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Why Marcus Mariota Is the Best QB Prospect in College Football

The most important position in football is, and always will be, the quarterback. If you don't have one in the NFL, your entire focus becomes finding one. Teams will spend draft picks and boatloads of money trying to find the right guy.

The next wave of quarterback talent in college is very good, with players like Jameis Winston, Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty and others all showing NFL-level talent.

However, the player who does it best comes from an offense many still consider to be a gimmick. How will the NFL view Oregon's Marcus Mariota, and just how good is he?


The Tale of the Tape

Height: 6'4"

Weight: 220 lbs

40-yard dash: 4.48 seconds (according to GoDucks.com)

2013 stats: 245-of-386, 63.5 PCT, 3,665 YDS, 31 TD, 4 INT, 9 rush TD



A common critique of Mariota in the Oregon offense is that he's too often allowed to throw through big passing windows thanks to the routes of his receivers and that those windows won't exist in the NFL.

That's partially true, but Mariota does make more contested throws than the narrative would suggest:

Take a look at Mariota against Tennessee. He reads man coverage, and with a defensive lineman in his face, delivers a strike down the sideline.

With no pressure, you'd like to see this ball thrown further up the field, allowing the receiver to run and catch in stride, but things happen in the pocket you can't control.

The goal of any quarterback here is to give his man a chance downfield—personally, I'd rather have the quarterback put this on the back shoulder and limit the chance of an interception instead of throwing it up with a ton of air and giving the defense time to run under the ball.

Not every pass thrown under pressure has to be beautiful, but Mariota displays downfield accuracy here and on his game film that proves his ability to push the deep ball and threaten a defense.

For those who think he's running a dink-and-dunk offense with no reads or tough throws, this proves that theory wrong.

Mariota's downfield accuracy grades out better than any quarterback scouted for the 2014 draft and would be on par with the elite quarterback prospects of the last decade.


Pocket Presence

Playing against Stanford in 2013, Mariota got a good look at what an NFL defense will do to try and contain him. He also played on a strained MCL that limited his mobility and plant foot.

Still yet, Mariota displayed the pocket presence of a veteran in this matchup:

In the clip above, we see Mariota flushed from the pocket, but he doesn't tuck and look to run. Instead he keeps the ball at a passing height, rolls to the right and is able to keep his shoulders square and his eyes down field.

Keeping eye discipline on the move is incredibly important, and Mariota doesn't need to be schooled in this area. He rolls, fires with velocity and makes a tough throw off a jump. The resulting pass is slightly under-thrown, but throwing on a strained MCL from this position speaks to his arm strength and athleticism.

You would like to see Mariota start to recognize back-side pressure better—Tennessee sacked him in the red zone because he didn't feel the blitz—but in a pro-style blocking scheme he should be better suited to feel and see that pressure pre-snap.

As a quarterback who has only played in a shotgun, Mariota could require an adjustment period when he's asked to come under center.

It's not as important today as it was five years ago, but there are times that still put heavy emphasis on a quarterback's under-center ability, and that will hurt Mariota.



Tall, strong and balanced. That's how you can best describe Mariota in the pocket.

His passing mechanics are ideal, from the way he points his lead (left) shoulder to the way his feet are balanced and light when he's preparing to throw.

Eyes are a big part of a quarterback's mechanics, and Mariota never drops his eyes. Even when pressured, he keeps his head up and focuses on coverage and routes instead of letting his eyes fall to the pass rush. This is a pro-level quality from the Oregon redshirt junior.

From the standpoint of passing mechanics, Mariota is a finished product.

He has a very quick release with a compact motion. There is no wind-up, he doesn't drop the ball below his chest and doesn't lose his base when throwing. Mariota flicks the ball with strength, showing good velocity fueled by his precise follow-through and weight transfer.

The ball comes out high and fast when he makes the read.


Football Intelligence (FBI) 

Mariota may play in a system some don't yet appreciate, but the rumor that he doesn't make reads pre- and post-snap is false. He does—it's just subtler than Peyton Manning screaming at the offensive line on every play.

The Chip Kelly offense being run at Oregon asks Mariota to read one side of the field on the majority of this throws. This is a common occurrence in college football—especially in today's spread offense era—and is no more of a knock on Mariota than it was on Cam Newton and others.  

This is one area where Mariota can improve in 2014, and it is the part of his game where the biggest jump can be seen on the field.

Can he manipulate a defense with his eyes like he does his legs? Will Pac-12 defenses adjust to Oregon's scheme and give him fits like they did in 2013?

Mariota's grade as a prospect is based on his skill set to date and potential—and a big jump is expected from the 20-year-old in his third season as a starter.



Mariota is an accomplished pocket passer, but part of what makes him so appealing to the NFL is his ability to pull the ball down and pick up positive yards when all hell breaks loose in the pocket.

Of course, every NFL general manager would love to have Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but today's game is also about the quarterback being able to pick up yards on 3rd-and-short if the defense does its job in coverage.

Mariota has that Newton- or Colin Kaepernick-like ability to run with power and pick up short yards. He's not a brute like Ben Roethlisberger or as nimble as Johnny Manziel, but he runs with long, strong strides and can be a dangerous mover:

Mariota, like most mobile quarterbacks, presents a unique challenge for defenses.

Do you pull a linebacker out of coverage to pursue him as a runner or stay true to the pass? Tennessee couldn't figure out that decision, and many NFL defenders will struggle with the same question in the moment.

Mariota uses his athleticism to set up throws—and we saw that above in his pocket presence clip. He'll use his legs to set up the pass, and that's what has NFL scouts so excited about his potential.



