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Notre Dame Football: 10 Players to Watch in Notre Dame's Spring Game

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It feels like it just started, but spring practice is coming to a close. As we embark on the final week, we’re getting ready to see everything and everyone put into action.

We’ve been able to see snippets of most players throughout these first 13 practice sessions, but who are the players to watch in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Spring Game?

Let’s take a look.

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Auburn Football: Inside the Tigers' Revamped Special Teams Unit

One consistent feature throughout Auburn's surprise 2013 run to the SEC Championship and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game was the Tigers' excellent special teams play.

Several veteran specialists were difference makers for Auburn last season, from deadly accurate punter Steven Clark to punt (and field-goal) return speedster Chris Davis.

While the Tigers return considerable depth in almost every position on the depth chart for 2014, head coach Gus Malzahn and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain will have to find a new kicker, punter, return men and an extra point specialist for what they hope will be another championship-winning season.

As Auburn gets ready for its final few practices of spring camp, let's take a look at the Tigers' revamped special teams unit for the 2014 season.

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Making the Case Against a College Football Players' Union

On the surface, it sounded like a good idea.

When the National Labor Relations Board ruled in late March that Northwestern University football players qualified as school employees and could unionize, it sent shock waves through college athletics and the ongoing pay-for-play debate.

Surely, this would be the case which ended college amateurism forever and changed the way that college sports are played, right?

It might be, pending appeal by Northwestern and the NCAA.

But unions aren’t the right way to fix what is broken about college athletics.

There are far too many questions and too many variables to make a college football players’ union a viable option in our current system.

Speaking at a news conference for the Final Four on Sunday, NCAA president Mark Emmert called the idea of unionization “grossly inappropriate” and said it “would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics,” according to USA Today.

That might be going a bit far, but it is crucial to consider what unionization can mean, and how it would work across college athletics.

First, and perhaps most importantly, public schools are not required to conform to the NLRB’s rulings. That means that just within the Big Ten, Northwestern could unionize, while unions could be blocked at places like Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State.

In the Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt players could conceivably unionize while Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida players, for example, would not.

That could be a huge advantage for private schools like Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Duke and Stanford, whose players could negotiate pay-for-play benefits with their programs. But how does the model work for other programs?

Would, say, Alabama (whose athletic department generated $143 million in 2012-13, according to an Associated Press story) share some of that revenue with its football players, whose labor fueled the vast majority of that money for the university?

Or would deep-pocketed boosters step into the fray and pay players under the table to ensure the Crimson Tide (and similar programs) stayed competitive in the new marketplace?

Another factor to ponder: While Northwestern players say that payment isn’t the primary concern driving their unionization bid, it is surely a consideration.

Under the current system, Northwestern players receive a scholarship and room and board worth approximately $76,000 per year. All 85 scholarship players are equal, receiving the same benefits for their work.

How would a union system work? Would seniority earn players greater pay? Would starters earn more money than their second-string teammates? Would a freshman starter garner a larger paycheck than a senior backup?

Such disparity could foment discontent among teammates, an unintended consequence of unionization.

And while scholarships are exempt from taxation under IRS rules, paying players would give federal and state governments the opportunity to tax players. Union dues could also be charged.

A union could give players the opportunity to bargain collectively on the group’s behalf, which could improve working conditions. The NLRB reported Northwestern players spent 50-60 hours per week on football in preseason training camp, 40-50 during the regular season and 20-25 in offseason and summer workouts.

During the season, the NCAA limits programs to spending 20 hours per week on football activities, which doesn’t count things like travel or time that players spend in training rooms nursing injuries or studying film and playbooks on their own.

Players could conceivably strike to get more palatable benefits, which is well within their rights. However, programs could also lock them out if they feel the need to do so, as has happened numerous times over the past 30 years in the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB.

Would all players be required to be part of a union on their respective campuses? If a player opts out, what would his teammates’ reaction be?

Northwestern’s team is expected to vote on unionization April 25. The Chicago Tribunereported team leaders like quarterback Trevor Siemian, tailback Venric Mark, center Brandon Vitabile and receiver Kyle Prater all spoke out against the union.

Recently, former Stanford offensive lineman Conor McFadden (who began as a walk-on before earning a scholarship for his final two seasons) said unionization “is going from the devil you know to the devil you don’t know completely,” he told Bleacher Report.

“I don’t need more money in my pocket,” he said. “With celebrities and pro athletes, money gets them in trouble. That’s why college sports are so valuable. It gives kids an opportunity at an education, which is truly more valuable in the long term. Infinitely more valuable. Football, money, that stuff goes away at the end of the day.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is also firmly against unionization. He told The Charleston Post and Courier following a recent practice:

We've got enough entitlement in this country as it is. To say these guys get nothing totally devalues an education. It just blows my mind people don't even want to quantify an education.

I didn't get into coaching to make money - coaches weren't making any money when I got into coaching. It's what I wanted to do with my life, and I was able to do it because of my education. That's what changed my life. That's what changes everybody's life.

Unionization could change how college athletics are run and how many non-revenue athletes ultimately get the chance to play.

There is no question that football and men’s basketball earn the lion’s share of revenue for athletic departments across the nation. They support non-revenue sports financially.

But if football and men’s basketball are unionized, would non-revenue athletes follow suit and then ask for a piece of the pie themselves?

How would a union fit into the structure of Title IX, the landmark ruling that allows an equal opportunity for male and female athletes?

Would programs spread the wealth equally, or would they instead choose to disband non-revenue sports?

It is fair to suggest players receive something more than a scholarship and room and board for their efforts. The idea of paying for players’ cost of attendance (i.e., a supplement to their current stipends for room and board) would be understandable, as would stipends.

