On the surface, it sounds revolutionary. A major step forward in the welfare of college football players.
Last week, Southern California sent ripples across the college football landscape when it announced that it would begin offering guaranteed four-year scholarships to football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players, as reported by Everett Cook for the Los Angeles Times.
"In taking this action, USC hopes to help lead the effort to refocus on student-athlete welfare on and off the field," USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement.
The Big Ten followed suit by issuing a statement reaffirming its stance on offering four-year scholarships, which it actually adopted in 2012.
As recently as 2010, all NCAA scholarships were renewed on a year-by-year basis before legislation passed allowed (but did not require) programs to offer four-year scholarships.
Does it matter? Should more college football programs offer four-year scholarships to recruits? Is it the wave of the future or simply a good public relations gesture that covers up a larger problem?
One prominent college football recruiting analyst says the ripple is just that. A ripple.
“The Big Ten will sell it to every kid, and if parents bring it up, they’ll brag about it a lot,” said Kipp Adams, a 247Sports national recruiting insider with a focus on Southeastern recruiting. “But I think it’s a leaf in the wind. I don’t see it being a big deal in recruiting.”
As Ed O’Bannon’s landmark antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA wraps up arguments, player welfare has become a hot topic, along with topics like player payments and paying “full cost of attendance.”
Four-year scholarships are a natural step. The Big Ten, for example, will guarantee its scholarships even if players are no longer able to compete or if they leave early for a professional career. League institutions will also cover “full cost of a college education, as defined by the federal government” and feature improved medical insurance.
Adams, who is based in the Atlanta area and has spent eight years as a recruiting analyst, says the topic hasn’t registered much with the prospects he speaks with on a regular basis.
“Maybe one or two kids mentioned it the week it came out, but I never heard it mentioned as a factor in a decision,” he said. “It’s had little to no effect.”
Ten of the 14 current SEC schools supported the four-year scholarship proposal when it narrowly survived an override proposal in 2012. Alabama, LSU, Tennessee and Texas A&M did not, although Alabama coach Nick Saban later said that his program would offer four-year scholarships.
However, according to a 2013 report by the Chronicle Of Higher Education, only six programs (Florida, Ohio State, N.C. State, Michigan State, Arizona State and Auburn) had offered at least 24 four-year scholarships in the most recent academic year.
Do those promises really matter? Adams thinks programs will find plenty of other ways to manage their rosters.
“If the coach doesn’t want you anymore, doesn’t think you’re up to the part, they’ll switch your position, tell you you’ll never see the field, bury you on the depth chart,” he said. “There’s always the medical disqualification, although the SEC has an oversight committee that makes sure they’re all medically proper decisions.
“There’s always the ‘violation of team rules’, and it’s such a vague rule. They can make life miserable for you, and say if you’re tardy for two team study halls, they’ll say you’re off the team, changing times so you don’t even know when the study hall is. They’ll practice you at different times other than the rest of the team, tell them they’ll never see the field. Kids will transfer on their own.”
SEC coaches, Adams says, have plenty to sell beyond four-year scholarships.
“They’ll make sure to put it in the back of any prospect’s mind,” he said. “They’ll talk about production, the NFL, the quality of education, the assistance they’ll give kids and graduation rate, and that’s all they need to push to guys,” he said.
"College coaches are recruiters as much as coaches and they’re really good at their job. If parents bring it up, they’ll go to the retention rate, graduation rates, NFL rates and hammer that home. (Parents) will forget why they brought it up. That’s why they’re great at their jobs, why they get paid the salaries they do.”
If anything, the scholarships will only expand the gap between college football’s “haves” (the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) and its “have-nots” (everyone else).
It is another opportunity for big-time programs to flex their financial muscles and take advantage of the huge television contracts they’ve signed.
Four-year scholarships are also excellent public relations and a way to show the general public that major programs care about student-athletes.