Largely due to their similar stature and running styles, many are quick to compare Mariota to Kaepernick. I've fallen into that trap as well, but Mariota is light-years ahead of where Kaepernick was at Nevada as a passer and has a much cleaner passing motion.

The Kaepernick comparison in terms of style is fitting, but his mechanics and pocket vision are more similar to those of Roethlisberger.

Mariota may be a hybrid of the two, as he's a special player with undeniable double-threat tools. For this day and age of the NFL, he's the ideal quarterback prospect.


Special thanks to Draft Breakdown for the use of their videos.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Marcus Mariota Is the Best QB Prospect in College Football

The most important position in football is, and always will be, the quarterback. If you don't have one in the NFL , your entire focus becomes finding one. Teams will spend draft picks and boatloads of money trying to find the right guy...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame Football: First Impressions from 2014 Fall Camp

Notre Dame opened fall camp Monday at Culver Military Academy, the first official practice of the 2014 season.

As the Irish boarded buses Sunday and checked in for their one-week stay off campus, head coach Brian Kelly threw the first curveball of fall camp, announcing offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock would be sidelined for a few weeks while recovering from a medical procedure.

"Coach Denbrock had a recent surgical procedure that will force him to miss the first few weeks of preseason camp," Kelly said in a release circulated to media members on Sunday evening. "Mike is doing extremely well and everyone associated with the program looks forward to his return."

Kelly will handle Denbrock's duties in the interim, a natural fit for a head coach who will be calling offensive plays from the sideline this season. 

Let's take a closer look at a few other interesting developments from the first day of Notre Dame camp. 


No Denbrock is no problem...for now. 

While no specifics were given on Denbrock's timeline, it's expected that Notre Dame's new offensive coordinator will be back and working with the team in plenty of time before the Irish take on Rice. As one of Kelly's most trusted lieutenants, losing the head of the offensive meeting room is far from ideal.

But while the timing isn't ideal, there might not be a better time for Denbrock to be absent. Kelly talked about how different this fall camp is than others, with quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire working from the same play calls, unlike in seasons past when the offensive staff had to work up multiple game plans depending on the quarterback. 

"I'm scripting offense for the first time, really, since I've been here," Kelly said on Friday. "This is the first time that we don't have to have two scripts for two quarterbacks. They are running the same plays, and that is a huge advantage in terms of building that consistency throughout the ranks."

Down at Culver Military Academy for the week, the first few days of practice will be about acclimatizing and less about specific schemes and game-planning. That should make it easier for the Irish to get by without Denbrock, who sounded upbeat about his return to the team. 

"I had surgery last week," Denbrock said in the same release. "I'm resting and feeling better every day, but I won't be able to join the team for the beginning of preseason camp. Safe to say, I'm already chomping at the bit to get back with the guys."

In addition to his responsibilities as the coordinator, Denbrock coaches the Irish wide receivers. Current running backs coach Tony Alford handled those duties from 2010-11, making him capable of helping out in Denbrock's absence. Scott Booker was an offensive intern before taking over the special teams and tight ends, and he's a viable option as well. Graduate assistant Ryan Mahaffey is set to be working with wide receivers this year as well. 

When Mike Elston needed to take leave during the 2010 season, former strength coach Lorenzo Guess took over the tight ends while Denbrock coached Elston's defensive line. That could open the door for former Irish wide receiver David Grimes, now on Paul Longo's staff. Assistant director of strength and conditioning Jacob Flint was a former walk-on under Kelly at Central Michigan who earned a scholarship in his final season. 

Denbrock will be missed. But for the time being, the Irish staff is well equipped to keep things on track. 


While Brian Kelly isn't ready to name a starting quarterback, Everett Golson started camp as QB1. 

After letting Everett Golson and Malik Zaire battle all spring, Kelly seemed content letting the quarterback battle continue into fall camp. But when the first-team offense took to the field on Monday, it was Golson taking snaps at quarterback. 

That shouldn't be a surprise, even for all the talk coming from the head coach about Zaire still competing for the starting job.

As a senior and returning starter, Golson played against Alabama for the national title. Zaire has yet to play against another team. 


Sophomore Mike McGlinchey exited spring practice as the team's right tackle. But he wasn't in the starting lineup on Monday. 

On Friday, Kelly talked about the state of Notre Dame's offensive line. With the healthy return of veterans Nick Martin and Christian Lombard, Kelly felt confident about Ronnie Stanley and Steve Elmer joining the senior duo to help solidify four starting spots up front. 

"With Lombard being healthy, a starter returns. Nick Martin being healthy, a starter returns," Kelly said. "Elmer, a starter returns. Stanley, a starter returns. So you're really talking about four starters returning on the offensive line. That's a good place to be. Now, we have to figure out who that fifth player is."

It looked like Mike McGlinchey was that player leaving spring practice, with the sophomore getting the first shot at the right tackle job while Elmer stayed inside at left guard. But updates from practice had McGlinchey running with the second team while senior Matt Hegarty played left guard and Elmer practiced at right tackle. 

Hegarty seems like an out-of-the-blue contender for a starting spot, but maybe he shouldn't be. He spent the spring playing center in place of Martin, who was recovering from knee surgery.

That he filled in valiantly last year after Martin went down against BYU was one of the season's better stories, with Hegarty beating long odds to even be on the football field after he suffered a scary stroke and had a hole in his heart surgically repaired just a year earlier.

