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Penn State Football: Anthony Zettel's Chance to Be Nittany Lions' Next Great DT

Since 2010, Penn State has earned a bit of a reputation by sending several defensive tackles to the NFL. In fact, if DaQuan Jones is drafted in the first three rounds of next week's NFL draft, he'll be the fourth Nittany Lion tackle to do so in the last five years.

Anthony Zettel might be next in line.

After spending his first two seasons in the rotation at defensive end, Zettel has added significant weight and is projected to be a starter at tackle in 2014. After playing at 258 pounds in 2013, Zettel weighed in at 274 during spring camp, but he isn't done yet, saying he "wants to put on about seven or eight more pounds of muscle before the season."

As a defensive end, Zettel was what you would call a high-motor player, being constantly disruptive behind the line of scrimmage.

In limited action as a true freshman, Zettel recorded 10 tackles, four of which were sacks.

He became a fan favorite last season by recording six tackles for loss, four sacks and a key interception against Michigan while backing up Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan.

The upfield aggression he plays with will be welcomed at defensive tackle, and having him on the field at the same time as Barnes and Olaniyan will create havoc on passing downs. The three of them have recorded 22 sacks over the last two seasons while rotating with each other.

The move inside came naturally for Zettel and conveniently fit what the coaches had in mind for the Michigan native. New head coach James Franklin was prepared to persuade him to make the move during the winter before learning that Zettel was already working on the switch.

“He’s excited about doing it; he wants to do it,” Franklin said, according to Josh Moyer of ESPN, adding, “I learned a long time ago, once it’s been sold, stop selling.” 

Zettel saw this move coming from afar, but the depth chart may have sped up the process ever so slightly.

"When I first got to Penn State, they recruited me as a D-End, but they knew in the future that I'd be a 3-tech [tackle]—that's just the way my body is. I knew that, and gaining the extra weight just helped solidify that."

The move couldn't have come at a more ideal time.

Penn State will have several experienced players in the rotation at end this year, and high school All-American Garrett Sickels will push everyone for snaps. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions lost their top two tackles from 2013 in DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz and were in need of bodies.

The path Zettel is taking has been walked before in Happy Valley.

Like Zettel, Devon Still was recruited out of high school as a 4-star defensive end, according to Rivals. He also started his Penn State career there before adding weight to his 6'5" frame and going on to be named an All-American as well as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year—an award previously won by Jared Odrick.

Zettel's aggressive style mirrors both Still and Odrick, who were disruptive interior linemen capable of taking over the line of scrimmage. 

Built tall and lean, similar to Odrick, Zettel looks to be in great shape and didn't show any signs of slowing down in the spring game while recording two tackles for loss with a bare midriff that drew laughs among the crowd.

His versatility and explosiveness could mean the world to a defensive front that is used to operating around a dominant tackle.

If this spring was any indication, Zettel will be that dominant tackle.

 

All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Gators Football: Final Winners and Losers from Spring Ball

It goes without saying that spring practice for the Florida Gators was a success. However, like everything in life, there were a handful of winners and losers during the first month of practices.

The winners likely overachieved or simply fulfilled expectations and were the stars for much of the event. The losers fell short in certain areas and will have their work cut out for them once fall camp begins in a couple of months.

There were certainly more positives than negatives, but everybody can’t be a winner at the end of the day.

Here are your winners and losers from the Gators spring practice.

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Georgia Football: What Bulldog Fans Need to Know About James DeLoach

The defensive line for the Bulldogs is in an interesting situation.

The depth is there for the unit to succeed, but the group is facing its third position coach in as many years, and there have been a handful of players who were recruited for one position and now have to adapt to another.

One of those players is defensive end James DeLoach. After playing outside linebacker the last two seasons, DeLoach is making the move to defensive end. He has a chance to be the starter, according to Gentry Estes of 247 Sports (membership required).

However, DeLoach was one of the four players arrested, then released, on theft-by-deception charges before spring practice began. DeLoach's status when it comes to the regular season remains to be seen, but he could be suspended for a game or two, which could hurt his chances of being the starter.

So the only thing DeLoach can do is to continue to impress the coaches during offseason workouts and preseason practices. DeLoach was able to thrive in the defensive end position during spring practices because he has speed and more fluidity than he did at outside linebacker. In the spring game, DeLoach only made one tackle, but he was rotating in with John Atkins.

DeLoach spent the last two seasons at outside linebacker; despite getting praise from his coaches during each preseason, it did not translate to the regular season as he has played in only 18 games and recorded eight tackles. And of those 18 games, DeLoach he made zero starts.

When DeLoach was in high school, he played defensive end and was considered a 3-star prospect by 247 Sports. He was also considered one of the top 50 prospects in Georgia, so the Bulldogs knew he was going to be a very nice addition to the team once he arrived on campus.

The problem is that DeLoach has yet to make that impact, prompting Jeremy Pruitt to move him to defensive end. He will have to take on more offensive linemen, but per 247 Sports (membership required), Pruitt told Estes that DeLoach has a high motor and always wants to make a play.

UGA names C David Andrews spring offensive MVP and LB Ramik Wilson defensive MVP. Most improved: OG Greg Pyke and DE James DeLoach.

— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) April 15, 2014

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker echoed these sentiments and said that he and Josh Dawson are two guys who stood out during the spring game.

DeLoach was named Defensive Most Improved Player at the conclusion of spring practice because of the work he put in over the course of the practice sessions. He started off slowly because he was learning the system, but once he got more reps, he started to get the hang of it.