But the idea of unionization creates too many difficult questions, which don’t translate well across the spectrum of college athletics. If the Northwestern decision gets players and the NCAA to the bargaining table to hammer out a workable deal which enriches the players’ experience, all the better. But unionization isn’t the way to approach the matter.

Unless noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 10 Players to Watch in Volunteers' Spring Game

One of the most hotly anticipated Orange & White Games in recent memory will take place Saturday in Neyland Stadium, and there won't be any shortage of storylines for the Tennessee Volunteers.

While it is just a glorified scrimmage, head coach Butch Jones' second spring game at the helm of the Vols will feature plenty of excitement.

From a four-man quarterback race to 14 early enrollees to completely rebuilt offensive and defensive lines, the game will be a Big Orange sensory overload. 

Jones held open competitions virtually all over the field, and this will be the biggest stage yet for them to showcase their talents. 

Seventeen more fresh faces will get to Knoxville this summer to up the ante even more, but those guys will find themselves behind the youngsters who have arrived early. Many of those newcomers are firmly in the two-deep depth chart, and a few are penciled in as starters.

From some of those first-year Vols to other old faces who've stepped up and seized key roles, this spring has been huge for the program. Now, fans will get the opportunity to self-evaluate those guys and get their first peek at the 2014 Vols.

Let's take a look at 10 players to examine closely on Saturday.

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5-Star WR Christian Kirk on Urban Meyer: "I Want to Be Around a Guy Like That"

Five-star wide receiver Christian Kirk recently visited Ohio State and was impressed with what he saw.

The Phoenix, Ariz., native braved the cold weather and enjoyed OSU's tradition and state-of-the-art facilities. Kirk is a rare talent who will contribute greatly on offense, and he has the skills to score from anywhere on the field. 

Watch Christian Kirk break down his Ohio State visit and what he liked most about Urban Meyer

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Updating the Crimson Tide's 2014 Quarterback Competition

TUSCALOOSA — If there’s one aspect of being a quarterback that University of Alabama senior Blake Sims clearly has down, it’s saying the right things.

For example, when asked last week if he had a favorite receiver yet, Sims didn’t blink and said “No” to the reporter.

“I love all my receivers.”

Of course, on Saturday, junior Amari Cooper easily topped all the receivers during the Crimson Tide’s first spring scrimmage by making 10 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns.

While only the statistical leaders of the closed session at Bryant-Denny Stadium were released to reporters, no one else had more than three catches (wide receiver Christion Jones and reserve running back Altee Tenpenny) or 48 yards (early enrollee wide receiver Cam Sims).

Similarly, when it comes to trying to measure the quarterback competition, fans finally have a sort of leaderboard, with Sims out in front after completing 16 of 23 passes (69.6 percent) for 277 yards and two touchdowns, along with Nick Saban’s post-practice comments.

“The quarterbacks really did a good job,” the coach said. “I think the stats are pretty good for what they were able to accomplish. They’ve been pretty consistent throughout the spring. I think that, as a team, when we get in certain situations, we have not been able to respond very well, and I think that it’s a matter of the whole team.

“The pass protection needs to be better. The quarterback’s gotta do a little bit better job. So when we’re in play action, move the field, running it, throwing it, getting the ball out of our hand quick, we do a nice job. But we get too much pressure in the pocket, so the quarterbacks can’t operate, which we’ve got to get cleaned up with the offensive line so that the guys have a better chance to function.”

With three-year starter AJ McCarron now preparing for the NFL draft, Saban is looking for just his fourth starting quarterback since arriving in 2007. Sims was the primary backup last season, so he’s the closest thing to an incumbent.

Because Jacob Coker won’t transfer until after graduation from Florida State next month, the competition is already guaranteed to go into the fall. However, all of the other contenders—sophomore Alec Morris, redshirt freshmen Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod and early enrollee David Cornwell, who is coming off a torn ACL sustained last fall—are much younger.

“It's going to be a good competition,” senior safety Nick Perry predicted. “You have Blake Sims, who is an experienced guy. Then you have Alec Morris, who is a gunslinger. You have Bateman, who's more of a Greg McElroy type, AJ McCarron type.”

Blake Sims, a converted running back, has played in 23 games for the Crimson Tide, including eight last season when he completed 18 of 29 passes for 167 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had 15 carries for 61 rushing yards, which is significant, because the previous year, he had a real propensity for tucking the ball and running.

In 2012, he had 30 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns compared to attempting 10 passes and completing five for 77 yards in mop-up duty.

“That’s a work in progress for Blake,” Saban said earlier this spring. “I thought he made significant progress last year. I think that that’s one thing that we want to evaluate and know that he needs to progress in is his ability to be a more consistent passer, especially in the system that we implement now.”

That system, under new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lane Kiffin, is designed to run the ball and create explosive plays. It’s primarily geared for a pro-style passer, but there’s no reason to think that a dual-threat quarterback can’t be successful in the scheme as well.

Saban’s had dual-threat quarterbacks before, just not with the Crimson Tide.

“There are two plays with Blake—the one they call on offense and then when that one doesn't go right, it's the one he makes with his feet,” Perry continued. “We've seen that in college football and even in the NFL with players like Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. He's a dangerous player.”

During their spring breaks, Coker, who battled Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for the FSU starting gig, was in Tuscaloosa working on learning the Alabama offense, while Sims, ironically, went to Florida to get in some extra work at the Mastrole Passing Academy.

The two things he especially wanted to improve upon were his footwork and ability to read defenses, particularly when not in the shotgun.

