniels, Brown began to rise.

“When DaVaris was not with us, Chris really by de facto was the veteran of that group,” Kelly said. “So he was put in a leadership position in the spring and really kind of took off. So I think the circumstances really led to him emerging at that position.

“I think when you see some light at the top there you kind of take hold.”

It’s just one week of fall practice, and don’t expect Brown to usurp the top job from Daniels himself. But if Brown can continue his development and form a capable alternative across from Daniels, Notre Dame’s offense should be in a better position to thrive.

Just how important is a steady second receiver? Why, for example, could Notre Dame not lean heavily on Daniels and then spread the remaining targets around equally to some combination of Brown, Corey Robinson, Will Fuller, Amir Carlisle, C.J. Prosise and Justin Brent? Well, the Irish still very well could. But recent history shows there’s something to be said for teams that have a second pass-catcher who can perform at a comparable rate to the top receiver.

Of the teams that finished in the final AP Top 25 rankings at the end of the 2013 season, 19 of the 25 squads received comparably strong production from their No. 2 pass-catcher. The No. 2 option on those 19 teams amassed at least two-thirds of the number of receptions tallied by the No. 1 receiver. For instance, Notre Dame—which finished 21st in the final AP Top 25—featured Jones (70 receptions) and Daniels (49). Daniels reached 70 percent of Jones’ reception output.

The only teams with one-dimensional pass-catching units—whose No. 2 targets didn’t reach the two-thirds mark in receptions—were Clemson, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Duke and Vanderbilt. Four of those teams had their No. 1 receiver eclipse 100 receptions on the season.

In other words, almost all of the top 25 teams in the country last season had a reliably productive second receiver or an elite, 100-catch first option.

Is Brown ready to become one of those top two receivers, filling the void left by Jones? It appears the speed merchant from Hanahan, South Carolina, could be on his way, filling in for the man whose career his is starting to resemble.

“I think [Brown’s growth] started with, first, we had a great mentor in TJ Jones,” Kelly said. “I think he saw the growth in TJ and kind of mirrored that.”

There’s still a long way to go, but Brown’s strong start this fall bodes well for the Irish offense.


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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4-Star QB Recruit Brandon McIlwain Tweets Top 6 Schools

Junior Brandon McIlwain, a dual-threat quarterback and one of the top 150 players in the 2016 recruiting class, narrowed his list of potential colleges down to six Tuesday evening.

The Pennsylvania prospect will officially choose between Auburn, Duke, Florida, Penn State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech:

McIlwain is the No. 149 overall player and No. 6 dual-threat passer in the country and the No. 4 prospect from Pennsylvania.

He is short for the position (6'0") but has a live arm and top-end athleticism. ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) said he "slings the ball with authority," calling him "the perfect fit for a spread offense" and "one of those kids you can't help but like."

Among his final six, Auburn sticks out as the most spread-oriented team. Current quarterback Nick Marshall is a converted defensive back with great speed, questionable height (6'1") and a powerful arm who's being mentioned as a Heisman contender this season.

Duke, however, also runs a spread with quarterback Anthony Boone, and Florida, which just hired former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, will be running a similar (if not identical) scheme this season.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is under a new offensive regime since hiring Scot Loeffler two seasons ago but has also been a top destination for mobile QBs such as Tyrod Taylor in modern years.

Having said that, South Carolina and Penn State are the two projected favorites to land McIlwain.

The Gamecocks have 73 percent of the votes on his 247Sports "Crystal Ball," and the Nittany Lions check in with the other 27.

Both of those teams already have a 4-star dual-threat quarterback committed in the 2015 class: Lorenzo Nunez at South Carolina and Brandon Wimbush at Penn State. 

However, even if that means added competition for McIlwain, it also signals that the teams are moving in the direction of mobile QBs.

And that's a good thing.

As far as his timetable goes, McIlwain will be active in recruitment this fall but plans on committing within the year. "I want to visit a lot of schools (this season) and make a commitment either in late-winter or early-spring," he told Phil Kornblut of GoGamecocks.com.

We'll keep you updated on his status throughout the season.


Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports Composite rankings

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Building the Ultimate College Football Coaching Staff for 2014 Season

What if money were no option?

What if contracts, school loyalty and recruiting ties weren’t an issue?

What if you could build the ultimate coaching staff?

As college football teams across the nation prepare for the 2014 season’s kickoff in just over two weeks, head coaches are garnering the lion’s share of attention.

Which coaches are national title contenders?

Which coaches are on the hot seat?

Behind the scenes toil the secret to their success: Assistant coaches. While head coaches serve as CEOs of their programs, their assistants do the bulk of one-on-one work with players, molding and shaping them for fall success.

Those assistants are becoming exceedingly well-paid, and with good reason. Without them, college programs would be in a world of trouble. They deserve the pay, as well as the recognition.

Here’s a look at one man’s idea of the ultimate college football coaching staff, across the board.

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SEC Football: 12 New Starters Who Will Dominate in 2014

After the SEC ushered out one of the most decorated classes ever, it's time for new starters to emerge as the next wave of superstars.

Opportunities abound for elite underclassmen everywhere.

With many of its top-tier quarterbacks gone to the NFL, the SEC could be run-heavy, so three running backs pepper this list. The list also includes a couple of signal-callers who could help restore the star power lost when Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron and Zach Mettenberger departed.

Several defenders are primed to stand out, and even a couple of freshmen have enough buzz surrounding them to warrant inclusion.

Players had to start fewer than half of their team's games a season ago to be considered for this list. They also have had previous college success, possess can't-miss talent or have a combination of both.

Let's take a look at a dozen new starters who are going to have an immediate impact in 2014.

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Ohio State Football: Will Braxton Miller Really Be Ready for the Season Opener?

Since undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, every indication has been that Braxton Miller will be good to go when Ohio State takes the field for its season opener against Navy on Aug. 30.

But will Miller be good to go?

You see, there's a difference between be ready to go and ready to go, especially at Ohio State and extra especially at the quarterback position in Urban Meyer's spread offense. Being ready to go would indicate that Miller will be able to put on his uniform and execute the necessary game plan to nullify Navy. Being ready to go? That means Miller playing like the reigning two-time Big Ten MVP he is.

We've seen enough from Miller in fall camp to know he can do the former. Through the Buckeyes' first nine practices of the preseason, Miller has participated here and there, as the OSU coaching staff has admittedly monitored his throwing reps throughout his recovery.

As for the latter, Meyer has admitted Miller isn't there—at least not yet. Asked on Sunday if the Buckeyes would need to rely on a run-heavy game plan if a game were about to be played, Meyer conceded that they would, before noting that's not the situation Ohio State finds itself in.

"If the game was tomorrow, because of where he's at, we would be very cautious with Braxton," Meyer said. "But we have three weeks."

That may be the case, and Meyer has repeatedly stated that Miller's limitations are part of a larger plan to ensure that he'll be healthy for the Buckeyes' upcoming meeting with the Midshipmen. But at the very least, it has to be concerning to not have the centerpiece of the OSU offense practicing with the OSU offense, as evidenced by Meyer's decision to hold Miller out of last Saturday's team scrimmage.

"He could have practiced yesterday, but we're in it for the long haul, so he's right on schedule," Meyer insisted on Sunday. "I've dealt with guys with arm issues before, and we're being very cautious."

But that doesn't change the fact that the Buckeyes are nearly two weeks away from the start of their season and their star player isn't on the practice field on a full-time basis. Mental reps may make for a solid sound bite or alibi, but even Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman has admitted to this fall camp having been frustrating without the constant presence of his star player.

“It’s been challenging,” Herman said. “But you try not to concern yourself with things you can’t change, and you can’t change it. It’s there. Would we like Braxton to be able to go through a 24-period practice all day, every day with two-a-days included and all that? Yeah. But he’s not there yet."

That's not to say that the OSU coaching staff has been surprised by Miller's limitation—both Meyer and Herman insist they expected it—but just because it was expected doesn't make it any less problematic.

With a relatively inexperienced receiving corps expected to be relied on, the Buckeyes wideouts could use all the reps they can get with their starting quarterback, and those have been hard to come by with Miller standing on the sideline.

