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Big 12 Football: Power Ranking Top 10 Players Heading into 2014 Season

The Big 12 routinely produces some of the nation's elite athletes.

From prolific passers to stellar wideouts to shutdown corners, the country's premier conference of the midwest has a knack for attracting the best players and getting the most out of them.

Heading into 2014, some of the top players at each position nationally lie in the Big 12—including quarterback Bryce Petty and wide receiver Tyler Lockett.

Ranking the top players is a near impossibility, as the depth of the conference runs so deep, but it was done.

With that, let's check out the top 10 players in the Big 12.

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Latest Updates on Dorial Green-Beckham's 2014 Eligibility with Oklahoma Sooners

Dorial Green-Beckham's quest for an eligibility exemption now rests with the NCAA's appeals board. As expected, the University of Oklahoma formally filed an appeal to grant the troubled wide receiver immediate eligibility after his dismissal from Missouri.      

Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports first reported the news Tuesday:

Green-Beckham transferred to Oklahoma this summer after being kicked off the Missouri football team due to off-the-field issues. Typically, players who transfer from one FBS program to another are forced to forfeit one year of eligibility. Green-Beckham will be eligible for the 2015 season if his appeal is denied.

Oklahoma is planning to file the appeal under the so-called "run-off" waiver, per Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman. The exception allows players who did not leave their previous programs under their own volition to immediately become eligible elsewhere. Oklahoma feels "very confident" a waiver will be granted based on past precedent, per Kersey.

There is no word on when Green-Beckham can expect to receive a decision. Oklahoma opens its 2014 season against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30, so one would reasonably discern that the Sooners will know by then.

While it's unlikely to make much of a difference in the opener, the NCAA's decision may ultimately determine the Sooners' ceiling in 2014.

Already expected to compete for one of the four spots in the new College Football Playoff, adding Green-Beckham would give Oklahoma's offense a whole new dimension. The 6'6" junior made 59 receptions for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, showing flashes of his world-beating potential. Green-Beckham was considered the second-best recruit in the class of 2012 by 247Sports' composite system and drew numerous comparisons to Lions star Calvin Johnson.

Those comparisons stopped looking insane last season. Green-Beckham had a four-touchdown game against Kentucky, dominated Auburn in the SEC Championship game and helped lead the Tigers to a surprising 12-2 record.

With the talent, unfortunately, comes character concerns nearly as immense. Green-Beckham was arrested twice on separate marijuana charges at Missouri, though he was not charged in the second incident. He was dismissed from the program outright in April after allegedly trying to break into a female acquaintance's apartment. The victim did not press charges because "she was afraid of the media and community backlash," per David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune.

“So through extensive conversations with them, visiting with our leadership, as well, it comes back to me and to Dorial,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told reporters in July. “In the end, I am not one to easily give up on young people. Dorial or anybody else. My coaches will tell you. We have a firm background in discipline."

Green-Beckham will be Trevor Knight's top receiver should his appeal be granted. Knight, who went through bouts of wild inaccuracy during his freshman season, would unquestionably benefit from having someone to bail him out on 50-50 balls. Great receivers can make even the most inconsistent quarterbacks look better than their skill level.

He would also give the Sooners a more balanced attack. Mike Stoops' defensive unit is expected to be among the best in the nation. The weaknesses for Oklahoma last season were largely offensive, and a big-play threat like Green-Beckham would help assuage concerns.

For now, it's all a waiting game.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why 5-Star Gentle Giant Rashan Gary Is Name You Need to Know in Class of 2016

Moments after the most competitive high school linemen drills in America ended, an unassuming Rashan Gary quietly grinned along the sidelines while standing yards away from the nation's beastly blockers. 

The disruptive and diffident defensive tackle still wore his shoulder pads, soaking in those final moments at The Opening, an annual football showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

A few feet further toward the end zone, top-rated 2015 offensive tackle Martez Ivey was occupied with questions concerning his highly publicized nationwide recruitment.

Sensing the 6'6", 270-pound Floridian has grown weary of discussing the likes of Alabama, LSU and Auburn, our conversation shifts to Gary, one of just three 2016 prospects invited to compete during a three-day stretch that features more than 150 prized recruits.

Ivey interrupts the initial question with an unfamiliar inflection in his voice, breaking out of well-versed reactions to personal recruiting questions.

"Wait, hold on," Ivey said "He's only going to be a junior?"

Yes, indeed. 

The 6'4.5", 290-pound specimen who spent his week making coveted collegiate offensive linemen targets look silly in the trenches still has two high school seasons ahead of him.

"Whoa, I had no idea," Ivey said. "He definitely stepped up his game. That's pretty crazy. The guy deserves a lot of credit for how he handles himself."

Fellow 5-star offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt shared that sentiment and surprise.

"Like most of the linemen, I didn't find out he's a rising junior until the final day of competition," the Clemson commit admitted. "We just assumed he was another senior, especially based on the way he competed. It was a shock for sure."

Gary, just one month removed from his sophomore year, proved he belongs among established prospects who will compete for playing time in college next summer.

"He's way above his level when compared to other players at that age," said Hyatt. "He's going to be fun to watch in the future because he has everything a defensive lineman needs to be dominant at the next level."

Gary knew his status as a 2016 recruit—the only lineman to carry that distinction in Beaverton—created a slight underdog persona. Despite his soft-spoken demeanor and off-field congeniality, he instead played the role of aggressor.

"I'm young so I still make simple mistakes sometimes, but there's no one I can't handle," Gary said. "The guys who found out about my age wanted to test me and see if I really deserved a spot at The Opening."

He emphatically answered that challenge, according to Ivey.

"He's isn't just big; he's fast off the ball and stays low," Ivey said. "He's very physical too and doesn't let opponents get into his head. That's great to see out of a young guy."

