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10 Most NFL-Ready Players in the Pac-12

The level of talent in the Pac-12 may be at an all-time high, but which players are destined to stand out in the NFL? Or rather, which players could jog out on a Sunday and produce against a professional opponent right now?

There aren't more than a handful of guys in all of college football who could actually start at the next level, but the Pac-12 is filled with guys who have a future on Sundays.

If the NFL were to hold a draft based on players who were needed for games that took place tomorrow—in other words, eliminating the "potential" element—who would be selected?

Here at the 10 most NFL-ready players in the Pac-12.

Begin Slideshow

10 Most NFL-Ready Players in the Pac-12

The level of talent in the Pac-12 may be at an all-time high, but which players are destined to stand out in the NFL? Or rather, which players could jog out on a Sunday and produce ...

Begin Slideshow

USC Football: 5 Players Turning Heads Early at Fall Practice

The all-important fall practice session is now underway as USC prepares for its first season under new head coach Steve Sarkisian.

It will be during this camp when Sark and his staff make their final determinations regarding the depth chart the Trojans will enter the 2014 season with, so there is much at stake for players looking to position themselves on the depth chart this year.

There have already been major changes to the roster—tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick has been ruled academically ineligible, and others are changing positions looking to see the field of play for the men of Troy.

This slideshow will take a look at some of the Trojans who are making a splash early on and offer some commentary on their efforts in the final practice sessions before the start to this season.

Who is turning heads early this fall?

Read on to find out.

Begin Slideshow

USC Football: 5 Players Turning Heads Early at Fall Practice

The all-important fall practice session is now underway as USC prepares for its first season under new head coach Steve Sarkisian...

Begin Slideshow

Reddit Survey Shows Which College Football Programs Are Most Hated in Each State

We've seen which NBA, NFL and MLB teams are the most hated in each state and now, just in time for kickoff, we learn which college football programs each state can't stand the most. 

The results, from Reddit, are compiled from a relatively small sample size of 7,865 responses from around the country to show which teams their state hates.

There were some, umm, interesting findings—to say the least.

It seems unlikely that the University of Michigan is the most hated team in Michigan and that Texas is the least popular in Texas (way to stuff the ballot, Spartan and Aggies faithful), but these results still give an overall snapshot of where animosity lies.

But seriously, does this much of America really hate the Wolverines? What'd the Maize and Blue ever do to you, Maine?

[Reddit CFB]

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Michael Weber to Michigan: Wolverines Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Brady Hoke and his staff received a verbal commitment from 4-star running back Michael Weber, marking Michigan's 10th commitment for the 2015 class. 

"Uncle Mike" announced the news on his Twitter feed: 

He expanded on the decision in an interview with 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong:

I want to be home, I just want to come home, 35 minutes away. That’s the main reason why. The depth chart is kind of low at running back and they haven’t had a running back drafted in a long time and I want to turn thing around for Michigan.

Interestingly enough, Weber, who attends Cass Technical High School in Detroit, was scheduled to visit Michigan State on Wednesday. After oversleeping, though, he chose to instead visit Michigan and ended up committing. 

It's an odd situation, and 247Sports' crystal ball predictions actually favored Michigan State slightly over the Wolverines, so this will be something to pay attention to in the coming days and months.  

For now, though, Hoke can celebrate a tremendous pickup. 

The 5'10", 205-pound running back is ranked as the 115th-best overall prospect, 14th-best running back and No. 2 player out of the state of Michigan in the 2015 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings

ESPN's scouting report (subscription required) describes him as a versatile weapon who "can run inside or out, block and catch the ball out of the backfield," noting he "has physical abilities that translate well to the next level." It also argues he's more of an three-down back than a home run hitter. 

247Sports' Clint Brewster applauded the addition for Michigan, comparing Weber to New England Patriots lead back Stevan Ridley:

Not since Mike Hart in the mid-2000s have the Wolverines had a true game-changer at the running back position. Fitzgerald Toussaint is the only back to surpass 1,000 yards since Hart (2011), but he followed that up with a pair of underwhelming campaigns the last two years. 