"You know how I feel about him, and I've made it pretty clear, Matt Hegarty has been outstanding," Kelly said on Friday.

Staying with the offensive line, one early crisis was averted when Stanley was carted off the field during Monday's practice. It turns out the junior left tackle merely needed an IV to deal with the steamy temperatures. 


Time to make special teams special again. 

Kelly has talked openly about the efforts made to get Notre Dame's special teams back up to snuff. With Kyle Brindza among the best specialists in the country, Scott Booker's all-important third phase needs to find answers everywhere else. 

That means adding personnel to the coverage units. It also means finding replacements for George Atkinson as kickoff returner and T.J. Jones on punt returns. 

There wasn't an early look at kickoff return, though Amir Carlisle filled in capably during the Pinstripe Bowl for Atkinson. Early punt return options include running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant along with fifth-year transfer Cody Riggs, who will play a key role in the secondary. 


*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Georgia Football: Complete Preview for Bulldogs Offense and Defense

The Georgia Bulldogs face the tall task of replacing Aaron Murray at quarterback this season, and his replacement will play a large role in the Bulldogs' success this year. Defensively, the Bulldogs look to have their typical speed and ferocity at all three levels.

How good will each unit be?

Watch B/R's experts break down what to expect from Mark Richt's squad.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nick Saban's Influence Already Apparent in Lane Kiffin

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After an unceremonious firing at USC, Lane Kiffin found himself with nothing to do in December, something the football coach wasn't necessarily used to.

He got a phone call from Alabama coach Nick Saban asking if he'd be interested in coming in as an offensive consultant as the Crimson Tide prepared to face Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

"So I took my vacation in Tuscaloosa here for eight days at the Capstone Hotel," Kiffin said on Sunday, referencing the on-campus hotel at Alabama.

Kiffin claims those eight days had nothing to do with his hiring eight more days after Alabama's 45-31 loss to the Sooners. Saban said he came away impressed with what he saw from Kiffin in that span.

Regardless of how it happened, the bottom line is that Kiffin is Alabama's offensive coordinator. And by all accounts, he's learning how to put his controversial ways, his weaknesses as a head coach, behind him and getting back to running an offense.

Saban may be the perfect mentor for him at this time in his life, and his influence is already readily apparent.

The Sugar Bowl is not when Saban and Kiffin's relationship started. The pair goes way back, according to Kiffin.

"There was actually some conversations a long time ago, [Saban]'s first year when he first got here actually, on the phone we had some conversations about coming here at that time," Kiffin said. "Decided to stay at USC (as offensive coordinator) at that time. It was something I kind of always thought about because I think the more you can learn from more people, obviously, the better you become as a coach."

Kiffin actually ended up in the NFL as the Oakland Raiders' head coach in 2007, where he lasted until a few games into the 2008 season. His subsequent 15-month tenure with Tennessee was marked by controversial public comments, including calling out then-Florida coach Urban Meyer. He left in the dead of night after one season to take what he called his dream job at USC, where he was fired in his fourth season while the Trojans dealt with scholarship limitations and other NCAA sanctions.

Kiffin has always been a respected coach and coordinator.

"He is an outstanding and creative offensive coach who has great experience both at the college and NFL level," Saban said when announcing his hiring. "He has a very good understanding of the game, and I have always been impressed with what I saw in the games he called."

But his brash personality has rubbed many the wrong way and made him such a controversial figure.

He had success under Pete Carroll as USC's offensive coordinator, but after three rough head coaching stints, Kiffin comes to Alabama humbled but eager to learn.

"Obviously when you're hired here, you're going back into football and recruiting and spring ball and everything," Kiffin said. "Having a little time off there after getting fired at USC, it kind of re-excites you to get back.

"Obviously, I loved being a head coach—there's lots of great things about that—but when you step back, when you go into a role of being an assistant coach, your focus is so much back on football and player development and working with the players and the other coaches. When you're a head coach, you're pulled in so many different directions. That's been exciting, too, to get back to that."

Kiffin and Saban had previously been viewed as sort of opposites in the coaching world. The hotshot, young coach against an old-school, methodical one. So a potential marriage was sometimes joked about as a hypothetical, but hardly anyone saw it become a reality.

The Saban-Kiffin dynamic was an early storyline when Kiffin was first hired, but now it seems like an afterthought.

Kiffin is embracing the Saban way.

"You know, to me, there would be no other option to come in and not try to learn everything that you can from Nick Saban," he said. "So, yeah, I'm sitting here every day learning stuff from him."

And then he cracked a joke about a recent example: "We already met this morning so he made sure I didn't say anything that would get on the ticker."

If Kiffin in Tuscaloosa works out, it could pay plenty of dividends for an Alabama offense loaded at the skill positions and looking to develop a quarterback to distribute the ball to those weapons, something Kiffin has had success with in the past.

But it could pay personal dividends for Kiffin as well. After building up a reputation as a renegade coach bouncing around football, he can come in and learn from one of the best coaches in the game.

"As you make mistakes, the No. 1 thing you better do from them is learn from them and not just make excuses for them," Kiffin said. "I've made more than anybody probably. To be able to go through what I've gone through and still be fortunate before the age of 40 to be here, to be offensive coordinator with Coach Saban at Alabama, you take some time to reflect on that."

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Stephen Davis Jr. Commits to Auburn: What 2016 Legacy Recruit Brings to Tigers

Tennessee isn't the only SEC team that can benefit from legacy recruits, something Auburn proved Monday when it landed a commitment from 4-star class of 2016 athlete Stephen Davis Jr. from Dutch Fork High School in South Carolina.