Gary left no doubt about his status as a premier member of the 2016 recruiting class.

"I feel like he's in the same position as us, ready to go off to college somewhere next season," Ivey said. 

However, when Ivey and other linemen at The Opening embark on the next chapter of their playing careers at campuses across the country, Gary will still be concerned about chasing down New Jersey state titles. He transferred to Paramus Catholic High School from Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in June.

The team featured 5-star athlete Jabrill Peppers last season. The Michigan freshman also arrived at Paramus Catholic (from Don Bosco Prep) with plenty of fanfare.

Gary, rated No. 5 overall in 247Sports' 2016 composite rankings, also follows in his footsteps when it comes to collegiate attention. He holds nearly 20 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Miami, Ohio State, USC, Penn State and Tennessee.

"When I first started to get recruited, I came into it with an open mind," Gary said. "Things picked up really fast and have stayed that way, so now I need to think about cutting down the list."

Like many top prospects, he admits the SEC is appealing.

"It felt like things really reached a new level when the SEC offers started arriving," Gary said. "When I realized those teams decided early that they want me, it was an honor. That's grown-man football."

Hyatt, who committed to Clemson after his junior season, stressed the importance of patience for a young phenom on the recruiting trail.

"Rashan needs to just take it one step at a time for as long as he needs," Hyatt said. "Sometimes it's easy to feel rushed into making a decision, and that could be the case for him. Because he's so talented, plenty of teams are going to put the pressure on him to commit."

Gary stressed there's no timetable in place for a decision, and the process could stretch to national signing day 2016 if necessary. He broke down several key elements of his recruitment with Bleacher Report in July:

His week in Oregon featured a few mentors, including 5-star defensive linemen Tim Settle and Byron Cowart, who both remain uncommitted.

"Some of the older guys have given me plenty of advice about different stuff, on and off the field" he said. "They've talked to me about recruiting, how to figure out who is real or fake, and now I need to use those lessons as I continue down this road."

Though he was relegated to nose tackle duties—an unnatural position for his skill set—Gary managed 58 tackles, including 13 for loss and four forced fumbles in 2013, per Todderick Hunt of NJ.com.

The 3-technique or 5-technique appears to be the more appropriate landing spot for him in college. While sliding outside, he can use his speed (clocked at 4.74 seconds in the 40-yard dash at The Opening) to exploit space and provide an interior pass rush.

"He was great and we all noticed it throughout the week," 5-star Texas A&M defensive tackle commit Daylon Mack said. "You're watching a 2016 guy with big size, rare speed and dreadlocks that make him look dangerous. Some might have questioned his toughness, but when Rashan put on the pads, he didn't disappoint."

Gary consistently outpaced opponents in Oregon, sprinting back to the defensive line with a workmanlike approach once the whistle blew. It was the same style of play Gary exhibited when he dominated at Nike's regional football camp in New Jersey this spring, earning the rare invite to national competition.

"When we first arrived, I thought, 'man, this kid is going to be weak,'" 4-star offensive tackle Matthew Burrell said. "But he earned his invitation for a reason. That was obvious from the start."

Burrell took that praise one step further, sending a strong message about Gary's impression in Beaverton.

"I think he could be the top player in our class, let alone his own," he said. "Those 2016 offensive linemen are in trouble with him around."

Texas Tech defensive tackle commit Breiden Fehoko admired Gary's ability to bring tenacity to every element of his game.

"He's a quiet guy who puts in work on the field and in the film room," Fehoko said. "The kid has strength and length that's rare at his age. First and foremost, he works his butt during drills, and that translates into the one-on-ones, where you really build your reputation."

Gary appreciated the opportunity to battle with college-bound blockers, dealing with the ups and downs of brutality along the line of scrimmage.

"I'm going to get a lot better because now I really have a feel for what it's like to be challenged by the best offensive linemen in the country," he said. "I can't wait to get back here again next year, compete against a new group of guys and show how I've improved."

Alabama freshman Da'Shawn Hand, one of the top-ranked 2014 defensive ends, was a rare two-time Opening attendee. Mack foresees a similar fate for Gary.

"Next year, it's all his," Mack said. "Rashan will be back to dominate at The Opening, and I believe he'll be the top player in the country."

Gary isn't the kind of athlete to brag about his abilities and came off as a kid who was just happy to be invited to the party in Oregon. That's fine, since plenty of top competitors were willing to do the talking for him.

"He's pretty silent like you'd expect from a lot of younger players," Mack said. "But don't get me wrong, his game is not quiet. Rashan makes loud statements with what he does on the field."

 

All quotes courtesy of B/R national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report's College Football 2014 Offseason Awards

Fall camps are in full swing across the country, which means we have officially made the transition from the college football offseason to the college football preseason.

But before we make the full segue to season-mode, when everything becomes so forward-looking, let's take one more moment to reflect on the offseason that was.

This winter, spring and summer was, after all, a pretty important one for the current state and future of college athletics—football more than any other sport. It is one we will remember for a long time.

But it wasn't just what happened behind the NCAA's closed doors that stuck out to us the past six months. It was the signature personalities, the hard-to-believe stories and the standout performances that make college football the best sport in the world to cover.

So with that, let's hand out a little offseason hardware.

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Clemson's Dabo Swinney Lets Pro Billiards Player Hit a Trick Shot off His Mouth

Don't try this at home, unless someone in your family is a professional billiards player. Even then, you are taking a pretty big risk in letting that person hit a billiards ball off your mouth.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney trusted Loree Jon Jones—a Clemson fan and a member of the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame—to hit a billiards ball of his mouth as part of a trick shot.

See for yourself how things turned out.

[Clemson Football, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Realistic Expectations for the 2014 Aggie Defense

The Texas A&M football team needs to have better play from their defense in 2014.

