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Texas A&M Football: Why Speedy Noil Is the Aggies' Spring MVP

The story of the Texas A&M football team during spring practice was supposed to be the competition at quarterback to replace Johnny Manziel. Instead, the highlight of the spring was the strong play of true freshman receiver Speedy Noil. 

The No. 1 ranked wide receiver in the country in the 2014 class wasted no time in showing off his skills in College Station. Noil played quarterback, wide receiver and running back in high school but has impressed with how polished his route running is.

The 5'11", 180-pound receiver looks like a junior or senior on the field, not an 18-year-old who should be finishing the spring semester of his senior year in high school right now. He is physically ready to be an impact player in college immediately.

Noil's surprising strength was evident during a session of the Oklahoma drill in spring practice. He pancaked sophomore cornerback Tavares Garner on two of three snaps. Not exactly what you expect from a high school quarterback.

Noil led Edna Karr High School in New Orleans to a state championship as a junior and an appearance in the state finals as a senior. His explosive speed and waterbug-like elusiveness made him a force to be reckoned with on offense and special teams.

Noil has consistently been able to create separation from Aggies defensive backs and get open in practices and scrimmages. He makes tremendous ankle-breaking cuts in space and is, arguably, already the most elusive player on the Aggies roster. 

When a freshman enters a college football program, a period of transition is expected. A freshman football player has to deal with being away from home for an extended period of time, along with the new academic and athletic pressures in their life. That is why it is common for freshmen to redshirt while they acclimate to their new surroundings. 

That is not the case with Noil. He came in and immediately stakes his claim to being one of the top receivers on the roster. If the season started today, Noil would be one of the starting receivers who would take the field for the opening offensive snap. 

Because of his size and speed, Noil will be able to play in the slot and outside for the Aggies. He will also return kickoffs and may see some time returning punts. 

In Noil and sophomore receiver Laquvionte Gonzalez, the Aggies have two dynamic young receivers who need the ball in their hands. Aggies fans should expect to see Noil put in motion to receive the "push pass" that Tavon Austin made popular at West Virginia, and the Aggies ran with Gonzalez on multiple occasions in 2013.

The Aggies coaches will try to get the ball into Noil's hand in every way possible in 2014. It is one thing for a freshman to light it up during practice, and another for him to deliver when the lights are on in front of 80,000 fans.

However, Noil's athleticism is undeniable. He will be among the Aggies' leaders in receptions and receiving yards as a true freshman. Aggies fans should expect a 40-catch, 600-yard season out of him. If he does not have a special teams touchdown in 2014, that will be a monumental surprise.

Noil dominated spring practice with his athleticism and surprising polish as a wide receiver. Texas A&M fans should be excited about everything this youngster will bring to the table for the next three or four years.  

 

 

 

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What Jimbo Fisher Needs to See from Jameis Winston, 'Noles in Spring Game

With great success comes great expectations, and with great expectations come unrealistic demands; and after last year's 14-0 season and BCS national championship, that is the exact position Florida State fans find themselves in before the annual Garnet & Gold Game this weekend.

With Jameis Winston, Karlos Williams, Nick O'Leary, Rashad Greene and four of five offensive linemen returning and an influx of blue-chip skill players coming in, the offense is expected to pick up right where it left off in 2014. Starting with the spring game on Saturday afternoon, nothing other than a similar mode of success will be accepted.

This is both fair and unfair. Fair because, realistically, there is no reason the offense should be worse than last season, despite the losses of Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, Devonta Freeman and Bryan Stork. FSU fans are right to expect another dominant unit in the fall.

It's unfair to expect such quick cohesion, however, especially in the passing game. Having lost probably his two favorite targets from a season ago, Winston can (but won't) be forgiven if he struggles with things such as timing and rhythm on Saturday.

What Jimbo Fisher and the staff need to see from Winston is simple: that he cares. If he misses a couple of throws he would have made last season, there will be stories written about baseball screwing up his mechanics—but stories like that would be farcical.