There is hope that sophomores Derrick Green or De'Veon Smith can thrive in new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's system. Whether or not they are able to do so, Weber will certainly add some depth to the position when he arrives on campus next year. 

Either way, when it comes to Michigan's backfield, the arrow is undoubtedly pointing up.

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2014: Underrated Teams in Initial Amway Poll

Preseason polls may technically be meaningless in the national championship race with the new College Football Playoff, but they help set the narrative for the entire season.

For instance, if Michigan State knocks off Oregon in early September, it will have a bigger impact for the Spartans in the eyes of the public because the Ducks were ranked No. 4 in the initial Amway Coaches Poll.

Fair or not, polls are an important part of the college football landscape. There are a number of teams that can make a compelling case that they are underrated in the first set of rankings. 

Here are a few of them.

 

Michigan State, No. 8

It may seem strange to call the No. 8 team in the nation underrated, but we are talking about a Michigan State squad that handed Ohio State its first ever loss under Urban Meyer and kept the Buckeyes out of the national title contest.

Yet, the Scarlet and Gray are ranked higher than the Spartans. So are the Oregon Ducks, who were completely manhandled by the same Stanford team that Michigan State beat in the Rose Bowl.

College football writer Phil Steele recently discussed Michigan State on The Damon Amendolara Show:

I think if you go based on recruiting ranks and the amount of athletes coming in and potential NFL players, Ohio State still has an edge on the rest of the Big Ten. Michigan State, however, is closing the gap, and I love what Mark Dantonio gets out of his team each and every year.

Recruiting rankings aside, the Spartans did more than just beat the Buckeyes and Stanford last year. They actually won every single Big Ten game by double digits and finished the year with the third-best scoring defense in the country.

In fact, Michigan State could have been in the national title game were it not for a poorly officiated contest against Notre Dame.

There may be some early growing pains for a defense that lost seven starters, but coordinator Pat Narduzzi and defensive-oriented coach Mark Dantonio will have that side of the ball shored up by Big Ten play.

Throw in an offense that will be stronger with the return of Connor Cook under center and Jeremy Langford at running back, and the Spartans have their eyes on the CFP.

It is easy to look ahead to the matchup with the Buckeyes on Nov. 8. In the Big Ten title game, Ohio State had the crowd advantage in Indianapolis, but this one will be in East Lansing.

A spot in the conference championship game and the initial CFP could very well be on the line as the Spartans strong defense goes up against the likes of Braxton Miller and Meyer’s high-octane offense.

Buckle up.

 

Marshall, Unranked 

ESPN Stats & Info certainly had some preseason love for Marshall:

Sure, the schedule doesn’t exactly rank up there with the best of the SEC, but plenty of mid-major teams play weak slates. You still have to be incredibly talented to win every single game, and Marshall fits that bill.

However, there is one reason in particular that the Thundering Herd find themselves on this list—quarterback Rakeem Cato.

Cato threw for 3,916 yards and 39 touchdowns last year and captained an offense that put up a head-turning 42.1 points per game, which was good enough for eighth in the entire country.

That offense should be even more dynamic now that Cato has another year of experience in Doc Holliday’s system.

Marshall isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere this season, either.

It won 10 games for the first time since 2002 last year, beat up Maryland in the Military Bowl, destroyed East Carolina 59-28 and took Virginia Tech to triple overtime on the road.

Anything short of double-digit victories and a bowl win would be a major disappointment this time around.

 

Washington, No. 25

The Pac-12 is all about Oregon, Stanford and UCLA heading into the 2014 season, right?

Not quite.

There is plenty of optimism in Washington after the hire of new coach Chris Petersen. All he did in eight seasons at Boise State was win 92 games in 105 tries and capture five bowl game titles, two of which came at the Fiesta Bowl.

Even after losing Bishop Sankey, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kevin Smith from last year’s offense, the Huskies will feature plenty of weapons.

They have incredible speed at wide receiver with Jaydon Mickens, Marvin Hall and John Ross, and Petersen will likely get them involved with all types of screens, reverses and creative routes.

