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Florida State Football: It Finally Feels Like Jimbo Fisher's Program

Seven months removed from winning a national title, Jimbo Fisher will not allow complacency to set in.

But as he begins his fifth year as Florida State's head coach, there is some comfort in realizing what has been accomplished and how far the program has come. 

FSU returns to remodeled locker rooms and coaches' offices as well as a plush, new residence hall that will house freshmen and sophomores. Those improvements, as well as the opening of the indoor practice facility in August 2013, indicate a significant financial commitment by boosters to fulfill Fisher's vision for the program.

FSU was a dynasty under legendary coach Bobby Bowden, finishing in the top four in the Associated Press poll for 14 straight seasons (1987-2000). There were national titles in 1993 and 1999, but FSU's last ACC title under Bowden came in 2005 and the program began to slide. Bowden hired Fisher to re-energize the offense in 2007, and Fisher was named head-coach-in-waiting the next year.

Since taking over for Bowden at the start of the 2010 season, Fisher is 45-10. There have been growing pains, of course, but there have also been back-to-back ACC titles and a national title. Under Fisher, FSU is 4-0 against Miami, 3-1 against Florida and has won 14 straight ACC games.

''We wanted to have a culture that expected to be great,'' Fisher said on Monday afternoon. ''It's easy to expect to be great. It's easy to say, 'I want to do this.' But to put the pieces in place… We're getting there.''

The Seminoles returned to the practice field on Monday afternoon for the first of three weeks of preseason practice. Then the fun begins as FSU begins game-week preparation for the season opener against Oklahoma State on Aug. 30 in Arlington, Texas.

On Monday, a reporter asked Fisher how FSU can improve on 2013. It was tough enough to go 14-0, but FSU will need to go 15-0, including a pair of wins in the playoffs. To Fisher, though, wins are just part of the equation, not every piece of the puzzle.

"It's not about the record," Fisher said. "It's about the program. How it improves our people… Your record, as they saw, is who you are. But you can still improve in so many ways and not have won every game. That's our goal and that's what we plan on doing, but at the same time, it's about the culture in which you create and the people in which you develop."

Fisher acknowledged that there are a number of position battles that need to be settled but said he is confident in the team's abilities and leadership.

''We have a very good team. I love our team,'' Fisher said. ''We still have warts like everybody else. We have to develop depth at certain places, we have to develop starters at certain places.''

While Fisher has often stated that FSU is not ''defending'' and is instead looking to ''repeat'' as champion, one thing he would like to see carry over from 2013 is the team's chemistry.

''I thought the selflessness of our team and the true cohesiveness of our team was extremely critical [last year], and was one of the best that I had been around,'' Fisher said. ''There's no reason to say that this one can't be, but that has to develop each year.''

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter.

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Can New Georgia RB Commit Chris Carson Take over for Todd Gurley in 2015?

Georgia added another critical piece to its 2015 recruiting class with the addition of 3-star JUCO running back Chris Carson on Sunday, according to Rusty Mansell of Dawgs247.

With standout junior Todd Gurley a candidate to leave early for next year’s NFL draft, Carson told Mansell he is ready to compete against a loaded stable of young and talented backs for the right to eventually replace Gurley in 2015.

With Todd (Gurley), I know that is going to be gone, and with Keith Marshall, he could be gone, but if he is still there, I can learn from him, those freshman are really talented. They need more than just one running back in this league. They want multiple running backs. I like the competition.

At 6’1”, 200 pounds, Carson is a big back who is physical at the point of attack, yet he also possesses breakaway speed. While those attributes are similar to Gurley’s strengths, it’s way too early to anoint Carson as the clear-cut front-runner to succeed him.

There are a few reasons why that’s the case.

For starters, in the event Gurley and fellow star junior Keith Marshall leave school early, there are plenty of options for Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to turn to.

Georgia brought in a pair of highly touted backs in its 2014 class in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. In particular, as B/R’s Barrett Sallee notes, the 5’10”, 225-pound Chubb—who rushed for 101 touchdowns and nearly 7,000 yards over his final three prep seasons—is a physical freak who compares more favorably to the 6’1”, 226-pound Gurley.