We know that his arm will be fine.

All that really matters is that he comes out and plays with his normal joie de vivre. He needs to play hard but have fun; he needs to basically be...well, Jameis.

Elsewhere on the offense, it's fair to say Mario Pender needs to play well. Williams will be the starter and the closest thing to a workhorse next season, but Fisher likes to split his tailback touches evenly, as noted in this mid-February piece by David Hale of ESPN.com.

It's a shame, for the larger body of Seminoles, that sophomore Ryan Green and early enrollee Dalvin Cook Jr. suffered injuries this spring and will have to miss the scrimmage. But for Pender, a former blue-chipper himself who has the potential to contribute if he ever screws his head on straight, Saturday will be an opportune moment.

At receiver, Fisher needs to see at least one player not named "Greene" to step up and prove he will contribute in 2014.

It's not the end of the world if the spring roster isn't deep at the position, as freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph will enter the mix this fall—which should yield at least one (and maybe even two) instant-impact players. It would be a problem, however, if those guys needed to contribute in year one, instead of it being a luxury.

Names to watch on Saturday include Christian Green and Isaiah Jones on the outside and Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield, Jesus "Bobo" Wilson and Jarred "Scooter" Haggins in the slot.

On defense, Fisher can expect to see a changing of the guard, of sorts, with respect to leadership roles.

Starting at the top with new coordinator Charles Kelly, who replaces Jeremy Pruitt, and continuing through the roster now that guys such as Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones are departed, FSU's defense is looking for a new voice of command.

One candidate for the role might be sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramey, who last year became the first Seminole since Deion Sanders to start as a true freshman at cornerback (before eventually making the switch to safety and continuing to play well).

He's been moved all around the defense during camp and should continue to be in the spring game and even come fall, but it's his leadership that Fisher wants to see improve. After the Seminoles' second scrimmage, Ramsey spoke with reporters about those skills, saying he's a quiet guy by nature—a leader by example—but he knows he must improve as an oral force if this team wants to get better:

I feel like I need to step up in (the leadership) area. I'm not really a vocal person, I just go out there and do it myself. I first have to make sure I do my job—to lead by example more then I do vocally.

But after that, yeah, I feel like I should step up a little more vocally. And I feel like I do at times.

Beyond that, Fisher needs to see a group of former blue-chip recruits take the next step. That process starts on the defensive line with Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman, who played well in spots last season but are now being counted on as every-down, high-motor anchors.

The same thing goes at linebacker, actually. Terrance Smith returns, but Ukeme Eligwe and Matthew Thomas—the latter of whom was the No. 8 overall player on the 247Sports composite in 2013—must eventually, by the start of next season, turn athletic potential into consistent production to alleviate the losses of Jones and Smith.

Do they have to show that in earnest by Saturday's spring game? No. Not really. There is still time for Fisher and Kelly to drill them.

But, at the very least, Eligwe and Thomas must show some flashes.

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What Mark Richt Needs to See from QB Hutson Mason in Georgia's Spring Game

Georgia's offense isn't exactly full of holes, but the one left by former quarterback Aaron Murray is gaping.

Luckily for head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, they have a veteran to rely on.

Redshirt senior Hutson Mason will do his best "D.J. Shockley" impression and take the reigns from a legend. Shockley's one and only season as Georgia's starting quarterback in 2005 ended well, as he led the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

Can Mason do the same? 

With running back Todd Gurley, a host of wide receivers and a coach in Bobo who he's worked with for the last four years, Mason certainly has the foundation to do so.

But he still has work to do, and needs to show how much he's progressed between the hedges in this Saturday's spring game in Athens.

What does Richt need to see?

 

Accuracy

Mason completed 57.3 percent (43-of-75) of his passes as the starting quarterback in Georgia's final two games of the season, for 619 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. In those games, he struggled to get in the flow at times, which put his team behind the eightball.