Davis Jr. is the son of running back Stephen Davis, who starred at Auburn from 1993-1995 before going on to a successful NFL career. He confirmed his commitment with a tweet Monday afternoon, one day after taking an unofficial visit to campus to watch fall practice:

Junior is listed as an athlete but expected to play safety on the Plains. At 6'4", 215 pounds, he has great size for that position and is also capable of sliding down to outside linebacker should he fill out.

According to his junior evaluation from ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required), Davis Jr. also has the athleticism to play wide receiver but fits in best on defense. His speed and range, strong tackling and closing ability are all cited as strengths, while stiff hip movement and inconsistent production are cited as weaknesses.

Davis Jr. is the No. 234 overall prospect, the No. 16 athlete and the No. 4 player from the state of South Carolina in the 2016 class (high school juniors). He is the second-highest-rated of Auburn's four commits, trailing 5-star receiver Nate Craig and placing ahead of 3-star tight end Landon Rice and 3-star all-purpose back Jalin Buie.

No matter the timing, landing Davis Jr. would have been great news for the Tigers, but it's especially important after losing 4-star class of 2015 safety Ben Edwards, who decommitted from Auburn Sunday.

According to Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports, Edwards still has Auburn among the four teams he's considering, but the Tigers must now compete with Stanford, UCLA and Ohio State—another place to which he had previously committed—to secure Edwards' services.

Auburn already has one 4-star safety, Jordan Colbert, and one 3-star safety, Chris Westry, committed in the 2015 class, so the position was not exactly one of need. But it's always nice to replace one 4-star defender with another just one day after losing the first.

Plus, even though he'll arrive one year later, Davis Jr. might better fit what the Tigers want to do on defense anyway.

Edwards is only 6'0", and according to Davis, that is not exactly what defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is looking for.

"[The Tigers like] my tallness, how big I am," Davis told Niebuhr (subscription required). "They said they want a big secondary."

Colbert is 6'2" and Westry, despite being the lowest-rated of the group, is the same height as Davis (6'4"). Together they could help Auburn shape its secondary in a way that is built to stop modern offenses, not unlike the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

Big defensive backs are en vogue, and Auburn just landed one of the best in the 2016 class. Having NFL bloodlines doesn't hurt, either.

Good get for Malzahn and his staff.


Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Family of Ted Agu Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against University of California

The family of former California defensive lineman Ted Agu, who died after collapsing during a training run due to a heart condition, is planning on filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the university this week.   

Kyle Bonagura of ESPN.com reported that a news conference is scheduled for Tuesday, where the family will announce the suit. In a press release issued by the family's representation, the Cal coaching staff and trainers are accused of providing substandard care:

Despite the symptoms which clearly could and should have been observed, UCB coaches and trainers failed to immediately come to Agu's assistance. It was only after Agu struggled and encountered obvious difficulties for a significant period of time that intervention occurred and he was placed on a cart and taken back towards the stadium where he collapsed for the last time.

Agu made nine total tackles in three years at Cal, serving mostly as a reserve linebacker and defensive lineman. The 21-year-old Bakersfield native collapsed after being pulled out of a February run with teammates. 

Doctors later determined that he passed away due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease described by the Mayo Clinic as "the heart muscle becom(ing) abnormally thick." The disease can go undetected because it is often asymptomatic. As noted by Henry K. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle, basketball players Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis are among the notable athletes to die from the disease in the past. Whether Agu was aware of the condition is unknown.

Cal team physician Dr. Casey Batten said in February that Agu had never shown any previous signs of struggle during workouts. Bonagura also highlighted a CBS Sports report in February that claimed the school knew Agu suffered from sickle-cell disease, which can cause a shortage of oxygen in parts of the body.

The release from the Agu family attorneys states he showed signs of the sickle-cell disease before Cal coaches pulled him out of the drill, per Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group:

During the course of the conditioning drill, Agu experienced dizziness, shortness of breath, loss of balance, and other signs of extreme fatigue that were clearly symptomatic of the sickling process. Despite the symptoms which clearly could and should have been observed, UCB coaches and trainers failed to immediately come to Agu's assistance.

No one within the university or Cal football team has commented on the lawsuit. In the aftermath of Agu's death, the school created the Ted Agu Memorial Scholarship Fund. The scholarship is designed to honor one student-athlete per school year.

The Agu family has not publicly indicated how much financial compensation it is requesting.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Alabama Football: Complete Preview of Crimson Tide Defense

The Alabama Crimson Tide defense has been the driving force of the Tide's status as national powers in recent seasons, but how will this season's iteration stack up? Watch as our experts break down Nick Saban's talented squad.

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Biggest Challenge for Each Top 2014 Heisman Candidate

The past four winners of the Heisman Trophy—Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston—were not considered preseason favorites for the award. They won despite being thought of as dark horses (Newton, Griffin and Winston) or not being thought of at all (Manziel).

Part of that was due to their own dominance, but part of it had to do with the performance of the players who were considered preseason front-runners. Many of those players played well, but none were able to play like true Heisman candidates over an entire season.

This year's Heisman front-runners face a similar threat. Their biggest challenge is the emergence of another Newton, Griffin, Manziel or Winston, but they also have intrinsic questions to answer. 

Whether it be skills that they must improve, stigmas that they must shake or pitfalls that they must avoid, even the strongest candidates have something standing between them and posting Heisman-worthy numbers. There are obstacles they must overcome.

On that note, let's look at the 10 betting favorites to win the 2014 Heisman, per Vegas Insider, and highlight their biggest challenge.