“It worked out very well,” Sims said. “My footwork got better and accuracy, and I got a good relationship with Ken Mastrole and hopefully I get the opportunity to do it again.”

While there’s no guarantee that anyone will win the job by the end of training camp—McCarron didn’t finally beat out Phillip Sims until after the 2011 regular season started—Blake Sims is at least poised for two more weeks of spring practices and A-Day on April 19th followed by a summer of drills and film work.

In his words, it’s a “Once in a lifetime opportunity,” and early indications are that he more than passed the first big test with the scrimmage, when the initial pecking order began to emerge.

“Blake has had a really good spring and has taken some command,” Saban said. “Cooper Bateman has made a lot of improvement. He’s done a nice job. Alec’s still competing. Those three guys have sort of emerged as the three guys that look like they’re most ready to play.”

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Jauan Jennings Commits to Tennessee: Where Auburn, 'Bama Turn After Missing ATH

Impressive playmaker Jauan Jennings announced his commitment to Tennessee Monday morning, spurning offers from multiple national championship contenders in the process:

Jennings, a 4-star prospect, chose the Volunteers from a cluster of top options during a ceremony at Blackman High School (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). He narrowed his decision down to six finalists, featuring Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Northwestern and Mississippi State.

The final 10 days of his recruitment included campus visits to Auburn and Tennessee. Alabama made things interesting by extending an offer in late January, days after 5-star Crimson Tide quarterback pledge Ricky Town flipped his commitment to USC.

The 6'2.5", 186-pound junior received various offers throughout the course of his nationwide recruitment. Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Penn State and Ole Miss are among several squads that fell short of his finalists list.

Jennings' outstanding junior season provided plenty of proof that he belongs among the country's premier playmakers. He shined as a passer and a runner while leading Blackman to a state championship.

Jennings threw for 1,465 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. He gained an additional 815 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

It was his first season as a starting quarterback, leaving many to wonder about his untapped potential at the position. Still raw as a passer and learning the nuances of how to operate in the pocket, Jennings is largely viewed as an "athlete."

He is the nation's No. 13 athlete in 247Sports' composite rankings, which also list him as the No. 4 prospect in Tennessee.

His efforts at the high school level feature strong play on defense, and he could eventually end up at safety in college. Not every team was willing to promise Jennings an opportunity at quarterback.

Even if he arrived on campus as a passer, it won't eliminate the chance of a positional switch to the defensive secondary or wide receiver. His athleticism and skill set will earn Jennings a spot somewhere on the field, but he envisions himself lining up behind center.

"A lot of coaches don’t feel I can play quarterback. A lot of fans don’t feel I can play quarterback," Jennings told ESPN reporter Greg Ostendorf. "I want to say, ‘I told you so.’”

Last month, he told AL.com reporter Wesley Sinor that each of his six finalists were targeting him at quarterback. Tennessee, a team that opted not to pick up a passer in the 2014 class, provides a solid fit.

His commitment gives the Volunteers 10 players in the 2015 class, more than any other SEC program. Head coach Butch Jones lands a versatile in-state prospect who could ultimately excel elsewhere on the field in Knoxville.

Meanwhile, Tennessee opponents Auburn and Alabama are forced to move forward with Jennings out of the picture. Both teams have sights set on the same quarterback target.

Torrance Gibson, a 5-star Florida prospect, recently visited Auburn during spring break and has caught the attention of Nick Saban. However, they still must contend with Tennessee for his signature.

Gibson was impressed by his stop in Knoxville last month and already announced he'll spend an official visit at Tennessee later this year.

Auburn already holds a commitment from 4-star Georgia quarterback Tyler Queen, but a dual-threat athlete like Gibson is certainly a stronger fit for the Tigers based on the team's recent offensive track record.

Alabama is still searching for a passer in this class. The Tide were dropped by Town nearly three months ago but have yet to find his replacement.

Saban has seen New Mexico quarterback Zach Gentry become a coveted recruit, and perhaps the Tide will push harder in his recruitment. He holds an offer from Alabama but visited Tennessee last month.

Brandon Wimbush, a dual-threat quarterback from New Jersey, draws comparisons to Jennings. Alabama has yet to extend an offer so Saban would enter the race late, as Penn State, Ohio State and Miami are already in the mix.

The Vols keep a crucial in-state target close by and leave foes searching elsewhere.

If Tennessee continues to top conference rivals for key recruits, the Volunteers will begin beating SEC foes on the field with more consistency in the near future.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jack Mewhort Showcasing Versatility and Dedication During the NFL Draft Process

Dating back to high school, Ohio State offensive lineman Jack Mewhort has played every position on the offensive line. That kind of versatility is a rarity among top NFL draft prospects.

Currently rated ninth as an offensive tackle by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller (77th overall), Mewhort is coming off of a stellar Big Ten career, and is projected by most into the NFL as a right tackle prospect. 

However, Mewhort credits his versatility and love of the game and is willing to play wherever the team that selects him in May needs him the most—even center, where he was a high school All-American. 

At Ohio State, it's hard not to love the game, as Urban Meyer has turned around a program that was barely headed in any sort of the wrong direction under former head coach Jim Tressel.

It was just a momentary blip in the radar between the two coaches, and Mewhort credits both men (along with his parents and sister, "family first") with helping him become who he is today.

"Under Coach Meyer, everything you did was competing. He charted everything. If you were slacking in practice, it was up there on a board somewhere. Then, under Coach Tressel, we did this thing called quiet time and he’d talk to us every day. I remember, 'You are who you hang with.' The people you surround yourself with define you."