The bright side for Richt is that Mason led his team back to a dramatic double overtime win over Georgia Tech to close out the regular season, and led his team downfield in the Gator Bowl on potential go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter against Nebraska, before two drops in each drive sent those to screeching halts.

In an offense like Georgia's, which is predicated on establishing the run and a quarterback using play action off that, accuracy is vital. Mason needs to complete around 65 percent of his passes for Georgia to be a true national title contender.

If he can do that, then the offense will be fine. With Gurley and all those weapons around him, all he has to be is a caretaker for Georgia's offense to move the ball. If he can evolve into a difference-maker, that's a bonus.

 

Finding that Go-To Guy

Georgia has plenty of wide receivers for Mason to choose from, and he needs to find at least one that he knows he can rely on in key situations.

For Murray that player was Michael Bennett, and the senior could play the same role for Mason this season. But fellow senior Chris Conley, the speedy Reggie Davis and last year's spring superstar, Jonathon Rumph, are all vying for playing time this spring. 

Bennett and Conley are the favorites. As a junior last season, Bennett caught 41 passes for 538 yards and four touchdowns, while missing two-and-a-half games in the middle of the season with a knee injury. Conley led the Bulldogs last season with 45 catches for 651 yards and four touchdowns.

If Mason can connect with just one of those guys, then he'll be able to hit the ground running during fall camp when Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley both get back to full speed from their ACL injuries.

 

Comfort in the Pocket

Georgia has been mixing and matching some pieces along the offensive line this spring. Hopefully for Richt and Bobo, those pieces have settled in. 

David Andrews is entrenched at center and John Theus and Kolton Houston each have experience at offensive tackle. Those three need to be comfortable in the checks at the line, which are so prominent in Bobo's offense. 

At the guard spots, Watts Dantzler, Mark Beard, Greg Pyke, Brandon Kublanow and Zach DeBell all are vying for playing time, according to the Red & Black. 

Whoever emerges as starters, Mason has to know that he's protected and that everybody is on the same page before the snap. A lot of that is on Andrews making the proper reads. But if Mason loses faith in his offensive line, he's going to struggle.

Richt doesn't need Mason to be a star, he needs Mason to be effective.

If he proves on spring's biggest stage that he's progressed from his limited time last year as the starter, Georgia could be in for a big season in 2014 with Mason at the helm.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com. 

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What State Court Questioning NCAA Penalties in Sandusky Case Means for PSU

With the Commonwealth Court, led by Judge Anne E. Covey, beginning to question the validity of the NCAA's consent decree, Penn State can sit in the background and watch the fight. A battle that Penn State's board of trustees considered waging in 2012 appears ready to take place without the university placed squarely in the cross hairs of controversy.

In August 2012, the board of trustees appeared poised to fire back at the NCAA, an action that would have made Penn State the football-hungry villain. Instead, the board elected to simply take the hand the NCAA dealt and move on with the sanctions.

Now, as The Morning Call reports, the Commonwealth Court might take the steps the board would not. The court voted 6-1 to uphold a law passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 2013 that would require the NCAA to spend the money from the fines levied against the Nittany Lions in Pennsylvania, not distribute it to other states.

During that process, Covey looked into the language regarding the consent decree and pointed out that ordinarily the NCAA would not take action in this instance and that "the NCAA involved itself." Her ruling opened the doors for state Sen. Jake Corman to continue pushing against college athletics' governing body. As Corman told the Centre Daily Times:

"I’ve always been uncomfortable with the way the NCAA handed this consent decree on Penn State and the process they went through to do it," Corman said. "Now that (the court) brought Penn State into the case and that they’re not sure that the whole consent decree is valid or constitutional, that’s an area that wasn’t part of our original lawsuit but clearly an area we want to explore now that the court has opened the possibility to do so."

Obviously, the NCAA is on the opposite side, pushing against the ruling that is not only forcing them to keep the fines obtained from Penn State in Pennsylvania. Now, with Covey's decision, the NCAA finds itself facing another legal battle that arose out of nowhere. It is fighting to prove that the organization was within its power to levy sanctions upon the Nittany Lions program.