The Aggies' defense will be improved in 2014, but they are still too young and thin and certain positions to take a huge step forward. The 2013 Texas A&M defense was one of the worst in the nation, allowing 475.8 yards per game to rank No. 109 in the NCAA.

They have to improve in 2014 if they want to compete for an SEC title. 

The Aggies have recruited well since Kevin Sumlin took over as head coach of the program. Sumlin and his staff have brought in classes ranked No. 14, No. 8 and No. 6 according to 247sports.com. 

In those three classes, the Aggies have brought in 17 defensive linemen, 10 linebackers and 13 defensive backs. Attrition has led to nine of those players leaving the program. That means that Sumlin has recruited 31 of the defensive players currently on the roster. 

He is doing his best to improve the defensive talent in the program. You win games in the SEC by winning the battle in the trenches. That means you need to have elite defensive linemen and be three-deep on the lines. 

The attrition has hurt the linebacker position the most.

The Aggies lost Jordan Richmond and Darian Claiborne to dismissal from the team and Michael Richardson to injury. Claiborne was a potential four-year starter who led the Aggies in tackles during the regular season in 2013 with 89. No one is going to hit on 100 percent of his recruits so every player you lose to issues off the field hurts you.

The Aggies need to improve on defense in 2014, but their lack of depth at certain positions will hold them back. 

 

Defensive Line Is Strong

Sumlin and defensive line coach Terry Price have done a good job of bringing in SEC talent on the defensive line. The 14 defensive linemen who they have brought in should offer the Aggies a quality rotation along the line in 2014. 

Nothing is set in stone yet, but if the Aggies were to play tomorrow the starting defensive line would be Julien Obioha at strong-side defensive end, Alonzo Williams at defensive tackle, Hardreck Walker at nose guard and Daeshon Hall at weak-side defensive end. 

The second-team defensive line would be Qualen Cunningham at strong-side defensive end, Justin Manning at defensive tackle, Zaycoven Henderson at nose guard and Myles Garrett at weak-side end. 

The third-team defensive line would be Jarrett Johnson at strong-side end, Jay Arnold at defensive tackle, Ivan Robinson at nose guard and Darrell Jackson at weak-side defensive end. 

The fact that the Aggie coaches can feel confident with a 10-man rotation on the defensive line speaks volumes about their recruiting at the position. When you consider that they lost two starters in Gavin Stansbury and Isaiah Golden during the offseason, it is apparent that the Aggie coaches have done a tremendous job of creating depth on the defensive line. 

In 2013, the Texas A&M defense registered 21 total sacks. As a unit, the defensive line contributed 10.5 sacks along with 25 tackles for loss. 

The defensive line has to be better in 2014, particularly at putting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. With Hall, Garrett, Cunningham and Jackson at defensive end, the Aggies should have a more consistent pass rush in 2014.

The Aggie defense allowed 5.4 yards per rush in 2013 which was very poor. With the added depth and experience along the defensive line in 2014, they should be able to lower that number by at least a yard per game.

Realistic expectations for the defensive line as a unit in 2014 are 17 total sacks, 35 tackles for loss and allowing 4.4 yards per carry on defense.

 

Depth Is Still Not There at Linebacker

The Aggies' linebackers were run over for the most part in 2013. They simply did not have the size nor the experience to hold up against SEC running games. 

The linebackers on the 2014 defense are physically bigger, but it remains to be seen if they will be better than the 2013 unit. The loss of Claiborne was big because he had the best instincts of any linebacker on the Aggies roster. 

The first-team linebackers today would be Shaan Washington on the strong side, Jordan Mastrogiovanni in the middle and A.J. Hilliard on the weak side. All three starters are linebackers who have not proven much in an Aggie uniform. 

Washington showed some natural pass-rushing abilities as a true freshman in 2013 with three sacks. Hilliard sat out the year after he transferred from TCU. Mastrogiovanni was solid in coverage but struggled against the run as a freshman. 

The second-team unity will be Donnie Baggs at strong-side outside linebacker, Reggie Chevis at middle linebacker and Tommy Sanders at weak-side outside linebacker. Baggs and Sanders were too small to be effective defenders against the run in 2013. 

Chevis redshirted in 2013 and will see action in short-yardage situations in 2014. Sanders and Baggs will have to prove that they can be effective linebackers in the SEC in 2014.

True freshmen Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker may find their way into the rotation if they can learn the defense. 

The Aggies do not have any proven playmakers returning at linebacker. That is not a good place to be at in the SEC where championships are won with elite front sevens on defense. 

In 2013, the Aggie linebackers contributed 28.5 tackles for loss and seven total sacks. The 2014 numbers should be better for the linebackers because they will have a better defensive line in front of them.

Realistic expectations for the linebackers in 2014 will be 30 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a unit. 

 

Questions Remain at Safety

The 2013 season was marked by atrocious play at safety in the Aggies' secondary. The 2014 team returns all four starters from the 2013 secondary, and they need to see a significant improvement in play at the safety position if they want to win football games. 

The starting secondary for the Aggies will be Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris at cornerback, with Howard Matthews and Floyd Raven at the two safety spots. 

Everett is a senior and this will be his fourth year starting at cornerback. He has spent time as a starter at safety also. He is the Aggies' best defensive player and should compete for All-SEC honors in 2014. 

Harris is a three-year starter at cornerback. He needs to make the transition from an inconsistent, young player to the veteran playmaker the Aggies expect him to be as a junior. Harris has missed some practice time with a health issue. 

Raven and Matthews both played poorly at safety in 2013. Matthews was particularly bad in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke. He struggled all season to cover the wheel route out of the backfield. 