That receiving group is actually calling itself the "Legion of Zoom" because of its speed. Of course, it wouldn’t be the only Legion to work out on the football field recently in Seattle if Washington exceeds expectations.

Shaq Thompson is a monster at linebacker on the defensive side, but he could also see time at running back because of his speed and size. 

With all that talent, Petersen could have his next Cinderella story right under his nose.

 

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Georgia Football: Why Isaiah McKenzie Will Make an Impact in 2014

Fall camp is underway and the Georgia Bulldogs are in the middle of a stretch where they practice nine consecutive days with full pads and two-a-days mixed in.

The coaches are trying to work the players as hard as they can and see who will step up and impress. They are especially looking at the younger players because they will be needed in key positions this season in order for the Bulldogs to succeed.

One of those positions is kick returner, and freshman Isaiah McKenzie is getting a lot of looks at the position. And he has turned a ton of head during camp. Teammate J.J. Green told Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that McKenzie is going to make a lot of money someday with the work that he’s doing.

One of the reasons McKenzie was recruited by the Bulldogs is for his abilities on special teams. McKenzie, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is a 4-star recruit, per 247Sports, who can not only return kicks, but can also play wide receiver and running back. In fact, McKenzie was listed as one of the top 50 receivers in the country last year. He tallied 41 receptions for 892 yards and seven touchdowns his senior season at American Heritage High School.

I added a video to a @YouTube playlist http://t.co/xolkH5Q5WN The Human Joystick - 2014 WR/ATH Isaiah McKenzie 2013 season highlight

— Southern Athlete™ (@SouthernAth) August 3, 2014

McKenzie has also been able to make plays in the receiving game, catching a pass from Hutson Mason during a practice on Tuesday, and he made a couple of would-be tacklers miss, according to Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph. Mason told Emerson that McKenzie is one of those players you just throw the ball to and let him do his thing because of his speed and elusiveness.

Because of the injuries at the receiver position, McKenzie could find a way to make it onto the rotation. With the status of Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley uncertain, the Bulldogs will need a speedy receiver to help stretch the field.

But the best place where McKenzie will make an impact, at least this season, is special teams. Per Emerson, head coach Mark Richt likes McKenzie as a punt returner, and he said McKenzie is very elusive and quick, which is what you want in the return game.

The Bulldogs struggled in punt returns last year, averaging 2.9 yards per return and “muffed” two returns. Adding McKenzie to the return game would bring explosiveness and consistency to special teams, which is something the Bulldogs desperately need in order to stop the special teams woes.

There’s still a lot of fall camp ahead, so it’s not a guarantee McKenzie will be a lock for the punt or kick return position. He has his share of competition, as J.J. Green, Damian Swann, Tramel Terry and Shaquille Jones have all gotten looks as returners. But there’s no question McKenzie will see some action this season, and based on what he’s done so far in camp, he will give opposing defenders headaches all year long.

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Ohio State Football: Inside the Overhaul of the Nation's Most Criticized Defense

For the third time in four years, Luke Fickell faced the media during the first week of fall camp with a different role than the one he held the year before. But this time, the Ohio State co-defensive coordinator carried himself with a confidence that one wouldn't expect from what was one of America's most criticized coaches in 2013—and for good reason.

After all, there isn't anywhere for the Buckeyes defense to go but up.

It's hard to believe that it's already been three years since Fickell was serving as Ohio State's interim head coach, a one-season stopgap between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.

And although the former Buckeyes defensive lineman opted to remain at his alma mater as the team's co-defensive coordinator, it'd be tough to blame him if he ever had second thoughts about that decision over the course of the past two seasons.

First came 2012, which saw Ohio State patch together a 12-0 season, despite a less-than-stellar defense that had Meyer even admitting that he had questions about his staff.

But the Buckeyes could only fill so many holes in their ship by the time last season's Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl rolled around, with Ohio State surrendering a combined 1,014 yards and 74 points in its final two games of the season—both Buckeye losses.