Because the defensive line will be constantly rotating during preseason practices, there’s no telling if DeLoach will still be listed as the starter. But after two years of underachieving at linebacker, DeLoach has a chance for a new beginning and can really make an impact on defense.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arkansas Football: Defense Is Biggest Problem Standing in Way of an SEC Title

The Arkansas Razorbacks are far off from competing for an SEC championship, don't let the headline fool you. There is a laundry list of problems standing in the way of a conference title for the Hogs and head coach Bret Bielema

However, covering all those problems would take a very long time. So instead, we'll cover the biggest issue keeping Arkansas from winning its first SEC championship. 

Above anything else, the biggest obstacle standing in the Razorbacks' way of an SEC title is the defense. Some might think quarterback would be a problem, but it's one position. Brandon Allen had a great spring and there's good depth behind him. The defense as a whole is weak and the biggest problem.

Offense wins games, defense wins championships. It's an extremely cliche saying, but it's also very true.

When you think of the best and most consistent programs in the SEC, such as Alabama and LSU, a staple of them are tough, hard-nosed defenses. Even when their offenses don't have good games, their defenses shut down the other team.

One of the big problems is the sheer lack of physicality. You'd think they were afraid of tackling, which is saying a lot considering they are football players who play defense.

The physicality issue plagued the entire defense. The defensive line was pushed back repeatedly throughout the year, opening big holes for backs to get to the second level against a weak and thin linebacker unit. The D-line was not bad in passing situations but fizzled against the run, ranking 78th nationally in yards allowed per game (178.4).

The linebackers were probably the worst group on the defense. A lot of that can be contributed to pure inexperience, lack of depth and talent. 

The Hogs didn't have one linebacker with starting experience on their depth chart last year. That resulted in poor play for the group overall for the season, with the worst being their tackling. You know things are bad when college linebackers playing at a high-level Division I school have problems wrapping up and making a tackle.

Most of the time, the linebackers were either misreading plays, not getting off blocks or using weak arm tackles. It's fundamental things like this that are keeping the Arkansas defense from making big strides.

The secondary lacked physicality as well. The Hogs play a lot of man, which requires defensive backs to be physical, make good reads and stay with their man. Arkansas' defensive backs did the opposite, not playing physical, making bad reads and getting beat deep. 

What really stuck out for the defensive backs was them providing up to 10 yards of cushion for opposing wideouts. That led to the Hogs being eaten alive with underneath patterns and crossing routes. When they did line up close, wideouts were able to beat them deep with straight-line speed or faking the direction of the route.

The defensive backs have to get better at the bump and run in man coverage. Being physical at the snap can throw receivers off their routes. They also can't bite on fakes by receivers. They have to learn how to play physical and up close, but at the same time, go step for step with their man.

This physicality issue can be fixed through practicing hard, repetition and raising the talent level through recruiting, something Bielema and the staff are working hard on. 

It already looks as if the 2014 defense will be much better than last season's. 

The D-line looked great during the spring and has defensive end Trey Flowers (44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks in 2013) back for his senior year. At the other end is redshirt sophomore Deatrich Wise (17 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks), who Bielema spoke highly of to HawgSports.com's Trey Biddy:

He's a kid with unbelievable talent and a lot of god-given ability. He's definitely showing great, great signs. He's using his hands, he's being aggressive.

Wise has a great frame at 6'6", 267 pounds and made big impressions this spring, recording five touch sacks in scrimmages. Arkansas will have a formidable rush off the outside if Wise continues the path he's on. He will most likely be rotated a lot this season with redshirt sophomore Brandon Lewis (13 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks), who actually took more first-team reps this spring than Wise. 

Arkansas also has capable pass-rushing ends in Tevin Beanum and JaMichael Winston, giving them five ends they can rotate and good depth. 

The depth at defensive tackle isn't as good, but the talent is better than last year. Redshirt sophomore Darius Philon (46 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) had one of the best springs out of anyone on the team and showed that after a solid freshman campaign, he's ready to take the next step in 2014. 

The current depth chart on HawgSports has DeMarcus Hodge as the starter at defensive tackle alongside Philon. He's listed at 343 pounds, so he needs to lose some weight, but Hodge is good against the run and is an effective pass-rusher. 

True freshman Bijhon Jackson has a legitimate chance at starting over Hodge if he can't get into better shape. Jackson has the skills to step in and contribute immediately. If he ends up starting next to Philon, the defensive line would be athletic and the pass rush would be dangerous. 

You can also expect redshirt sophomore Taiwan Johnson to see the field a lot more at defensive tackle. He's undersized at 6'3", 263 pounds, but he's quick and has a good first step. He'll be used in passing downs quite a bit this season.

The linebackers should also be much improved despite the product in 2013. 

After a year of starting under his belt, Braylon Mitchell is set to take a giant leap forward for his senior year. He was second on the team in tackles last year with 77. He was good in pass coverage with three pass breakups, but you'd like to see him use that power and speed to make more plays behind the line.

In the middle, the Hogs have sophomore Brooks Ellis (33 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks), who is as physical as they come. He earned a starting spot later in the season and showed big-time potential. He's a sideline-to-sideline player and could be one of the best linebackers Arkansas has had in a while. 

However, one of the most talented players at the position is junior Otha Peters, who was injured most of the '13 season. Biddy had a good suggestion on how to put the three best guys out there:

Leave Peters at MIKE, move Ellis to WILL and move Martrell Spaight from WILL to SAM. Spaight may not love that move as he seems himself as more of an inside linebacker, but he is the only linebacker aside from Mitchell with the sideline-to-sideline speed to get the job done at SAM, and he is a bigger hitter than Mitchell. The only way Arkansas can get its best three linebackers on the field at the same time is if Peters is at MIKE, Ellis is at WILL and Spaight is at SAM.