Sound off below, and let me know where you disagree.

Begin Slideshow

Matt Leinart and Brian Bosworth Want to Go Back to College in Dish Commercial

Some former college stars would love the opportunity to go back to school and be the big man on campus once again.

Count USC quarterback Matt Leinart, Tennessee signal-caller Heath Shuler and Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth in as guys who would love a chance to relive those glory years.


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Which Red River Showdown QB Is Under the Most Pressure This Fall?

At Oklahoma and Texas, pressure comes standard. The starting quarterbacks of each respective program—Trevor Knight and David Ash—are feeling similar pressure to live up to expectations in 2014. 

The Sooners and Longhorns are in different places, however. Oklahoma is ranked No. 3 in the Amway Preseason Coaches Poll and have national championship aspirations. Anything less could be a major disappointment. 

Texas, ranked No. 24 in the same poll, is starting over under first-year head coach Charlie Strong. With the 15th-toughest schedule in the nation, according to Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com, and numerous suspensions/dismissals, it's hard to know exactly what to make of the Horns. 

Fitting into those storylines are Knight and Ash, both of whom are looking to chase down Baylor's Bryce Petty as the top quarterback in the conference. 

What type of pressure will each quarterback feel this year?


Knight: Replicating the Sugar Bowl 

When your last impression is a four-touchdown performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, that gives media and fans alike a lot to talk about for the next seven months. 

That's what Knight is facing. The second-year starter had an inconsistent and injury-filled 2013, appearing in eight games and starting five.  However, he came up huge against the Tide by dropping dimes to his receivers. It was a complete transformation as a passer considering he began the season 11-of-28 for 86 yards against Louisiana-Monroe. 

"As a [redshirt] freshman, getting into a new collegiate environment is difficult," Knight told Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated. "I don’t think I felt overwhelmed, but I needed a little time to step into my shoes a bit."

If Knight can be anywhere near as good as he was in the Sugar Bowl, he becomes one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the Big 12. There's no denying Knight is a gifted runner who can make people miss in the open field. If he's an accurate, confident passer, he gives the Sooners another dimension on offense that they haven't had in the Bob Stoops era. 

It would also show Stoops was on to something when he chose to start Knight a year ago over Blake Bell. 

Besides developing as a passer, Knight's other issue is staying healthy. That's always a concern with a mobile quarterback. As John Hoover of the Tulsa World writes, figuring out the right balance of running Knight and keeping him in the pocket is a quandary for offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. 

With the Sooners tabbed as the overwhelming preseason favorites to win the Big 12, and with a College Football Playoff berth possibly on the line, keeping Knight healthy is a top priority.


Ash: Staying Healthy 

If there's one similarity between Knight and Ash, it's that both have struggled to stay healthy. To put it bluntly, Ash hasn't been healthy in almost a year. 

His 2013 season ended not long after it started because of a concussion. Then, in the spring, Ash was sidelined again because of a Jones fracture in his foot. Still, despite the injuries, Ash was named the Longhorns' starting quarterback by head coach Charlie Strong last month. 

On Monday, Ash was made available to the media for the first time since last year's BYU loss. In his own words, Ash acknowledged that injuries have been a point of frustration. 

Can Ash stay healthy for a full season this time around? Like Knight, Ash can run, but that also exposes him to more hits. Furthermore, the Horns are breaking in a mostly new-look offensive line this season. 

As B/R's Taylor Gaspar notes, Ash has experience. He also has the physical tools—6'3", 220 pounds and a big arm—to be successful. He just hasn't been able to put it all together yet. 

If Ash is healthy, David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest agrees that the Longhorns can do big things in Strong's first year. 


Who Is Under the Most Pressure: Knight

Knight is facing pressure to succeed from two fronts. On one side, and as odd as it sounds, Knight could lose his job if he doesn't show improvement this season. Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield was the star of the Sooners' spring game, but he has to sit out a season to satisfy Big 12 and NCAA transfer rules. If Knight struggles, next spring could start an intriguing quarterback battle.

Ash faces a similar situation if he doesn't take a step forward. Ultimately, though, the difference is the expectation facing Oklahoma. The Sooners have their sights set on a playoff appearance with a preseason ranking to match. Along with a returning defensive front seven, much of that has to do with Knight's potential. 

Those preseason expectations, fair or not, will play a role in how closely Knight is followed. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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US Astronaut Requests SEC Network Be Available on International Space Station

Watching the Earth spin outside your window is considered one of the most humbling and precious experiences in human existence. 

It also doesn’t hold a candle to the sight of SEC football, apparently. 

The Tennessean’s Mike Organ reports that U.S. astronaut Barry Wilmore has requested for the SEC Network to be available for his upcoming journey into space.  

A Tennessee Tech alumnus, Wilmore says he loves watching college football whenever he can.

“I don’t watch a lot of sports — my wife might not agree with that — but I do like to watch football, the SEC Game of the Week,” Wilmore told Organ. “I try to catch Tech every chance I get.”

Wilmore and two Russian cosmonauts will head into orbit this September and stay aboard the International Space Station until March 2015. Naturally, this leaves Wilmore—a former linebacker at Tennessee Tech—in a bit of a predicament. 

He’ll be missing the entire college football season—or he would be, if it weren’t for NASA generously allowing him to watch the Crimson Tide roll in orbit.

Consider it official, sports fans: The SEC is taking over space, which means at some point this fall, a live feed of Les Miles eating grass will play aboard one of mankind’s most advanced and expensive cosmic vessels. 

