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Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Teams Destined to Climb Up Standings

Preseason coaches polls are sometimes exactly what teams need to get motivated for the upcoming college football season.

This year should be no different. Multiple teams will look to improve upon their rankings in the first official Amway Coaches Poll, via USA Today. In fact, there are more than a few teams that are destined to move up the ranks of the college football elite.

Some schools have a ton of younger talent that is hard to quantify. Others have a wealth of talent but consistency issues to deal with. There are even some schools entering the season with depleted rosters following the 2014 NFL draft. That said, there's still plenty to look forward to this season.

Below are three teams destined to finish higher in the rankings than the preseason Amway Coaches Poll indicated.

 

LSU

It all starts with true freshman running back Leonard Fournette for the LSU Tigers.

The 6'1", 224-pound back is going to be a force at the collegiate level. He was the No. 1 prep rusher in the nation, and now he has a legitimate shot to establish himself as one of the next great running backs in the country. He won't be redshirted, meaning that nobody has to wait very long to see his explosiveness.

Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times was very direct in his predictions for Fournette's first year at LSU: "Fournette will play this season, and he will start. And he will dominate. He is that good."

Fournette believes in himself, a good trait to have as a young player at one of the nation's highest-profile football schools. He has already clearly outlined his goals for this season, via Guilbeau: "For my freshman year – 1,000 yard rusher, All-American, All-SEC and hopefully Heisman candidate."

If Fournette emerges as a Heisman candidate, then that means the LSU Tigers will be well on their way to outshining the No. 13 spot they earned in the Amway Coaches Poll. Of course, Fournette will have to produce if the Tigers are going to be successful. Right now, their quarterback situation is a little concerning.

Head coach Les Miles spoke about the learning curve for QB candidates Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, via ESPN.com's David Ching:

They’re young, they’re both engaged in leadership and want to have command of the offense -- and they do for the most part. They don’t know what command is. They don’t necessarily understand exactly what has to be communicated to make this thing go easy. They’re learning. 

I’d say 70 percent of today was just very, very well done and 30 percent’s probably not enough for anybody that sits in the stands to even notice. And yet that 30 percent we expect from our quarterbacks.

There's a lot to like about the Tigers and a lot to be concerned about. That said, Fournette's potential is enough to keep this team from falling below the No. 13 mark come season's end. The Tigers' chances of improving on that ranking are strong.

 

South Carolina

Sure, losing Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw put the South Carolina Gamecocks in an obvious hole of sorts, but new strategies on both offense and defense will help mask their losses.

Without Clowney, the Gamecocks implemented a 3-4 scheme on defense. They don't have the overpowering edge-rusher like in seasons passed, so utilizing the abilities of J.T. Surratt on the inside will be of the utmost importance.

Losing Shaw, the best quarterback in school history, may prove to be a much bigger loss. Shaw had the ability to run when the defense presented that option to him, and new starter Dylan Thompson lacks that skill. He isn't particularly fast and isn't very graceful when running with the ball.

This will put the pressure on running back Mike Davis. He gained 1,183 yards on 203 carries with 11 touchdowns in 2013, and those numbers could improve this year with even more attempts. That said, defenses know the type of runner Davis is. When paired with a one-dimensional quarterback like Thompson, defenses could clog the box in hopes of stopping Davis early.

The Gamecocks are in good position to rack up double-digit wins, however. SI.com's Andy Staples broke down why:

South Carolina had one of the youngest teams in the country last season, and those kids accounted for 78.9% of their rushing yards and 74.8% of their receiving yards. Six of their top eight tacklers return, as do four offensive line starters, including three (guard A.J. Cann and tackles Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell) with at least 22 career starts.

Given the amount of young talent on the Gamecocks, the SEC East could be theirs for the taking. Currently No. 9 in the Amway Coaches Poll, South Carolina could sneak up to No. 6 or 7 by season's end.

 

Missouri

A concern of many watching Missouri's early practices is that the Tigers don't have a clear-cut option behind Maty Mauk at quarterback. But is that really a huge issue? If Mauk stays on the field, then there's no reason to worry about the No. 2 quarterback.

Sure, if Mauk gets injured, then that's an entirely different story. But for now, let's focus on what this team does have. Mauk became Missouri's starter last October when James Franklin injured his shoulder. This is Mauk's first training camp as the starter, however, and the sophomore is looking to continue his success from last year.

At running back, junior Russell Hansbrough is a proven commodity who will rack up big yards as the full-time tailback. Of course, senior Marcus Murphy will also see carries here and there. Primarily a slot receiver this year, Murphy's presence will be felt in multiple areas on offense.

The defensive line is also a strong unit, and one player to watch this season is Lucas Vincent. Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about Missouri's history with talented defensive linemen and Vincent's goals for this season, via NCAA.com:

'He's playing at a different level than he's ever played,' Pinkel said after Tuesday's scrimmage, when Vincent was the most disruptive lineman from a front four that camped in the backfield all day.

Missouri has developed a reputation for churning out NFL-ready defensive linemen, with eight D-linemen from the Pinkel years currently in NFL training camps. Senior defensive end Markus Golden is widely considered the next elite pro prospect, but for now, Vincent has more immediate goals.

'I want to be All-SEC and All-American,' he said.

Currently unranked in the Amway Coaches Poll, the Tigers certainly have enough talent to overcome. Look for them to finish around No. 20.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR.

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Alabama Football Hype Video Will Get Crimson Tide Fans Fired Up

The college football season is nearly here, and for Alabama Crimson Tide fans, that means another opportunity for a national championship.

One YouTube user created this hype video for the 2014 season, and it will likely fire up most Alabama fans. The Crimson Tide begin the 2014 season on August 30 against the West Virginia Mountaineers.

[YouTube, h/t College Spun]

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Power Ranking the 15 Best Quarterback Matchups on 2014 College Football Schedule

The 15 best quarterback matchups on the college football schedule—as judged during the preseason—are almost certain not to be the actual 15 best quarterback matchups.

A lot of this is subject to change.

Who, for example, could have known that as we look back on last season, a game between Central Florida and Baylor would have had one confirmed top-five NFL draft pick (Blake Bortles) and one potential first-round NFL draft pick (Bryce Petty) under center? No one!

What we can do, though, is rank the best matchups as they currently rest on paper. It's not a guarantee that they turn out as well as they look but a call to arms for people to circle some dates.

Based on the skill of the two players, the history between them and the meshing of their styles of play, here are the 15 scheduled quarterback battles we are most excited to see take place this season.

Or at least that we are right now.

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BYU Football: Building the Ultimate Cougar Quarterback

BYU's home opener against UConn is right around the corner, and led by junior quarterback Taysom Hill, the Cougars could have a stellar season. It's not surprising that a QB is stealing the spotlight in Provo, as BYU has long been known for being a "quarterback factory" of sorts.

If it were possible to build the ultimate Cougar quarterback, using the four main physical groups needed to be a quarterback—eyes and mind, throwing arm, torso and body, legs—how would it turn out?

 

Eyes and Mind: Ty Detmer

There's no doubt that Ty Detmer had the mind of a quarterback. His ability to pick apart defenses and make quick decisions is unparalleled by any other Cougar. As an undersized, six-foot-nothing player, his size was always a disadvantage. He made up for it through his IQ for the game.

“[Detmer] was the smartest player I ever played with and his knowledge was only rivaled by possibly Norm Chow," said former BYU receiver Eric Drage (via the Deseret News). "He was by far the best leader I've ever been around."

 

Arm: Jim McMahon

Jim McMahon has long been known at BYU for his fiery personality and leadership ability, but he should always be remembered for his throwing arm. If you've forgotten how dominant Jim McMahon was during his BYU tenure, take a minute to watch the video above. 

Jimmy Mac had a gun attached to his shoulder, which helped him shatter 38 NCAA passing records. There are more than a few great pocket-passers that have played as a Cougar, but I would choose none before McMahon.

 

Body: John Walsh

After having a brief, mediocre NFL career instead of staying at BYU for his senior season, many Cougar fans aren't fond of John Walsh. He was a basic pocket-passer, similar to many others that played under LaVell Edwards.

But he had the frame of a quarterback, which separates him from the others. At 6'4" and 215 pounds, he had the size to break tackles, but the strength to make good—and accurate—throws.