For what it's worth, however, Miller insists that he's doing just fine. Asked about not taking part in his team's most recent scrimmage, the two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year stuck to the company line, stating that his absence was part of a more important plan.

"I feel great," Miller proclaimed. "I took a day off to be where I need to be."

But as we learned from Meyer's comments, where Miller needs to be today and on Aug. 30 are clearly two different places. And while Miller may be good to go at the moment, the Buckeyes will need him to be good go sooner rather than later to enjoy a successful 2014 season.


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 comes courtesy of 247Sports.

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USC Football: Power Ranking the Trojans' Top 10 Players for the 2014 Season

The 2014 season is almost upon us, and with it comes the high aspirations of a Trojan team that is extremely talented but also woefully thin on the depth chart.

With a starting lineup that may be as good as any in the conference, health will be a key issue if USC plans to return to the upper echelon of college football this year.

This slideshow will take a look at those top players and rank them in order of their value to the Trojans as well as their individual abilities.

Some of the criteria that went into formulating this list are based on statistics, while others are purely subjective.

Who are the top 10 Trojans of 2014?

Here is one person's opinion…

Begin Slideshow

USC Football: Power Ranking the Trojans' Top 10 Players for the 2014 Season

The 2014 season is almost upon us, and with it comes the high aspirations of a Trojan team that is extremely talented but also woefully thin on the depth chart...

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Football: Brady Hoke Determined to Run the Ball, Is It the Right Call?

Brady Hoke is a fluent practitioner of coach speak. After a long career he can deflect uncomfortable questions with a deft array of cliches or the occasional funny quip.

He was in fine form during the team’s media day, whether making a crack about his girth or deflecting a question about whether his defense would be able to carry the offense until it got on track.

But after being pressed about whether he felt pressure heading into his fourth season and why his team lacked toughness, he made his expectations for the program crystal clear.

“I want it to be a football team that can run the ball and have a toughness at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” said Hoke. “The identity part of it is a toughness that this program has had for many years.”

Running the ball and toughness are things that used to be commonplace in Ann Arbor—when Hoke was an assistant coach.

Last season the only player who ran the ball hard and exhibited the toughness that Michigan was once known for was quarterback Devin Gardner—usually while running for his life.

During fall camp last year, Hoke declared the return of power football only to see his offense come unhinged behind an epically bad offensive line. The team seemingly rolled out a new scheme every game, introducing complexity while shuffling nine players through its five offensive line positions.

The lack of consistent offensive identity ultimately cost offensive coordinator Al Borges his job.

His replacement, Doug Nussmeier, was hired with a clear mandate to reinvigorate the Michigan ground attack. He has a stable of 4- and 5-star talent at running back and a fifth-year senior quarterback at the helm of his offense.

During media day, Nussmeier declined to share specific goals for this offense other than: "We want to be physical, we want to be explosive."

But he faces the same basic problem that plagued Borges last season—uncertainty on the offensive line.

As bad as the offensive line was last year, it did send two players to the NFL. Michigan needs to fill those spots while dealing with the one-game suspension of Graham Glasgow, who will play guard or center. Another expected starter, Erik Magnuson, will play either guard or tackle.

During media day, Magnuson expressed no preference where he played: "If you can play one position you can play them all."

One wild card in the mix is freshman tackle Mason Cole, whom Hoke mentioned as a potential starter.

“Performance doesn’t have an age tied to it,” said Nussmeier. “He’s had an outstanding camp.”

Hoke will determine the top-five players for the offensive line next week. How quickly those players form a cohesive group will determine whether his mission to run the ball will succeed or fail.

“We don’t feel any pressure, we’re out here just competing,” said Magnuson. “We have a deep offensive line this year and everybody is playing well, and we’re playing fast.”

With just over two weeks until its first game, Michigan doesn't have time to tinker much longer.


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.


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Breaking Down LSU's Latest Depth Chart Moves Midway Through Fall Camp

It may not seem like it, but LSU has position battles outside of quarterback.

LSU's biggest offseason storyline has centered around the successor to gunslinger Zach Mettenberger. Freshman Brandon Harris and sophomore Anthony Jennings have been vying for that title. So far, Harris and Jennings have split time with the first unit.