Peters in the middle, Spaight at SAM and Ellis at WILL would put the three best on the field and be a huge upgrade from a physicality, skills and talent standpoint. All three are competent tacklers and good in pursuit of the ball. 

The secondary should be strong if all the experience pans out. Senior safety Alan Turner (97 tackles, two interceptions) and cornerback Tevin Mitchel (47 tackles, 3.0 TFL, interception) have a lot of experience and are playmakers. Mitchel has always had the talent to be an All-SEC performer but has struggled with tackling in space. Biddy wrote on his progress this spring:

Tevin Mitchel made strides this spring and has grown more as a team leader. This is a player who seems to have regressed from his freshman to junior season but is now a senior and at least in scrimmage work looked like the best cornerback on the field. That is a welcome sight because Mitchel has shown great potential in the past. His biggest problem to date has been poor decisions with tackling techniques in the open field. 

If junior cornerback Will Hines can use his strength and long arms to challenge receivers in press coverage, he could make the secondary much improved overall against the pass with Mitchel. Redshirt junior Rohan Gaines (33 tackles, 1.0 TFL) is listed as the other starter at safety. He has the experience, but redshirt freshman De'Andre Coley made huge plays this spring.

Coley has a very high ceiling and is good in pass coverage, but Gaines would give this secondary even more experience, which the Hogs need.

The 2014 version of the Arkansas defense looks to be better already and spring practice just ended. Don't get me wrong, it's still a long ways off from being good enough to help the program compete for a conference title. But, Bielema and his staff are teaching these kids how to play tough, physical defense that wins you ball games.

They are also putting together the pieces for a defense that can win the ugly games on days the offense just doesn't have it. Jackson, Ellis and Philon are excellent building blocks, and there's some serious talent already on board in the Class of '15. 

The Hogs are headed in the right direction on defense. With the young, athletic playmakers they have and talented recruits, Arkansas could finally have a great defense sooner rather than later.

 

All player stats courtesy of ArkansasRazorbacks.com.

Bryan Heater is the featured columnist for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team. Follow him on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clarifying Tre Mason's Wrist Injury and Surgery Talk

Last week, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport announced former Auburn University running back Tre Mason attended the NFL Scouting Combine medical recheck due to a lingering wrist injury. Specifically, Mason will reportedly need to undergo surgery to fuse a bone that is not healing properly.

Almost immediately after the news broke, Mason himself refuted the news via Twitter, stating he will "NOT be having any surgery"—and leaving many confused in the process.

Later on, Rapoport confirmed this author's suspicion that the bone in question is Mason's scaphoid. Presumably, it is not healing together well following a prior fracture—an unfortunately relatively common scenario for the scaphoid—leading to the above questions and apparent contradiction.

To clear up that confusion, let's take a brief detour into the anatomy textbooks.

A small bone close to the base of the thumb, the scaphoid is one of the many bones that make up the base of the hand and wrist.

Just like any other bone, the scaphoid can break. Often, it does so when an athlete falls onto his or her outstretched hand and uses the base of the palm to absorb the blow.

For example, imagine a defender hitting a running back on the right hip and leg, causing the back's lower body to move left and upper body to fall to the right. Instinct will usually take hold, making the runner attempt to catch himself with his right hand. If he also forcefully straightens his arm immediately prior to contact with the ground—preventing his elbow from bending and allowing his triceps to buffer against some of that contact—his hand and wrist will absorb nearly 100 percent of the impact.

If that force is too great, the scaphoid can suffer the consequences.

Scaphoid fracture prognoses can depend tremendously on the precise location of the injury. Breaks close to the thumb may heal quite well on their own, but those near the wrist may require surgery.

Why?

As is frequently the case for injuries, it comes down to blood flow.

For instance, on one extreme, injuries to areas with a rich blood supply—such as inside the mouth—can heal within a matter of days. On the other, injuries at sites without robust circulation—such as cartilage or muscle tendons—can linger for weeks, months or longer.

Some may even never heal at all.

Furthermore, blood supply can differ within the same tissue type. For example, the very outer rim of the crescent-shaped, shock-absorbing knee meniscus sports a significant amount of blood flow, whereas the inner portions do not.

Similarly, while the end of the scaphoid close to the thumb receives a reasonable amount of circulation, the part closer to the wrist receives much less. As such, fractures in the latter zone can fail to reunite via the body's normal healing process—a complication known as "nonunion."

Nevertheless, information surrounding Mason's specific injury is scarce, and exact medical details will probably not surface beyond the former Tiger's inner circle—as well as his future NFL team's medical staff.

That said, according to James Crepea of The Montgomery Advertiser, Mason played through the injury during at least three games. Rapoport also mentioned on Twitter that doctors discovered the issue during combine medical exams.

It's quite possible he unknowingly suffered the fracture well before the combine—perhaps even a matter of months—yet once exams revealed the injury, the game changed.

More than likely, teams asked Mason to return to the medical recheck to ascertain just how well the fracture is healing after an additional two months of recovery time—or how poorly.

What can be done for nonunion, if that is indeed the case?

When a scaphoid fracture appears to be heading toward nonunion, surgeons can surgically fuse the bone back together using metal hardware. Doing so helps prevent downstream complications such as arthritis, which can lead to chronic wrist stiffness and pain.

Hopefully for the talented Mason, it never gets to that point. After all, multiple experts expect big things for him at the next level.