Enter Chris Ash, the former Arkansas and Wisconsin defensive coordinator who now finds himself as Fickell's running mate on the Ohio State staff. And while Meyer's preference to Ash's defensive scheme and philosophy essentially handed Fickell a de-facto demotion, the original Silver Bullet doesn't see it that way.

"I want what’s best for this place. Coach Meyer knows that, and we talked about that from day one," Fickell said in March. "If something is better for this place, then so be it. I want what’s best for my alma mater and my university."

But now that fall camp is here, does Fickell still seem that way? It sure seems that way. And he's as confident about his defense as he's been in recent memory.

"You can say whatever you want, and obviously there's been glaring things that's been talked about like the pass defense," Fickell said. "Altogether, with everything tied together, there's going to be a lot of things that are going to be shored up."

As Fickell explained, it's going to take improvement from more than just one position group for the Buckeyes to do that. But just three days into the fall camp period, it's something that he's already seen.

Perhaps no position group has come under more scrutiny since Meyer arrived in 2012 than the linebackers, with the Buckeyes head coach repeatedly referring to them as "not Ohio State-ish" during his time in Columbus.

And while last season's leading tackler and All-American Ryan Shazier may be in the NFL, Fickell—who's personally responsible for coaching the unit—has seen steady growth from the likes of Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant, Darron Lee and even freshman Raekwon McMillan.

"Sometimes you need addition by subtraction," Fickell said of Shazier's departure. "There's five, six, seven guys whom the light really came on for. We've seen the ability for them to step up and really do some things. It's really going to be a committee."

Only aiding the linebackers' development is arguably the nation's most talented defensive line, one which OSU offensive line coach Ed Warinner said on Wednesday was the best he's ever seen.

But while starters Noah Spence, Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington may all possess All-American talent, expect an even deeper rotation as new defensive line coach Larry Johnson departs from Mike Vrabel's "the best players play" mantra.

"That's something that we probably didn't do a great job of in the past," Fickell admitted. "Coach Johnson has been doing this a long time, and he's unbelievable at what he does. He's adamant that we've gotta have nine guys. And we will. I know there will be a starting four, but we may have to refer to them as 1A and 1B."

Fickell—who has been a member of the Ohio State staff since 2002—insists that the Buckeyes' ability and improvement upfront will have a positive impact on a secondary that came under perhaps as much scrutiny as he did a season ago. Fresh faces will accompany Ohio State's fresh approach on the back end, with the Buckeyes replacing four starters from a season ago.

Gone are first-round cornerback Bradley Roby and senior safeties C.J. Barnett and Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown, replaced by redshirt freshman Gareon Conley and a three-man stable of safeties in Tyvis Powell, Cameron Burrows and Vonn Bell.

Only corner Doran Grant returns as a starter to the Ohio State secondary, which received much of the blame for a pass defense that ranked 118th (out of 125 teams) in passing yards surrendered per game in 2013, according to Team Rankings.

But for Fickell, it's not the scheme or the players playing it that has him excited as the Ohio State defense's newfound attitude. There may be nowhere for the Buckeyes to go but up from the end of last season, but Fickell is confident that they'll get there, regardless of what role he's serving this season.

"Not only have the kids had to grow up and handle some adversity, but the coaches have too. And change is good for all of us," Fickell said. "It's a lot harder to handle praise than it is to handle criticism. They've been beat; they've been kicked a little bit. But there's no harder critique than ourselves. We've felt that with the last three games that we've played. And it's shown."

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand, unless noted otherwise.

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Baylor QB Bryce Petty Shows off Impressive Vertical Leap at Practice

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has bounce. And even if this jump over a cone at practice doesn't do it justice, you college football fans should be excited for this season. 

As pointed out by SB Nation (via DraftExpress.com), Petty's vertical, which has been listed at 38 inches, is better than a lot of high-jumping NBA players' pre-draft numbers, including Blake Griffin, Terrence Ross, Kenneth Farried and Russell Westbrook, to name a few. 

Should he be able to put this to good use next season, Petty's Heisman candidacy highlight tape could be impressive.

[Baylor Football, h/t SB Nation]

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