 

Legs: Steve Young

As an NFL legend and Hall of Famer, Steve Young is one popular guy in the football world. But, despite being a quarterback, his arm isn't what people remember him for.

Young had the mobility of a tailback during his career. He had the agility and speed of a young rookie, but a veteran's knowledge of when or when not to run. There's no doubt that Young is BYU's top mobile quarterback of all time, and if Taysom Hill can get close, it will be quite the achievement.

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Why Notre Dame Fans Shouldn't Panic About Potential Academic Suspensions

SOUTH BEND, Indiana — The Irish were dealt a major blow Friday when news broke of an academic investigation involving four members of the football team, per the school's website.

But this might not be as bad as it initially seems.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick confirmed that wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, linebacker Kendall Moore, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams are being held out of practice and competition during the university’s investigation.  

Held out of practice is not the same as suspended or dismissed. University President Fr. John Jenkins made that much clear.  

“At this juncture, no one has been judged responsible for academic dishonesty, no one has been dismissed from the university, and no sanctions have been imposed, and no judgment has been made,” Jenkins said during an impromptu Friday-evening press conference on campus.

For now, there are no suspensions. There are no dismissals. Irish fans can hold out hope that the four players will be reinstated.  

Innocent until proven guilty, right?

No matter what happens, this football teams goals and expectations, to win a national championship, stay the same.

— Austin Collinsworth (@acollinsworth28) August 15, 2014

Don’t get it wrong; this is still a massive headache for an Irish squad two weeks away from its season opener against Rice on Aug. 30. But, even in the worst-case scenario, those four players will miss (at least) the 2014 season. It would be a hefty hit heading into the season opener against the Owls without Daniels, the expected No. 1 wide receiver; Russell, the top cornerback; and Williams, the current starting strong-side defensive end.

Yet even without those three players, Notre Dame fans should refrain from entering full-fledged apocalyptic mode.

 

DaVaris Daniels

Wide receiver is one of the deepest positions on Notre Dame’s roster, and junior Chris Brown has garnered loads of praise through the first few weeks of camp. Behind Brown, sophomores Will Fuller and Corey Robinson would likely be next in line to shoulder the load on the perimeter, with Amir Carlisle and C.J. Prosise still handling the slot.

 

KeiVarae Russell

Cornerback could be an even stronger position for the Irish than wide receiver.

Head coach Brian Kelly tabbed Florida transfer Cody Riggs as the starter opposite Russell on Wednesday, and Kelly also praised the play of sophomores Devin Butler and Cole Luke. Freshman Nick Watkins could see action as well.

 

Ishaq Williams

Along the defensive line, Kelly described Williams as “solid” during the start of fall camp. The senior and freshman Andrew Trumbetti were the starting defensive ends as of Wednesday.

Without Williams, junior Romeo Okwara, who worked ahead of Trumbetti for much of the spring, could rejoin the first team.

Williams, by the way, tallied just 17 tackles and one sack in 2013.

 

Kendall Moore

Moore, who was invited back for a fifth season, doesn’t seem to factor much into the defensive rotation. Linebackers Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, James Onwualu, John Turner, Ben Councell and Greer Martini—not to mention Jarrett Grace—have all drawn more attention and reps than Moore. Of the four players, Moore’s services are most easily replaceable.

 

Conclusion

There’s still plenty to be determined during the investigation. And there’s no doubt that Notre Dame’s preseason expectations drop significantly without the four players.

Once the shock of the announcement passes, once the university finally addressed the swirling, uncontrollable rumors, what are we left with?

For now, it’s a team without its top receiver, top cornerback, a starting defensive end and a backup linebacker.

Sure, that makes for a worse team, but maybe not as bad as might be expected.

 

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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Will Muschamp's Future as Florida Head Coach Rides on 2014 Season

No coach in the land sits on a hotter seat than Florida's Will Muschamp.

Really, no coach has been more inconsistent over the course of the past three years, either.

Blame it on injuries (they lost 15 players to season-ending injuries), simple bad luck or even voodoo emancipating out of Louisiana, but the simple matter of the fact is that a 4-8 finish last season falls directly on his shoulders. This isn't the NFL, where quarterbacks get the blame and then get cut or demoted, it is college, where the maestro in danger of losing a job is the coach.

Look, being the successor to Urban Meyer is nothing to sniff at. Things took a dip in his first year with a 7-6 finish and a 3-5 mark in the SEC—the Gators' worst since 1979. Fine. First-year coach, huge boots to fill, the whole shebang.

In his second season, Muschamp matched expectations in a major way with an 11-2 finish and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl. What could go wrong after that, right?

Everything, obviously.

Those four wins were also the worst mark since 1979 (for those curious now, let's cut out the leg work—Charley Pell was the head man and the team went 0-10-1 and 0-6 in the SEC). It was the first time the Gators missed a bowl game in 23 years. Quarterback Jeff Driskel missed most of the season with a knee injury.

Most embarrassing of all, though, was a loss to Georgia Southern, an FCS team that—in The Swamp, no less—amassed all of zero passing yards.

To his credit, Muschamp seems to have the right attitude as he goes into a career-defining season.

"There will be a lot of chatter about hot seat business and that's part of it," Muschamp said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "The way you combat that is by having a winning football team and winning football games, which is what we're going to do."

Muschamp has help this time around, as the program has elected to mimic schools such as Auburn and take an offensive-minded approach to the rebuild. Kurt Roper is now in town after his spread system led Duke to an ACC Coastal Division title. Those Blue Devils averaged 426.1 yards per game and better than 32 points.

The quick-twitch offense may have a positive ripple effect on the defense, too, as the unit must match in practices, which should, in theory, better prepare it for the real thing.

Further helping Muschamp's cause is the fact he returns seven starters on both sides of the football. He will have to once again lean on the defensive side, which has been his strong point so far, and hope that his third offensive coordinator in four years knows how to squeeze the most out of a talented cast.

Yahoo.com's Pat Forde best explains the disparity that has haunted Muschamp thus far in his tenure:

"In three seasons, Florida's average total defense ranking nationally is fourth. Its average total offense ranking is 112th. Eighteen times under Muschamp, the Gators have scored 20 or fewer points in a game – including the final seven games of 2014."

Roper's resume is great, Driskel is the right man for the job in a spread attack and the Gators will be one year the wiser and healthy, but not everything is perfect.

Those in charge of making the schedule must not like Muschamp all that much, as the Gators' two encounters with the SEC West come against Alabama and LSU. Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina and a date with Florida State to end the season line what is an absolute minefield of a schedule.

So what does it all boil down to? What is the magic number for Muschamp to cool the seat and stick around?

It is impossible to say, but we do know another whiff at a bowl game or a losing record will finish him off. Winning the East would be nice and an obvious way to stick around, but even something such as an 8-4 record is very much a questionable outcome at this stage of the game.

It is very much a tightrope act. Somehow keeping a job after a four-win season would mean eight wins looks like a great improvement, but Muschamp is not afforded that logic at a prestigious school like Florida.

Muschamp has enough tools at his disposal to right this ship, although much of it leans on the high-upside gamble invested in a new offensive coordinator.

Either way, Muschamp has everything at stake beginning right now. No pressure.

 

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Clemson Football: 5 Tigers Who Could Have Breakout Seasons

When a team has star players such as Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins out of the mix, it’s only natural that new guys will have to step up and have breakout seasons. Boyd had his breakout year in his sophomore season, and Watkins was able to contribute right away.

This year’s squad has a lot of talent, but there are question marks about which players will step up and become stars.

We have put together a list of five players who could have breakout seasons in 2014.

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What Academic Suspensions Would Mean for Notre Dame on the Field in 2014

Just as the stars seemed to be aligning for Brian Kelly's Notre Dame football team, the cloud of another academic scandal threatens to push the season off course. 

Notre Dame has removed four players from practice as an academic misconduct investigation gets underway in South Bend. A year after the suspension of Everett Golson derailed the 2013 season, the uncertain future of starters KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels and Ishaq Williams could dramatically alter Kelly's squad. 

After rumors swirled for hours on Friday, Notre Dame acknowledged the ongoing investigation involving multiple students and four members of the football team. University president Rev. John Jenkins had this to say in the school's official release

Integrity is at the heart of our mission and academic misconduct will not be tolerated at Notre Dame. If the suspected improprieties are proven, we will use the experience to reinforce among our students the importance of honesty in all that they do. We are also examining ways of better conveying to students that they can avail themselves of legitimate academic assistance without resorting to cheating.

