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10 Biggest College Football Stories You Likely Missed During March Madness

For roughly three weeks each calendar year, college football is not the most important NCAA sport. For the other 11-and-change months, pigskin is given a disproportionate amount of airtime and media attention, and it would be selfish to not let basketball enjoy its brief moment in the sun.

But it's not like the news cycle grinds to a halt. Even if we, the college football-obsessed, are distracted by the sound of squeaky shoes and torn-up brackets, there are still stories of import being broken.

To ensure you aren't lost when fall practice or the start of next season rolls around, here are 10 stories you might have missed—or, in some cases, seen but not entirely researched—during your three-week preoccupation with the NCAA tournament.

Only four more months until August!

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Ross Dellenger of the Advocate: QB Brandon Harris #1 After Spring Game

The LSU Tigers wrapped up spring practice and early enrollee Brandon Harris emerged as the leader in a heated quarterback battle. His numbers in the spring game weren't enough to put him ahead of the competition, but his ability to throw the deep ball really impressed Cam Cameron and Les Miles.

Junior Danielle Hunter was the breakout star of the spring game. The defensive end took over the starting role last season, but really excelled in the spring game. Look for Hunter to have a stellar season in 2014.

Watch Ross Dellenger from The Advocate break down LSU's spring game with Adam Lefkoe.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital.

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Is Alabama's Offense the Most Talented Group Lane Kiffin Has Ever Coached?

Alabama head coach Nick Saban shocked the college football world when he hired former USC and Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin to replace Doug Nussmeier as the offensive coordinator of the Crimson Tide after Nussmeier left Tuscaloosa to take the same job at Michigan.

When Kiffin arrived in town, he found a virtual All-Star team of offensive weapons to work with in his first season in T-Town.

Junior wide receiver Amari Cooper is back to lead a talented and veteran wide receiving corps, and T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry are vying for the starting spot at running back in front of an insanely deep group of talented and versatile running backs.

Is this the best offense Kiffin will have ever worked with?

No, but it's close.

While the 2014 Crimson Tide team is loaded, the 2004 and 2005 USC teams, of which Kiffin served as wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator for, respectively, have this year's Tide beat in terms of overall talent. Each of those two Trojan teams played for the national title, with the 2004 team vacating its title and the 2005 Trojans falling to Texas in the Rose Bowl. Both boasted elite offenses, with the 2005 team having a slight edge in terms of overall talent.

Let's compare the 2005 Trojan offense to the 2014 Crimson Tide offense.

 

Quarterback

This is no contest in favor of USC. Sure, Matt Leinart's career essentially peaked in college, but there's no denying how good he was within that system. The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner returned in 2005 to throw for 3,815 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a whopping 8.9 yards per attempt.

What's more is that was actually a disappointment after his Heisman campaign, which saw him throw for fewer yards (3,322) but more touchdowns (33) and fewer interceptions (six). 

Argue his talents at the next level until you're blue in the face, but there's no questioning that Leinart was an elite college quarterback.

Alabama's quarterback spot is a big question mark this year. Senior Blake Sims has emerged as the front-runner midway through spring practice, according to AL.com's Michael Casagrande, but all eyes will be on Jacob Coker when he transfers from Florida State this summer.

Even if you believe Coker will be the second-coming of AJ McCarron, eclipsing Leinart's season in 2005 will still be incredibly challenging for Coker, Sims or whoever wins the 'Bama job.

Advantage: USC

 

Running Backs

USC had two running backs go north of 1,000 yards in 2005—LenDale White (1,302 yards, 24 TDs) and that season's Heisman Trophy winner (which was later returned), Reggie Bush (1,740 yards, 16 TDs).

That thunder and lightning combination is a high bar for Alabama to eclipse, but the Crimson Tide have done it with the group Kiffin will have in Tuscaloosa for 2014.

T.J. Yeldon will undoubtedly be the headliner after the rising junior rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. But nipping on his heels is the 6'3", 238-pound sophomore Henry, who rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown in Alabama's Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. 

It's a legitimate battle between the two, but Kiffin creating a similar "thunder and lightning" scenario with the duo is certainly possible. But with Alabama, there are still even more options. Kenyan Drake rushed for 694 yards and eight touchdowns last season and is even more dangerous in space than Yeldon. Toss in Altee Tenpenny and bruising fullback Jalston Fowler, and the depth in Tuscaloosa is impossible to ignore.

Advantage: Alabama

 

Wide Receivers

Cooper had 736 yards and four touchdowns last season in Tuscaloosa, and that was considered a relatively down season when compared to the 999 yards and 11 touchdowns he posted as a true freshman in 2012. 

