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The Case for Bill Belton as Penn State's Starting Running Back

The Nittany Lions will be looking for a vocal senior leader on offense in 2014, and running back Bill Belton is the perfect player to assume the role.

Over the past two seasons, Zach Zwinak has received the bulk of the carries for Penn State, but Belton adds a different dimension for an offense that will be in need of playmakers and pass-catchers—both strengths of the New Jersey native.

Bill O'Brien liked to use a running back-by-committee approach, which limited Belton's ability to get in a groove in all aspects of the offense. He still rushed for over 1,000 yards in that time, caught three touchdowns and averaged nearly half a yard more per carry than Zwinak in 2013.

Huff says Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak have some of the qualities of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

— Black Shoe Diaries (@BSDtweet) January 24, 2014

Word out of camp is that Belton looks stronger than ever and has picked up the new offense quickly. With his speed and elusiveness, added strength would make him the complete package as a running back.

As a receiver, Belton can quickly contribute in the absence of the top two receivers from last season. Departed receivers Allen Robinson and Brandon Felder accounted for 125 catches in 2013. Only two players on the current roster have more career catches than Belton.

Perhaps the most important thing that Belton can provide for the offense is his leadership and resiliency. As a player who took time to find his role on this team and battled academic issues at one point, Belton is a player who has matured in front of his teammates and is one of the most respected men on the team. 

Penn State RB Bill Belton tells NBC10 he and players spoke to BOB and are happy for him. "He gave PSU a sense of life in a very dark time"

— John Clark CSN (@JClarkCSN) January 2, 2014

When called upon to shoulder the load last year, Belton stepped up with a fierce performance against Michigan and, later, a 200-yard rushing game in an overtime win over Illinois. In fact, every time he received more than 10 carries, he responded with at least 81 yards.

Belton played a large role in the win over Ohio State his freshman season. He scored the game-winning touchdown against Michigan last year. He has shown the ability to excel under pressure and has bounced back several times in his career.

When he talks in the huddle, his teammates listen and believe in him. He can score from anywhere on the field in a number of ways. 

Zwinak and Akeel Lynch will be a part of this offense, but Bill Belton should be Penn State's starting running back.


All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.


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Oregon Football: Analyzing Ducks' Top 5 2014 Recruiting Targets

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich has been able to check a few priorities off his team's 2015 recruiting list. But with four verbal commitments heading into the summer, there's plenty more room for the Ducks to make a splash. 

The ripples from that splash could cover the entire country. The Oregon coaching staff is working to plant the program's flag in every corner of the nation.  

With prospects in California, Texas, Georgia and Florida, the Ducks' 2015 signing class could have a decidedly national flavor if each of the top targets pledges to Oregon. 

The Ducks find out the fate of one top prospect Wednesday, when 5-star quarterback Kyler Murray announces his decision. But no matter if Oregon lands Murray's commitment or not, the recruiting staff has its sights set on a potentially impressive class for 2015. 

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Oregon Football: Analyzing Ducks' Top 5 2014 Recruiting Targets

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich has been able to check a few priorities off his team's 2015 recruiting list. But with four verbal commitments heading into the summer, there's plenty more room for the Ducks to make a splash...

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Florida Football: Analyzing Gators Top 5 2015 Recruiting Targets

The Florida Gators 2015 recruiting class doesn’t feature any big names just yet, but there are five key guys who could eventually turn the table on the rest of college football.

It’s the Gators' top recruiting targets for this year’s class, and they’re some of the top players at their positions. Players who could step in right away and help Florida reach its goal of climbing back on top of the SEC.

The list includes three defensive players, an elite offensive lineman and possibly the top wide receiver in this class.

Here’s the breakdown of the Gators’ top five recruiting targets.

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Each College Football Team's Most Intriguing Freshman

The youth are our future. Not just for the world, but for our college football teams, too.

Each year, as the recruiting cycle runs its course and hundreds of high school football players make their collegiate choices, we're told a little bit about each of these potential future stars. Each gets a rating and a ranking. They all have their best skills.