Matt Miller—Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer—recently ranked Mason as the third-best overall running back prospect heading into next week's draft. Elsewhere, Dane Brugler and Rob Rang of CBS Sports project a second-round selection for the young star.

Yet from a medical standpoint, it seems at least some uncertainty remains—at least from the far outside looking in. NFL medical staffs are surely considering the possible need for bone-fusion surgery at some point in the future—if the decision is not already a foregone conclusion among some circles, that is.

Either way, if and when no unforeseen serious complications arise, Mason's initial NFL prospects should still ride high regardless of the final outcome of this story.

 

Dr. Dave Siebert is a resident physician at the University of Washington who plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football Recruiting: Can Charlie Strong Keep Patrick Vahe Away from LSU?

On national signing day 2014, brothers Maea and Sione Teuhema flipped from Texas to LSU. Their cousin, Patrick Vahe, remains committed to Charlie Strong and the Longhorns for the time being.

Vahe, a Longhorn pledge since July 2013, is a 4-star guard with elite mobility that jumps off the screen. But the happenings of the past two months have led to speculation that the 6'3" prospect could be the latest Longhorn commit to jump ship.

Sione Teuhema, a 3-star defensive end, was the first chip to fall when he made the surprising decision to sign with LSU on February 5. From there, it was only a matter of time before his brother, 5-star offensive tackle Maea Teuhema, switched his verbal to the Tigers' 2015 class. 

Just like that, Strong lost a high-upside member of his first recruiting class and, more importantly, the best player from his second season's haul. Even worse is that Vahe, who was primed to play next to Maea, was expected to follow suit and further cripple Texas' line of the future.

At least, that's what most would expect. The Tigers play in the SEC, have won 14 more games than Texas over the past four seasons and have had twice as many players drafted than the 'Horns heading into this year's draft. Texas hasn't even had an offensive lineman drafted since 2008.

But Vahe's flip never happened. As rumors swirled, mum was the word on him prior to Texas' junior day on February 28, three weeks after the Teuhemas flipped. Vahe attended, enjoying his first interaction with Strong and his coaching staff enough to tell Horns247 that he was "110 percent" still committed to the Longhorns.

Yet to visit any other programs, Vahe has offered nothing but reasons for optimism. While earning MVP honors at the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp, the surging prospect said his commitment to the Longhorns remained "solid" and shed some insight as to why he has not shopped around.

"At first, yeah," Vahe said about wanting to look elsewhere. "But after meeting with the coaching staff, I realized that Texas is where I want to be." More specifically, The Opening invitee seems to have taken a liking to offensive line coach Joe Wickline, characterizing him as a "cool dude" and calling his work at Oklahoma State "amazing."

The 2015 recruit is referring to Wickline's nine-year tenure in which the Cowboys produced two players named as Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. Over his 33-year career, Texas' new assistant has produced a total of eight All-Americans.

Herein lies Texas' biggest edge in retaining Vahe's commitment. The main goal for every recruit is to maximize his chances of reaching the NFL, and Wickline can point to the successes of former pupils, such as Russell Okung and Max Starks, as proof that he can do just that for Vahe. 

Sure, LSU offers Vahe the ability to play with his cousins. Just like Texas gives him the opportunity to reunite with Euless Trinity classmate Myles Turner, who just committed to play basketball in the burnt orange. But if another program were to enter the mix and present a better chance for him to become a professional player, then you have to believe that offer would take precedence.

Right now, Wickline and his credentials give Strong's team the edge heading into the summer. The head coach's job before next signing day is to continue to push this team and show some improvement next season.

So long as the results on the field indicate progress, Strong will ensure that Vahe's cousins will be the only members of the family to become LSU Tigers.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: 2014 NFL Draft Should End Tough Stretch for Buckeyes

Ohio State has a rich history of sending its players to the NFL, and only one school (USC) has produced more first-round selections than the Buckeyes.

Over the last several years, though, Ohio State has failed to produce that top-level talent.

The last time the Buckeyes had an exceptional draft class was in 2009, when four players—Malcolm Jenkins, Chris "Beanie" Wells, James Laurinaitis and Brian Robiskie—were selected in the first 36 picks. Jenkins (No. 14) and Wells (No. 31) were picked in the first round by New Orleans and Arizona, while Laurinaitis (No. 35) and Robiskie (No. 36) were taken near the top of the second round by St. Louis and Cleveland.

Since the 2009 draft, only one former Buckeye has been drafted in the first 36 picks. In 2011, Pittsburgh selected Cameron Heyward at No. 31. The next highest pick over the last four years came in last year's draft when the New York Giants selected Johnathan Hankins at No. 49.

That drought should end very soon.

A trio of Buckeyes stand a great chance of going high in next week's draft. Ryan Shazier is rated one of the top outside linebackers in this year's class. Bradley Roby has true lockdown ability at cornerback—a coveted skill in the pass-happy NFL—which makes him a valuable commodity. Carlos Hyde is considered by most as the best running back available, comparing favorably to Eddie Lacy, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year.

In a pair of mock drafts from Bleacher Report's Eric Galko and Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, both Shazier and Roby were slated as first-round picks. In WalterFootball.com's latest projection, all three are projected as first-round selections.

That is, of course, if Roby's latest run in with the law doesn't cost him.

It was reported last week that Roby was cited for operating a vehicle while impaired in downtown Columbus. He pled guilty to a reduced charge and now has to serve 30 days of probation, three days in a driver intervention program and pay a $375 fine, according to Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports.

In the end, this incident could cost him much more if he slips down the draft board.