RedditCFB first reported via Twitter that the four players were dismissed from school. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports was the first of the mainstream media to confirm the report, with other major news outlets following.  

Jenkins and athletic director Jack Swarbrick acknowledged the four players were being held out from participation until they dig deeper, but vehemently denied dismissals or suspensions have taken place, with the Honor Code investigation in its early stages. 

"This is not an athletic process, it is an academic process. All will be judged as students first," Jenkins said. 

Regardless of how this all turns out, it is another black eye for a football program that boasts one of the elite academic profiles in the high-stakes world of college football. For the second-straight season, those standards have threatened to short-circuit the team before ever taking the field.  

No timeline has been put on the investigation, meaning Notre Dame's top cornerback, wide receiver and defensive end are all out indefinitely. That's a nightmare for a program looking to avoid distractions, something that's next to impossible with the deep dig for truth only just beginning. 

With so much still to be determined, let's look at how potential suspensions could effect the Irish on the field.

 

KeiVarae Russell

If there's a dagger in the side of the Irish, it's the loss of Russell. A 26-game starter who manned a cornerback spot from the day he stepped onto the field, Russell is one of the top players on the team, and expected to be the Irish's lockdown cornerback, a potential star in the making. 

A candidate to be a team captain and considered a great leader both on and off the field, Russell's inclusion on this list is a puzzler. Held up as an example by position coach Kerry Cooks and praised by Kelly during fall camp for his drive and determination, losing Russell takes one of the Irish's most confident players off the field, and robs defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder of a key coverman in a system that's reliant on playing man-to-man.

Notre Dame's depth at cornerback makes the loss something the Irish can absorb, with Cody Riggs, Cole Luke and Devin Butler all starting-caliber players. But losing a player many on campus believed to be an early-round talent is probably the toughest pill to swallow in all of this. 

Russell has never hidden his NFL ambitions. He'll be eligible for the draft after this season, so depending on how this works out, he may never wear an Irish uniform again. 

 

 DaVaris Daniels

After having to sit out the spring semester because an academic suspension forced him off campus, Daniels' loss robs Notre Dame of their one established receiving threat. Coming off a 745-yard, seven-touchdown 2013 campaign, Daniels was expected to serve as Notre Dame's No. 1 receiver this season. 

Without Daniels, the entirety of the Irish receiving corps has one official catch from Everett Golson, a 50-yard connection to Chris Brown against Oklahoma in 2012. Daniels expected to use the 2014 season as a springboard to solidify his standing as a top-flight NFL prospect.

This could be the second academic strike against Daniels, with Swarbrick making very clear to differentiate between the receiver's struggles to make grades and the current situation. 

"Don't confuse academic probation with academic dishonesty," Swarbrick said. 

There is talent and depth behind Daniels, and sophomores Will Fuller and Corey Robinson will team with Brown to form a talented trio of outside receivers. But primed for a big season, if the charges stick, we've likely seen the last of Daniels in a Notre Dame uniform. 

 

 Ishaq Williams

If this is it for Williams, it's a career that'll be defined by underwhelming results. After picking Notre Dame over Penn State as a 5-star outside linebacker, Williams was a headliner among the trio of Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch, with that group going out with a collective whimper. 

Williams was stuck behind Darius Fleming and Prince Shembo, never winning the job at Cat linebacker, a hybrid position Williams seemed the prototype to play. Set to start at strong-side defensive end, there was optimism that Williams was primed for a big season, but that could all be down the drain. 

Notre Dame already plans on starting freshman Andrew Trumbetti, after Kelly announced he'd surpassed junior Romeo Okwara for the job opposite Williams. But with zero experience at the position with Sheldon Day now shifting inside, how the Irish patch together their front four will be one of the season's most pressing questions.

 

Kendall Moore

The seldom-used fifth-year senior wasn't expected to play much of a role on the Irish defense. So while his potential loss won't be felt on the field, it's likely to cause a ripple effect through the locker room. Like reserve defensive lineman Tyler Stockton last season, Moore's return as a grad student for his fifth year was likely decided because of the positive influence he'd have on younger players, but this certainly changes that. 

Moore could have seen time on special teams or in short-yardage situations. But at an inside linebacker position that's among the thinnest on the roster, his suspension puts more pressure on first-year contributors Nyles Morgan and Michael Deeb, and forces the Irish into a tough situation if Joe Schmidt gets hurt and Jarrett Grace can't make it back from his slow-healing broken leg. 

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Ten 2015 Recruits Who Have the Ability to Turn a College Football Team Around

Players who become pillars of collegiate programs can't carry a roster approaching triple digits alone, but they are certainly capable of affecting the culture of a team. Whether prospects arrive on campus surrounded by hype or in anonymity, how they respond to the rigors of college competition ultimately determines their destiny.

Despite being limited to four seasons of game action, a successful player can send his team surging ahead with valuable momentum after he departs. Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel are recent examples of athletes who quickly reshaped the image of their respective squads.

We assessed members of the 2015 recruiting class who could make an immense impact at the next level and help change the fortunes of a team. Therefore, we left out prospects who are headed to programs that currently reside atop the game's hierarchy (go ahead and sit this one out if you're looking for an Alabama commit).

Here's a look at 10 young playmakers who are prepared to make a profound difference.

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College Football Big Ten Predictions for 2014

The Big Ten will be one of the elite conferences in college football with at least three teams that could contend for a national championship.

It starts with Ohio State and Michigan State, who are now division foes, after the realignment of the former Leaders and Legends divisions due to the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. The Buckeyes will be seeking revenge after ending their 2013-14 season on a sour note. Meanwhile, Sparty is coming off its best season in school history with a 13-1 record and a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.

Urban Meyer and Mike Dantonio are among the best coaches in the conference, but second-year Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen could be moving up into that category as well. Andersen’s Badgers will be in the hunt to represent the West Division in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Wisconsin’s competition will come from both Iowa and Nebraska. Iowa hasn’t won a conference title since 2004, while Nebraska has gone through a 15-year conference title drought.  

Michigan and Northwestern have the talent to compete for a Big Ten Championship but must be more consistent and clutch after disappointing 2013 campaigns. 

The Big Ten will be a threat in the new College Football Playoff system and should have at least two teams in 2015's six bowl games. 

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Wisconsin Football: Week 2 Fall Stock Report

Week 2 of fall camp has come and gone for the Wisconsin football team with clarity at quarterback and kicker while the injury bug has struck a variety of key positions.  So call off the dogs, and let the two-quarterback experiment begin.  Without further ado, let's dive in to this week's stock report.

Trip to the Infirmary

Head coach Gary Andersen gave the team Thursday off after the Badgers saw player after player go down with minor injuries over the course of the first two weeks.  

Per Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the list of those injured includes fullback Derek Watt (unspecified), fullback Derek Straus (left arm/shoulder), wide receiver Robert Wheelwright (unspecified) and wide receiver Jazz Peavy (hamstring) on offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, the injury report includes linebacker Derek Landisch (hamstring), linebacker Vince Biegel (head), safety Leo Musso (unspecified) and linebacker Jesse Hayes (left foot/ankle).

Beyond those, linebacker Marcus Trotter participated with a "non-contact" jersey on, while Dallas Lewallen sat out Wednesday's practice with an illness.

Adding to the list of injuries is the news that running back/safety Vonte Jackson will be ending his football career.  Per Potrykus, Jackson has endured three major knee surgeries and suffered another knee injury in practice last week.  Jackson wasn't in line for real playing time, but one never likes to see a player's career cut short by injuries.

On a brighter note, earlier in the week, receivers Kenzel Doe and Jordan Fredrick both made their returns from injuries to become full participants in practice.

Freshmen Earn Their W's

In Monday's practice, the first five freshmen earned the "W's" on their helmets.  Freshmen come into camp without a W on their helmet and earn them over the course of fall camp.  This is a manifestation of earning your proverbial stripes and is a sign from coaches and teammates that they are progressing through the program.

The first batch of players to get their W's include kicker Rafael Gaglianone, all three freshmen wide receivers—Krenwick Sanders, George Rushing and Natrell Jamerson—and safety Lubern Figaro.

