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Big Programs with Big Questions at QB: College Football's Quarterback Crisis

Once again, the soul of Goliath is about to be revealed.

The Southeastern Conference had its year of merriment, its orgy of quarterback stats in 2013. Now we're about to see the SEC ruled once again by the baddest men on the planet, defensive linemen. We're about to see the true marrow of the SEC, the two-deep offensive lines and four-deep running back rotations. Here comes downhill Rock'em, Sock'em football.

Yet, in this era of quarterback-centric offenses, can the SEC afford to have obscure quarterbacks for very long this season? Does it need the next Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray or Zach Mettenberger to emerge sooner rather than later to apply the cosmetics of points galore to impress the Playoff Selection Committee (or whatever it's called)? 

Starting Thursday, the committee pulls out its notebooks and revs up its DVRs. The shine always blots out the substance, I'm afraid.

The committee members, as far as I know, are not going to show up at LSU's practice one day and take stock, face-to-face, of the Tigers' physical talent, and then jet off to Oregon to compare the Tigers with the Ducks. They are going to watch games, not practice. Will they be putting their noses to the TV screen to analyze whether a Pac-12 left guard would be able to whip an SEC defensive tackle?

They'll probably try, but what the committee/voters will see more easily is the smoothness of offense. You can't help it. And the SEC has lost some of its smooth. Its array of quarterback name guys—Connor Shaw, James Franklin and AJ McCarron are gone, in addition to Manziel, Murray and Mettenberger—is diminished. Is this a problem for college football's blue-blood programs?

The old school says that the SEC will be just fine with game managers—or a dazzling runner like Auburn's Nick Marshall—and that voters will be impressed by the conference's defensive lines, linebackers and offensive lines, or the reputations thereof. It says that the SEC will have four teams in the Top 10 in midseason, as befits the talent level.

I wonder about that. I look at these teams like Oregon and Baylor and their quarterbacks slinging the ball around and the oooohs and ahhhhs, and I wonder if the SEC had better throw the rock around and not merely turn and stuff it into the gut of a 225-pound running back. Somebody is going to say, "Oklahoma is going to stack defenders at the line and make the SEC team throw it, and they can't"—and the next guy will say, "That's right, you have to pass the ball to get in the playoff. Can't be too one-dimensional."

All this means is that when LSU and its new quarterbacks play Wisconsin on Saturday, the Tigers' tandem better look sharp. Alabama better have a presence at QB against West Virginia, whether it's Jake or Blake. The Tide out-talent the Mountaineers all over the field, but you can bet all eyes will be on the quarterback. 

Nothing can ruin a team's rep more than a shaky-looking quarterback. Georgia hosts Clemson with a new quarterback, Hutson Mason. The Bulldogs have a veteran offensive line, and there is nothing friendlier to a new quarterback than pass protection and nothing more toxic than a pass rush. What's he got? We'll be watching. If the Dawgs lose, it will be his fault, right?

There were eight defensive players drafted out of the Big 12 in 2014. There were 19 taken out of the SEC. There were five offensive linemen taken out of the Pac-12. There were 11 taken out of the SEC, including two in the first six picks. The SEC simply has a deeper talent pool to choose from in its region. Is it easy to see who has better talent when the other conferences "look" sensational throwing the ball while the SEC grinds?

But if the Pac-12 and Big 12 quarterbacks hog the spotlight and attract all the chatter, it could obscure the overall picture. The SEC, for now, has a wart in the middle of its forehead for the bathing suit part of this contest. Its new quarterbacks better apply some cosmetics to the beast.

Here is a rundown of other quarterback issues around D-1:

 

Ohio State

Now we're going to see just how good of a recruiter Urban Meyer really is. We have heard it for years: "Nick Saban and Meyer rule signing day." Let's see if the offensive line Meyer recruited can ease the way for rookie starter J.T. Barrett, who takes over for Braxton Miller, knocked out for the season with a torn labrum. Let's see if the O-line can open up holes and drive the ball to take the pressure off Barrett. Let's see if the receivers are NFL-quality and make plays on bad throws.