Still, Ohio State should be represented very well in New York next week. 

Despite not producing many high picks, Buckeyes have been drafted with a high consistency over the last five years.

According to Sean Merriman of the Big Ten Network, Ohio State and Iowa are tied for producing the most draft picks since 2009. 

 

Of those 23 Buckeyes selected, though, 15 were picked in Rounds 4 through 7. Compare that to Alabama's 33 overall draft picks during the same time, 20 of which came in the first two rounds, and it's clear that Ohio State has some ground to cover.

That starts next week when Shazier, Roby and Hyde hope to hear their names called on the first night of the draft.

 

All draft information via NFL.com.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Football: Projecting Post Spring 2-Deep Depth

With spring practice finished and summer camp just around the corner, Penn State head coach James Franklin now has a better idea of what his depth chart looks like.  

For the most part, there shouldn't be any major roster surprises for Nittany Lions fans come August. Besides the quarterback, offensive line and some of the specialists, most position groups will do a lot of subbing anyway to keep legs fresh. Usually, players listed in the top two or three spots at one of those given positions will play on a weekly basis. 

Here's a projection of what Penn State's two-deep depth chart will look like come the fall.

Note: Bold indicates a returning starter, while italics indicate a first-year player. These are true freshmen, as well as prep school and JUCO transfers.

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Nebraska Football: Projecting Post-Spring 2-Deep Depth Chart

Now that Nebraska football fans are preparing to go into the long summer before the college football season, it’s a good time to see how NU’s two-deep depth chart might look after the end of spring practice. Of course, much of this is conjecture, with injuries and newly arriving players doing much to change how this depth chart may look come August.

But let’s at least make our best guess as to what Nebraska’s two-deep depth chart looks like at this stage.

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Oklahoma State Football: Will 2014 Be a Return to Form for 'Running Back U'?

The Oklahoma State Cowboys have a long tradition of fielding quality running backs. From Thurman Thomas to Barry Sanders, Vernand Morency, Kendall Hunter, Joseph Randle and all the other guys in between, the Cowboys have consistently produced 1,000-yard rushers and NFL draft picks.

However, 2013 was a bit of a regression from those lofty standards. Obviously, a slight downtick had to be expected with Randle moving onto the NFL, but many felt that Jeremy Smith could become another great Oklahoma State running back.

After all, he had consistently produced a high yards per carry and a more than respectable amount of touchdowns in backup duty. 

That, as we now know, didn't come to pass.

In fact, 2013 represents one of the worst statistical seasons by Oklahoma State rushers since the 21st century began.

This past season was the first time since 2006 that the Cowboys' leading rusher didn't break the 1,000-yard mark. Further, it was the first time since 2001 that Oklahoma State's leading rusher averaged less than five yards per carry. Not the kind of stats you want to be remembered by.

The one bright spot was that the touchdowns were still there, as Oklahoma State rushers put the ball in the end zone 35 times in 2013. 

All told, it was a significant downturn in performance from Oklahoma State's backfield.

However, there is a (potential) light at the end of the tunnel Oklahoma State fans. True, Mike Gundy's Cowboys aren't likely to go back to the days when the passing and rushing game were putting up nearly exact yardage totals, but this year's running backs might be able to make opponents fear the Pokes' rushing attack again.

You see, with Smith no longer in the lineup, that means Desmond Roland can take over as the lead back. Roland's 2013 campaign was a little up and down, but his time as a starter showed that his positives outweigh his negatives.

Roland looks like a starting running back, especially when you watch the tape of his performances against Iowa State and Oklahoma. If he can just become more consistent, the Cowboys might have an All-Big 12 rusher on their hands.

And Roland isn't the only guy who could be turning heads this year. We've already heard about how fast Tyreek Hill is, but it's his skill at catching the ball out of the backfield that should have fans really excited. 

Think about it. If the Oklahoma State coaching staff can figure out a way (and I believe they will) to get Roland, Hill and J.W. Walsh in the backfield at the same time, they'll have one of the more dynamic backfield combinations in the Big 12. 

In addition to these two big-time players, the Pokes have a bevy of players who could all contribute.

Rennie Childs showed that he has what it takes to compete at this level in limited time last year. And while Caleb Muncrief is less proven, he knows the scheme well and could see more carries come his way in 2014.

Then there's Jeremy Seaton, who will be attempting to replace Kye Staley at the fullback/tight end position. Seeing as how the young man checks in 6'2" and 250 pounds, I think it's safe to say that he'll probably do fine at that position.

And finally, there are two incoming freshman, Devon Thomas and Sione Palelei, who might have a chance to contribute. Thomas, in particular, looks like he might see quite a few carries in 2014.

Thomas is a big body who comes into Stillwater as a power back with some speed, making it easy to see him take over Jeremy Smith's role as the goal-line and short-yardage specialist in his inaugural season.

Palelei probably won't get quite as many looks during his freshman season as Thomas, but he does possess solid speed and might make an impact as a returner. (Though that position looks loaded for 2014.)

That's seven guys who all look like they could be contributors in 2014. Of course, "look" is the key word in that sentence. We'll only know how good this Cowboys backfield is once they finally take the field this fall.

However, the pieces are there for a return to the quality running back corps of Oklahoma State's past. Look for Roland to top 1,000 yards in his first season as the full-time starter, while Hill makes a bid to lead the team in all-purpose yards. And don't be surprised to see Thomas creep toward 10 touchdowns. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pros and Cons of 4-Star QB Kyler Murray's Top Schools

Kyler Murray is a 5-star dual-threat quarterback from Texas who plays for powerhouse Allen High School. Although he lacks ideal size at 5'11" and 170 pounds, Murray makes up for it in other areas.