For the past four seasons, however, Mewhort has been defined as a "Buckeye," and that has meant a burning hatred—or, at worst, a competitive dislike—for those guys up in Ann Arbor. Asked about the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry, Mewhort said:

"Yes, it's definitely it’s the best rivalry in all of sports. Growing up in Toledo, I got to see both sides of the rivalry, which was pretty cool. There’s always something extra. Sure, you put everything you have into every game, but Ohio State/Michigan—coaches' careers end if they don’t win that game. We know it’s a bigger game."

Now that he's leaving Columbus and set to graduate with a degree in consumer and family resource financial services, Mewhort is working toward an NFL career. To further that goal, he's been training at IMG's facilities in Bradenton, Fla., as the draft approaches. 

"Your body is your business. That’s something that’s changed a little bit—just dedicating more time to making sure my body is healthy. Sometimes (as a college student), you get lost and just want food in your body. At IMG, they have a whole nutrition plan worked out for us."

On the field, Mewhort knows there's some things he needs to work on:

"Confidence in my game—there are times that I let things get to me and end up being too hard on myself. I would also like to get NFL coaching on how to protect the edge better."

For the past couple of seasons, Mewhort's been tasked with protecting more mobile quarterbacks in coach Meyer's scheme, and he knows that's helped him, saying that having a quarterback who can move "can make you look really good."

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller provided this projection of Mewhort's game:

"I like Mewhort as an early starter in his NFL career, but he lacks the agility and fluid movements of the other top tackles in this class. A possible move to right tackle may help, but he has shown flashes of sound pass protection. Speed rushers gave him fits throughout his career, but Vic Beasley of Clemson may have personally killed Mewhort's draft stock with his Orange Bowl performance."

Mewhort, when asked to scout his own game, was confident he could play all five positions on the line at a high level and said that his new team will love his versatility. He also called himself a "tough football player" and doubled down on his love of the game. 

While he may not have the buzz or publicity of some of the other top tackles in this class, Mewhort simply has too much to offer NFL teams to not make an impact throughout his career. The kind of guy who will simply grab his lunchpail and get to work, Mewhort has the talent and tenacity to appeal to just about any NFL team. 

 

Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Football: Look for WR Laquon Treadwell to Be Superstar in SEC

Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell had quite the freshman season, recording 608 yards and five touchdowns. Rebels coach Hugh Freeze is trying to build a powerhouse in Oxford, Miss., and Treadwell will be a major part of the team's success going forward.

Can Treadwell be a breakout superstar this season in the SEC? What will his production look like as a sophomore?

Watch the video as Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder break down what to expect from the star wide receiver and project what his stats will look like this upcoming season.

 

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jauan Jennings to Tennessee: Volunteers Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

Jauan Jennings is headed to Tennessee.

Barton Simmons of 247Sports.com provided the news: 

The 4-star prospect, whose collegiate position is as much in the air as his destination was, verbally committed to the Volunteers on Monday, making him one of the first of what should be a slew of highly touted players announcing their decision. Jennings set a final six set of choices earlier this year and decided on a decision date last month. 

He chooses Tennessee over Alabama, Auburn, Northwestern Michigan State and Ohio State. Heading into Monday's announcement, Tennessee was largely seen as the favorite. The Volunteers received a 50 percent confidence rating on 247Sports' recruit page, Auburn (31 percent) and Alabama (19 percent) trailing by a good margin.

There was plenty of good reason behind that assumption. A rising senior at Blackman High School (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Jennings is ranked No. 156 nationally and is the fourth-best player in the state of Tennessee. He also made a last-ditch visit to Knoxville before his decision, which typically means one of two things: A player is committing or he's going to give the proverbial breakup speech.

In the end, it turned out to be the former.

"From a family standpoint, that's something I want to do, but as an individual I can't limit my chances by staying close to home," Jennings told Wesley Sinor of AL.com of Tennessee. "I look for academics and how much the school brings a positive attitude."

Listed as an "athlete" by 247Sports, the biggest remaining question for Jennings is his position. He's going to have to make a choice between being a dual-threat quarterback, where he's electrifying as a runner but raw as a passer, and safety, where he's...mostly just very, very good but his ceiling isn't as high. 

ESPN's recruiting service has Jennings listed as a safety. In his profile of Jennings' decision, Sinor lists him as a quarterback. While the finalists all recruited him as a quarterback, there is no guarantee he finishes school on offense—and the still 16-year-old kid could always change his mind.

Commitments are nonbinding until a player signs his national letter of intent, which NCAA bylaw prevents from happening until February. Considering the level of uncertainty that went into Jennings' decision and the history of young players flip-flopping, it's hard to say his recruitment is over. By summer, a coach could sway him into re-opening his recruitment.

At least for now, though, Tennessee has landed one of the more intriguing prospects in this class. At 6'4" and 185 pounds, his body likely won't be ready to withstand SEC-level punishment as a freshman. He's going to have to hit the weight room and grow into his frame, which is lanky at the moment but leaves room for muscle growth.

Even if Butch Jones' plan is to use Jennings as a run-first option out of the backfield, he's someone who's going to need developmental time. He needs to learn how to read defenses and adjust to pressure without his first instinct being to run. 

Perhaps if he decides a move to safety is his best option, he'll be able to contribute earlier. Jennings' time at quarterback makes him an aware, athletic safety with the ability to jump on routes with his quickness.

But there's plenty of time to figure that all out. Jennings is a moldable prospect who could be special down the line at either quarterback or defensive back. It'll be up to Jones to see how he wants to go forward with that plan.

 

Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter:


 

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4-Star ATH Jauan Jennings Commits to Tennessee: Meet the Next Russell Wilson

Jauan Jennings, a 4-star athlete ranked No. 7 by 247Sports, has announced his commitment to the Tennessee Volunteers, per Ryan Callahan of GoVols247.