Meanwhile, Penn State—and all those associated with the university and the program—sits on the sidelines and watches Corman ready himself for battle against the NCAA. The Nittany Lions can hunker down, working to demonstrate compliance to the NCAA to regain lost benefits. All while hoping Corman's lawsuit strikes down the sanctions.

The most recent questioning of the consent decree does not change Penn State's footing; it simply means someone may be fighting for the university without those closer to the program being involved.

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Ex-Georgia DB Josh Harvey-Clemons Will Reportedly Transfer to Louisville

Louisville rehired a coach, Bobby Petrino, with character concerns this offseason, and that coach appears to have landed a talented safety with similar misgivings.

According to Mike Hughes of InsideTheVille.com (subscription required), the grandfather of former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said his grandson plans on transferring to play for the Cardinals after being dismissed from UGA this offseason.

Harvey-Clemons was a 5-star recruit and the No. 20 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings in 2012, and he showed flashes of reaching that potential during his time in Athens. Recruited as an outside linebacker, he stands 6'5" (which is huge for a safety) and plays a Kam Chancellor-type role inside the box.

His occasional struggles in coverage, however, are well-documented and reared their ugly head on the Hail Mary against Auburn in 2013:

Harvey-Clemons got into all sorts of off-field trouble at Georgia, mostly for drug-related incidents. He was suspended for the 2014 Gator Bowl and first three games of next season (before being dismissed) by head coach Mark Richt for a "violation of team regulations," per Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

If the reports are true, Harvey-Clemons will now reunite with former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who left Georgia to join Petrino at Louisville this offseason. The Cardinals had two of the best safeties in the country—Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith—a season ago but are stripped of similar talent on the current roster.

If he's (finally) able to figure out the best way to use Harvey-Clemons, Grantham will get a major and much-needed upgrade on the back end of his defense.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, however, Harvey-Clemons will have to sit out this season before gaining eligibility in 2015.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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2017 ATH Recruit Darnay Holmes Has NFL Genes, Talks Ohio State Visit

Ohio State welcomed intriguing Class of 2017 prospect Darnay Holmes to campus Wednesday. The Newbury Park High School (Calif.) freshman toured facilities with 7-on-7 teammate Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson Sr., forming a high-profile trio of visitors.

Holmes, a 5'11", 180-pound speedster, also comes from a family filled with football pedigree. His father, Darick Holmes, spent five seasons in the NFL as a running back with Buffalo, Green Bay and Indianapolis.

Older brother Darick Holmes Jr., a 2015 running back recruit, committed to Arizona last month. His cousin Desean Holmes is a 4-star 2015 wide receiver with offers from USC, Cal, Oklahoma and UCLA.

The trip to Columbus was the latest development in Holmes' burgeoning collegiate recruitment, as he continues to carve out a name for himself. He doesn't yet hold an offer from Ohio State but admits the program ranks highly in his eyes for several reasons.

"It has a great tradition, good academics and will always be in the national championship hunt," Holmes said.

Though an offer from head coach Urban Meyer didn't come during his visit, Holmes managed to add another collegiate option Wednesday night.

He and Johnson Jr. each received offers from Louisville. His scholarship list also includes Arizona, UCLA, Tennessee and Utah.

Holmes visits Clemson on Thursday with the Johnsons, presenting another opportunity to expand his horizons as a young prospect.

He departed Columbus with a strong indication of how Meyer conducts things at Ohio State.

"He's a great coach," Holmes said. "He tells players how he feels, doesn't sugar coat it. Very hyped practice."

Expect his recruitment to expand moving forward, with physical maturity and family genes playing pivotal factors in heavy college interest. His athleticism sets the stage for progression at a variety of positions, particularly defensive back and receiver.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report unless otherwise noted.

Thanks to B/R's Adam Donaldson for his contributions to this story.

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