Who knows? The signal could be broadcast deep into the galaxy where the other denizens of the Milky Way will find them. Steve Spurrier may be the first human face aliens see. They might assume he is our leader (he is) and come to Earth to exchange greetings and workout tips.  

Such is the power of SEC—the Death Star of football conferences.


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

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Notre Dame Football: 5 Best QBs Irish Will Face in 2014

When the Davey O’Brien Award watch list was announced in mid-July, there was a heavy connection to Notre Dame football.

Davey O’Brien Watch List out. Everett Golson makes it. So do QB’s of six opponents (Michigan, Stanford, FSU, Navy, ASU & USC).

— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) July 16, 2014

And while quarterback play at Notre Dame is always the hot topic—and deservedly so—the strong stable of opposing signal-callers whom the Irish will face is also quite important.

Most notably, Notre Dame will have to defend reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston when Florida State hosts the Irish in October. It should come as no surprise Winston will be one of the five best quarterbacks Notre Dame will see this season.

But who else makes the list?

We’ll consider the quarterback’s past performance and preseason projections, while attempting to separate his play from the rest of his team’s. In other words, just because Michigan is a class (or two or three) above Navy doesn’t mean the Wolverines quarterbacks are necessarily better than those for the Midshipmen.

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Oregon Football: 5 Best QBs Ducks Will Face in 2014

The 2014 season is unofficially dubbed "Year of the Quarterback" in the Pac-12, thanks to 10 talented returning starters.

Leading the pack is Oregon redshirt junior Marcus Mariota. His teammates on the defensive side of the ball will have their hands full against the deepest crop of playmakers in the nation. 

A variety of contrasting quarterbacking styles await the Ducks defense in 2014. Oregon will see dual-threat quarterbacks capable of exploiting openings on the ground, air-raid QBs ready to air it out all game long and under-center signal-callers. 

In Pac-12 play, Oregon sees Arizona and Washington, the conference's only two teams without returning starters. Otherwise, the conference slate features one proven challenge after another. 


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com

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Oregon Football: 5 Best QBs Ducks Will Face in 2014

The 2014 season is unofficially dubbed "Year of the Quarterback" in the Pac-12, thanks to 10 talented returning starters. Leading the pack is Oregon redshirt junior Marcus Mariota...

Begin Slideshow

Auburn Football: 5 Best QBs the Tigers Will Face in 2014

It may be a "down" year for quarterbacks in the SEC, but Auburn's developing defense will definitely not have it easy this season.

While perennial powerhouses Alabama and LSU still have not named starting quarterbacks for 2014, other contenders in the SEC—and even one of Auburn's non-conference opponents—feature several talented quarterbacks who will be eager to test the strength of a Tigers pass defense that was shaky at best last season.

Some of these signal-callers also have dual-threat abilities that will make them even more of a challenging matchup on the Tigers' schedule, which is considered to be one of the toughest in college football. How Auburn performs against these top quarterbacks will go a long way in determining its chances at another trip to the national title game.

With a few weeks to go before the start of the defending SEC champions' 2014 campaign, let's take a look at the five best returning quarterbacks Auburn will face this season.

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Clemson QB Cole Stoudt Pranks Unsuspecting People by Dressing Up as a Mannequin

The classic mannequin prank never gets old.

In order to show off new equipment and uniform combinations, the Clemson Tigers set up a few mannequins at the WestZone at Memorial Stadium. However, there was a bit of a twist.

Quarterback Cole Stoudt posed as a mannequin so he could scare unsuspecting teammates, staff and fans. The results, which include Stoudt getting slapped, are fantastic.

[Clemson Tigers, h/t USA Today's For The Win]

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Breaking Down First Coaches Poll

The 2014 college football season can't come soon enough, and along with the excruciating wait comes the infamous preseason top 25 rankings, starting with the Amway Coaches Poll.

The system has received some flak for releasing standings before a single game is even played, and it's typically wise not to look too much into the Top 25 until the season runs its course a bit. But with juggernauts like Alabama, Oregon, Auburn and especially defending champion Florida State at the top, there is plenty to be made about these opening rankings. 

With that said, there might be a program not even on the list that will end up representing their school in the first ever College Football Playoff. It's far from fool-proof, as we've seen teams like Auburn go from unranked in the preseason to the cusp of a title months later.

Here is how the first Amway Coaches Poll provided by USA Today:


Breaking Down Top 25

Even before Kelvin Benjamin skied up to make the championship-winning catch that put Florida State over Auburn, there was little doubt the Seminoles would start 2014 as the top team in the land.

Jameis Winston is coming off a Heisman campaign entering his redshirt sophomore year—yes, sophomore. He only looked mortal for about one half of the entire 2013 season, which he quickly rebounded from in the BCS National Championship Game to win it all. 

Winston loses a few of his top targets. But with 13 returning starters, stockpiled top recruiting classes and a nasty defense, there's no safer bet than the Seminoles to make the new playoff, as ESPN Stats and Information noted:

But if they get there, that will just be the start.

After Florida State, the Top Five is understandably packed with the SEC's elite. Never far behind—if at all behind—is Nick Saban and Alabama at No. 2.

Recent staples like A.J. McCarron and C.J. Mosley are gone, and Saban doesn't even know who his starting quarterback will be entering fall camp. But an incredible stretch of recruiting and depth-building should allow the Crimson Tide to be a force yet again, not to mention the sour taste of ending last year 0-2.