Four more freshmen earned their W's on Friday including offensive tackle Beau Benzschawel, linebacker D'Cota Dixon, defensive lineman Conor Sheehy and cornerback Derrick Tindal.

With good depth up front on the offensive side of the ball, Benzschawel will likely take a redshirt, but seeing him earn his motion W is a big step for the continued offensive line tradition at Wisconsin.

All three receivers earning their motion W's is incredibly important as all three have the chance to go down to Houston and contribute right away.  With injuries once again ravaging the receiving corps, there may be chances for any and all of these guys to contribute against LSU at the end of August.

In the secondary, Figaro has seen snaps with the first team, starting alongside Michael Caputo at safety while Tindal has seen snaps as the nickel cornerback.  While that is probably Devin Gaulden's role, Gaulden's history of injuries makes having a dependable backup there all the more imperative.

Dixon has made the transition from defensive back to linebacker rather seamlessly, providing good coverage instincts to go along with a willingness to make plays inside the box.  Dixon has certainly been one of the best surprises from camp thus far and hopefully he can provide key depth at the otherwise fairly thin linebacker position.

While coming into camp, all eyes were on nose guard Jeremy Patterson to step in as the backup to Warren Herring, it has been Sheehy who has impressed the coaching staff thus far.  While I still believe Patterson will be the better player down the road, the development of both is important, as the nose guard in a 3-4 defense is the anchor.

Last but not least is Gaglianone, but we'll get to him in just a bit.

A few players Badger fans would like to see earn their stripes include the aforementioned Patterson, as well as offensive guard Micah Kapoi and running backs Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw.

Position Battles

The two most important positions on the field (kicker and quarterback) are finally starting to see some more clarity in the depth chart.

Much to the chagrin of some, it appears as if Joel Stave will be the man under center for the Badgers for their first offensive series.  Stave has been incredibly consistent playing with both the first and second team offenses, and his experience will probably give him the eventual leg up.

While McEvoy may not be the starter, it still looks like there will be packages for him to play, as his athleticism gives the Badgers a completely different look and may help to soften up some stacked boxes.

At kicker, Gaglianone has continued to impress, and it looks like, barring a slump at the end of camp, he will be handling the field-goal duties.  As for kickoffs, Andrew Endicott was working with the top unit, followed by Gaglianone and then Russell, according to Potrykus.

To close things out, Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network spoke with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who says he will pick a starting quarterback after Monday's scrimmage.

 

 

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Texas Tech Coach Kliff Kingsbury Responds to Arkansas Fan's 'Breakup' Letter

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury's resemblance to actor Ryan Gosling gets him more attention than his coaching ability, so he occasionally has to deal with female fans crushing on him. It's then up to him as to how he handles those adoring fans.

So far, he has shown that he knows how to handle them with great class.

One Arkansas fan sent the Red Raiders coach a breakup letter, along with a mixtape. Kingsbury had a great response.

That's a smooth move by the 35-year-old coach.

[SB Nation]

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Could Baker Mayfield Play for Oklahoma in 2014?

There's a soap opera airing in Norman, Oklahoma. The plot centers around four players who may or may not see the field for the Oklahoma Sooners this season. 

Among those in question—the other three are receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, linebacker Frank Shannon and running back Joe Mixon—is quarterback Baker Mayfield, a Texas Tech transfer. According to his attorney, Jim Darnell, Mayfield is requesting a waiver that would allow him to play immediately, according to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com

Though Mayfield likely wouldn't have been the starter for the Sooners anyway—that title goes to Trevor Knight—he was impressive in OU's spring game, completing all nine of his passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. 

What are the odds of Mayfield, who played in eight games last year, being approved for immediate eligibility? According to John Infante of AthleticScholarships.net, the NCAA's Subcommittee for Legislative Relief would need a compelling reason to rule in Mayfield's favor. 

"The guidelines for waivers when a previous school refuses to grant permission to contact or use of the onetime transfer exception is pretty clear: They are not to be granted," Infante said in an interview with B/R. "And 'the rule is bad' is not really grounds for a waiver."

One way that could change, per Infante, is if Mayfield's "family is able to present something more compelling than what's been publicly reported." 

Mayfield, who left Tech after being named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2013, has to sit out a year to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. But Mayfield's story has an added element of intrigue because he was a walk-on at Tech. In a January interview with Jake Trotter of ESPN.com, Mayfield said he was not in line to get a scholarship at Tech during the spring. That played a role in his decision to leave.

Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury, when asked during Big 12 media days, said blocking Mayfield from receiving a grant-in-aid was "team policy. That’s it. The NCAA has the in-conference policy for a reason."

According to Infante, if Mayfield was in line to receive a scholarship, it would be less likely that his waiver request would be granted. He should receive a ruling one way or the other before Oklahoma's Aug. 30 opener against Louisiana Tech. 

Immediate eligibility in transfer waivers is ruled with a degree of subjectivity, though it's likely to be eliminated soon. As a result, there can appear to be a lack of consistency in those rulings. Green-Beckham, for example, may be eligible this year because of what Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com writes is a misapplication of the "run-off" rule, which allows players to transfer immediately "for reasons outside [their] control." 

(The specifics of the rule can be found on Page 15 of this NCAA document.) 

Green-Beckham has had his share of off-field issues, from a couple of pot busts to an incident in which he allegedly pushed a girl down "at least four stairs." Green-Beckham was not arrested related to the alleged assault. 

Still, the run-off rule doesn't seem to apply to him. But Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has publicly supported Green-Beckham, even though the wide receiver was dismissed from the team. Without Mizzou's support, Green-Beckham's immediate eligibility isn't even a conversation. 

Mayfield's waiver request appears far more black and white, and unlike Green-Beckham, he doesn't have the support of his former school. It would be surprising if Mayfield is ruled eligible to compete this season, barring something extraordinary coming to light. 

Of course, the Sooners are the No. 3 team in the Amway coaches poll largely because of Knight and their defensive front seven. Mayfield doesn't really play a role in Oklahoma's playoff expectations. Mayfield created an interesting storyline by performing well in Oklahoma's spring game, but there's no pushing Knight for playing time if he doesn't get the approval from the NCAA. 

That could change by this time next year. For now, the drama continues. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. 

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Notre Dame Football: Week 2 Fall Camp Stock Report

Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly isn’t big on releasing depth charts. But that didn’t stop the Irish coach from naming multiple starters—highlighted by Everett Golson—midway through the week.

Now two weeks into fall camp, the Irish are closing in on the start of the 2014 campaign. For the first time since the new FieldTurf was installed, the Irish practiced inside Notre Dame Stadium on Wednesday.

Beautiful sunny day to practice on the brand new ND Stadium turf for the first time. pic.twitter.com/QnqtPgK1nZ

Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 13, 2014

So with the season right around the corner, let’s check in on the second full week of action.

 

Everett Golson Named the Starting QB

Everett Golson, starting quarterback: pic.twitter.com/m7y4G71Hmk

— Andrew Owens (@BGI_AndrewOwens) August 13, 2014

“Everett Golson will be our starter against Rice.”

Those words, uttered by Irish head coach Brian Kelly following Wednesday’s practice, were expected yet still important. Golson appeared to be the front-runner throughout the first week of training camp, but redshirt freshman Malik Zaire had kept it competitive.

Now, there is no doubt with two weeks to go until the season opener against Rice on Aug. 30. Kelly said he was impressed with how Golson handled himself with the team throughout the winter and the spring, emerging as a leader. Compared to two years ago—when Golson was named the starter as a redshirt freshman—Kelly also noticed Golson possessing a better grasp of how the entire offense operates.

“I don’t know if I would call it relief,” Golson said to reporters after practice Wednesday. “I think it’s a heightened responsibility on my part knowing that everything is pretty set for Week 1 and I am the starter. It’s my job to get these guys right on the offense and just try to lead this team.”

That leadership could be one of the biggest takeaways from Kelly’s announcement. After returning from his suspension, Golson found himself lodged in the quarterback competition. In other words, there wasn’t an obvious, easy role for him as a leader. But it seems Golson has taken on that responsibility, nonetheless. Now as both the quarterback and a leader, Golson is in position to see how far he can take the offense—and the entire Irish squad.

Golson has had plenty of time to grow—physically and mentally—since the 2012 campaign. The bulked-up signal-caller seems ready to step up and deliver.