The SEC and ACC programs have been gearing to replace quarterbacks since the end of last season. Ohio State has had to do it in a week. Pages will be ripped out of the playbook—for a few games at least. The offense has to be scaled back. The other offensive players might not be confident in the new guy, at least not at the start. The defense might suddenly say, "We have to make more plays," and that could lead to it instead making more mistakes.

"Next man up" is a fine slogan when you are talking about a lineman or linebacker. It is a little more complicated when you are talking about a quarterback, the face of the program. Miller accounted for more than 3,000 yards in 2013. The "next man up" better be damn good to match that and get the Buckeyes back in the national championship discussion.

 

Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Everett Golson will be back at starter after a year off. He learned his lesson about academics, but did coach Brian Kelly learn his lesson about getting bigger and faster at other positions? When Alabama and the Irish kicked off for the national championship two years ago and the two kickoff teams ran toward each other, you gasped. Bama was so much bigger and faster as the two sides collided. The game was over.

It was going to take at least two years for Kelly to get some reinforcements and improve height, weight and speed. Has he done it? His quarterback is depending on it. If Kelly's recruiting did not get better, Golson will need to be a sensational playmaker.

 

Michigan

Quarterback is a big deal for the Wolverines because the defense will be one of the best in the country. What UM doesn't need is Devin Gardner—working behind an unknown offensive line—throwing interceptions and making bad reads. In comes Doug Nussmeier, the former Alabama assistant coach. His qualifications: coaching AJ McCarron on reading defenses pre-snap and a history of coaching quarterbacks not to plague the defense with a short field because of turnovers.

The Big Ten really misses Michigan. The conference profile has fallen off dramatically. Michigan State is very good, but the Big Ten needs Michigan. It needs Gardner not to be a ball-and-chain. He has to be a playmaker with his arm and help the conference that can't count restore its glory.

 

Oklahoma 

Trevor Knight beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Threw four touchdown passes against the Crimson Tide. Kingpin of the Sooners offense, right?

Not so fast. Let's see more. Knight threw three touchdown passes against Louisiana-Monroe to start 2013. He threw just two more the rest of the regular season against the bad defenses of the Big 12. He hurt his elbow. Lost his job. 

Sure, Knight carved up Alabama, but the Tide stunk at cornerback, and when a national championship is not on the line, Bama seems less ferocious. Knight looked good in the Sugar Bowl. He has the ingredients. Let's see him turn it loose for 12 games.

 

The ACC

Florida State won eight regular-season conference games by an average of 39 points. FSU still has the best offense in the conference with Jameis Winston, while most of the rest of the conference is wondering how things are going to turn out at quarterback. It could be ugly again.

Virginia Tech is relying on a transfer, Miami is relying on a freshman, North Carolina State is relying on a transfer, Boston College is relying on a transfer…and on and on. Clemson has the most talent in the ACC of any team other than FSU, but the Tigers have a new quarterback, too.

 

Ray Glier is a journalist based in Atlanta. His work has appeared in USA TODAY, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is a 1981 graduate of West Virginia University.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Teams That Could Surprise College Football World and Crash the Playoff

With the 2014 football season just days away, every fan and media outlet have likely put their playoff predictions on the record. Ralph Russo of The Associated Press, for example, has Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon as his final four. 

(For what it's worth, #FSUTwitter, Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer went out on a limb and predicted the Ducks would win it all.) 

For the most part, playoff predictions have included those teams or some variation of Auburn, UCLA, Michigan State and Oklahoma. But which teams could come out of nowhere to crash the playoff party? Picking these teams is even harder since they (1) have to exceed expectations and (2) need some things break their way schedule-wise. 

Here are five programs poised to do it, though. 

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Full List of Preseason College Polls

After what felt like an endless wait over a lengthy offseason, we finally find ourselves on the periphery of the 2014 college football season. On Wednesday, Week 1 will officially commence when Abilene Christian visits Georgia State in the first FBS game of the year.

Even though a single team has yet to take the gridiron, a pecking order has already been established. Two separate polls have been released—the Amway Coaches Poll and Associated Press Poll—giving us the nation's Top 25 teams, according to eligible voters.

These rankings are certainly highly debatable, as we have yet to witness the 2014 versions of these squads—every team is in flux over the offseason due to key departures and new arrivals. That said, let's take a look at both polls, note the differences and let the debate rage on into the regular season.