Improved play from the defensive line should help the safety play in 2014. If the Aggies' front seven can control the run, the safeties will not be asked to crash down as much and will not be as susceptible to play-action fakes. 

The second-team defensive backs will be Victor Davis and Noel Ellis at corner, with Jonathan Wiggins and Clay Honeycutt at safety. Honeycutt started a few games at safety in 2013 and struggled immensely. Ideally, the Aggies will not be put in a position where they have to start him in 2014. 

Nick Harvey, Donovan Wilson and Armani Watts are true freshmen who may fit into the equation at safety. Harvey has seen practice time at both safety and cornerback. He will not redshirt and will see playing time in 2014. 

Whether Wilson or Watts break into the rotation depends on their understanding of the defense. If the safeties in the two-deep remain healthy, Aggie fans should expect either Wilson or Watts to redshirt.

Devonta Burns and Noel Ellis will battle it out for the starting spot at the nickel. Burns has been seeing the most time with the first-team when the defense goes to the nickel. 

The Aggies' defensive backs intercepted nine passes and had 2.5 sacks in 2013. Realistic expectations for the unit in 2014 are 12 interceptions and three sacks.  

The Aggie defense allowed 475.8 yards and 32.2 points per game in 2013.

Realistic expectations for the 2014 unit would be to allow 390 yards and 25 points per game. That would make them one of the top 60 defenses in the nation. 

They should be able to accomplish that goal by being stronger against the run and cutting down on coverage busts in the secondary. An improved pass rush should result in more turnovers created and less total plays for their opponents.

The Aggies will not be a great defense in 2014, but they should be good enough to help the team win games instead of being the liability they were in 2013. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC's Offensive Renaissance Will Continue in 2014 Despite What Haters May Say

Remember the days when defense won championships and divisions were decided by 9-6 field-goal kicking contests?

Times, they are a-changin'.

The remarkable absence of star power in the SEC heading into the 2014 season suggests that the offensive power we saw last year—when nine teams averaged more than 430 yards per game—might not exist in 2014.

That'd be wrong.

"There's a bunch of players sprinkled through our league, and we're going to continue, because of the recruiting area, to be able to always have really good players," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said at SEC media days in July. "That's just part of the Southeastern Conference every year. The names may change, but the production is going to be the same."

While the absence of star power—which is due in large part to substantial quarterback turnover—won't help, it's mitigated by the presence of innovative, flexible and creative offensive coaches who know how to get the most out of their players and put their quarterbacks in the proper positions for success.

The 2012 season didn't just mark the arrival of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC; it ushered in a new offensive era in the SEC.

Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin, Missouri's Gary Pinkel and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze—three brilliant offensive minds—joined the conference. The next season, Auburn hired former coordinator Gus Malzahn, Tennessee hired Butch Jones, and Kentucky went back to the air raid with coordinator Neal Brown. Florida and Alabama continued the trend this offseason when Kurt Roper and Lane Kiffin were hired to run the respective offenses at those two traditional powers.

Quarterbacks play a part, no doubt. But the offensive renaissance in the SEC is more due to coaching than anything else.

These aren't pro-style caretakers who rely on defense. They were all hired to push the envelope offensively and challenge the old and outdated notion that defense wins championships.

Defense doesn't win championships anymore. Just enough defense wins championships, and the influx of brilliant offensive minds within the SEC has made the definition of "just enough" a moving target based on the specific offensive scheme a team runs.

Sumlin has won big with a dual-threat quarterback (who took over as a redshirt freshman) when the Aggies and Johnny Manziel took the SEC by storm in 2012. He also won consistently with pro-style quarterback Case Keenum at Houston.

Malzahn won a national championship in 2010 as Auburn's offensive coordinator with eventual No. 1 draft pick Cam Newton and came within 13 seconds of doing it with again last year with Nick Marshall—who was playing defensive back at Georgia 18 months prior to arriving on the Plains. Malzahn even made Chris Todd look good when he turned around the Auburn offense as the offensive coordinator in 2009.

Will the SEC touch the total offense mark it set last year at 432.5 yards per game? Probably not. But don't be surprised if it's close. 

The coaches within the conference—both at the head coach and offensive coordinator levels—have changed the game. If offenses take a step back in 2014, it will only be a small one—and it will only be temporary. Unless a rule change like the ill-fated 10-second rule comes to fruition, there's too much coaching talent in the SEC to step back into the defensive dark ages.

 

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

UCLA fall camp at Cal State San Bernardino is in full swing, and so too are shifts in the Bruins lineup. 

Perhaps the most notable change after the first week of practices is Adarius Pickett's move from defensive back to running back. 

Pickett came in this offseason with 4-star billing at cornerback, but the depth of the UCLA secondary, combined with uncertainty at running back, necessitated the move.

Although touted for his ability on defense, Pickett won't be out of place on offense. His performance at running back last year for El Cerrito High School in El Cerrito, California, included a 251-yard, four-touchdown outing in the California Interscholastic Federation North Coast Section Division III championship, per Stephanie Hammon of the Contra Costa Times   

UCLA's search for backfield reliability is among the more pressing issues facing the Bruins at fall camp, and Jordon James missing repetitions due to an injury won't help.

James was the Bruins' leading rusher through the first month of 2013, going for at least 105 yards in each of the first three games. He's making his return from an ankle injury, but Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register reports James has missed time due to a hamstring injury. 

James' is just one among numerous injuries vexing the Bruins through the first week of practices. Two in particular have to cause concern for head coach Jim Mora. 

Offensive lineman Jake Brendel left practice Monday with a leg injury, per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News, just days after it was announced that fellow lineman Simon Goines had ankle surgery, per Wang:

Goines suffered an injury-plagued 2013. His absence, coupled with various other issues along the Bruins' front five, led to UCLA starting three true freshmen. 