Jennings possesses the skills to have a huge impact on the Tennessee offense in both their passing and rushing games. This is a huge get for Butch Jones, especially since the Vols do not have a starting quarterback coming out of spring practice—a role Jennings could fill in 2015. 

Check out Michael Felder break down what Jauan Jennings means to the Tennessee Volunteers. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Look for Kiffin to Use WR Amari Cooper Like USC's Marqise Lee

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper had somewhat of a down year last season when compared to his remarkable freshman campaign. After going for 999 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie, Cooper only recorded 736 yards and four TDs in his sophomore year.

With new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on board with the Crimson Tide, look for Cooper to up his production in 2014. Will Kiffin try to highlight Cooper as he did Marqise Lee at USC?

Watch as Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down how Cooper could be used in his junior season and what kind of stats should be expected from the star wide receiver.

 

Highlights courtesy of xosdigital.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Tigers' QB Job Is Brandon Harris' to Lose

LSU's spring game didn't solidify true freshman early enrollee Brandon Harris as the Tigers' starting quarterback, but it certainly could go a long way towards him winning the job if he continues his progression during summer conditioning and into fall camp.

The 6'2", 184-pounder from Bossier City, La. was tremendous in LSU's spring game on Saturday, completing 11-of-28 passes for 195 yards, tossed three touchdowns, rushed for 77 yards and added a rushing touchdown.

His primary competition, true sophomore Anthony Jennings, didn't fare so well. The 6'2", 211-pounder from Marietta, Ga. completed 9-of-17 passes for 157 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns.

Head coach Les Miles was impressed with Harris' performance, but maintains that there's plenty of work still to be done.

“I think that things that you do in a game certainly are things you must recognize," he said in quotes released by LSU. "He [Harris] made some really big plays and nice passes, but he also made some mistakes. It was certainly reviewed very positively by us. We’re a ways away, but there needs to be improvement in both spots."

Sure, the completion percentage isn't where it needed to be, but that didn't stop Harris from impressing those in attendance, including Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate

Half-time observation: The disparity between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris is stunning. #LSU

— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) April 5, 2014

As my B/R colleague Carter Bryant pointed out following the game, the battle isn't over yet. The two dual-threat signal-callers will have to impress the coaching staff during summer conditioning and the winner likely won't be determined until after fall camp starts.

But Harris' play in the spring game flipped the script.

No longer is he the hunter, he's the hunted. 

Barring an injury that took place to a competitor this spring, this is as good as it could have been for Harris in his first spring in Baton Rouge. He's made the quarterback position a legitimate debate and positioned himself well to win the job if he continues his current trajectory.

There's a lot to like about what Harris brings to the table. 

He has a big arm, is accurate downfield, has the ability to be a weapon in the running game but keeps his eyes downfield when his protection breaks down. For offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, he's the perfect fit. 

Cameron is a run-first kind of coach who likes to take the top off of a defense when the safeties creep up. He can do just that with Harris, but Harris also has the dual-threat capabilities that allows the offensive staff to throw some curveballs into the playbook. 

That makes LSU's offense incredibly dangerous, especially once true freshman wide receiver Malachi Dupre and running back Leonard Fournette join the program later this summer.

Does one scrimmage make or break a quarterback battle? 

No, and Miles went so far as to admit that in his postgame quotes.

"I think both guys are good enough to be our quarterback," he said. "At times, I think the two guys played better than that in the spring. I think the game itself was a little more emotional because it was in the stadium.”

Consider the LSU quarterback spot a work in progress, but with Harris progressing quicker than Jennings in the race to replace former starter Zach Mettenberger. 

After the spring game, it's Harris' job to lose.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of LSU's sports information department unless otherwise noted.

 


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Virginia Tech Football: 3 Players Who Need to Turn It Around in Spring Practice

The Virginia Tech football team’s spring drills are only two weeks old, but already there are some players that are worrying the coaching staff with some slow starts.

Tech’s spring game isn’t for another three weeks, so there is some time for them to turn things around, but the way they’ve started is still a little troubling.

There are plenty of open spots on the depth chart, and many of the team’s most important position battles will be resolved by this spring practice session, so these next few days are of paramount importance to these veterans.

If these three players don’t step up in a hurry, they’ll quickly find themselves sliding down the bench as more players arrive for fall camp.

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College Football Figures as Characters from Game of Thrones

Summer is coming.

Like the long-teased Winter in HBO's Game of Thrones—an adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire—a dead season is approaching for fans of college football.

In roughly a month, when not even spring games exist to distract us from earnest football's absence, the time will be barren for everyone who cares about the sport.

Perhaps the only thing that can ease us through these doldrums is the return of premium cable. Thrones itself premiered its fourth season Sunday evening, saving us from another weekend without football and great television to watch.

So now, in the show's honor, here are some college football figures re-imagined as Game of Thrones characters. For the sake of being germane (and spoiler-free), these comparisons refer only to the TV series and not the books. But if you sincerely want to nerd out and talk ASOIAF, feel free to shoot me a message or an email.

Enjoy!

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In Defense of Teddy Bridgewater, the NFL Scout's New Favorite Target

I suppose a defense of Teddy Bridgewater should begin with one of the best throws I’ve ever seen a quarterback make at any level.

Building a resume off a single moment is a ridiculous, anti-scout thing to do, but then again, this was quite a throw. It came on December 5 of last year against Cincinnati. Louisville was down four halfway through the fourth quarter when the Bearcats called a well-timed blitz and the pocket collapsed before it ever formed.