Then national signing day comes, and for coaches, it's on to the next year.

But before we can start getting too interested in what the 2015 recruiting class will bring us, let's take a closer look at the top talent from 2014. Or rather, the top prospect for each and every FBS college football team—a quick glimpse at interesting players who have yet to take a snap in college.

Here's our look at every school's most intriguing freshman, whether it be an early enrollee, a just-graduated senior or a player from the 2013 class who redshirted and will get into the mix this fall.

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Arkansas Football: Summer Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class

You have to feel for fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks. They went from enjoying one of the most successful two years in the program's history from 2010-11 to suffering through the abysmal last two seasons from 2012-13.

From 2010-11 under former head coach Bobby Petrino, the Razorbacks posted a 21-5 (80.8 winning percentage) record and a 12-4 (75.0) mark in SEC play.

The last two years after Petrino's dismissal as the head coach for his now infamous motorcycle accident have been one big struggle. In these last two years Arkansas owns a 7-17 (29.2) record and a 2-14 (12.5) record in the SEC.

It's hard for fans to endure such a bipolar four-year stretch, as the program went from one of the SEC's best to one of the worst in a matter of a year.

Head coach Bret Bielema and his staff have a pretty good idea after 2013 just how big of a rebuilding project Arkansas is right now.

Rebuilding programs to their former glory starts on the recruiting trail. Bielema is slowly reeling in players to fit his style and make the Hogs one of the conference's best once more.

Bielema and his staff did a nice job in their first full cycle for 2014. They are off to a great start for the '15 haul, and if they can continue the momentum, it could be one of the best classes in a long time for the Razorbacks.

Here, we take a look at the 2015 class as it stands now and assess grades for each position. Keep in mind that most of these grades can become much higher as Arkansas adds more recruits.

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Miami Football: Analyzing Hurricanes' Top 5 2015 Recruiting Targets

Al Golden and the Miami coaching staff has reeled in 247Sports' No. 13 recruiting class in the nation, including a pair of 4-star running backs.

But instead of focusing on committed players—whether the program is "The U" or elsewhere—this piece will analyze top undecided targets.

Factors taken into account are potential, the Hurricanes' current depth chart and a recruit's perceived ability to immediately contribute. Conversely, the likelihood a given athlete commits to Miami does not exclude anyone.

The prospects are separated based on offense and defense, not ranked in a particular order.

Note: All recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Notre Dame Football: The Case for Mike McGlinchey as the Starting Right Tackle

Walking into Notre Dame football’s first spring practice in early March, most eyes were trained on quarterback Everett Golson.

But one of the most noteworthy aspects of that first practice was the man standing at right tackle with the first-team offense: sophomore Mike McGlinchey.

Fast-forward nearly three months later, and many of Notre Dame’s offensive positions and roles are set.

Yes, there’s still a starting quarterback to be named, but otherwise, there’s clarity.

Senior Ben Koyack will be the top tight end, and we know who the contributors will be at running back and wide receiver, though we may not know in what order and how often they’ll all see action.

Four offensive linemen—Ronnie Stanley, Steve Elmer, Nick Martin and Christian Lombard—figure to be on track for starting jobs. The last spot, however, comes down to left guard or right tackle.

Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and head coach Brian Kelly each explained during the spring that the final choice on the line likely will be either McGlinchey at right tackle and Steve Elmer at left guard, or Elmer at right tackle, McGlinchey as the “swing” lineman and either Matt Hegarty, Conor Hanratty or an incoming freshman at left guard.

But ever since that very first practice on a cold morning in South Bend, Indiana, McGlinchey has clung to his post as the first-team right tackle (at least in practice sessions open to the media). And while he’s raw and inexperienced, McGlinchey’s high upside makes him a compelling choice for the starting spot.

The 6’7.5”, 300-pound sophomore redshirted in 2013, but his natural ability shined through this spring.

“When he grows up, when the light comes on and he gets it, he’s gonna be an incredible football player from the standpoint that I think the physical gifts that he possesses as far as his athletic ability; obviously his size is hard to miss,” Denbrock said in late March.