The Bruins surrendered 36 sacks a season ago, second most among all Pac-12 teams.

With Goines out, redshirt freshman Conor McDermott has an opportunity to climb up the depth chart—as soon as he recovers from shoulder surgery.  

"We have numbers, but not as much quality as I would like," offensive line coach Adrian Klemm told Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times. "We are definitely getting better, definitely heading in the right direction. We're still developing."

Likewise, first-year defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich is still developing his lineup since taking over for Lou Spanos. 

"His NFL experience, his football experience and his IQ is wearing off on all of us," linebacker Eric Kendricks said of Ulbrich in July at Pac-12 media days. 

Fall camp is Ulbrich's first opportunity to impart his experience on the entire 2014 roster, including newcomers like 4-star linebacker recruit Kenny Young

Young is among those Bruins competing for a spot in a linebacker rotation that replaces 2013 starters Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt. 

The battle to replace Barr at outside linebacker is one of particular interest, with Aaron Wallace, Deon Hollins and Kenny Orjioke all jockeying for the job.

In his Orange County Register notebook, Kartje described Hollins as "nearly unstoppable at times."

That's one position that could be listed in UCLA's Week 1 depth chart with an "OR," denoting a game-time decision for the starting nod.   

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

UCLA fall camp at Cal State San Bernardino is in full swing, and so too are shifts in the Bruins lineup. Perhaps the most notable change after the first week of practices is Adarius Pickett's move from defensive back to running back...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell Makes 1-Handed Catch Look Easy During Practice

Seeing Laquon Treadwell make a one-handed catch this easily should make Ole Miss quarterbacks feel very confident in the receiver.

All the team's quarterbacks have to do is get the football near the 6'2" wideout and let him use his good hands to haul it in.

A catch like this isn't easy, but Treadwell made it look fairly routine.

[Laquon Treadwell, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Inside the Buckeyes' Most Exciting Position Battle

Inside the walls of Ohio State's fall camp team hotel, it'd be tough to find two roommates with more in common than Curtis Grant and Raekwon McMillan.

Highly touted prospects during their prep playing days, both Grant and McMillan opted to spurn the south to spend their college careers at Ohio State, where playing time was seemingly readily available at linebacker. But their respective journeys have led them on a collision course in Columbus in what's arguably the most intriguing position battle for the Buckeyes this fall.

One player's trying to make a first impression, while the other's attempting to make the most of a last chance. But regardless who winds up starting for Ohio State at middle linebacker when the 2014 season kicks off on Aug. 30, it's easy to see how one of the most unique bonds on the Buckeyes roster has already come to fruition.

Three years ago Grant essentially was McMillan, a 5-star prospect and the top-ranked inside linebacker in the 2011 class. On national signing day, he announced that he'd be heading from Richmond, Virginia to Ohio State, where the Buckeyes were devoid of depth at the linebacker position.

From that standpoint, little had changed in Columbus eight months ago, when McMillan committed to Ohio State over Alabama and Clemson. Urban Meyer's pitch to the 5-star prospect from Hinesville, Georgia was clear—and reminiscent of the one that Grant received from Jim Tressel during his recruitment three years prior.

"Coach Meyer, when I was getting recruited, he made it clearly simple that we needed linebackers here at Ohio State," McMillan said. "He wants his type of guys here playing linebacker."

It'd be simple—perhaps even easy—to state that Grant isn't one of Meyer's "guys," but that's not necessarily the case. In fact, Meyer attempted to recruit Grant while he was the head coach at Florida, as he often did with the country's top prospects.

But while it was the Buckeyes' pitch of immediate playing time that won out for Grant, he found himself limited to predominately special teams play in his freshman campaign at Ohio State. His sophomore season didn't go much more swimmingly either, as he lost his starting spot at middle linebacker just three games into the season.

Meanwhile in Georgia, McMillan was already making a name for himself, being named the Region 3-AAA defensive player of the year as a junior in 2012. Heading into 2013, McMillan could have already had his pick of where he'd be spending his college career, and his recruitment only ramped up when he repeated as his region's top defensive player as a senior.

McMillan's stellar 2013 campaign coincided with the best of Grant's college career, as the then-junior tallied 52 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 12 games. But even then, injuries and inconsistencies prevented the 6'3", 240-pounder from living up to the hype that came with him to Columbus in 2011, as even he's admitted that his career has yet to meet its lofty expectations.

"Average. Very average," Grant said when asked to describe his college career. "I didn't have the confidence that I needed coming in. I was thinking too much."

That, however, no longer appears to be the case. As Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell explained, Grant has acted every bit the senior he is through the first week of his final fall camp, which has paid dividends for him on the football field.

"His confidence level has really gone up. That's probably the biggest thing," Fickell said. "Things haven't quite gone his way since the day he walked in here. I'll tell you what, he's a different kid—no, I shouldn't say kid. He's a different man."

Nipping at Grant's heels, however, is a kid, even if McMillan hasn't quite looked like one since arriving on campus as an early enrollee in January.

When the Buckeyes split into two teams for the annual spring game in April, there was McMillan—all of 18-years-old—alongside presumed starting linebackers Joshua Perry and Darron Lee on the Gray squad. And when Ohio State took the field for the first day of fall camp, McMillan didn't participate in practice with his fellow freshmen in the morning, as he was invited to take part in the veterans' afternoon session by his head coach.

"They act like grown men," Meyer said of McMillan and freshman wide receiver Johnnie Dixon. "So we let them practice with the grown men today."

Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long for McMillan to lose the black stripe on his practice helmet either, signaling that he had "officially" become a member of the Buckeyes' roster.

But as the competition between Grant and McMillan has heated up, the two roommates have only grown closer. Older and wiser than he was three years ago, Grant understandably sees himself in his understudy and wants to provide a presence that he never felt when he was a highly touted freshman.