From there, Bridgewater delivered the spectacular throw. I remember shrieking like a child on Christmas morning and then frantically saving the replay to my DVR. It’s still there.

Mechanically, it was a mess because it had to be a mess. The fact that there was any play at all still boggles the mind. In the scouting world, however, such magnificent improv will be—and likely has been—docked accordingly.

“Well, goodness, look at how far his arm dipped on that pass. Horrendous mechanics.”

“I can’t believe while being swarmed by roughly 35 defenders he didn’t execute his reads accordingly.”

“That’s a pretty selfish way to score a touchdown; clearly, there’s an attitude problem.”

As ridiculous as these criticisms might seem, we’re approaching this threshold with Bridgewater.

One of the most consistent, accurate and downright productive quarterbacks to leave the college ranks in quite some time is quickly becoming one of the most polarizing players in the draft. There’s no reason this should be the case, of course, but the scouting process often targets a select few like an overzealous bacteria with no antidote to speak of.

In the case of Bridgewater, the contrarian opinion has gone mainstream. It’s no longer different enough to be different—it’s how different are you. And taking the stance that one of the best college quarterbacks in recent years is actually pretty good is slowly—and shockingly—becoming the minority.

This chatter began with his average-to-below-average pro day, one that received a fair amount of backlash from notable draft personalities.

ESPN’s Todd McShay provided his thoughts on Bridgewater’s performance (via ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco):

In coming to these pro day workouts for 14-15 years, the vast majority of them, almost all of them, the QB ends up outperforming what you see on tape. There's no defense. There's no pass rush. You're in shorts and a T-shirt and it's a scripted workout that you've been working on for 30-40 days with your wide receiver. So to see Bridgewater come out here today and be the exception to the rule ... this is a rare occurrence for a QB in his pro day, who is not nearly as efficient and effective when he is when studying his tape.

It’s only a pro day, although the conversations surrounding his lackluster performance, at least by some, were reasonable. This depends a great deal on how much you value pro days (hopefully not much), but the feedback from this glorified backyard throwing session was at least understood. You may not agree with it, but you understand it.

Where we’re headed next, however, is where the ship veers off course and crashes into the nearest iceberg.

Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller tackled this topic in the latest Scouting Notebook when he spoke to an anonymous scout about the sudden Bridgewater shift. While Miller loves Bridgewater—he has him at No. 1 on his latest Big Board—the unnamed individual he talked to felt differently.

'What am I missing?' was my question to him. The answer? '(I'm) not high on him, honestly. Biggest concerns on him are the mental and inconsistencies in mechanics. In my opinion, you don't see him go through many progressions, a lot of primary, target-only reads. Mechanics-wise, I think he has good feel for pressure in the pocket but drops his elbow too often. He definitely flashes elite ability, but the lack of consistency is alarming.

Let’s dive deeper. Former NFL scout John Middlekauff, who now works for 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, took this one step further when talking about Bridgewater’s potential draft prospects.

More specifically, he took the idea that Bridgewater could still be the No. 1 overall pick and smashed it with an industrial-sized hammer.

More NFL people I talk with the more I think Bridgewater falls to the 2nd round

— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) April 4, 2014

Middlekauff then followed up with the scouting equivalent to a 99.5-yard touchdown pass that bounced off the scoreboard and then the mascot’s groin.

That’s right: Former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage and Teddy Bridgewater are now being lumped together in one of the strangest and unforeseen taste tests imaginable.

Honestly wldnt be that shocked “@IanKenyonNFL: I said this yesterday, if Tom Savage is drafted over Bridgewater, I'm going to lose my mind.”

— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) April 4, 2014

Before my brain explodes and the column ends abruptly, let’s go back to where we started: the remarkable touchdown pass from late last season against Cincinnati (or, "The Day My DVR Stood Still").

The spectacular for Bridgewater in this particular moment identifies the canyon between anatomical perfection and production. There’s nothing about this that should be taught to young QBs. In fact, you can’t teach it. But when you see something like this happen—something completely absent from the scouting handbook—it makes an impression.

Of course, the scouting process never boils down to one moment, throw or game. In fact, if you assess NFL worth based off this limited sample size, you’ll likely be doing so as a hobby for the foreseeable future.

For Bridgewater—and like every college QB that has come through the system—the collective performance wasn’t always perfection. But I can’t imagine telling someone with a straight face, with the utmost seriousness, that his “consistency is alarming.”

Just, no.

This includes the days when Bridgewater was backing up the loveable Will Stein at about 175 pounds—soaking wet—coming in off the bench with very little idea of what he was doing at the position. Even then, in his rawest of form, he had promise. Since then, he added about 30 pounds, learned an offense and made his gorgeous wrist-flick throwing motion slightly more potent.

My defense of Bridgewater is by no means a guarantee that he’ll be the next (insert choice NFL quarterback with promise here). Projecting NFL quarterbacks is like playing darts after a long night at the bar. You’ll hit sometimes, certainly, but you’ll also miss the board—maybe taking out a patron every now and then— despite exhibiting the utmost confidence on each throw. It’s one of the most difficult assignments in all of sports with absolutely no blueprint to follow.

Yet there’s also a legitimate way to approach a player’s faults and potential holes.

In the case of Bridgewater—and the countless others who are often taken apart and left disassembled for no reason at all—the over-the-top criticisms don’t match up with authentic areas of concern.

I watched far too much bad American Athletic Conference and Big East football to sit quietly on the sidelines for this particular argument. While “scout” is nowhere to be found on my business card, you don’t have to be a football projection wizard to understand that Bridgewater is an exceptional talent who does a lot of things exceptionally well.