 

Coaches Poll

 

AP Poll

 

Analysis

It's difficult to argue the fact that the Florida State Seminoles begin the season as the nation's top team. The reigning national champions will be carrying over a great deal of their talented 2013 roster—most notably Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.

Nick Saban's Alabama squad is one of the country's top teams each year. Despite a quarterback controversy, the Crimson Tide's depth and experience make them a logical selection for the No. 2 team on each poll.

Here's where things get interesting.

While the coaches poll saw Oklahoma claim the No. 3 spot—and gain three first-place votes in the process—the AP poll concluded with Oregon obtaining the third ranking. This appears to be a debate between offense and defense.

Marcus Mariota and the Ducks ran the nation's second-most prolific offense one year ago, averaging 565 yards per game. This high-octane style of play could be even more dangerous in 2014 due to the team's well-rounded signal-caller.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks rather highly of Mariota, pitting the quarterback first in his 2015 draft rankings:

On the other hand, we have Oklahoma's 20th-ranked defense from last season. The team allowed an average of 350.2 yards per game despite playing against several talented offenses. The question mark here could be the progression of quarterback Trevor Knight.

Ohio State and Auburn swap the No. 5 and No. 6 positions in the two polls, with the Buckeyes claiming the fifth seed in the AP poll and the Tigers on top in the coaches poll.

Both of these teams have some quarterback trouble heading into the season. Nick Marshall will be suspended for part of Auburn's first game due to a citation for possession of marijuana. Ohio State is in far worse shape after news broke that quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the 2014 season due to a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.

Head coach Nick Saban is still confident in new starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, according to Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report:

We'll see if these teams can maintain their poll positions in the absence of their starting signal-callers.

The final debate over varying positions in these polls is the absence of Missouri in the coaches poll and Texas in the AP poll.

Missouri finished 26th in voting in the coaches poll, obtaining 126 points and missing out on a Top 25 ranking by 16 points—Texas was ranked 24th. On the flip side, the Longhorns were the 28th-ranked squad in the AP poll with 86 points, finishing behind unranked UCF and Florida—Missouri was ranked 24th.

Many observers felt the Tigers deserved a Top 25 ranking due to a strong showing in 2013, finishing 12-2 while defeating five ranked teams along the way—including Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

Sports Illustrated sure feels good about Missouri, ranking the team 22nd in their power rankings:

While Missouri did lose some talented players over the offseason, the team appears to be more deserving than a Texas team that was crushed by a score of 30-7 by Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. This, like every other preseason rankings scenario, is highly debatable.

Luckily, the regular season is just around the corner, and we're about to receive some clarity.

 

All poll information courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Redemption for a Dynasty: The 2014 Alabama Hype Tape

The University of Alabama is looking to come back stronger than ever in 2014. Head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are poised to make a run for the national championship. How well do you think they will do next year?

Watch the video to see the ultimate Alabama hype tape for 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas vs. North Texas: Complete Game Preview

College football is in the air in Austin, Texas, as the Longhorns hope to begin the Charlie Strong era on a positive note against North Texas.

This offseason has been anything but ordinary for Texas football, which said goodbye to legendary coach Mack Brown and welcomed Strong and his new staff.

Now, the time has finally come for Texas football to show the college football nation what it can do under its new leadership.

 

When: Saturday, Aug. 30, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas

TV: Longhorn Network

Austin radio:  KVET 98.1/1300

SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202, Sirius 117, Internet 969, Spanish 550

Last meeting: Sept. 2, 2006, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

Last meeting outcome: Texas 56, North Texas 7

Spread: Texas (-25), per VegasInsider.com

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Rapid-Fire Questions with Michigan Freshman Stud Jabrill Peppers

Michigan cornerback Jabrill Peppers is looking to make a huge impact for the Wolverines in his freshman year. He took some time to answer rapid-fire questions with Bleacher Report about everything from his favorite food to his goals at Michigan.

How well do you think Peppers will do in Ann Arbor?