LSU's depth chart is far from being set in stone. Head coach Les Miles has always been patient when making decisions on positions in question before the season opener. 

Nevertheless, there have been changes on the depth chart in fall camp. 


Defensive Tackle

LSU defensive tackle Quentin Thomas suffered an injury last week at practice. Ross Dellenger of The Advocate reported that Thomas had suffered a torn biceps and would be out for the season.

At LSU's media day, Miles indicated he has not ruled out Thomas' return and LSU Sports Information Director Michael Bonnette said Thomas could be back for the opener against Wisconsin, even though it seems unlikely. 

Thomas was projected to be the starter alongside Christian LaCouture. The duo served as backups to Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson last season and return as the only players at the position who saw meaningful playing time. 

Luckily for Miles, he has plenty of reinforcements

Miles announced that redshirt freshman Frank Herron is now slated to be the starter alongside LaCouture. But defensive line coach Brick Haley and defensive coordinator John Chavis said the vacancy is still up for grabs:

The backup duo of Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain form a physically imposing threat for offenses. Gilmore and Bain, both redshirt freshmen, will be playmakers despite their lack of experience. 

No matter who actually starts, expect Chavis and Haley to rotate frequently up front. The gap in talent between LaCouture, Herron, Bain and Gilmore is not that wide. Expect all four to see at least 10 snaps against Wisconsin. 



LSU safety Jalen Mills was arrested for second-degree battery in July, but the charge was reduced to misdemeanor simple battery, per The Shreveport Times. The decision came just in time for Mills to make the opening practice on August 3rd. 

Mills will play for the Tigers in 2014, but he might have to wait until after the season opener. There is a chance Miles will suspend Mills, a projected starter, for the first game, much like he did with running back Jeremy Hill last season. 

Luckily enough for the Tigers, they have talent to back up Mills. 

LSU has three returnees with starting experience at safety in Ronald Martin, Corey Thompson and Rickey Jefferson. Martin and Jefferson are the likely starters, with Thompson as a formidable backup. The Tigers also have talented true freshmen coming into the fold in Jamal Adams and John Battle. 

Defensive coordinator John Chavis is not ready to make any decisions yet. 

"Right now, we have five or six guys that are battling for those two positions," Chavis said, per Geaux247. "There’s competition all over the field. Ronald Martin has played a lot of football for us around here, and we've got several guys who have done that. It’s a battle that will continue up until game week."


Kick/Punt Returner

LSU lost one of its best kick and punt returners ever in Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason. New special teams coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto has been working out a wide variety of options, including some freshmen. 

"Right now they have me back there in the competition for kick returner and punt returner,” said freshman receiver D.J. Chark, per Geaux247. "But nobody knows who is going to be the guy yet...We have great players like Jamal Adams and Travin Dural, and obviously Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee. We are just seeing who the coaches feel will put us in the best position."

An ideal situation for the Tigers would be Chark or Adams winning the job. Dural, Fournette and Magee are valuable assets to the offense LSU cannot afford to get injured. 


Rankings and stats provided by cfbstats.comSports-Reference and 247Sports. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football: 2014 SEC Predictions

In the last national championship of the controversial BCS era, the mighty SEC's seven-year reign of dominance was finally halted by Jameis Winston and Florida State. The powerhouse SEC, though, should be the best conference again with more than enough teams to compete in the new College Football Playoff.

Alabama will be in the national title picture again, along with hated in-state rival Auburn. The Tigers hope to knock off the Crimson Tide again and make their third national title game in five seasons.

While Alabama and Auburn are the heavy favorites in the West Division, Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks and an underrated Georgia Bulldog team can’t be counted out in the East Division. 

There is no rule that limits a conference to only two teams in the new playoff system, meaning there are more than enough spots for the SEC to take part in the six major bowl games.

The SEC has the elite teams to compete for a national title, but which one will break away from the pack and put the SEC back on top?  