If you don’t believe his game will translate to the NFL, that’s fair. But at the very least, let’s assess why with more evidence than hand size, shirt-and-shorts box scores and bogus bullet points. He deserves so much better than that, and I have the DVR to prove it.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi State HC Dan Mullen Talks Dak Prescott, Expectations and More

Mississippi State appeared to be headed for a sub-.500 season in mid-November 2013, but back-to-back overtime wins, including a 17-10 Egg Bowl victory over intrastate rival Ole Miss, sent the Bulldogs to a bowl game for the fourth straight season.

All they did in that bowl game is dispatch Rice 44-7 in the Liberty Bowl.

With 16 starters returning, including quarterback Dak Prescott—who took the job over from Tyler Russell last season when Russell was injured—they could be set up for a breakout season in 2014.

What does head coach Dan Mullen think of his team as spring practice closes? Barrett Sallee caught up with the sixth-year head coach of the Bulldogs to get an update on the state of the program.

 

Bleacher Report: Your quarterback, junior Dak Prescott, is getting a little bit of Heisman Trophy love. How good can he be and how important is it for you to have a full offseason as the unquestioned starting quarterback?

Dan Mullen: It is important, but I don't know how important. He started a couple games for us because of injuries last year. I had a guy who won the Heisman in his first year as a starter when Tim Tebow won it [in 2007] at Florida. Dak is a guy who has a lot of work to do, and he is a great worker. He doesn't get too caught up in the hype or anything like that. He's competing as if he's trying to win the starting job, which is always good. You want to have quarterback competitions and guys pushing for playing time.

The biggest thing with him is work ethic. He's always trying to get himself better, whether it be how fast he's making his reads and his decision-making when things break down. It's easy to make the right reads, but how good are you when things get a little funky? He's good at those things.

 

B/R: You've got a lot of talented running backs coming in, most notably of which is Josh Robinson, who looked good in limited snaps last year. What do you expect from him and how important was some of the extended playing time last year for his development?

DM: We like to have a lot of tailbacks, and we always try to rotate guys. He got a lot of reps last year, and really the last couple of years, he's gotten more and more. He's going to be more the "A" position for us this year rather than the "B" back, and he's done a really great job. He has breakaway speed, which he's shown in games last year, as well as a physicality where he can drop his pads and run in between the tackles. You always want guys to stay healthy, and if he stays healthy, he has a chance to be a really good all-around back.

 

B/R: Jameon Lewis (64 rec., 923 yards, 5 TDs) being the leading returning receiver in the SEC might be a bit surprising to some folks. Is he the best receiver who not many people have heard of?

DM: Sure, I guess. I mean, we know a lot about him here. He set a lot of school records last year. He's an explosive guy. He's done a really good job at working at becoming an all-around player. You know, the techniques, the fundamentals and everything it takes to become that. Instead of being a great athlete—you know, being the great high school quarterback that he was—learning the receiver position and the ins and outs of that, I think he's done a great job developing year to year. He had his first time as a starter last year and really took advantage of that and had a great season.

 

B/R: Who else has impressed you this spring at wide receiver?

DM: We've had a bunch. Robert Johnson is coming into his senior season and he's had a really good spring. De'Runnya Wilson has really gotten to learn a little bit more about the game at the receiver position. I expect some things out of him. Fred Ross is a guy as a true freshman played for us last year a little bit. Now with another guy like De'Runnya who has the opportunity to learn what's going on rather than scrambling and getting caught up and all the adjustments those guys go through to really learn has had a really good spring. 

 

B/R: Defensively, Mississippi State looked pretty solid in several games last season. A lot of those impact players on that side of the ball are coming back. How important is having that experience in your back pocket as you build that depth you need in the SEC West?

DM: Coming into last year, we had a very, very young defense. They got better every game as the year went on and were really peaking towards the end of the year. You look at that crew, 19 of the 22 on our two-deep are back; as well a guy like [defensive back] Jay Hughes, who missed the entire season with an injury—and he was a starter too. For us, the depth is really important because we want to rotate in and out. I love rotating guys. I love looking at the stats at the end of the game and the snaps played stat never hits 40 for any defensive player. If that happens, then those guys will be playing with the passion and the effort that we expect them to play with.

 

B/R: Four straight bowls for Mississippi State and you've still had to deal with doubters. And I'll be forthcoming, one of those was me and you proved me wrong. You've been on record saying that it's hard to take that next step in the SEC West because it's not just a regular step, it's a really big step. What do you have to do to make that step?

DM: Here's the thing, we're in position to do that. Last year, I give our staff a lot of credit, I think it was the best coaching job we've done since we've been here. We had almost 120 games missed by starters due to injuries last year. On top of that, I think we played, statistically speaking, one of the top three or five hardest schedules in the country. I think we were the only team in the top five hardest schedules in the country to make a bowl game—and we won the bowl game. For all of the injuries we had, to make it and win that bowl game and win four out of five Egg Bowls—which is huge here—is pretty special.

That next step, if you're going to compete for a title, you have to be a consistent program. We've created expectations. When I first got here, the expectation was to maybe go to a bowl game. That's not a good enough expectation for me. I don't like that expectation of "hey, let's just have a winning season" and call that good enough. We want to compete for championships.

Certainly within that program that expectation has been changed. Outside the program, doing something that's never been done in over 100 years of this program still puts you on the "hot seat," that's a good thing to me. Because that means that expectations have changed. People look at our program and expect us to win a championship.

The difference in the SEC West is that, in the last five seasons, six SEC West teams have competed for the national championship. A lot of times, the next step is "hey, we've built a program as a consistent winner; now let's go win a conference championship." In the SEC West, you skip that step. A conference championship is also a national championship here. And that's just in the West, never mind the Florida run before that. Our next step is to play for a national championship, because that's where it's been if you win the SEC West.