As for Zaire, the confident signal-caller is the No. 2 quarterback.

“I told Malik first and let him know what his situation was, and I got the right answer from Malik. He wasn't happy,” Kelly said. “If he gave me a hug, I'd be very disappointed. So he went out and practiced well and he wants to be the starter here, and he's going to keep working to be the starter.”

But there aren’t plans for Zaire to start—or even handle certain packages—at this point, per Kelly.

“Everett would play unless he was injured and couldn't answer the bell, so we're not looking to play two quarterbacks,” Kelly said.

“We've got one starter.”

The key with Zaire will be keeping him focused throughout the season. Kelly mentioned during the spring that the coaching staff felt it "lost" Zaire as the 2013 season wore on for the No. 3 quarterback on the roster. It will almost certainly be Zaire's team to quarterback in the future—but not now.

 

Freshmen Cracking the Defensive Two-Deep

While Kelly’s decision to tab Golson as the starting quarterback probably didn’t surprise many, the same cannot be said for some depth-chart updates on the other side of the ball.

Most notably, Kelly said freshman Andrew Trumbetti is currently penciled in as starting weak-side defensive end—opposite senior Ishaq Williams and ahead of junior Romeo Okwara.

“He's really separated himself, and I sometimes forget that he's a freshman because he's almost separated himself from this freshman class,” Kelly said of Trumbetti, who enrolled early for the spring semester. “We think that he's got a huge upside for us in so many areas that sometimes, like I said, I don't talk about him enough, but a great motor, physical, smart, does all the things that we ask him to do.”

According to @BGI_LouSomogyi, @AndrewTrumbetti would be #NotreDame’s 1st freshman DL starter in a season opener since Anthony Weaver in ’98.

— Blue and Gold News (@BGInews) August 13, 2014

I remember @SWiltfong247 telling me on Signing Day that Andrew Trumbetti would make huge impact in '14. He's the #NotreDame's starting DE.

— Keith Arnold (@KeithArnold) August 13, 2014

Kelly also mentioned linebacker Nyles Morgan, defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner, linebackers Kolin Hill and Greer Martini and defensive lineman Jhonny Williams as impressive freshmen. Morgan, Hill and Williams will all garner playing time, according to Kelly, and Martini is slated as the backup “Will” linebacker while Bonner is Sheldon Day’s backup as the 3-technique defensive tackle.

BK: Right now Jhonny Williams and Kolin Hill are situational players - not on the field for 70 plays

— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) August 13, 2014

Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder have repeatedly stressed their desire to utilize a lot of players defensively, with the hope of maximizing different abilities in certain situations. That bodes well for an Irish defense looking to be more aggressive in 2014. Constantly bringing on fresh bodies—especially hungry, athletic freshmen—should jolt the defense.

The downside is, well, they’re freshmen.

“It will be fun, but they'll cause a few moments of Coach VanGorder throwing his hat on the ground, I'm sure of that,” Kelly said.

Injury and Health Updates

On Thursday, Notre Dame announced graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy was diagnosed with “a very treatable form of cancer” a few weeks ago, and the assistant coach and former Irish safety will take intermittent leaves of absence from the program.

“Yesterday, I began chemotherapy as the next step in eliminating this disease,” McCarthy said in a statement. “I'm truly blessed to have such amazing love and support from family and friends. 

“Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and prayers over the last few weeks. I expect a full recovery and look forward to returning to the team during and after my treatment.”

McCarthy’s 240 career tackles slot him second in school history among defensive backs, and the 2009 Notre Dame captain went on to a two-year career with the Denver Broncos before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. Injuries ended his playing career last season, and McCarthy is a first-year graduate assistant.

“Kyle’s attitude and outlook toward his treatment is remarkable,” Kelly said in a statement. “We will support him the entire way. We are very confident he’ll receive the necessary treatment to make a complete recovery.”

God gives his hardest battles to his strongest warriors. Can't find one tougher than Kmac! #roadtorecover@KMcCarthy28

— Daniel McCarthy (@DannyMac15) August 14, 2014

We continue to be amazed by former captain Kyle McCarthy’s fortitude as he continues to help the team while battling cancer.

— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 14, 2014

Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock returned to practice in a limited capacity Saturday.

Denbrock, who underwent a surgical procedure before training camp began, still was unable to be at practice for long periods of time, according to Kelly on Saturday. The head coach added Denbrock might be able to go an hour each day for the next couple of weeks before gradually increasing his time.

Senior linebacker Jarrett Grace is still recovering from his leg injury.

“He was running today, going through bags, and I'd say looking at him today he's still a couple weeks away,” Kelly said Wednesday. “There is still a little bit of a limp there and you can see it, but he's making fast progress.”

Brian Kelly says LB Jarrett Grace is still running with a bit of a limp but recovery is moving very fast. Unclear if he's ready for Rice.

— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) August 13, 2014

Grace’s uncertain status further accentuates the importance of Joe Schmidt’s development. The former walk-on has ascended into a starting role, and Schmidt could be in position to be a rock of the defense. Without Schmidt and Grace at the “Mike” linebacker spot, the Irish would have to lean even more heavily on stud sophomore Jaylon Smith.

If Grace’s recovery stretches through the first few weeks of the season, that could equal more snaps for Morgan, the top-rated freshman in Notre Dame’s class of 2014.

 

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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Bob Stoops Uses the Sooner Schooner to Treat Oklahoma Players to Ice Cream

There's no need to get fancy when giving college students ice cream, but Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops found a way to deliver ice cream the Sooners way.

Stoops used the Sooner Schooner to treat his players to a refreshing treat after Friday's practice. The only thing missing was some nice ice cream truck music.

[OU Football, Twitter; h/t USA Today's FTW]

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Notre Dame Investigation: Latest Details, Analysis and Updates

The University of Notre Dame is looking into potential academic fraud that has resulted in four football players being suspended from the team. Per a report from Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

One year after Notre Dame football lost its starting QB, Everett Golson, for the 2013 season after he was caught cheating on an exam, the Fighting Irish team is dealing with the repercussions from more academic fraud.

This time, four starters have been dismissed from ND after the school conducted an internal investigation this summer, sources close to the program told FOX Sports.

Notre Dame also released a statement:

“Integrity is at the heart of our mission and academic misconduct will not be tolerated at Notre Dame,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the University’s president. “If the suspected improprieties are proven, we will use the experience to reinforce among our students the importance of honesty in all that they do. We are also examining ways of better conveying to students that they can avail themselves of legitimate academic assistance without resorting to cheating.”

Evidence that students had submitted papers and homework that had been written for them by others was initially detected at the end of the summer session, and referred to the compliance office in athletics on July 29. The Office of General Counsel initiated an immediate investigation.

“The University is committed to thorough resolution of this matter, consistent with its commitment to academic integrity and adherence to NCAA rules," Father Jenkins said.

According to Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports, four players were interviewed by school officials on Friday after officials opened an investigation into "instances of potential academic fraud on campus." Those players are reportedly wideout DaVaris Daniels, defensive lineman Ishaq Williams, defensive back KeiVarae Russell and linebacker Kendall Moore.

Forde's report also states that the situation is a potential honor code violation, which is the same thing quarterback Everett Golson was dismissed for last fall. 

Jeremy Fowler of CBS notes that the players have been removed from the team but not the university, and that it's unclear whether they'll be allowed to return:

Feldman noted on Twitter that Notre Dame has been conducting an investigation into academic fraud for a while:

Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune reports that things could be very serious: 

A source told the South Bend Tribune the scale of alleged fraud is comparable to the highly publicized case at the University of North Carolina and that a former player or players could be tied in as well.

Golson was allowed back in school last spring, and head coach Brian Kelly has named him the starting quarterback for Notre Dame's first game against Rice, per Dan Murphy of 247Sports.com:

However, per Feldman's initial report, it's "unclear" if the four dismissed players will be afforded the same opportunity as Golson. 

Some of the names mentioned by Forde were expected to play a key role for the Fighting Irish in 2014. Daniels was the team's second most productive receiver last year with 49 receptions, 745 yards and seven touchdowns. Russell had 51 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one interception. 

Notre Dame is one of the most prestigious athletic and academic schools in the country. It's commendable that the school was able to get ahead of this situation to conduct an internal investigation.