Behind him, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and several talented prospects are there to solidify the wide receiving corps and help ease the transition for the eventual starting quarterback.

But up against USC's group from 2005, there's no comparison.

Dwayne Jarrett had 91 catches for 1,274 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2005, which was the second of three straight seasons in which he eclipsed the double-digit mark in touchdown catches. His running mate was Steve Smith, who had 957 receiving yards that year and would wrap up his college career the next season with 3,019 yards and 22 touchdowns.

That one-two punch is too much for this group of Crimson Tide receivers to overcome, even if Cooper rebounds from his 2013 "down year."

Advantage: USC

 

Tight End

USC had the dynamic duo of Dominique Byrd and Fred Davis at tight end in 2005, both of whom enjoyed tremendous careers in the City of Angels. Byrd had 306 yards in 2005, while Davis had 145 and two touchdowns. 

Can current Tide tight end O.J. Howard top them?

I think he can. 

The world got a glimpse of what the 6'6", 237-pound monster was capable of on his 52-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter of Alabama's 38-17 win over LSU last season. He's an elite route-runner who presents matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.

The new Crimson Tide quarterback needs a safety valve, and Howard will be it. He will be one of the top tight ends in the country in 2014 and could be the best one Kiffin has ever worked with as a college coach.

Advantage: Alabama

 

Offensive Line

This is where USC really separates itself from Alabama. While the 2014 Crimson Tide offensive line is talented, USC's version was simply next-level.

Left tackle Sam Baker, left guard Taitusi Lutui and center Ryan Kalil were all first-team All-Pac-10 members that season, with right guard Fred Matua being named to the second team, according to the archived list on Washington's website. Lutui was a consensus All-American that year, according to Sports-Reference.

Alabama has some talented pieces along the defensive line this season, including Austin Shepherd, Alphonse Taylor, Leon Brown and incoming star Cam Robinson; but Kiffin and head coach Nick Saban are still moving those parts around to find the right fit, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.

USC's 2005 offensive line was the perfect storm of stars aligning, which was a big reason—"pun" intended—why USC played for the national title that season.

Alabama's offense is loaded with talent, and Kiffin's track record as an offensive guru (when he's not distracted by the responsibilities of a head coach) certainly makes the future bright for the Tide offense. 

But this group has some work to do if it wants to overcome the 2005 Trojans as the most talented offensive college team that Kiffin has ever coached.

Advantage: USC

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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Michigan Football: Sophomore RB Derrick Green Will Be No. 1 Option Next Season

Michigan sophomore running back Derrick Green is looking to step into a bigger role in his second season for the Wolverines. The 5'11", 227-pound athlete is a physical runner who was one of the top recruits coming out of high school.

Watch as Bleacher Report experts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down why Green will be the No. 1 option at running back next fall, as well as what numbers should be expected from Green and fellow sophomore RB De'Veon Smith next season.

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com

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Michigan Finally Seeing Big Picture with Night Game Scheduling Trend

For only the third time in its venerable history, Michigan Stadium will host a night game. When the Wolverines take on Penn State on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m., it will be the first Big Ten game to be played entirely under the lights at the Big House.

It's about time.

Night games are a fact of life now in college football, and there really isn't anything wrong with that. Saturday is the ideal night to stay up late anyway. You can sleep in the day of and after the game, still catch the late Sunday Mass or service and be awake enough for the first NFL kickoff at 1 p.m. This isn't like starting a World Series game at 8 p.m. on a school night.

As for Michigan and the Big Ten, it's a sign of the times.

Though its Big Ten title drought has now reached a decade, Michigan is still among the five most powerful brand names in college football. The Big House, with its 109,901 seats, is still the biggest stadium in the land. Having games played in primetime under the lights is an important part of staying competitive and relevant in the 21st century.

The SEC has made Saturday night games an attraction during the BCS era, with a few epic battles between LSU and Alabama coming immediately to mind. The Pac-12 has also used night games to get increased face-time, with a built-in time-zone advantage as those primetime games start at a not-so-late 5 p.m. kickoff time.

The Big Ten—particularly Michigan—has resisted playing at night until recent years, with tradition and weather the primary considerations. The Big House finally hosted its first night game in 2011, when Michigan rallied to a miraculous win over Notre Dame. The Wolverines repeated that feat last year with another electrifying win over the Irish.

The choice of Penn State as the foe for the 2014 night game is inspired. While the Nittany Lions are still on probation for the Jerry Sandusky transgressions, they're also one of the marquee names in college football. These teams, who have not met in Ann Arbor since 2009, are now division rivals in the realigned Big Ten.