Yes, his size is striking. McGlinchey is listed as the tallest player on Notre Dame’s roster.

“We worry that [Irish men’s basketball head coach] Mike Brey is going to take him from us,” Kelly joked on national signing day in 2013.

While his size is certainly one of the first things that stood out, McGlinchey impressed Kelly in a variety of ways.

“He's athletic enough that he has played tight end,” Kelly said on signing day. “We were really impressed with the way he played basketball. He was a ferocious competitor, ran well and is somebody that is going to continue to get stronger physically.

“But he comes from a great high school, William Penn Charter School [in Philadelphia], just a perfect fit for us at Notre Dame and, again, on the offensive line gives us that long-reach guy that can play the tackle position for us.”

And following his redshirt season, McGlinchey earned valuable reps at one of those tackle positions this spring. McGlinchey proved himself with his mental ability too, Denbrock said.

“He’s got some football intelligence that can be cultivated and can grow rather quickly, and that puts us in a position, obviously, to get him on the field right away,” Denbrock said in late March. “And we’ve kind of thrown him to the wolves here in the spring and let him kind of fight through it. And he’s done a really nice job so far.”

Still, following the Blue-Gold game on April 12, Kelly reiterated that the line is not set. The head coach said the right tackle and left guard position battles will “sort [themselves] out in preseason camp.”

By no means is McGlinchey able to boast the experience of either Hegarty or Hanratty, who started two and four games, respectively, in 2013 because of injuries. If Elmer started at right tackle and either of those two seniors manned left guard, all five members of Notre Dame’s line would enter the season with prior starting experience.

But in order to begin to tap his vast potential, the Irish could continue throwing McGlinchey to the wolves. Combine on-the-job learning with McGlinchey’s raw physical skills, and Notre Dame could lay the foundation for its young lineman and reap the benefits over the next three or four seasons.

 

*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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Nebraska Football: Analyzing the Huskers' Top 5 2015 Recruiting Targets

Nebraska football fans know that summer is for following recruiting. While others may be watching baseball or grilling brats, Nebraska fans will be wanting to keep up on how Bo Pelini will be filling out his 2015 class.

Here are five of the top targets Nebraska is chasing for next year’s recruiting class.

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Making the Case for Ray Drew as the Georgia Bulldogs Starting Defensive End

One of the good things to come out of the 2013 season for the Georgia Bulldogs is that the defensive front seven was able to get after quarterbacks. In fact, the Bulldogs were second in the SEC in total sacks with 33. And of those 33 sacks, six of them came from defensive end Ray Drew, which put him second on the team behind Leonard Floyd in sacks.

Drew had a productive 2013 season. He made seven starts and finished with 43 tackles and eight tackles for loss to go along with his six sacks. And it looked as if Drew was going to get to be the starter this season with Garrison Smith gone. But it looks as if Sterling Bailey along with James DeLoach will be the No. 1 defensive ends heading into preseason practice.

Based on the way spring practice went for the defense, there could be a lot of changes when it comes to the starting lineup. But the coaches should consider Drew as a starter.

Drew’s career has not lived up to expectations. He was recruited in 2011 and 247 Sports listed him as the No. 2 player in Georgia as well as the No. 2 strong side defensive end in the country. He was a Parade and USA Today All-American and played in the Army All-America Game. So the expectations for him were high.

Drew did not redshirt when he got to campus and played in seven games his freshman season. His playing time increased his sophomore year, and he played in all 13 games. It was last year when he was able to not only play in all the games during the season, but also to start in half of them and was effective when he was on the field.

Before spring practice started, it looked like Drew was going to be the starter under Jeremy Pruitt’s defense. But he was working more with the second and third stringers, which could mean nothing because preseason practice could be a different story.