Watch the video and check out this future star.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Betting: Gamecocks, Buckeyes Favorites in Week 1 Odds

The 2014 college football betting slate kicks off this week with the South Carolina Gamecocks pegged as 10.5-point favorites over the Texas A&M Aggies.

Quarterback Kenny Hill is expected to get the start for the Aggies ahead of Kyle Allen, replacing Texas A&M legend Johnny Manziel in the process.

Meanwhile, South Carolina running back Mike Davis is considered probable for Thursday night as he recovers from a rib injury. Davis, who rushed for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, is currently at 33-1 in college football player props betting to win this year’s Heisman Trophy.

The Aggies were winless against the spread (0-4 ATS) on the road last season, while South Carolina has won 18 straight home games since Oct. 2011, according to the college football database at Odds Shark, the lines provider to Bleacher Report.

The Ohio State Buckeyes open an uncertain 2014 season as 13.5-point favorites over the Navy Midshipmen on Saturday at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. The Buckeyes have seen their betting odds tumble since last week’s news that QB Braxton Miller, previously considered a serious Heisman Trophy candidate, will be out for the season after suffering a shoulder injury.

The Buckeyes had been considered a favorite to win the national championship, with odds as short as 10-1 in college football futures betting. However, since Miller’s injury was announced Ohio State has tumbled to 25-1 in national championship betting, to go along with 11-4 odds to win the Big Ten conference championship this season.

The Midshipmen are coming off a solid finish to their 2013 season, winning six of their last seven games SU while posting a 7-1 record ATS in their last eight outings.

The Florida State Seminoles will be looking for their 17th consecutive win when they take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday night at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium. The defending national champions are 17.5-point favorites over the Cowboys. It’s the 27th consecutive game in which the Seminoles have been college football betting favorites.

Florida State will once again be led by QB Jameis Winston, who enters the new season as the favorite to win a second straight Heisman Trophy with 9-2 odds in college football player props betting, while the Seminoles are strong 4-1 favorites to repeat as the national champions.

In other opening-week action, the Louisville Cardinals make their ACC debut as three-point favorites over the Miami Hurricanes. Miami is 7-2 ATS in their past nine games as road underdogs and 5-1 ATS in their past six season openers and the Odds Shark computer is predicting a high-scoring game (46-32).

As well, the Auburn Tigers, who open their season as a 9-1 national championship futures bet, are 21-point favorites over the visiting Arkansas Razorbacks.

 

Stats and odds courtesy of Odds Shark.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 Teams That Will Surprise This Season

Will anyone capture the magic of the 2013 Auburn Tigers this college football season?

Even the staunchest Tigers supporters couldn't have foreseen a run to the national championship that involved running back a missed field goal for the game-winning touchdown at the end of the Iron Bowl.

Every year, a handful of teams play way above expectations and flirt with either a national championship or a bowl game. 2014 should be no different.

Here's a look at the two preseason polls heading into Week 1.

The three teams below are all lurking down the standings. They aren't national title contenders, but they could be looking at impressive seasons.

 

Texas Longhorns

Texas is a major wild card this year. Charlie Strong should be an upgrade over the last year of Mack Brown in terms of coaching, but do the Longhorns have the personnel to actually play above expectations?

Quite a bit hinges on the performance at the quarterback position. David Ash has the early edge, but Tyrone Swoopes is waiting in the wings. Strong may get both guys on the field in the opener Saturday against North Texas, per Taylor Gaspar of Orangebloods.com:

Even if Swoopes and Ash struggle, the Longhorns have one of the best running back tandems in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray.

Defensively, Texas is one of the strongest in the Big 12. Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs are the standouts, and both are capable of making the All-America team this year.

When you look at the schedule, there's no reason Texas cannot win nine or 10 games.

The Longhorns get Baylor, West Virginia and TCU at home, while UCLA is played at a neutral site (Arlington, Texas) that should be more like a home game. Playing Oklahoma State and Kansas State on the road could be tricky.

Their hopes of winning the conference hinge on the Red River Showdown Oct. 11.

 

Texas A&M Aggies

It's entirely possible that Texas A&M could lose Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews yet still post a better record than it did last year. The Aggies defense should be much better, while younger, offensive playmakers like Kenny Hill, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones should improve as the year goes on.