Obviously, with the new College Football Playoff, that can change. But those are our sights. Those are expectations for guys within this program to play for the SEC title and I guess at that point the national championship.

 

B/R: What did you think of the BCS and do you like the idea of a four-team playoff?

DM: I don't know. Hard to say because we have to see it play out first. Besides the 2004 season, I think the BCS got it right. I was on the bad end of it that year with the University of Utah. I thought we could have beat anybody in the country with that team, and I'm sure Auburn has a lot of claims to it as well that year and they didn't get an opportunity.

If you wanted to do it perfect, I guess that year you should have had a four-team playoff. Other years, you may not have needed it. Maybe one year one team gets a berth and two others do a one-game playoff while one team waits for the winner.

It seems to me [the BCS] kind of got it right most years. I like the old way. I love going to your pre-slotted bowl games and hey, if there are two national champions, then there are two national champions. I don't know if there's an exact way to do it.

Look at basketball. There's a No. 7 and a No. 8 seed in the Final Four. Essentially, then, the regular season meant nothing to those teams. All that matters is that you get in the tournament. 

The last time there were co-national champions in 2003, do both sets of kids consider themselves national champions? That's an unbelievable experience, isn't it? That's educational. That's motivational for young people. What a great opportunity for student-athletes. Instead of just 85, 170 got to call themselves national champions. What a great educational experience for those young people. 

 

B/R: Last year's ending to the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss was riveting, with Dak coming off the bench, sending it to overtime and then you guys winning after recovering a fumble on the game's final play. How big was that for your program, and how much does that come up when you're out on the road in Mississippi?

DM: In this state, it's 24/7/365. That's the game that matters. Winning that game is everything. It sounds maybe crazy, but here in the state of Mississippi, that's what people talk about. Year-round, that game will be talked about nonstop. I haven't heard many people talk about our bowl win, but they all talk about the Egg Bowl because it's a neighbor against neighbor game. Everywhere you turn, you're either one school or the other. That lasts the whole year.

 

B/R: Do you have any thoughts on the effort by Northwestern's players to unionize, and what are your general thoughts on player compensation?

DM: I love player compensation. I don't consider myself a super smart person, but I do understand that most people don't pay attention to the tax implications. I can tell you this, the IRS is not going to not get their share—especially with April 15 coming up on us. Maybe I'm off on this, but if our players are going to have to pay tax on the value of their scholarship, which could be the case if you're an employee, I don't think a lot of people would be into that. 

But I do think that, however way possible, players should get a little bit more spending money to put in their pocket. There are methods out there. If you want to give them minimum wage like any other job, that's fine. I'm not sure how you do it. I think the cost of attendance is the one that people come up with who are smarter than me, and they understand the intricacies of the tax code.

I mean, you can't pay the players for playing because they have to then file income tax in every state in which a game is played like the NFL does. You're looking at an IRS nightmare for these players; now they're going to have to go hire accountants and they'll end up losing money. 

These guys do have a lot of value built in in addition to the scholarship. You know, there's tutoring, they get exposure not just as a football player, but when they go on a job interview they have job recognition that "Johnny Averageman" doesn't.

I am great for players having a voice and a say, and I'd love to compensate them for the work they put in. However we can do it, allow them to do it. I'm into all of that. There are a lot of smart people working on it, and I hope they come up with some good answers that better improve the lives of these young men. But I don't know if some of the things we've seen are the best ways to do it.

 

B/R: Are you relieved that we don't have to talk about the 10-second rule for the next 10 or 11 months?

DM: The injuries and all that, I don't know about all that. Everyone's looking to get an advantage. The thing I liked about the 10-second rule was consistency. In the SEC, we have great officials in this league. Not that they don't make mistakes, but as a coach, you want consistency. If they say they're going to call it tight, then they're going to call it tight the whole game. If they're going to call it loose, they're going to call it loose the whole game. As long as it's consistent, I'm great. 

The one thing that a 10-second rule would have done would be to give you a consistent snap point for the ball. When you go to another league's officials, all of the sudden they spot things differently. I never had a substitution issue with tempo offenses that we played last year. I never thought it was an injury or health issue, to be honest with you. There are much bigger health issues in the game than snapping the ball within 10 seconds. 

I do think it was going in the right direction. Let's look at all the snaps that took place within 10 seconds, and let's review those. Were there any deception issues? Was the umpire out of the way? I'm an offensive coach and I think [tempo] is a neat deal sometimes, but as a head coach, here's the umpire putting the ball down and turning his back to the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped and he's actually in the way blocking either your "Mike" linebacker or your 3-technique [defensive lineman] while the ball is being snapped. I never saw that happen with us in the SEC, but I do think [the 10-second rule] would lead to consistency from league to league. That part of it, to me, was interesting.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand and all stats were courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Unanswered Questions Heading into the Florida Gators Spring Game

The Florida Gators Orange and Blue spring game takes place this weekend (April 12), and there’s still plenty of questions that have yet to be answered. Don’t be alarmed: This is all part of the process, but it’s key to identify the problems so the team knows what to continue to work on heading into fall camp.

For the Gators, a lot of their issues are on the offensive side of the ball.

With a new offensive coordinator and a new system being implemented, there’s going to be a few growing pains along the way. Finding playmakers, ironing out the issues at quarterback and discovering depth at certain positions are crucial. There’s also a major concern on special teams and an issue defensively that must be addressed.

Let’s take a look at the major remaining questions for the Florida Gators.

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