Additionally, based on Carson’s career to this point, there’s not enough evidence to suggest that he’s ready to produce at the elite level of a talent such as Gurley.

As a freshman last season at Butler (Kansas) Community College, Carson rushed for 611 yards and eight touchdowns. However, he also fumbled six times and lost four of those, according to his page on Butler's home site. 

The flip side to that argument is that most coaches recruit JUCO players because of their ability to fill an immediate need.

Alabama’s Nick Saban has done it with players such as Terrence Cody and Jesse Williams in recent years. Auburn’s success with JUCO quarterback imports Cam Newton and former UGA player Nick Marshall is another example.

In Georgia’s case, the addition of Carson gives the program another quality option at a position where depth is critical in a league as physical as the SEC is.

Given Carson’s comments about embracing competition, it’s clear that he’s confident in his ability to step in and earn a spot in the backfield rotation.

However, he nor any of the current backs on UGA’s roster can be mentioned in the same breath as Gurley until they can mirror his exploits on the field in the fall.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Big 12 Football: Each Team's Odds to Win the Conference

The NCAA has instituted a four-team playoff system to determine the national champion in football starting this season. A ranking system has also been put in place to try and ensure that the best four teams in the country will be included in this select field.

A power conference such as the SEC may have an outside shot at getting two teams into the four-team field if everything falls into place, but for the other four majors one would think that winning the conference championship would be a prerequisite to getting into the playoffs.

Doc’s Sports has recently updated its NCAA football futures odds for all five of the major conferences in Division I-A football, including the Big 12.

The Oklahoma Sooners currently top the conference at prohibitive 2-3 odds to win this year’s conference title. There is no championship game in the Big 12, so this title is determined by a team’s conference record and head-to-head play as a potential tiebreaker.

The Sooners come into this season with their most talented roster in years. Their offense will be led by Heisman hopeful quarterback Trevor Knight, and their defense will return nine starters from last year’s squad.

Knight should be an interesting study as much of his hype has been generated by his performance in a single game. Last January he shredded Alabama’s vaunted defense for 348 yards passing and four touchdowns on the way to Oklahoma’s stunning 45-31 victory as a 17-point underdog in the Sugar Bowl.

If he can duplicate that level of play throughout the 12-game regular season this year, the Sooners’ lofty odds will be justified.

Just in case Oklahoma stumbles along the way, bettors might want to take a closer look at the value in Baylor’s 11-4 odds to win a second straight Big 12 title this year.

The Bears came out of nowhere last season to go 8-1 in conference play behind an offense that led the nation in scoring with an average of 52.4 points per game.

Baylor also has a Heisman-caliber quarterback in Bryce Petty. He is a more proven commodity than Knight after throwing for 3,844 yards and 30 touchdowns last season.

There are a total of six starters back from that dynamic scoring machine, including wide receivers Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman. Goodley hauled in 71 receptions for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Coleman added another 35 catches for 527 yards.

The team that has caught my interest, though, is the Texas Longhorns at 15-2 odds to win the Big 12 this season in head coach Charlie Strong’s first season at the helm.

After a disappointing run over the past few seasons, the Longhorns appear poised to once again assume their role as perennial contenders for the Big 12 crown.

Strong has already established himself as a no-nonsense disciplinarian with the dismissal of seven players from the team since his arrival in Austin, and you just know that he will work diligently to have this attitude carry over to the players that on the field on game day.

Texas’ primary strength on offense will be its running game behind Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. This duo combined to produce 1,684 rushing yards last season, and it will help take some of the pressure off the quarterback if they can replicate those numbers this season.

The Longhorns will have to improve a defense that was ranked 57th in the nation last season in points allowed to successfully compete with the likes of Oklahoma and Baylor, but they remain a sleeper in this title race.

The odds to win the Big 12 for the rest of the teams in the conference start with Oklahoma State and Kansas State at 10-1, followed by TCU at 14-1. Texas Tech comes in at 20-1 odds, and West Virginia is next on the list at 66-1. The two programs with the longest odds to win the Big 12 this season are Iowa State and Kansas at 100-1.