"That's like my little brother. I try to teach him the ropes," Grant said of McMillan. "It's something that I didn't have my freshman year. I kind of had it, but this is a little more welcoming."

And while McMillan has admitted that Grant's guidance has helped him, he's also not shy about stating that starting is one of his goals for his freshman season. Whether he'll make an early impact or suffer the same early struggles that Grant did remains to be seen, but he's well aware of the opportunity that's at hand as his freshman season approaches.

"I'm used to coming in my freshman year with a lot of expectations," McMillan said, drawing back on his high school days. "Either you break under pressure with it, or you make diamonds with it. I'm just trying to do everything I can to make progress."

 

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

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Biggest Dark-Horse Contenders for the First College Football Playoff

Everyone is fully expecting powerhouses like Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon to be in the fray for the first College Football Playoff once we hit the postseason. However, the unpredictable nature of college football is bound to send some of the front-runners spiraling down the rankings.

Which underdogs will push their way to the top and emerge as playoff contenders?

Watch as B/R's experts break down this year's CFB Playoff dark horses.

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Why Hutson Mason, Not Jacob Coker, Will Be the QB to Surprise the SEC in 2014

All eyes are on Tuscaloosa this August, as the Alabama Crimson Tide—winners of three of the last five national titles—are looking for their first quarterback since AJ McCarron beat out Phillip Sims early in the 2011 season.

Whoever wins that battle—either senior Blake Sims or Florida State transfer Jacob Coker—will take a backseat to a bigger breakout star in the SEC in 2014—Georgia's Hutson Mason.

After spending four years behind Aaron Murray, Mason stepped in for Murray after Murray tore his ACL versus Kentucky last season, throwing for 189 yards and a touchdown while finishing off the Wildcats. He then led his team to a thrilling double overtime win over Georgia Tech in his first career start and threw for 320 yards, one touchdown and one pick in the Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska.

Sure, he lost to the Cornhuskers. But four key drops on the final two drives of the game deep in Nebraska territory negated what could have been game-winning drives.

He completed 68.9 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and no picks in three spring scrimmages, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald, and completed 10 of 13 passes for 104 yards and zero interceptions in the first spring scrimmage of the fall, according to Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In quotes released by the university, Mason said:

It felt good to be back playing in Sanford Stadium. You get a different excitement, different atmosphere as opposed to the practice fields and the Butts-Mehre building in the background. I thought the scrimmage was kind of a draw. The offense did good things, and the defense did some good things.

Four scrimmages. No interceptions. That'll work.

Yes, they're scrimmage statistics and, yes, they could reflect more on Georgia's maligned defense than Mason and the offense. That's not the case, though.

He's making smart decisions with the football, and that's what's important.

It really doesn't matter who the quarterback is, Georgia's offense is going to stay the same. Head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo use the run to set up the pass, and they've got a stable of running backs behind Mason to accomplish that. Todd Gurley returns as one of the top players in all of college football, Keith Marshall is back from an ACL injury and incoming freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have been all the rage during fall camp.

That's similar to Alabama's backfield, sure.

In fact, Georgia's and Alabama's offenses are nearly mirror images of each other. Each has a deep running backs corps, veteran wide receivers and some questions along the offensive line. 

What sets the teams apart is the defenses.

Whoever wins the quarterback job in Tuscaloosa will have the pressure cut down a bit by the Crimson Tide defense, which really only has one hole—cornerback. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have a new coordinator—Jeremy Pruitt—and were as lost as the characters of the famed television series at times. 

Pruitt is the right guy for the job, and the defense should turn around in a hurry in 2014. But if I'm wrong, that means more responsibilities for Mason through the air. If I'm right, it's unrealistic to expect it to be up to par with Bama's defense, which means Mason will still have to do more than Coker or Sims.

Mason is making decisions like a veteran, has weapons all around him and is more likely to be forced into being a difference-maker rather than a caretaker.

When you look at passing stats at the end of the year, don't be surprised if Mason's name is at or near the top in most categories.

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.

 

Follow @BarrettSallee

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Is Oklahoma's Defense Playoff-Caliber Without LB Frank Shannon?

Oklahoma became an even more intriguing playoff-caliber team when the team added former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham this summer. However, the Sooners could head into the 2014 season without one of their top playmakers from a year ago. 

In an email statement on Monday, Oklahoma president David Boren said that linebacker Frank Shannon had been suspended for the year. The suspension was handed down on June 18 due to the findings of a Title IX investigation linked to an alleged sexual assault in January. However, Shannon appealed the suspension six days later and was awarded a stay, allowing him to remain enrolled at Oklahoma and participate with the team. 

Jason Kersey of The Oklahomanhas more details of the process, but essentially, the university is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to prohibit the stay issued two months ago. From Boren's statement: 

The University is unable to enforce its process at this time. The University has and is taking every legal step possible to move this process forward. The University is currently seeking to enforce its decision so that it may be in compliance with federal law requiring responses by institutions to such matters in a timely manner.  With the fall semester beginning August 18, time is of the essence. 

As the No. 3 preseason team in the country, according to theUSA Today Amway coaches poll, there are lofty expectations for the Sooners. While those expectations are rooted in part by the potential of quarterback Trevor Knight, the defense is also returning its entire front seven. Geneo Grissom, Eric Striker, Charles Tapper—they're all back. That plays a role in Oklahoma being picked, per the Big 12's official website, as the preseason favorites to win the Big 12 in the conference's preseason media poll, too. 

If the Sooners play without Shannon, though, they'll be losing their top defender from a statistics standpoint. The redshirt junior was the team's leading tackler in 2013 (92) and finished third with seven tackles for loss. It's difficult to replace that kind of production—but not impossible. 