The Texan is a smart passer who has solid mechanics. Murray consistently delivers accurate strikes to his targets with above-average arm strength, and he also has the mobility to make plays with his legs.

Many schools are after him, but Greg Powers of Scout.com reported in April that Murray has narrowed his list to five finalists. Before he reaches a decision, he will have to look at the pros and cons of each of his top schools.

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Winners and Losers from the College Football Recruiting Trail for April

May is here, which means the month of April has come and gone. The 2015 recruiting cycle is moving along at a good pace, with summer being just around the corner.

April was a great month of recruiting for some programs. However, a few are more than happy May has started. A Big 12 program lost a couple of key commitments last month, while its in-state rival scored a huge pledge from a talented prospect.

A dominant SEC team delivered a strong message on the recruiting trail in April. Yet, its archnemesis also had a solid month of recruiting.

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Alabama Football: Why AJ McCarron Is 2014 NFL Draft's Most Intriguing Prospect

Upon first glance at AJ McCarron’s Twitter bio, it’s hard not to notice one phrase he’s coined into a hashtag: #pissedoffforgreatness.

After all, the slogan aptly describes his football career up to this point and simultaneously provides a summation of his attitude toward critics who dismiss his potential as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

But can he find the same type of success he had in college, where he piled up a 36-4 record as the Tide’s starter and two national titles, in the NFL? That question is part of what makes him the most polarizing player heading into next week’s NFL draft.

Phil Savage, who serves as the radio analyst for Alabama football and doubles as the executive director of the Senior Bowl, had a front-row seat to watch McCarron over the course of his college career.

While he feels the best-case NFL scenario for McCarron—who redshirted in his first year in college and was a backup his second year before ultimately starting in his third season—is to sit and learn for at least a year before challenging for a starting job, Savage cited McCarron’s performances in the two BCS title games as evidence of his capability to shine on the biggest of stages.

“If you really watch Alabama’s games, when the chips were down, he seemed to rise up and make more plays than what he’s probably been given credit for,” Savage said.

There’s two vastly different viewpoints on the former Alabama star quarterback’s potential at the next level.

Either he’s an incredibly underrated passer who is a sound decision-maker that can make all of the throws and possesses elite intangible qualities, or he’s Nick Saban’s caretaker on a team loaded with NFL talent surrounding him.

For fans and draft experts alike, there’s simply no in-between.

Hence the ensuing banter after McCarron recently stated that NFL teams have told him he has a chance to be a first-round selection, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. That nugget counters the opinion on his stock from outlets such as CBS Sports, which has McCarron projected as a fourth-rounder.

Savage said the mixed opinions on McCarron’s pro prospects likely extend to all of the front offices around the NFL.

“I’ve been saying this on the Crimson Tide Sports Network for over a year, that if all 32 NFL teams submitted a grade on AJ McCarron, it would look like a bell curve,” Savage said. “You would have maybe one or two teams that would have him in the first round. You would have maybe one or two teams that have him in the sixth round. The vast majority of the teams I’ve spoken to have him somewhere between the second and fourth round.”

Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports, who also spent time in the NFL as a coach and as an executive, feels McCarron’s strengths make him an attractive option for teams in the market for a franchise quarterback.

McCarron is better than a game manager, as he is often described. ... He throws a catchable ball and reminded me a bit of a Brad Johnson or Matt Schaub with his style. He does some of the subtle things like looking off safeties and lets coverage dictate where to go with the ball. He could run a traditional NFL offense and I don't think it's fair to group him with former Alabama quarterbacks Greg McElroy or John Parker Wilson.

In a quarterback class where none of the top passers—players such as Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater, all of whom have consistently been rated higher than McCarron—have separated themselves, McCarron’s resume and skill set should take a backseat to no one.

As an added bonus, his ability to handle the pressure at a football-crazed school such as Alabama and playing for a coach such as Saban is the closest simulation a college quarterback can get to being the face of an NFL franchise.

Saban, via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, is on record warning NFL teams about passing up his former star passer in the draft. 

I think anybody that doesn’t take A.J. in one of those earlier rounds is going to make a huge mistake, because I think he’s going to be a very, very good player. First of all, he has all the athletic talent to make all the throws that he needs to make at the next level. ... Guys who can make quick decisions, process the information and throw the ball accurately are the guys that usually end up being pretty good NFL quarterbacks.

Great quarterbacks often have a characteristic that separates them from their peers, and perhaps McCarron’s best attribute is the anger and determination he brings to the field.

Every touchdown pass and every victory he’s ever led his team to is the sweetest revenge to his naysayers.

Could the same fate await the teams who pass on him in the draft?

Maybe. Maybe not.

One thing that is certain is that McCarron has made a habit of achieving great feats on the gridiron in the face of doubters and adversity.

In other words, being “pissed off for greatness” has prepared him for the journey of finding success in the NFL.

 

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Miami Football: 3 Freshmen Who Could Steal Starting Spots in Fall Camp

The Miami Hurricanes signed the No. 12 class during the 2014 recruiting cycle, and a few signees could steal starting spots during fall camp.

Not including Kc McDermott and the eight other players already on campus challenging for No. 1 jobs, the incoming prospects will compete with current starters.

Offensively, quarterback is the biggest question mark, and the 'Canes are waiting on a highly touted player to arrive in Coral Gables, Fla.

On the defensive side, a pair of linemen will help solidify important positions that are striving to overcome a recent history of underperformance.