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Ohio State Football: How Offense Will Change Without Carlos Hyde

During the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Carlos Hyde was the driving force in Ohio State's offense—piling up 2,689 total yards and 34 touchdowns. The bruising running back set a single-season school record by averaging 7.3 yards per carry last year, and he was leaned on heavily in close victories over Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan.

With Hyde now suiting up for the San Francisco 49ers, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes are tasked with reshaping an offense that lost its most consistent producer.

How will Ohio State do that? What will the Buckeyes offense look like without Hyde in the backfield?


It Starts with Finding a Replacement

Thanks to Meyer's recruiting efforts, the Buckeyes are built to replace Hyde. A stable of running backs with five able candidates are vying for playing time in fall camp.

Ezekiel Elliott, the stud sophomore out of St. Louis, Missouri, is leading the charge.

The former 4-star prospect saw little action during his freshman season, but he made the most of his limited opportunities, rushing for 262 yards on just 30 carries (8.7 yards per rush) to complement three total touchdowns. He gained the trust of the coaching staff as the season wore on, which launched him into Ohio State's No. 1 running back spot this spring.

Elliott suffered a slight setback during the opening week of fall camp when he fractured his left wrist—an injury that required minor surgery. Miraculously, Elliott should be back at practice by week's end, although the coaching staff will limit his contact. A full return is expected by the Buckeyes' Week 1 matchup against Navy.

Behind Elliott are two running backs battling for the backup spot.

True freshman Curtis Samuel was leading that race when fall camp started, but Rod Smith, playing in his fifth and final season for the Buckeyes, has surged ahead after the first week of fall camp.

Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball, both of whom were 4-star recruits from Ohio State's 2012 recruiting class, give Meyer incredible depth in the backfield.

But none of Ohio State's current running backs have Hyde's blend of speed and power. With the additional loss of four senior starters along the offensive line, Meyer and the Buckeyes plan to shift their attack to the perimeter. 

That's where Ohio State's new offensive strength—speed—can dominate.


Finding the Edge

Coaches such as Meyer adjust their playbook toward the strengths of their best players. With Hyde and a veteran offensive line, Ohio State pounded the ball between the tackles. 

In 2014, the Buckeyes will spread things out to the perimeter, where loads of blazing receivers will have opportunities to make plays in space.

Meyer spoke about Ohio State's new identity during spring practice.

“It’s going to be a different…we’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs and all that,” Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of The Lantern. “Where, last year when you rushed for 300 yards a game, it’s because [of] that offensive line. We have other weapons.”

The Buckeyes' primary weapon, of course, is Braxton Miller.

Miller is entering his final season at Ohio State with a chance to shatter every school passing record.

His top priority, however, is getting healthy. After having shoulder surgery in February, Miller missed all of spring practice and has been limited this fall due to lingering soreness. The coaching staff is easing Miller back into full swing, which was the plan all along.

When he's back at full speed, he'll get to work with a diverse group of playmakers—headlined by Dontre Wilson.

The Buckeyes used Wilson mainly as a decoy in 2013, but the blazer out of DeSoto, Texas, is primed for a breakout sophomore season. Wilson is replacing Corey Brown in Ohio State's offense, who led the Buckeyes in receiving in each of the last two seasons.

Along with Wilson, Ohio State will stack the edges with receivers such as Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and Johnnie Dixon.

With all of those options, distribution will be key, according to co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, via Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch.

The way we gained yardage last year a lot of times was five guys and the tight end blocking, hand it off to the big boy (Hyde) and let him go. Now, we have more speed and more options on the perimeter, so distribution of the ball in different ways, hitting different areas of the field, can be a way to gain yards.

Getting the ball to the perimeter is one of Miller's greatest strengths as a passer. In two of of his best performances a season ago, the Buckeyes attacked Iowa and Penn State on the edges with great success.

Credit: David Regimbal


Ohio State wants to implement this kind of attack in 2014.

“I’ve always been a perimeter (advocate) my whole career," Meyer said via May, "wanting to get great players the ball in their hands in space.” 


All recruiting information via 247SportsAll stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston Must Overcome History, Fellow Contenders to Win 2014 Heisman

History is working against Jameis Winston in his campaign to become just the second player in college football history to win consecutive Heisman awards—an achievement only former Buckeye Archie Griffin can claim, in 1974 and 1975. 