The results of the investigation should be interesting, not just because of what it means for the football team, but also for how the school goes about ensuring an investigation of this kind doesn't have to happen again. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Robenson Therezie, Texas A&M QB Decision


Losing "Star" Power?

If Auburn's defense is going to take the next step and become more of a power than a punch line, it could be doing it with one of its stars.

Literally.

Robenson Therezie, last year's starter at the hybrid linebacker/safety "star' position, might not be available early in the season for undisclosed reasons, according to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson (via: Joel A. Erickson of AL.com).

"With Therezie right now, we're not sure he's going to be able to play early," Johnson said.

Big loss for Auburn? Perhaps. Therezie had 57 tackles, three for loss and four interceptions last year, one of which he returned for a touchdown. His absence—however long it may be—creates more of a depth issue than anything else.

Justin Garrett had won that job exiting spring practice in 2013 and was in line to be a key contributor to the 2013 Tigers before a foot injury cost him the majority of the season. Behind Garrett, though, there are some questions. 

Mackenro Alexander moved from safety to "star" last year, T.J. Davis moved over from defensive back and newcomer Nick Ruffin has been practicing at the position as well, according to Alex Byington of the Dothan Eagle and the Opelika-Auburn News.

This is nothing new to Johnson or head coach Gus Malzahn. Therezie was thrust into the position last year and played well. If Garrett returns to form, the Tigers should be fine in Therezie's absence. If that foot injury nags him, however, the Tigers could be trotting out a very unproven player out there at a position that is critical to Johnson's defense. 

It worked last year. Two times in a row? Auburn would rather not find out.

 

Stepping in For a Legend

The battle to replace Johnny Manziel as Texas A&M's starting quarterback is winding down, apparently, and the winner will be known by the end of the weekend.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin said on the SEC Network (via: Brent Zwerneman of Chron.com) that he should decide on a starting quarterback—either sophomore Kenny Hill or freshman Kyle Allen—this weekend. 

“I’d look for us to name somebody this weekend,” Sumlin said. “We’ve got to get moving, and get the starter used to playing with the No. 1s and really get the game snaps. We’ve got a big scrimmage (Friday) night, and after that we’ll sit down as a staff and make some decisions, and go from there.”

Who will it be? Put me in the camp for true freshman Kyle Allen.

I love what Allen can do through the air, and with all of the weapons he has around him, he should be able to slide right into the starting role after participating in spring practice and keep that Aggie offense cooking.

A true freshman on the road in the SEC in the opener? That's fine with me.

The rest of Allen's teammates and his head coach know what they're getting into at South Carolina on Aug. 28, and it wasn't too long ago when Sumlin trotted out some kid named "Manziel" against the vaunted Florida defense. Granted, the opener against Louisiana Tech in 2012 was postponed due to a hurricane, but he isn't afraid to throw a young player out there if he's earned it.

 

"Worley Ball 2"

The sequel to last August's quarterback battle at Tennessee ended in the same way as the original, with Justin Worley being named the starter heading into Week 1.

Head coach Butch Jones chose the senior—who threw for 1,239 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight games last year—over sophomores Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs

JONES: @WorleyBird_14 has earned the right to the be starting QB. I believe Justin is playing the best football he's played in a long time.

— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) August 14, 2014

JONES: @WorleyBird_14 has been a leader, he's been very vocal. When you manage the football, it's a matter of seconds. He's managed that.

— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) August 14, 2014

It's the right move.

With five brand new offensive linemen, Worley is going to be forced to make quick decisions, check down to his safety valve and not take risks when pressure is in his face.

Does he have the upside of Dobbs or Peterman? Maybe not.

But that isn't what's important for this Vols team. It has the skill position weapons with running backs Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd and receivers Marquez North, Josh Malone, Jason Croom, Von Pearson and Pig Howard. When the protection breaks down, the quarterback needs to live another day, and Worley is most likely to do that.

As I wrote earlier this week, Jones wised-up in year two in the SEC by making this decision quickly. Now Worley has a better chance to hit the ground running and help stabilize a Vols program that's been littered with instability since 2007.

 

Don't Ask Nick Saban About the QBs

After participating in the SEC Network launch and other ESPN hits over the last few days, Alabama head coach Nick Saban isn't interested in discussing his ongoing competition between senior Blake Sims and junior Jake Coker anymore.

When asked after Thursday's practice what he will be looking for from them during Saturday's scrimmage, Saban fired back with a brief and animated response:

"Nothing. Nothing," Saban said at the 16:02 mark of the video released by Alabama. "I mean, I don't know what you want me to say. They're both going to take an equal number of snaps, just like they did last week. And if you keep asking questions about it, we probably won't give you their stats again."

Should you read into Saban's fiery response?

If you didn't think it was a real battle before, now you probably should. Beyond that, though, it's not anything to get concerned about.

It's an odd situation for Alabama during fall camp choosing between a veteran senior with limited playing time and a fresh-faced transfer who also has limited mop-up experience. He's only received limited time with Coker and has West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss to tune up for the Florida defense. 

He will take his time. He should take his time. If the battle bleeds into the season, that's fine too. It worked out well in 2011, when AJ McCarron eventually beat out Phillip Sims for the job.

 

A Fine Debut

After more than a year of buildup, the SEC Network finally launched on Thursday. 

A few thoughts on its debut:

  • If you haven't read Viv Bernstein's feature "The Birth of the SEC Network," you should. It's incredibly well done, gives you a glimpse of the Network's buildup, hiring processes and future.
  • No, the SEC Network isn't slanted one way or the other. Yes, it gave former Florida quarterback/current SEC Network analyst Tim Tebow a birthday cake within 15 minutes of flipping the switch, and former Alabama quarterback/current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy's first appearance was Crimson Tide-centric. What do you expect those guys to do, ignore their experiences in the conference.
  • Going to sleep Thursday night with the "Kick Six" and waking up to Alabama at Texas A&M from 2013 is really going to screw up sleep patterns in the South.
  • The opening montage to SEC Now—the first program on the network—was incredibly well done. Here's a look:

 

Field Trip!!!

In what has become a summer tradition in Athens, Georgia, head coach Mark Richt took his team to the Ramsey Student Center for a swim on Wednesday afternoon. 

Richt, as is his tradition, showed off a nice back flip—er, back fall? Either way, the video published on Instagram by Georgia's football account is pretty awesome.

Freshman defensive end/linebacker Lorenzo Carter wasn't just prepared, he was an innovator.

I teased Lorenzo Carter about being scared of the water. He wasn't. He just figured out the best way to float. pic.twitter.com/gNnWpUCGW1

— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) August 14, 2014

It wasn't just the players who got into the action, Georgia's administration did too.

Here is the exact moment #UGA associate SID Leland Barrow went from "I got this" to "What have I done?" pic.twitter.com/TFBz2ZCnYp

— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) August 14, 2014

A fun way to break up fall camp, indeed.

Photo of the Day: Ramsey day in Athens | Coach Richt on the high dive #UGACampLifepic.twitter.com/9tpeqgjFp5

— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) August 12, 2014

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

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5 College Football Teams Facing the Most Unknowns in Fall Practice

Preseason practice is a time for college football head coaches to find answers to their most pressing questions. Some simply have more questions than others. 

From quarterback competitions to defensive turnover—or a healthy dose of both—many teams are weeks away from the season with several unknowns to iron out. 

Which college football teams have the most unknowns heading into the 2014 season? Five teams, one from each of the power conferences, have been selected in the following slides. 

Begin Slideshow

Roney Elam Commits to Texas A&M: What 4-Star DB Brings to Aggies

Roney Elam was expected to land in the SEC when he announced his collegiate commitment Friday afternoon. The intrigue resided in whether the defensive back would head to Texas A&M or bolt state borders for Baton Rouge.

The 4-star Texas prospect decided to continue his career at College Station, spurning fellow finalist LSU in the process:

Elam, a versatile 6'3", 170-pound athlete at Newton High School, picked the Aggies from an assortment of scholarship offers that includes Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor. Despite an expansive list of options, the process ultimately came down to Texas A&M and LSU.

He provides another upgrade in the defensive secondary for head coach Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies' transition to the SEC has been a resounding success, but the bulk of credit must go to an explosive offensive attack.