Right in the thick of things with Alabama is No. 3 Oklahoma. The Sooners ended 2013 just about as solid as you can without lifting the national title trophy, convincingly beating the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. 

One can never count out Oregon's mix of speed and talent, either. If the three coaches who slotted the Ducks as their No. 1 team are right, Mark Helfrich's squad might rebound from a rocky 2013 to win the Pac-12 and threaten the playoff.

Of course, then there's the rest of the SEC. Alabama has four teams just from the cutthroat SEC West accompanying it in the rankings, including arch-rival Auburn—last year's Cinderella. Steve Spurrier's South Carolina team cracked the Top 10, but other powerhouses like LSU and Georgia are also lurking in the Top 15. 

With title-contending schools like No. 6 Ohio State, No. 8 Michigan State, No. 7 UCLA and No. 10 Baylor also in the fold, it's splitting hairs to decide which four teams will survive and advance to the playoff.

Much of the college football world got their wish when the four-team College Football Playoff was announced, and we're only a few gridiron-packed months away from figuring out who it will feature. 

But with so many contenders vying for four exclusive spots, the stakes will be enormous from Week 1 all the way to the conference championships. 

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Watch Alabama Football Fans Sprint Across Field to Get Nick Saban's Autograph

Nick Saban has led Alabama to three national championships since 2009, so he's kind of a big deal to the team's fans. Watch the video to see just how much Crimson Tide fans love their coach.

Fans sprinted across the field at Alabama's annual Fan Day at Bryant-Denny Stadium just to stand in line to wait to get Saban's autograph. Fans can get autographs from their favorite players as well, but the coach easily had the longest line.

As we know, football is all that matters to Crimson Tide fans. Even for Fan Day, some fans really get into it. AL.com's Alex McDaniel reported that one fan camped out from Wednesday to Sunday to make sure that he was the first one in line.

An Auburn fan has already set some of the video to the "Kick Six" radio call (h/t SB Nation): 

[AL.com, h/t SI's Extra Mustard]

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College Football Playoffs 2014: Format Explanation and Predictions

Finally, after years of clamoring from fans and the allure of a huge television contract becoming too much to bear, the NCAA has finally relented on a College Football Playoff. The four-team format goes into place for this season, creating a system whereby the constant controversy surrounding the title picture should cease.

With everything new in sports, though, comes one question: What in the world is going on?

The concept of a playoff is easy to understand in other sports. Win more games than your divisional opponent and you're in. Win enough games to earn a wild-card berth and you're in. Everything is black, white and easy to understand; even tiebreakers have spelled-out rules.

College football's playoff teams are decided on a much more subjective level.

Winning 12 games in the MAC is not as good as winning 11 in the SEC. When given the choice between an undefeated mid-major and two-loss major-conference team, there is no guarantee the team with the better record gets the bid. Because, of course, unlike professional sports, not all collegiate programs are playing on an even field.

Strength of schedule, quality of opponent and scoring margin—things that matter in pro sports but aren't factored into playoff berths—play an important role. This isn't even a system like the NCAA basketball tournaments, which guarantees an opportunity for each conference tournament winners.

Four teams. That's it. How are they determined? Let's take a quick look at the format and break it all down.


College Football Playoff Format

Pretty much nothing changes about the college football regular season. Teams play their schedules, go through the motions and then see where they end up. However, instead of there being only two slots to compete for a potential national championship, the number has doubled to four.

Even the general gist of the past BCS era stays the same. Similar to how the computer rankings would start publicly trickling out midseason, the same goes for the College Football Playoff poll. Each week beginning Oct. 28, the 13-person panel tasked with selecting the four finalists will release a Top 25. 

"The concept will be, if the season ended today, these will be the rankings," College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock told reporters in May

This creates a few problems. Notably, part of the point of creating a committee rather than using computerized polls was eliminating the week-to-week headaches of percentage points. The committee is required to use a generalized criteria featuring the same tenets of the BCS: strength of schedule, head-to-head record, conference strength, etc.

By releasing a poll every week, some of the more methodical nature will be eliminated. The NCAA college basketball committee, for instance, does not release a top 68 the entire season until it is time to select the final field. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, as schools should immediately get an idea of what the committee is judging.

The final rankings are released the week of the conference championship games. The four teams selected are then seeded based on their ranking—like a general bracket. The top-ranked team in the country plays No. 4, with No. 2 and No. 3 going head-to-head.

Semifinal matchups take place on New Year's Day, with the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl playing host this year. (The semifinals will be on a rotation between the six biggest bowl games—Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Orange, Peach and Fiesta.)

On Jan. 12, the two semifinal winners will go head-to-head for the national championship. This year's game will be played at Arlington's AT&T Stadium. Each title game is subject to a bidding process and will take place on the second Monday in January in most cases.


College Football Playoff Predictions

No. 1 Florida State

The Seminoles are atop nearly everybody's preseason poll for good reason. That reason being that they are very good at playing football. Florida State returns 13 starters from its 2013 team—a unit that happened to, surprise, be very good at playing football as well.

Jameis Winston enters his sophomore season as the favorite to become the second back-to-back Heisman winner in history. While his offseason has been ripe with controversy, Winston has never shown any signs of breaking on the field. He threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions last season. 

Those numbers should provide a benchmark for the Seminoles, who return nearly all their firepower from last year's attack. Four of the five offensive linemen who protected Winston return and so does leading receiver Rashad Greene and his 1,128-yard producing self. Losing Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Devonta Freeman hurts, but Jimbo Fisher has enough talent in the stable to make it work.