Oklahoma's coaching staff has been preparing for life without Shannon. Sophomore Jordan Evans has been practicing as the No. 1 middle linebacker since the spring. According to Kersey, following the program's spring game, "Shannon’s return is highly questionable after a recent sexual assault allegation, likely leaving Evans as the Sooners’ starting middle linebacker."

"Jordan has really improved and is much more sound and disciplined in schemes and where he needs to be," head coach Bob Stoops said after the spring game, via Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com. "He has got great range and great athleticism." 

Evans also filled in for Shannon in OU's 38-30 win over Texas Tech, recording eight tackles. 

Oklahoma has dealt with this kind of situation before. Last year, freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander moved up to a starting role after Corey Nelson tore a pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the year. Alexander finished as the team's second-leading tackler. 

The talent among the backups has been there when Oklahoma needed it, so the Sooners' playoff chances shouldn't ride on Evans alone. The problem, rather, is the linebacker depth behind Evans, as documented by Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman

After Evans, though, things would get awfully thin at his inside linebacker spot.

The likely backups there would be either freshman Tay Evans or senior Aaron Franklin, who had six tackles last season and has just 31 in his three seasons at Norman.

This could force Oklahoma's defensive staff to move players around and get creative with the team's personnel packages. Junior college transfer Devante Bond could move in from outside linebacker, as could Striker if the situation desperately called for it. 

Oklahoma primarily ran a defense with only three down linemen last year to offset depth concerns at defensive line. This time around, depth concerns are at middle linebacker. Given that Oklahoma's biggest weakness on defense in '13 was stopping downhill running attacks, a thin middle raises legitimate concerns. 

Overall, Oklahoma should be OK provided it stays healthy on defense. Of course, that's asking an awful lot for football players. If health becomes a problem during the year, the Sooners' playoff hopes could be in greater jeopardy. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of Oklahoma athletics. 

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James Franklin, Penn State Putting Together the Surprise Star Class of 2015

James Franklin established himself as one of the coaching industry’s top rising stars after his successful stint at Vanderbilt over the last three years. 

However, since taking over at Penn State in January, Franklin has wasted little time in turning the Nittany Lions into a force on the recruiting trail. 

After 4-star corner John Reid became PSU’s 19th verbal commitment last weekend, the Nittany Lions are sitting in the No. 6 spot in 247Sports' 2015 class rankings—good enough to make PSU’s group the class of the Big Ten by a comfortable margin.

After the turbulent years following the NCAA sanctions resulting from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Franklin has blasted off the solid foundation built by predecessor Bill O’Brien and has the Lions poised to land their first top-10 recruiting class since 2006.

Perhaps more impressive than the results Franklin has gotten is how he’s built this class. 

As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports detailed, Franklin’s fast start began with a strong push to lock up the best talent in the Keystone State. Reid became the seventh in-state standout to announce his intentions to head to Happy Valley—with all seven of those pledges ranked among the top 10 players in Pennsylvania.

Aside from locking up the home-state borders, Franklin has struck gold in fertile East Coast hotbeds such as New Jersey (six commitments) and Maryland (three commitments).

Franklin has already landed a pair of cornerstones and top-100 recruits in 4-star offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins and 4-star quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Additionally, PSU is squarely in the mix to land studs such as 4-star defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and 4-star corner Jordan Whitehead.

If that isn’t enough, Franklin made headlines in the spring after serving as a guest coach at satellite camps on the campuses of Georgia State and Stetson—which are conveniently located in the Southeastern recruiting hotbeds of Atlanta and Central Florida, respectively.

“It's our job to do everything in our power within the rules to give Penn State a competitive advantage,” Franklin said at Big Ten media days, via AL.com’s Mike Herndon. “And whatever that may be, whether it's recruiting certain parts of the country, whatever it may be, whether it's the satellite camps, we're going to look into all those things."

It’s bold moves such as those that magnify Franklin's growing reputation as one of the nation’s elite recruiters. 

Franklin has already proven to be a worthy successor for O’Brien by building a class that sends a message to rivals in the Big Ten and shows that the Lions are a force to be reckoned with nationally. With a pledge last month from Shane Simmons, a 5-star defensive end in the 2016 class, the Lions' momentum is only picking up steam.

With Franklin’s ability to quickly create a surge on the recruiting trail, it’s only a matter of time before Penn State's fortunes on the field follow the same path.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

23 College Football Coaches Who Flopped After Changing Jobs

Here’s a question that wasn’t on the SAT this year: Rick Neuheisel is to UCLA as Rich Rodriguez is to _____?

The answer? Well, obviously, it’s Michigan.

Where Neuheisel blazed a trail of success at Washington only to suffer disappointment at UCLA, Rodriguez cashed in on his winning ways at West Virginia to secure what turned out to be an ugly three-season run at Michigan.

It is the age-old story of a successful coach making the monumental decision to change jobs, a move that is considered to be another rung up the career ladder, only to fall tragically to the ground with a loud thud.

Since the possibilities are endless, here’s a look at a sampling of the top coaching flops from the past decade. These are the stories that make us wonder how guys like Chris Petersen, James Franklin, Steve Sarkisian and Charlie Strong will do this season and beyond.

 

As a note, not included are coaches like Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Cal’s Sonny Dykes, examples of guys who have only been at their new job for one season. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, for now.

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Pac-12 Football: Power Ranking Top 10 Players Heading into 2014 Season

With the college football season now less than three weeks away (!!), it's time for something we can all agree on without any arguments: the top 10 players in the Pac-12 heading into the 2014 campaign.

We kid, of course, about everyone being in agreement following the final slide, because fans have passion and always want to see their favorite players get the credit they feel they deserve. And really, there's no perfect formula for coming up with the 10 best players in the conference.