Now that Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is playing for paychecks, it's imperative Texas A&M elevates its defensive depth and prowess. The program has done an excellent job addressing that need throughout this recruiting cycle.

Elam, rated 27th nationally among cornerback prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, has the size and range to contribute in multiple roles. He plays with physicality, anticipates the run and exhibits above-average tackling skills, indicating a strong fit at safety.

However, the Aggies may be looking to get longer at cornerback (who isn't these days?). Elam extends an impressive wingspan to disrupt passing windows and flashes enough hip fluidity to handle downfield assignments.

Given his frame and style of play, he has the potential to flourish in press-coverage.

Elam visited both LSU and Texas A&M this summer, sizing up his top options. In the end, it's a win for the home team.

His junior season produced plenty of highlights, as he contributed mightily on both sides of the ball. Elam led the team with five interceptions, while tallying 16 touchdowns at quarterback.

He joins an Aggies class currently listed second nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings. Led by 5-star tackle Daylon Mack, this haul is expected to dramatically alter the team's defensive depth chart.

Elam provides flexibility for a secondary that already holds commitments from 4-star safety prospects Larry Pryor and Justin Dunning, who was one of the most impressive defenders at The Opening last month.

Expect the Aggies to continue stockpiling talent in the defensive backfield. Texas A&M's top targets include in-state cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Kris Boyd.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rebuilding a Powerhouse: How James Franklin Is Leading Penn State Back to Glory

Brick by brick. This is how one of the nation’s premier college football powers will be resurrected. It won’t happen today, or tomorrow or even next year, but it will happen. It’s only a matter of time before a small, power-packed foundation grows into something more.

Before you can truly understand how James Franklin and his staff plan to revive Penn State, however, you must first recognize how it all came together. Not the part you already know—the heartbreak, the scandal and the sanctions—but the master plan to leave everything behind and jump headfirst into the opportunity that couldn’t be refused.

It wasn’t pretty or easy to leave Vanderbilt. These goodbyes are never kind. But when Franklin and his staff decided on Happy Valley, they walked out the front door in the middle of the night, hand in hand, and didn’t bother locking it as they departed.

“Within 48 hours everyone was gone,” Franklin said. “And you don’t go back.”

You don’t go back because you can’t go back. You’re no longer welcome. And even if you were, there’s no time to go back. Only forward. It’s the brutal nature of the business; an extravagant, internal tug of war that plays out right before our eyes.

Before the rebuilding of Penn State could begin, demolition had to be accomplished. Feelings had to be crushed. Tears had to be shed. Difficult decisions had to be made, and they were.

“It went back and forth, and I was very close to not doing it,” Franklin said on taking the Penn State job. “When you invest so much into something, into the community and with those kids, walking away from something you believe in and something that you’re building is difficult. You second-guess yourself. You question it.”

His departure from Vanderbilt wasn’t clean. In fact, some would say it was quite the opposite. But as you see the blueprint laid out on the table—the edges still crisp, the pages still brilliant blue and the vision clear as day—you start to understand why he had no choice but to say goodbye.

You see a family, 16 grown men functioning as a unit. And it’s not just these men. It’s the wives and children that have celebrated the highs and lows in football and in life, at schools and at barbecues.

You see this same family expanding, embracing open wounds with open arms; listening to those that have endured unspeakable change before worrying about more pressing football matters.

You see a staff that was crafted to work in this very location. It’s as if this group was constructed for this purpose and this purpose alone, and the geographic familiarity is already paying dividends.

You see a quarterback with a golden arm; an enormous Band-Aid at a time when it’s needed most.

And you see why, eventually, this will all be so much bigger than it is now. You can’t help but admire the bricks being laid, one strategically placed block at a time.

 

Just the Right Amount of Change: Mixing History With 'Swagger'

There’s no reason to tear the whole thing down. That, first and foremost, is the most glaring miscalculation when it comes to rebuilding anything: a house, an antique car or a football program.

It’s assumed that it has to be completely leveled; that flat ground will be the only suitable starting point. Part of this is the pressure of living up to the term—a rebuild—but when a strong, original foundation is still intact, it comes down to finding the builder willing to shape his vision around what’s already in place.

For James Franklin, this is a balance he’s still balancing. Before he can begin heavy construction, however, he must figure out what materials he has to work with.

“I’m still trying to figure out Penn State,” Franklin said. “I’m trying to figure out the campus and the community and how to get things done. All these places are sophisticated and unique.”

It’s an honest conversation that has made its way out into the open. But Franklin, who has ties to the area, is well aware of everything else that comes with this job despite never attending a Penn State football game or coaching in the building.

He understands the rituals. He knows the sounds. He knows the traditions and the expectations that come with it, even if those are somewhat jaded at the present time. He also understands what it takes to build a major program as seen over the past few seasons. But he refuses to simply lean on acquired knowledge.

“You have your core values that aren’t going to change, but you better have flexibility within your system,” Franklin said. “To think that you’re going to bring a model and plan that worked at one school to another school, it’s just not like that.”

Franklin’s mentality, however, is the constant. The smile and his overall upbeat nature—the personality that propelled him from the Division II ranks to Penn State in relatively short order— made the trip. His philosophy with players going forward is simple and, somehow, perfect.

“If someone does something good, you scream, you go crazy, and you hug them up,” Franklin said. If someone does something wrong, you scream, you go crazy, and you hug them up. That’s just who we are.”

Incredible group of people who define #PSUnrivaled by working everyday to be the best we can be. #WeAreFamilypic.twitter.com/d8btTf5UqP

— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) August 13, 2014

Helping the head coach shape a new era at Penn State will be offensive line coach Herb Hand, who, for lack of a better term, has quickly become Franklin’s right-hand man.

Hand, who earned his way into Franklin’s inner circle by sleeping on a couch in the Vanderbilt locker room, has become one of the nation’s most coveted and charismatic assistant coaches. He freestyle raps, he cooks on national television and, yes, he does the whole football thing quite well.

This individuality and personality is Penn State’s edge. It’s exactly what the coaches are trying to infuse into the program, all while embracing the many historic positives.

“We have a solid fundamental idea of what Penn State football is, what it was and what it can be. And we’re respectful of that,” Hand said. “But we also bring a little bit of a swagger and a little youthful edge because of the way we do things.”

What the staff has to adjust to, however, is a sudden flux of resources. It may seem like a strange thing to cope with—like struggling to find footing on the Brazilian hardwood on your new 200-foot yacht—but it’s still an adjustment. And with crippling NCAA sanctions still hovering, there are many moving parts.

“This is a proud program, and it’s not so much rebuilding,” Hand said. “It’s about getting everybody pointed in the same direction. From Day 1, we’ve tried to bring everybody back together.”

  

Let the Healing Begin (Again)

James Franklin remembers being “stiff-armed” by Bill Belton long before the running back broke his first collegiate tackle. It was the terminology the coach used the moment the two reunited in Happy Valley, a long, strange voyage that led them to the same sideline after all.

Belton, a senior, remembers being courted by Franklin and Penn State offensive coordinator John Donovan, who worked with Franklin at Vanderbilt. While the offer to play running back in the SEC was enticing, Belton chose Penn State instead. Neither forgot about the encounter.

“They’re exactly the same,” Belton said of Franklin. “They’re just a little bit older now.”

It’s only been four years, but it feels longer. For Belton and other seniors at Penn State, the past four years have been an eternity.

This is where the rebuild truly begins. It starts with those that have played for three head coaches, learned three new playbooks and whose only constant has been constant change.

“We’ve come out and worked each day, it didn’t matter who was the head coach,” Belton said.  “We worked and got better as a team, and I feel like the team we have now is tougher because of what we went through.”

Belton’s teammate, senior linebacker Mike Hull, has been on the same roller coaster. Like Belton, Hull believes the experiences have only brought this group closer. 

“Our team is probably the most tight-knit team I’ve ever seen, especially after the sanctions,” Hull said. “We really took an ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality. We decided we were going to play for each other for the next three years.”

For a new coaching staff still learning its players, this can be a difficult position. The upperclassmen in Penn State rallied together—around each other—to get to where they are. Through various moments in their collegiate tenure, it was all they had.

Over time, they lost trust in the process. Given everything they’ve been through, how could they not?

For the coaches, one of the first orders of business at Penn State wasn’t to figure out a depth chart. It was simply to talk and listen.