However, even if guaranteed scholarships gain major acceptance across college football, there’s no denying that coaches will still find a way to prune their rosters of the unwanted, one way or another.
More programs should offer four-year scholarships, but that doesn’t mean that college football will be fundamentally changed.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
*Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace
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The 5'10", 185-pound blazer out of DeSoto, Texas, is primed for a breakout year after a quiet freshman season.
Meyer recruited Wilson to bring speed and playmaking ability to a group of skill-position players that desperately needed it. The former 4-star all-purpose back piled up 2,645 yards of total offense and 46 touchdowns as a high school senior—showcasing the versatility the Buckeyes coveted.
Wilson committed to Ohio State in February 2013 and flashed his potential during fall camp, but when the season kicked off, his opportunities were limited.
Meyer had one of the best pairs in college football with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. With that pair sharing a backfield, Wilson was used mainly as a decoy to distract the defense away from the real action.
“I just didn’t feel like I was that involved,” Wilson said, according to Daniel Rogers of The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper. “Basically most of the plays I was pretty much just faking and fly sweeping and the defense would bite and we would throw it downfield."
He still found ways to produce.
Wilson rushed for 250 yards and hauled in 22 receptions for 210 yards to complement three total touchdowns. On most occasions, Ohio State would move him around pre-snap to take a defender out of the box. A few times a game, however, Miller found him in space.
The Buckeyes will need much more from him this year.
Ohio State must replace its leading rusher in Hyde, who ran for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns in just 11 games. The Buckeyes also need someone to step up in place of Corey Brown, who graduated after leading the team in receiving yards in each of the last two seasons.
Replacing that production can't be put on the shoulders of one player, but the coaching staff is turning its attention to Wilson in order to reshape the team's offensive identity.
Last year, the Buckeyes leaned on Hyde and four senior starters along the offensive line to grind things out on the ground. This year, the Buckeyes are strongest on the perimeter, where speed abounds.
With that speed, Meyer is implementing new wrinkles to the offense, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors.
As bad as we want an offensive line like we had last year, it’s going to take a while to develop that. I think at some point because we recruited well and our line coach that it’ll happen. But we’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs, where last year when you rush for 300-plus yards a game it’s because that offensive line was so good. We have other weapons, but it will have a different taste to it than last year.
Wilson, who won the starting H-back position during spring practice, is ready to become Ohio State's most lethal weapon. Wide receivers coach Zach Smith feels that he's ready for that role.
"That's what our offense does - gets the ball to great players," Smith said, via Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "Dontre will hopefully fit that mold because he has the ability to be a great player and he is taking strides toward that."
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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The concept of the "Big Three" is more familiar to basketball fans than it is to football fans, but that doesn't mean the latter can't incorporate it.
Although some teams' two best players play the same position, though, the greatest "Big Threes" are the ones like the San Antonio Spurs': evenly balanced at different spots. Having Tony Parker at point guard, Manu Ginobili/Kawhi Leonard on the wing and Tim Duncan in the post is the basketball equivalent of having a quality performer at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
That got us thinking about the best offensive "Big Threes" in college football. Based solely on their top QB, RB and WR—not their depth at those positions—which teams are best set up for success in 2014?
The "in 2014" is an operative part of that sentence. This is a projection of how each unit will perform next season, not a forecast toward the following years. LSU and Texas A&M, for example, have a couple of blue-chip true freshmen being counted on at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. That might make them dangerous in 2015 and 2016, but next season it is more likely to result in growing pains.
Also bear in mind that the quarterback position, by virtue of being the most important on the field, was weighted more heavily than running back and wide receiver. A great quarterback can compensate for a merely decent supporting cast in a way that a great supporting cast cannot compensate for a merely decent quarterback.
Ultimately, the guiding principle for this list was: Assuming you know nothing about your team's defense, offensive line, coaching staff or depth, which triad of players would you feel more comfortable starting a team with from scratch for the upcoming season?
Sound off below, and let me know where you disagree.