Karlos Williams and Ryan Green should be a strong one-two punch in the backfield. Jesus Wilson's suspension and arrest were ill-timed, yet he still has the potential to be special out of the slot. Christian Green, a redshirt senior, will finally get his opportunity to shine.

The concerns in Tallahassee are surprisingly more on the defensive side.

The Seminoles lost five starters from last year's world-beating unit and might not possess the complete lockdown dominance they did against the pass. P.J. Williams is going to have to come back from his national championship Defensive MVP status and become one of the nation's best cornerbacks.

Between Williams and Ronald Darby, Florida State might have the most talented defensive back duo in the nation.

This is a reloading season, not a rebuilding one. Florida State remains the title favorite until proven otherwise.


No. 2 Alabama

Another year and it's another awesome Alabama team. The College Football Playoff feels like it was designed for Nick Saban. No one in the sport is better at meticulously breaking down an opponent's strengths than Saban. He's lost just two bowl games since arriving at Alabama and holds an 8-4 bowl record since the turn of the century. 

It also helps that he consistently works with the best talent in the country. Alabama has come away with the best recruiting class in the country each of the last four years, per 247Sports, and is now becoming fully reliant on those players' development.

The Tide return eight starters on offense, though one that is missing is arguably the biggest.

For the first time in three seasons, someone other than AJ McCarron will be playing quarterback. Who that signal-caller will be, though, is perhaps the biggest offseason storyline for Alabama. Jake Coker and Blake Sims have been battling all spring and summer to land on top, with neither player having much of an edge.

Sims, a redshirt senior, has a ton of support in the locker room. He's kept his head down for four seasons as a backup and has worked tirelessly to earn his moment under center. Cooker, a Florida State transfer, has a ton of talent. He is also more of the traditional Saban mold, a pro-style caretaker who won't be prone to many mistakes.

Once the quarterback situation is settled, the offense should fall into place. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry give Alabama perhaps the nation's best thunder/lightning situation at running back. Amari Cooper should be in for a breakout junior season after battling injuries and inconsistency in 2013. The Tide have enough talent that they should never have anything less than an elite offensive line.

While only five starters return on the defensive side, Saban's young unit has a ton of talent. A'Shawn Robinson, Dillon Lee and Brandon Sylve should be in for major strides this upcoming season. Plus...Nick Saban da gawd at defense. That perfect piece of prose is how we will choose to end this subheadline.


No. 3 Oklahoma 

We follow Alabama with the team that waxed the Tide in last year's Sugar Bowl. After years of getting lambasted as being unable to win big games, Bob Stoops has quietly captured four bowl wins in the last five years—two of which came on the BCS stage.

The Sooners come into 2014 with national championship hopes, thanks in large part to a bevy of returning talent. Sixteen starters from an 11-2 squad are expected to be in the Week 1 lineup, including nine on the defensive side.

Eric Striker, Dominique Alexander and Frank Shannon comprise a linebacking corps that is quietly among the nation's best. 

Mike Stoops has followed an interesting trajectory since coming back to Oklahoma in 2012, but he seems to finally be putting together a defense in his image. Oklahoma allowed just 22.1 points per game last season—pittance in the offense-oriented Big 12—and should be even better with so many young guys getting reps.

Worth noting: Only four projected starters are seniors. Barring early departures for the NFL, the Sooners are going to have an elite defense for at least the next two seasons. Times are good in the Stoops household.

On the flippity flip, the offense remains largely unsolved. After a largely miserable freshman season, Trevor Knight will again get to ply his trade at quarterback. Knight was marvelous in the Sugar Bowl, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns, but that performance was an anomaly when judged against his seven other appearances.

Take away the Alabama triumph and Knight was a 52.2 percent passer with one more touchdown than interception. Stoops will have to hope Knight's considerable talent starts shining through. Otherwise, Stoops' best team in more than a half-decade could go down in flames.


No. 4 Ohio State

Let's call this an obligatory mention. Ohio State, as is the case most seasons, is demonstratively better than any other Big Ten team. Wisconsin and Michigan State are the only teams within shouting distance, and the Badgers might have been a little overrated by the coaches at No. 14.

The Buckeyes return only 12 starters, but they do so at important positions. Braxton Miller has to become the superstar we've all been fed the last couple of seasons.

Miller's progress has been incremental since his breakout freshman campaign. He's still yet to show consistent accuracy with his ball placement, he's really struggled against top-level defenses and his injury-riddled campaign last season proved his body might not be up to playing Urban Meyer's style over the long haul.

Miller is also in the process of recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

Miller told reporters at Big Ten media days:

I feel like it's stronger. Man, everything that was damaged in there has been cleaned out. So even if I didn't have that injury, I feel like everything from before that injury has been cleaned out. I barely had any rust when I came back. With my footwork and everything like that, I had been focused on that throughout the spring.

Devin Smith and Evan Spencer give Miller two senior wideouts to act as his top targets. While running backs Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott are largely unproven, both come with elite pedigrees and were effective in limited carries last season.

The big worry for the Buckeyes will come on the offensive line, which is undergoing a complete overhaul. If Miller, Wilson and Elliott start the season slow, we might want to start craning our necks at the big guys up front.

Ohio State has additional questions in the secondary, with Bradley Roby departing early for the NFL and Christian Bryant graduating.

The team will also be dealing with the loss of Ryan Shazier, which leaves a hole in the linebacking corps and the locker room. With the Buckeyes hosting Michigan and Virginia Tech and their only difficult road game coming against Michigan State, 2014 might be the season the Meyer era truly kicks off.


Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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