Noil is one of those guys tailor-made for a Kevin Sumlin offense. The A&M head coach has no doubts about whether the freshman wideout will hit the ground running, per the team's Twitter account:

Having a stronger defense means that Texas A&M shouldn't need to score 40 points a game in order to win. That would, in turn, place less pressure on the inexperienced offense.

Starting off with South Carolina is brutal for the Aggies, and they remain outsiders for that one. Texas A&M also gets Alabama and Auburn on the road this year, but those come later in the season, by which time any sort of transition period should be over.

An SEC Championship Game appearance looks out of the question for Texas A&M, but 10 wins could be within reach, which would be a massive accomplishment given the Aggies' personnel losses and daunting conference schedule.

 

North Carolina Tar Heels

The scheduling gods did North Carolina a bit of a favor this year. The Tar Heels do play Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami (FL) on the road, but they also get critical ACC games against Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill.

The ACC still goes through Florida State, but North Carolina looks to be the class of the Coastal Division. The Heels are very good across the board. Aside from their defensive line—where they lost Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson—they don't have a major area of weakness.

North Carolina became a different team last year when Marquise Williams took over for Bryn Renner. He passed for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns in addition to 536 yards rushing, which led the team. ESPN.com's David Hale believes that Jameis Winston is the only ACC quarterback with a better resume than Williams, and yet, Williams still doesn't have a grasp on the starting job:

The junior is battling with redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, per Inside Carolina:

Assuming Williams is the guy, he and Quinshad Davis will form a lethal combo through the air.

North Carolina hasn't won nine games since the Mack Brown era, but that could change this year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

6 Teams Heavily Recruiting 2015 JUCO Prospects

While recruiting at the prep level is the backbone of every college football program, a handful of teams rely on supplementing their roster with potential instant impact players from the JUCO ranks.

Nick Saban has made a habit of scouring the JUCO scene in search of filling an immediate hole, while Bill Snyder at Kansas State University has built his program largely off importing JUCO players and plugging them in right away.

Additionally, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn has found instant success with each of the last two JUCO quarterbacks—2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and current preseason All-SEC selection Nick Marshall—he’s brought to the Plains.

Which programs are actively targeting JUCO prospects in the 2015 cycle?

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College Football Rankings 2014: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 1

If you rank them, they will change.

The 2014 college football season begins this week. What we know for certain is that 128 teams will compete at the FBS level for the right to earn an invitation to one of nearly 40 bowl games, including the first College Football Playoff to determine a national champion. We can only speculate at this point who will qualify for that playoff, and who else will go bowling.

That's where power rankings come in.

Though they will have no bearing on which teams the selection committee chooses, or which ones will get picked for the Bahamas Bowl or the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, they do serve as a barometer for how teams compare to each other as the 2013 season progresses.

Bleacher Report's power rankings are based on a combination of rankings and ratings from five sources: the Associated Press media and Amway coaches polls, B/R's Top 25, a computer ranking from ratings guru Jeff Sagarin and my personal ranking of all 128 teams. Teams are then ranked from worst to best based on their average rating.

As is the case with all such rankings, this first one is determined as much by past performance as expected results in 2014. That being said, a lot can—and will—change as the season goes along. By this time next week they could be completely different, which is actually a pretty safe assumption.

Check out our power ranking for all 128 FBS teams entering Week 1. Think a certain team is too high or too low? Let us know in the comments section.

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Kliff Kingsbury: A Day in the Life of Hottest Young Coach in College Football

LUBBOCK, Texas — Lightning streaks across the West Texas sky, briefly illuminating Texas Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium. Another bolt lights up the parking lot—it’s almost empty, with just a few pickup trucks dotting the black pavement.

What they’re doing here now, so early in the morning that it still feels more like late last night, is an open question. The sun won’t be up for hours. Neither will the birds.

A pair of lights approach, two eyes glowing in the dark. A white Lexus stops next to a sign that bears coach Kliff Kingsbury’s name, and he steps out of the driver’s side.

It’s 4:51 a.m.

He’s “late.”

He usually arrives at 4:30, so that he finishes his morning workout as the players start theirs. He wants them to see that he does what he asks them to do, only more. But the players don’t have an early workout today, so Kingsbury took his time getting in.