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Nebraska Football: Tommy Armstrong Prepared to Be Leader the Cornhuskers Need

Tommy Armstrong is prepared to be the leader the Cornhuskers need. At Nebraska's Fan Day press conference, the quarterback wasn't shy to say so.

During his time at the podium, Armstrong reflected on the 2013 season and the need for him to be a leader going forward. He also acknowledged he was a little in over his head at times last season. It wasn't until his ankle injury during the Iowa game that it all began to click.

"I think it slowed down for me a lot after getting hurt and being able to sit and watch a little bit and see it all starts off with me,” Armstrong said. “As much as I want to panic sometimes, you don’t have to do that. Have trust in your teammates and everything will fall in place."

When pushed a little further on what exactly shifted his thinking, Armstrong continued to credit his injury.

“I think I needed the injury honestly. That kind of gave me a reality check, like nothing is guaranteed," he said. "You can’t just go out there and just play. You actually have to put in the work. I think last year I struggled in areas I could have fixed, but I felt like it was going to happen. I think this year I did a better job actually going out there and trying to fix them.”

Since then, Armstrong has used his time on and off the field to build his confidence.

He spent time with former NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who provided some insight to the sophomore. "(Favre) helped me out a lot," Armstrong said. "As far as just preparing for games and how to look at film, what to mainly look at."

From there, it's been all about working with the other Husker starters. Armstrong says that time has built chemistry between him and his teammates.

“Being around with the ones, it helps me get that chemistry down,” Armstrong said. “Being able to be that leader on and off the field and make the team stronger, because anybody can settle for just being good, but we have to strive for being great.”

While the chemistry grows, Armstrong has had to learn to not be so critical of himself. It's a point offensive coordinator Tim Beck has had to remind him of.

"Coach Beck always tells me, ‘Don’t be your biggest critic and don’t go out there and be hard on yourself all the time. That’s our job,'” Armstrong said. “I try not to do it, but sometimes I do it anyway.”

In addition to the injury and his fellow teammates, there is one specific person that has motivated Armstrong to become a better leader. That person happens to be a very beloved Nebraska running back.

"Ameer [Abdullah] told me that [I] was one of the reasons he came back this year. That really touched me that a veteran guy like that would tell me that,” Armstrong said. “That made me strive to be the best leader I can this year.”

During his time at the podium on Fan Day, Armstrong sounded more confident than ever. The expected starter didn't shy away from any topic and was very forthcoming with his answers.

The key message that Armstrong delivered? He wants to be the leader that the Huskers need.

After a win over Georgia in the 2014 Gator Bowl and a successful offseason, it appears Armstrong is on his way. With fall practice beginning, he knows it's now time to walk the walk.

There are bound to be some remaining growing pains for the sophomore, but fans can take comfort in Armstrong's demeanor. After all, if his confident attitude off the field transfers to the field, he truly will be the leader Nebraska needs.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand at Nebraska's Fan Day press conference.

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Why Marcus Mariota Is the Best QB Prospect in College Football

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

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

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

 

The Tale of the Tape

Height: 6'4"

Weight: 220 lbs

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

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

 

Accuracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pocket Presence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mechanics

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Football Intelligence (FBI) 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Athleticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Comparison

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

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

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

 

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

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Why Marcus Mariota Is the Best QB Prospect in College Football

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame Football: First Impressions from 2014 Fall Camp

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

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

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

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

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

 

No Denbrock is no problem...for now. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time to make special teams special again. 

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

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

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

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Georgia Football: Complete Preview for Bulldogs Offense and Defense

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

How good will each unit be?

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

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Nick Saban's Influence Already Apparent in Lane Kiffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiffin has always been a respected coach and coordinator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiffin is embracing the Saban way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good get for Malzahn and his staff.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Alabama Football: Complete Preview of Crimson Tide Defense

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

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Biggest Challenge for Each Top 2014 Heisman Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[DISH

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

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

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

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

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

What type of pressure will each quarterback feel this year?

 

Knight: Replicating the Sugar Bowl 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ash: Staying Healthy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who Is Under the Most Pressure: Knight

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

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

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

 

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

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