Ray Drew has been challenged this spring, dropping down to the third team at one point. But he is working his way... http://t.co/HitMORM0zJ

— The Telegraph (@middlegeorgia) April 8, 2014

As it was mentioned earlier, Sterling Bailey and James DeLoach are on top of the depth chart. Bailey made nine starts in 13 games and tallied 34 tackles and one sack. DeLoach played in only five games last season and finished with four tackles. DeLoach was named as the Most Improved Player this past spring according to Gentry Estes of 247 Sports (subscription required). Bailey also received a lot of praise from defensive line coach Tracy Rocker for his work.

This leads to the ultimate reason why Drew is not a starter right now. He did not perform well during spring practices and even head coach Mark Richt said that he needs to step it up. However, Rocker told 247 Sports that he was just beat up at the start of practice and he will be a factor this season (subscription required).

This upcoming preseason practice is very important for Drew. He has to show the coaches that he’s a better player than what he showed during the spring and he can get the job done. He proved last year and his numbers only got better each year.

Drew should be the starter because he would be a very good leader for the defense. With the Bulldogs going with a new scheme, they will need veterans with a ton of game experience to lead the way. Drew has been in a lot of games his career and his experience will pay dividends for the defensive line.

There’s no telling what Pruitt will do with the defensive line. But having Drew on the field as much as possible will make the defense better.

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Ohio State Football: How Jamal Marcus' Dismissal Impacts Buckeyes' 2014 Season

Even though it's May and Ohio State is still three months away from kicking off the 2014 season, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes just suffered a huge loss.

According to a report from Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors, defensive end Jamal Marcus has been dismissed from Ohio State for an unspecified violation of team rules.

The junior pass-rusher played sparingly in his first two seasons with the Buckeyes, but that was expected to change this season—especially early.

Marcus was primed to fill in for Noah Spence, who will miss the Buckeyes' first two games as part of a three-game suspension he received before last year's Orange Bowl. Spence's suspension was handed down by the Big Ten for using an "unapproved dietary supplement," according to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch.

Marcus played in place of Spence against Clemson and was one of the few defensive bright spots during a game in which the Buckeyes surrendered 576 total yards and 40 points. Marcus piled up six tackles, which led all defensive linemen, and recorded a pass breakup in the loss.

Ohio State was counting on Marcus to provide a similar lift to start the season.

The Buckeyes are slated to open against Navy and its vaunted triple-option attack in Baltimore. A week later, Ohio State will play its home opener against Virgina Tech in a prime-time matchup.

Those are the two toughest nonconference games of the year, and Ohio State will be down its top two edge-setters outside of Joey Bosa.

That could prove particularly costly against Navy, which uses unique blocking schemes to attack and outnumber a defensive front. Players such as Noah Spence and Jamal Marcus are talented enough to neutralize that, but now the Buckeyes will turn to a host of unproven players to start the season.

The impact of Marcus' dismissal reaches far past the first two games, though.

As Rowland of Eleven Warriors pointed out, new defensive line coach Larry Johnson wants to take advantage of Ohio State's depth up front by using a heavy rotation. 

There’s not a first group, there’s not a second group. There’s a group of guys trying to get better. I’ve sold them on the idea that there are going to be eight or nine guys. The game has changed. You’re talking about spread offense, quick snaps, so that number of plays can go from 65 to 90 really quick. You add that times 12 games, that’s a lot of football.

What I want to do is play fresh. I want to play eight or nine guys every time and be relentless. That way every guy can play as hard as they can every play. That's how you play defense.

With Ohio State losing Marcus, Meyer is also losing out on one of the prospects he was most excited about in his first recruiting class with the Buckeyes.

Back in 2012, moments after signing the nation's No. 5 class that featured two 5-star defensive ends, Meyer couldn't stop talking about Marcus.

Then a 4-star prospect, Marcus' film stood out to Meyer, according to Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone.

The guy that when you flip him on tape, and not knowing anything else, without reading rankings or without listening to everybody else's opinions, the guy that is really impressive to me is Jamal Marcus. 

I just heard about him two weeks ago. We put on the film. He just blew us away on the videotape. I never heard of him.

Meyer was thrilled to sign such a talented player so late in the recruiting process. It's safe to assume he's just as upset about losing that player just as he was on the verge of making an impact.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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