 

Chad Thomas, Defensive End

It's no secret Miami needs consistent production from the defensive line. Highlighted by the emergence of Ufomba Kamalu, Earl Moore and Calvin Heurtelou, the overall unit appeared to improve steadily throughout spring practice.

But that doesn't mean a true freshman cannot and will not enter the fray, as evidenced by the post-spring depth chart listing 10 players as co-starters. If that's not the definition of open competition, I'm not sure what is.

The lone 5-star commit in the class, local Booker T. Washington product Chad Thomas is already subjected to enormous expectations.

As seen in the accompanying video, Thomas is an absolute force off the edge, and Miami will not waste a player of his caliber. Plus, at 6'5" and 240 pounds, Thomas is physically prepared for the next level but has plenty of room to add bulk.

Though he's not enrolled yet, Thomas is already mentioned behind Kamalu and Anthony Chickillo on the depth chart. Chickillo has been underwhelming through three seasons, and Kamalu is an unproven commodity, so Thomas will have a legitimate chance to overtake the current Hurricanes.

Opposite speed rushers Al-Quadin Muhammad and Tyriq McCord, Thomas showcases similar explosive burst at the line of scrimmage and the strength to drive offensive linemen backward. 

If Kamalu and Chickillo struggle during the summer or fall, Thomas will be closing the gap even quicker than expected and may steal a starting spot.

 

Michael Wyche, Defensive Tackle

His road to Miami has been adventurous, but Michael Wyche will be joining the team in mid-May.

Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald noted Wyche decommitted from 'The U' due to an "obscure ACC rule" demanding three consecutive semesters at the same junior college. Much to the satisfaction of the Hurricanes, however, Wyche rejoined the 2014 class a few days later.

This season, Wyche will be classified as a junior, working his way up the depth chart behind Moore and Heurtelou.

While no one would complain, the Hurricanes are not requiring a Vince Wilfork-like D-tackle. They just want someone who demands a double-team blocking assignment once in a while, allowing the linebackers to make tackles as opposed to shedding offensive linemen of their own.

And with the rotation Miami employs on its defensive line, Wyche will receive numerous chances to demonstrate his worth in the trenches.

 

Brad Kaaya, Quarterback

If you are a regular Miami follower on Bleacher Report, you've heard me reiterate the probability—or lack thereof—that 4-star signee Brad Kaaya wins the starting job.

"For Kaaya to play he has to get to school this summer, gain a functional understanding of the playbook and push to pull even with Olsen," Bleacher Report's Michael Felder said.

In rare cases, true freshmen quarterbacks arrive on campus, immediately challenge for the position and win the competition, like Christian Hackenberg at Penn State last season. But in reality, Matt McGloin graduated, and the 5-star was simply handed the reins in State College, Pa.

The overlying factor is the proper opportunity presented itself for Hackenberg, and he capitalized. Fortunately for Kaaya, though, he is entering a relatively comparable situation Miami.

Stephen Morris? Graduated. Ryan Williams? Sidelined. Kevin Olsen? Learning.

"Given what we have seen out of Olsen, some good and some bad," Felder said, "there is opportunity for [Kaaya] to claw his way into the mix. He played some pro style looks in high school and will bring quality skills to Coral Gables."

Enough quality skills that Dieter Kurtenbach of the South Florida Sun Sentinel believes Kaaya is the type of player who returns the "Quarterback U" moniker to South Florida.

But, again, becoming a transcendent player under center upon arrival is extremely difficult—just ask Jimmy Clausen. Playing behind Olsen would not destroy Kaaya's potential; in fact, Felder believes it would be beneficial for both Kaaya and Miami.

"I don't think he passes Olsen," Felder said. "Ultimately, the best thing for the 'Canes is for Kaaya to redshirt, Williams to return and contribute and Golden's team gets to spring 2015 with Kaaya and Olsen fighting it out in the true quarterback battle that Williams' injury did not allow for this year."

Plus, if Kaaya manages to take a redshirt season in 2014, that means he's still around in 2018, when Williams will be long gone and Olsen's eligibility has expired. And that is certainly an intriguing thought at The U.

 

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Power Ranking the Best Teams in the Pac-12 South

It can't be ignored.

After years of hoopla claiming that the SEC is the dominant college football conference, the recent success of teams on the West Coast has folks starting to take notice of powerhouse programs in the Pac-12.

Over the last several years, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA have all stepped up, while sanctions have forced former annual national title contender USC to take a few steps back.

With the hiring and firing of several coaches, the dynamic within the Pac-12 continues to evolve, and teams that were once discounted as underachievers have begun to rise to prominence.

Let's take a look at the best and worst South Division teams heading into the 2014 season, as well my pick for the division winner.

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Power Ranking the Best Teams in the Pac-12 South

It can't be ignored. After years of hoopla claiming that the SEC is the dominant college football conference, the recent success of teams on the West Coast has folks starting to take notice of powerhouse programs in the Pac -12...

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Tennessee Football: Final Winners and Losers from Spring Ball

Tennessee's spring practice closed with a whirlwind Orange-and-White Game where points were scored at a dizzying pace, and concerns were compounded about a defense already riddled with questions.

Even so, head coach Butch Jones noted on several occasions since that he was pleased with the team's progress.

The Vols are young, and they're more talented than they were a season ago, but there are still plenty of the potholes that come along the long road of rebuilding a program.

"It's like I tell our football team: The team that has the most talent doesn't necessarily win," Jones told The Daily Beacon's Dargan Southard and Troy Provost-Heron in his post-spring Q&A.  "It's the team that has the best team…

"We only have 12 seniors on our football team right now, so leadership from everyone, every class is going to be at a premium."