“These guys were guarded when we first got here, which was completely understandable,” Hand said. “There were some walls we had to work our way through. But all that stuff is gone, and these guys have embraced us as a staff.”

'Yes we're the five best friends that anyone could ever have and we'll never ever ever ever ever leave each other.' pic.twitter.com/2ffdoegLXV

— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) August 6, 2014

Instead of focusing on group outings—and there were still plenty of these sessions, many of which took place around food—Hand met with his players one-on-one and listened. He was respectful of what they’ve been through, particularly the upperclassmen, and simply wanted to hear their stories. Vulnerability was key.

“This was a lot different situation than any transition I’ve ever been through,” Hand said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of change in a place that isn’t used to it.”

Although the rebuilding of Penn State will require years to complete—long after players like Bill Belton and Mike Hull have left—the search for lost stability began with the current fixtures of the program.

They, in many ways, are the symbol of resiliency. They are the past and present; they are the bridge to the future. They are the first bricks, which oftentimes are the most important.

“When you get a new coach, it can be hard to break those walls down,” Hull said. “But [Franklin] has done a good job building relationships and getting the best out of us. I feel our program is going in the right direction.”

For a head coach that thrives on interactions and relationships, this was integral. It wasn’t optional; it’s how he operates and the program required it.

“Everything we do is about relationships. That’s how we lead, that’s how we organize,” Franklin said. “Once you have that relationship and you have that trust, you can be unbelievably demanding and challenging on people if you love them hard as well.”

 

Mastering the Map: How Geographic Dominance Will Pave the Way 

“He’s like an energy battery. He just never stops. He hasn’t stopped recruiting me even though I’m committed.”

Brandon Wimbush is one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2015. The No. 4 dual-threat QB, according to 247Sports, is also a Penn State commit and priority No. 1 for a school trying to line up its next great quarterback.

That hasn’t stopped Franklin from recruiting him, relentlessly, in an effort to keep it that way.

Wimbush, who plays for St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, has been recruited by Franklin since his days at Vanderbilt. When Franklin moved north, to a place he knows better than any other, the fit and interest increased on both sides.

“He’s home. He feels real comfortable with the atmosphere,” Wimbush said. “I feel like Coach Franklin is the guy to turn it all around.

“The 2015 class is definitely going to be a big part of that.”

If you were to list out, in importance, the “How to Rebuild a Program” power rankings, it would probably look something like this:

1. Recruiting

2. Recruiting

3. Recruiting

4. Recruiting

5. Everything else

Penn State in 2014 is unique. It demands something more as it navigates unexplored depths, which is why the coaching staff focused a great deal on the things directly in front of them. There’s still healing to be done.

At this same time, however, the path to the promised land is abundantly clear. As much as philosophy and attitude can influence a program in flux, the infusion of young talent is unmatched in importance. To grow, you must grow.

This is where the plan sprouts tentacles, a reach that extends well beyond never-ending Pennsylvania highways, curling back through sparse Midwest cornfields and stretching all the way to upstate New York.

It’s not magic, but rather a group of coaches who can navigate a land they already know. This sentiment begins at the top with Franklin, who now gets to operate on the other side of the equation.

“Not only did I grow up in this part of the country, but professionally I kind of grew up in this part of the country,” Franklin said. “And Penn State was always difficult to deal with. They just had so many built in advantages. You’d be recruiting against them and you’d do everything right on a kid. Then he’d come up to Penn State’s spring game with 75,000 people and it’d be over.”

Franklin was born in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, which is a three-hour-or-so drive from State College. He played quarterback at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, setting multiple school records. When his playing days were done, he landed his first coaching job at Kutztown University, a Pennsylvania-based Division II school.

From there, he bounced around a bit. He made two stops at Maryland, the second serving as his final catapult to a head-coaching job at Vanderbilt. The rest, as they say, is history.

For Franklin and his staff, this new city isn’t exactly new. Neither are the cities and states around them. Neither are the navigators, which made the transition even easier.

“We brought 16 people with us to Penn State,” Franklin said on the migration north. “I don’t know how often that happens.”

Bob Shoop, the team’s defensive coordinator, is from Pittsburgh. Offensive coordinator John Donovan is from New Jersey. Charles Huff, the special teams coordinator and running backs coach, is from Maryland.

“I could go on and on,” Franklin said while describing his staff. So we will.

The team’s assistant head coach, Brent Pry, grew up 45 minutes from campus. Terry Smith, the team’s cornerbacks coach, attended Penn State and grew up not far from State College. Herb Hand is from upstate New York.

“For the most part, we’ve all been together through James’ entire coaching career,” Hand said. “Most of us have been together that whole time. We’ve grown with him.”

Love coming to work w/these guys everyday for THE greatest players/fans/community in college football-via @JoeHermittpic.twitter.com/oWrsxMasih

— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) August 11, 2014

The plan isn’t to compete with the SEC. The plan is to be so dominant in one region that you won’t have to.

While it’s early in Penn State’s first recruiting cycle and national signing day is still an eternity away, the staff has hit the recruiting road running.

The Nittany Lions currently have the No. 6 recruiting class in 2015, according to 247Sports. Of the 19 verbal commitments—12 of which are rated as 4-star talents—16 are from Pennsylvania, Maryland or New Jersey.

This should come as no surprise. After all, this is what the coaches were built—and assembled—to do. The only difference is that they weren’t plucked from various east-located programs to form a superpower. The superpower simply changed area codes.

“It was about fit, not just fit for me, but for the whole staff. This was a group decision,” Franklin said. “I think there are some real advantages at Penn State just because of where we’re located.”

Now this geographically dominant staff has ammunition. It has a powerful brand and playing time to sell, an odd but obvious positive that is a product of the sanctions passed down by the NCAA.

There are roster openings and a passionate fanbase waiting for the next batch of young stars. This combination has worked wonders early on.

“When you walk into a high school across the country and you have that Penn State logo on, people know who you are. And they’re excited about the future,” Hand said on his new recruiting life. “There are a lot of positives here in Happy Valley. So we’re just going out here and selling what we got.”

 

From Dublin to Dominance: Playing Now For Later

The vision and blueprint into the future has hit a sudden impasse. The conversation comes to a screeching halt.

When pressed about his plan and what this all might look three years from now, James Franklin can only offer up two words. He stresses each for seconds, highlighting the importance.

 “Central Florida.”

This, of course, is Penn State’s first opponent this season. The Nittany Lions will travel to Dublin to take on George O’Leary’s team fresh off a BCS win. Franklin’s first game as coach will mark the beginning of your college football Saturday, right about the time you sit down for breakfast.

Despite coping with enormous depth issues due to scholarship limitations, the expectations are that this team should win that game and many of the other games to follow.

There are concerns specifically when it comes to depth and inexperience along both lines. Herb Hand, the man tasked with protecting the team’s most prized asset, refuses to use recent history as an excuse.

“There are going to be some growing pains, but at the end of the day, no one cares about the growing pains,” Hand said on the offensive line. “No one wants to know about your issues or your problems, so we don’t look at them that way. If you resign yourself to the fact that you can’t be successful, you won’t be. You look at the positives.”

The positive—and you can write that in all-caps with size 72-font equipped—is quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He is one of the sport’s most gifted young players; he’s also incredibly raw, unseasoned and undoubtedly due to experience some growing pains of his own as a true sophomore.

Hackenberg, however, symbolizes much more than star power at the most important position. He will grab the baton from Bill Belton and Mike Hull following this season, carrying it until he has to hand it off, perhaps to Brandon Wimbush or a player that is months (or years) away.

It was be a new era; it will be the old era. Along the way, history will be rewritten but tradition will not be lost.

It seems counterintuitive to dwell on the past as you build for the future, but the past is an integral part of the situation. The sanctions won’t all of a sudden disappear. They might be reduced after this season, or perhaps the postseason ban will complete its four-year sentence. Regardless, it won’t impact the plan.

“They are what they are,” Franklin said on the sanctions. “We spend very little time thinking about things that are outside of our control.”

The only thing Penn State can truly control is what’s directly in front of it—Central Florida—and, if all goes to plan, the neighboring cities and states. Brick by brick, it will continue to build until the structure is so mighty and powerful it will be impossible to ignore.

The hard part is over. The work is only just beginning.

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