What we're looking at is a combination of both statistics and how important a player is to his team. The latter is the main criteria, and in other words, looks at what kind of impact a player has had in wins and losses regardless of stats.

Check out our power rankings on the top 10 players in the Pac-12 and feel free to share who you feel deserves a spot (while remembering that you have to remove someone to make room) or who might climb into this elite group come December.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Just missed the cut: Washington CB Marcus Peters, USC WR Nelson Agholor, Oregon C Hroniss Grasu, Stanford WR Ty Montgomery

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Pac-12 Football: Power Ranking Top 10 Players Heading into 2014 Season

With the college football season now less than three weeks away (!!), it's time for something we can all agree on without any arguments: the top 10 players in the Pac -12 heading into the 2014 campaign...

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Nebraska Football: This Fall's Injury Bug Isn't as Bad as You Think

Last week I was ruminating on a few things Nebraska would need to have happen in order for the Cornhuskers to have success in 2014. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong staying poised in the pocket and avoiding mistakes was there, as was a young but athletic defense holding steady in key situations. I even considered Nebraska's inability to perform well against top teams when it mattered the most.

At the top of the list, though: avoid injuries.

This is not a new mantra for this Cornhusker team. For the final play against Northwestern last year, Nebraska was without the services of six offensive starters, including offensive guards Spencer Long and Jake Cotton, receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner and, of course, four-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez.

It was the ultimate Hail Mary. It worked, but Nebraska fans would rather have seen the familiar faces racing down the sideline as time expired.

Many of those faces return for the 2014 season, but the injury bug has already struck one week into fall camp.

First there was the report of junior defensive back Charles Jackson, lost for the season when he sustained ligament damage to his left knee the second day of fall camp. Jackson, a confident player who looked to replace departed senior Ciante Evans as the nickelback in head coach Bo Pelini's complex defensive system, displayed great athleticism in the first two days of practice before his injury.

Three days later, sophomore linebacker Michael Rose tore his ACL in a non-contact injury. Rose was looking to build on a freshman season that ended on a high note, as he totaled 25 tackles in Nebraska's final two games, including 16 in a loss to Iowa.

On Monday, the Associated Press (via Fox News) reported that redshirt freshman running back Adam Taylor broke his ankle on Saturday and would miss a significant amount of time. 

Add in the season-long suspension of sophomore safety LeRoy Alexander, and you've got yourself some Nebraska fans needing some heart medicine. 

Fear not, Children of the Corn. There is no need to despair. While injuries are never good news, the positions could have been worse. 

Adam Taylor would have been fighting for carries behind All-Big Ten running back Ameer Abdullah, junior wrecking ball Imani Cross and sophomore speedster Terrell Newby. This is a position stocked with talent, and incoming freshman Mikale Wilbon (Chicago) only adds more depth. It is another setback for the talented back, but the cupboard is far from bare.

Michael Rose was looking to pick up where he left off, leading the way as the starting middle linebacker. It appears on the surface as though this injury could hurt badly, but this is another position where Nebraska has depth. Sophomore Josh Banderas split time with Rose in the spring and the first week of fall camp, and senior Trevor Roach, who missed 2013 with an injury, has had playing time at the position. David Santos and Zaire Anderson return as the starters at the other linebacker positions.

Losing Charles Jackson and LeRoy Alexander does leave the biggest dent, but Nebraska has the depth to fill both positions. Pelini has always stocked up on talent in the defensive secondary, and it will be used in 2014.

Sophomore Nathan Gerry, who excelled at the safety spot in high school, has moved from linebacker to fill the void and will likely start alongside senior Corey Cooper. Junior-college transfer Byerson Cockrell, who has played the nickelback position since enrolling at Nebraska in January, appears likely to stake claim on the starting spot. While this is not ideal and leaves an apparent vacancy at corner, the depth is there. 

Juniors Jonathan Rose and Daniel Davie, along with redshirt freshman Boaz Joseph, will vie for the spot opposite junior returning starter Josh Mitchell. None have notable experience, but their athleticism and knowledge of Pelini's defensive schemes will allow the loss of prospective starters to be minimized. 

It is also important to remember that, as of now, there are no significant injuries to any players in the trenches. As mentioned, Nebraska was cycling players through the offensive line much of the 2013 season, and it showed against teams with healthier bodies. The defensive line, thought to be the strength of the team heading into the 2014 season, is healthy.

The quarterbacks are healthy. Probable starter Tommy Armstrong Jr. did wear a green non-contact jersey on Monday after getting dinged pretty hard Saturday, but it's a safe bet he'll be at full strength for Nebraska's August 30 opener against Florida Atlantic. That's huge news for the Cornhuskers, a team that doesn't want to rotate quarterbacks like last season.

So take heart, Nebraska fans. Injuries happen. It's never fun to hear about them, but they happen. Contrary to popular belief, not every one is the end of the world. The players, and the depth, are there. This is the deepest and most athletic Nebraska has been at multiple positions since Pelini arrived in Lincoln. 

This also provides depth moving forward. The young players with an opportunity to move up and practice with the starters or even start now will have gained so much moving forward. They will then compete with those who were injured this season.

That should put a smile on the faces of prognosticators. After all, the "key" players lost now will be around for another year to wreak havoc on opposing teams.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

The first week of fall camp is in the books and the Georgia Bulldogs are inching closer to August 30, which is when they host the Clemson Tigers in the season opener.

After the first week, there have been a lot of good things when it comes to players executing, and there are some areas where the Bulldogs still need more work.

Regardless, the Bulldogs still have a long ways to go to get to where they want to be, and this week will be another long one, as they will continue two-a-days to get physically and mentally ready.

Here are five things we learned from the Bulldogs through fall camp so far.

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