The Vols are looking for leaders. They're looking for consistency. And they're looking for playmakers. Some of those were found this spring; some weren't.

Let's take a look at the Vols' post-spring winners and losers.

Quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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College Football Teams That Had Highest 2014 Spring Game Attendance

One of the most fun parts of spring football season has always been ranking—and making a fuss about—which schools did or didn't get a good turnout at their spring game, which is how we know that (a) we are all certifiably insane, and (b) we need the regular season to get here pronto.

Alas, we are still four months away from having real college football games to talk about, which means spring attendance numbers are about the best we can do. 

We need something to pass that time, don't we?

In truth, the spring attendance numbers are a good barometer of how a city feels about its program. Because the game means nothing, a team that draws significantly more or less viewers one season than the last is often trending hard in a certain direction.

Last year, for example, Kentucky was the story of the offseason after drawing 50,831 viewers to a spring football game at a basketball school. And even though that number came down a bit (to 35,117) in 2014, the trappings of support were enough to help Mark Stoops land a seminal recruiting class in Lexington.

Was there another UK in 2014? Here is the current top 10.

 

Note: All 2014 attendance numbers via Michael Casagrande of AL.com. All 2013 attendance numbers via Steven Muma of SB Nation. 

Note II: Oregon and Oregon State play their spring games May 3. We will update this list accordingly if/when their attendance numbers are released.

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Top 10 College-Ready Defenders in 2015 Recruiting Class

The 2015 recruiting class features a fresh crop of dynamic defensive playmakers. From front line to backfield, future college standouts are easy to identify when examining this latest collection of impressive prospects.

While some players require significant refinement and time on the sidelines during a transition to the next level, others already appear ready to make an immediate impact. We rank the top 10 defensive recruits who are prepared to hit the ground running when they face collegiate competition.

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Like It or Not, Nebraska's Prime-Time-Heavy Schedule Ups Pressure in 2014

Take a look at Nebraska's 2014 schedule. Notice something?

It should become apparent pretty quickly for Husker fans. After a 2013 season with only one night game (the home opener versus Wyoming), Nebraska now has five prime-time games in a row in 2014. That's quite the change in schedule from one year over the next.

Since the game-time announcements, the reactions have been mixed.

For example, wide receiver Kenny Bell was not pleased. As College Spun reported, Bell took to Twitter to share his frustration over all of the night games. He eventually dropped the subject, but it definitely got fans' attention at the time:

As for the Omaha World Herald's Dirk Chatelain, he questioned what so many night games would do to ticket holders:

When the Huskers are hosting Illinois at 8 p.m. on Big Ten Network, that’s asking too much of your ticket-holders. Those from Omaha or Grand Island, for instance, won’t be getting home until 1 or 2 a.m. Is it really worth it to watch Illinois?

Sooner or later, they’ll say 'Why don’t we just stay home?'

Both Bell and Chatelain make valid points, which led to a bigger discussion of the pressure prime-time games put on a program. A schedule full of them definitely ups the ante for head coach Bo Pelini and his team.

Prime-time games haven't been the friendliest to Nebraska in recent years. For instance, the 2012 season is the most telling. The Huskers lost in prime time to UCLA, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Nebraska also fell to Wisconsin in prime time in 2011, too.

And beyond just the prime-time games, there's always the chance ESPN's College GameDay may roll into town for the matchup with Miami. That's pure speculation at this point, but it wouldn't be crazy to assume the classic rivalry isn't on the short list of possibilities. If that were to happen, it would only add additional pressure.

After all, Nebraska hosted College GameDay in 2007, only to lose, 49-31, to USC. As for the Wisconsin game in 2011, the popular preview show was in Madison to watch the Huskers lose, 48-17. Needless to say, the prime-time factor has not been kind to Nebraska recently.

That has to put a little pressure on Pelini and staff. But like it or not, it's the reality Nebraska must face.

Additionally, it's important the Huskers get comfortable in prime time. At the end of the day, it's good for recruiting, and it's good for national exposure.

It's safe to assume the Miami game will entice plenty of recruits to town. The prime-time atmosphere will give those players a great opportunity to see Nebraska at its finest, and it will be imperative for the Huskers to win. As Pelini looks to secure one of his best recruiting classes in 2015, a big win at home under the lights can't hurt.

Needless to say, a lot of fans are concerned about prime-time games for more reasons than tailgating all day and staying up late. Many fans remember those prime-time games gone wrong and have found the Huskers tend to fare better in earlier time slots.

That may sound crazy, but after quite a few big losses in prime time, it's hard to not feel the pressure.

But there is good news. As the Lincoln Journal Star pointed out, the Huskers are actually in a much better position than fans assume, as "Nebraska is 39-5 in night games at Memorial Stadium since the first one against Florida State in 1986. The Huskers have won 13 in a row in such a setting."

That's right. Despite the losses in prime time on the road, Nebraska has performed well during that time slot at home. That means Miami and Illinois have the odds in the Huskers' favor.

As for Fresno State, Michigan State and Northwestern, Nebraska will be battling to overcome the prime-time curse (for lack of a better word) that follows the team on the road.

Prime-time games add pressure, regardless of the team. Pelini is in the same spot as any other team with a prime-time game. It just feels different for Husker fans because some of the biggest losses in recent years have come at the hands of a prime-time game.

So the pressure is on in 2014 as the season of early kickoffs is gone. Can the Huskers beat the pressure? Like it or not, they're going to have to.

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