It is a feat that Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Johnny Manziel failed to accomplish in recent seasons. 

Winston will need to overcome the following challenges in 2014 to earn serious consideration among the Heisman voters. 



Florida State's strength of schedule is tied for 47th out of 128, according to the NCAA's strength of schedule method, as the Seminoles face such competitors as Citadel, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Virginia and Boston College.

Some would argue that this helps Winston in his Heisman campaign, as a slew of light games would allow him to pad his stat sheet and emerge as a top contender.

However, strength of schedule is a factor that goes into determining a Heisman winner in addition to stats, and even if the Seminoles finish the season undefeated, voters may not be as impressed as if a player like Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall has a statistically impressive season despite the Tigers' 16th-hardest schedule. 

Florida State does play Oklahoma State and nationally ranked Notre Dame and Clemson this season, which makes the non-conference schedule tougher.

The games against Oklahoma State and Notre Dame replace 2013's matchups against Nevada and Idaho. Winning those games will help in Winston's Heisman campaign. 



The field of fellow Heisman contenders is incredibly strong in 2014, which will make it that much harder for Winston to pull ahead in the voting. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty could all potentially push Winston out of contention. 

Mariota increased his production in 2013 despite the departure of Chip Kelly, racking up 3,665 passing yards compared to 2,677 in 2012. He had 31 touchdowns.

Gurley amassed 989 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 2013 despite only playing in 10 games. 

Miller is a multi-dimensional threat for the Buckeyes, and if he can stay healthy, his stats are sure to wow voters.

He's thrown for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 in each of his last two seasons despite missing time to injury. Ohio State's strength of schedule is ranked 35th. 


His Past Production

Ironically, Winston's monster 2013 season—the best freshman season by a college quarterback on the books and one in which he set single-season NCAA freshman records for passing yards (4,057) and touchdowns (40)—could work against him in 2014 Heisman voting. 

Thirteen players returned to play another season after winning the Heisman Trophy, and 12 of them were unable to repeat.

As Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Info points out, "the issue for many of these players is that they were unable to replicate or improve their production and team success from their Heisman-winning seasons."

Katz noted that repeat Heisman winners lost 1.5 more games the year after winning the award.  

Winston will have an especially difficult time matching or exceeding his record-setting 2013 production without top targets Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, whom the Seminoles lost to the NFL.

Rashad Greene will have to step up in a major way, and the 'Noles will need Isaiah Jones and Kermit Whitfield to contribute, as well. 

Currently ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Poll, if Florida State loses even one game, Winston could fall out of favor with Heisman voters. 

But if Winston can match his numbers from last season, and if Florida State finishes undefeated, he could have another record-setting year in terms of Heisman history. 


Strength of schedule rankings via FBSchedules.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Things We've Learned About Miami Through Fall Camp so Far

The Miami Hurricanes' fall camp is well underway, and news continuously emerges from the Greentree Practice Fields.

Seven days of practices have provided insight into a necessary schematic change, a position settling down, updates on the quarterback competition and more.

Before the opening scrimmage of the fall, these are the biggest things we have learned through the opening sessions in South Florida.

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Kansas Football Unveils New Crimson and Chrome Uniforms

Kansas football unveiled its new crimson and chrome football uniforms for the 2014 season featuring a bright look with chrome outlines for the numbers and a new logo on the helmets. The players were enthusiastic about the new duds at a recent unveiling, with the polished metal facemask really catching their eye.

However, some people on Twitter were not fans of the new look. 

What do you think of these?

[Kansas Jayhawks]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: Ranking Tigers' Top 10 Players Heading into 2014 Season

Clemson lost some star power this offseason with the departures of Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and others. This year’s squad consists of a lot of talent, but there are question marks because of the lack of experience at some positions.

We looked at Clemson’s talent this year and ranked the top 10 players on head coach Dabo Swinney’s squad. It should be noted that players who haven’t seen the field yet, such as Deshaun Watson and Mackensie Alexander, were left off the list. It’s tough to judge their spot on player rankings when all they have is potential at this point.

Let’s take a look at the rankings.

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