Perhaps the most memorable Michigan-Penn State game ended under the lights, even though it didn't start at night. In 2005, Mario Manningham caught a Chad Henne TD pass on the game's final play as Michigan handed the Nittany Lions their only loss of the season, one that denied them a shot at the BCS championship.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke endorsed playing under the lights, according to a statement released by the school:

"The night game atmosphere created by our fans has been electric and we expect that same type of energy for our first-ever conference night game against Penn State. Our players really enjoy playing in primetime at Michigan Stadium."

The 2014 game will be televised on ESPN (or ESPN2) as part of a revamped primetime schedule for the network. The Wolverines have always been a Bristol favorite for Big Ten night games, though until the coming season they've always played on the road.

About the only thing to spoil the idea is a lack of moderation. As long as Michigan plays only sparingly at night and never past mid-October, the Big House under the lights will be a welcome new sight for college football.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Nick Baumgardner of MLive: Devin Gardner Gives Wolverines 'Best Chance to Win'

Michigan's spring game is in the books, so let's take a look at some of the biggest storylines going into the fall. Neither Devin Gardner nor Shane Morris had stellar performances in the spring game. Which QB has what it takes to lead the Wolverines in 2014?

Early enrollee WR Freddy Canteen had a great game on Saturday, showing that he does have the skills to make an impact on offense. Will he emerge as one of Michigan's go-to playmakers in 2014?

Adam Lefkoe caught up with Nick Baumgardner from Mlive.com to break down Michigan's biggest storylines coming out of the spring game. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

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If Dorial Green-Beckham Can't Play, Who Becomes Missouri's Go-To Player?

Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham just can't seem to stay out of trouble, and this time, his playing status is in doubt.

The 6'6", 225-pound rising junior for the Tigers was suspended indefinitely by the program for violation of team policies, according to a release sent via email by Missouri on Monday afternoon.

It's the third time in his career Green-Beckham has been in trouble publicly. He was arrested along with two other men earlier this year for possession of a controlled substance. That incident is still under investigation, according to Tod Palmer of the Kansas CityStar. He was arrested in 2012 for suspicion of possessing 35 grams or less of marijuana and pleaded the charge down to misdemeanor trespassing. 

Is his suspension related to the most recent arrest? He is the subject of an ongoing investigation according to Palmer, but the specifics of that investigation are not known.

Pinkel commented on the suspension in the release.

It’s been disappointing to have this, and other issues which have taken place lately. It’s frustrating, because we work very hard to instill responsibility and discipline in our young men so that our program represents Mizzou the right way. These actions aren’t representative of those expectations, and we are addressing these issues head on.

Whatever the reason, or reasons, for his suspension, it's clear that Missouri and head coach Gary Pinkel felt that the time is right to distance themselves from the star receiver.

Green-Beckham caught 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns last season during Missouri's magical run to the SEC East title. In the SEC Championship Game versus Auburn, he caught six passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns and was arguably the best player in the building—a building that included former Auburn running back Tre Mason, who rushed for about five miles (OK, 304 yards and four touchdowns).

So who will step up for the Tigers?

L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas exhausted their eligibility last season, so if Green-Beckham's issues keep him out of a game or games this season, a lot of pressure will fall on 6'2", 210-pound senior Bud Sasser. Sasser caught 26 passes for 361 yards and a touchdown last season and was listed as the starting "Y" receiver on Missouri's pre-spring depth chart.

While Sasser has the experience and likely would take on more of a leadership role, finding a replacement at Green-Beckham's "X" spot is more important. Junior Wesley Leftwich, 6'1", 200 pounds, was listed as his backup before the spring, and Darius White, J'Mon Moore and Jake Brents—all of whom are 6'3"—are candidates to slide over to that spot.

That trio of tall receivers could be the cure to the Green-Beckham conundrum. White had 65 yards and a touchdown in Missouri's first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, while Brents had three catches for 39 yards and Moore caught four for 31 yards, according to stats released by Mizzou

There are options for Pinkel if Green-Beckham's suspension lingers, and having a crowded group of tall receivers at the "Z" spot makes it easier for him to plug the holes if he loses his star for a prolonged period of time.

The good news for Missouri is that there are options. Russell Hansbrough, Marcus Murphy and Morgan Steward are all talented running backs. If Green-Beckham's issues keep him from playing, the Tigers could become more of a ground-and-pound team—as was the case in 2011 when they finished ninth in the nation in rushing (243.46 YPG). Toss in the dual-threat capabilities of quarterback Maty Mauk, and there's a recipe for success on the ground in Columbia.

Make no mistake though, Green-Beckham is the most talented wide receiver in the SEC. If he can't get his head screwed on straight, he could be what prevents the Tigers from repeating as division champs in the wide-open SEC East.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and suspension information were obtained firsthand via release from the University of Missouri, and all statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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