Georgia’s struggles on defense in 2013 were just as well-documented as the attrition that has plagued the unit’s secondary this offseason.
That degree of negative sentiment is in direct conflict with the optimism surrounding the arrival of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and the end result is a general uneasiness concerning the defense.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, rising sophomore Leonard Floyd is braced for impact in 2014 and if the season goes as many experts anticipate, Floyd will prove to be the Dawgs’ X-factor this season.
Floyd arrived in Athens last summer as the nation’s fifth-best prep school product, according to the 247Sports Composite. It didn’t take long for his size and athleticism to catch the eye of coaches and fans alike. In fact, he registered his first of eight starts in the season opener at Clemson.
When his productive freshman campaign was complete, he’d tallied 55 total tackles (including 6.5 sacks), intercepted one pass and forced two fumbles. Not surprisingly, he was selected to the SEC All-Freshman Team.
Breakout Season Ahead
Now, Floyd is preparing to have an even bigger sophomore campaign, and his new defensive coordinator may enable him to do so. While Pruitt’s arrival has been hailed as a coup for a defensive secondary in desperate need of relief, his new scheme will also benefit players like Floyd.
“I love it,” Floyd told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald about Pruitt’s new system. “[I] Don’t have to think as much. All I’ve got to do is think about rushing.”
For a player whose greatest physical attributes are speed, explosiveness and an ability to use length to create leverage, focusing on chasing the quarterback has to be a welcomed change. And now Floyd, who will line up at both defensive end and his typical outside linebacker post, will get to do just that. 2014 will bring less dropping into coverage and more chasing the passer for Floyd.
Apparently the promise Floyd showed as a freshman and his newly simplified (but more aggressive) role under Pruitt has captured the attention of a number of experts and their preseason award lists.
Athlon Sports named Floyd to its All-SEC second team as an outside linebacker. Meanwhile, prognostication guru Phil Steele named Floyd as a Preseason All-America selection, according to GeorgiaDogs.com.
Such high praise is likely not a surprise from his teammates. Fellow linebacker Amarlo Herrera told Seth Emerson of Macon’s The Telegraph simply, “Floyd, he’s so fast, and so athletic.”
Defensive end Ray Drew offered more detail to Weiszer, saying, “Leonard Floyd is a man. He’s awesome. Violence off the ball with his hands. For an offensive lineman, he’s a nightmare. He’s quick, he’s powerful. He’s a presence off the edge, great in this defense.”
Great for This Defense
The hope, of course, is that Floyd isn’t merely great in this defense but that he is great for this defense.
The woes of the secondary will remain a factor until on-field performance proves otherwise. For the time being, one full-time starter (Damian Swann) returns to a mediocre secondary that will be looking to fill vacancies with veterans who failed to take ownership of starting spots in years past and green newcomers.
To be sure, the tutelage of Pruitt and the simplification of the scheme will help, but the defense’s weakness will be in the secondary.
If Floyd can develop into one of the nation’s most elite pass-rushers, some pressure will be taken off the fragile defensive backfield. If he can terrorize quarterbacks with relentless pursuit and consistently collapse pockets with his potent combination of size, speed and tenacity, he will give the secondary time to develop.
For a Georgia team with very few questions on offense and a plethora of talent returning in the front seven of the defense, development of the secondary could make or break the entire 2014 campaign. Ironically, it could be up a hybrid linebacker/defensive end who enables that to happen.
A lot hinges on Leonard Floyd this season.
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The Florida Gators are just one of many teams that have benefited greatly off of true freshmen making an impact right away. Last season, Vernon Hargreaves and Kelvin Taylor made a splash as starters. The year before that, Dante Fowler and Matt Jones picked up a few starts and helped the Gators win games.
You can only expect the same thing to take place this season with another solid recruiting class stepping on campus. Florida has two defensive backs and a handful of offensive players who are sure to see the field early and often.
Here are a few Florida freshmen who have a good chance to start at least one game this season.