He enters the Football Training Facility and turns on the lights, revealing walls covered with bios and pictures of the biggest stars in the school’s long football history, including himself. As Texas Tech’s quarterback in the early 2000s, Kingsbury propelled the team into the national conversation by putting up record-breaking offensive numbers. Now as the head coach, he is doing the same thing.

After Kingsbury’s quick rise as the offensive coordinator at Houston and Texas A&M, the Red Raider faithful hailed his hiring in December 2012 as the first step to return Texas Tech to the level he took it to—and beyond. Kingsbury, 35, brought with him a fearless football joie de vivre, a "score now, later and often" swashbuckling bravado that if nothing else guarantees Texas Tech will be fun to watch.

And there was far more to the excitement than just the return of a local hero. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he is, sources say, impossibly good looking. Easily the most GQ coach in America, he wears designer sunglasses and tailored suits. All big-time college coaches have tailors. Perhaps Kingsbury alone uses his to dress nicely instead of like an insurance salesman from Poughkeepsie.

The buzz around all of that became absurd long ago but shows no signs of letting up. Stores in Lubbock carry T-shirts proclaiming, “Our coach is hotter than your coach.” As Case Keenum, Kingsbury’s quarterback at the University of Houston and one of his close friends, put it: “He’s as cool as he looks. … Every guy wants to be him, and I think every girl wants to be with him.”

And be coached by him. In the last three seasons, his quarterbacks gained more than 15,000 yards and combined for 136 touchdowns. In his first season as head coach, Texas Tech ended the year with a win in the Holiday Bowl over No. 16 Arizona State to finish 8-5.

As his second season dawns—Texas Tech’s first game is Aug. 30 against Central Arkansas—the attention on Kingsbury has only increased, and he will be under scrutiny this season to produce results commensurate with the hype. The hottest coach in college football must prove he is more than the hottest coach in college football.

Kingsbury granted Bleacher Report behind-the-scenes access to the inner workings of his program as it prepares for a Big 12 season ripe with both hope and uncertainty. This day-in-the-life look revealed a coach eager to show he is more than just a pretty face.

It’s 6:45 a.m. Kingsbury has already been working for two hours…well, one hour and 56 minutes. He walks outside, where the sun finally basks Jones AT&T Stadium in heat and light, and climbs into his car. He drives across Lubbock to Regimen Salon for his every-other-week appointment with owner and stylist Natalie Craig. The sign on the door says the salon doesn’t open for three more hours, but they both know if Kingsbury shows up during regular hours, customers will gawk as she cuts the most famous locks in Lubbock.

Craig cut Mike Leach’s hair when he coached at Texas Tech. Before a big game against Texas, she wanted to change his look, but he resisted. Without him realizing it, she cut his hair shorter than usual anyway. And when she gave him the post-cut scalp massage, she surreptitiously put dye on her fingers, so he walked out with fewer gray hairs than he walked in with. She says a picture taken of him with his new cut and color wound up on the cover of his book, Swing Your Sword.

She talked Kingsbury into a new style earlier this year. Before giving it to him, she practiced on her son to make sure she got it right, lest she send Kingsbury out into the ever-scrutinizing world looking less than perfect.

Kingsbury’s success as a coach is predicated on his players practicing the same plays over and over again so that when the game comes their execution will be precise. How many times did Craig practice the cut on her son before going live on Kingsbury?

“Just once,” she says. “I’m that good.”

Shortly after Kingsbury appeared in public sporting the new style, Craig says, customers started bringing in his picture and asking her to cut their hair like his.

Back at his office, Kingsbury sits at his desk. To his left, out the window, the still-rising sun bathes the practice field in soft light, a pastoral antidote to the brutality that takes place there. To his right hangs a dry-erase board with 90-plus plays written on it, many of the names illegible to everybody but him, all of them in all caps. In the bottom right-hand corner, he wrote “FIRST PLAY OF 2014” next to a bunch of Xs and Os.

Most of the pictures on his wall feature Texas Tech players. Notable exceptions include Keenum and Johnny Manziel, the Heisman-winning quarterback whom Kingsbury coached at Texas A&M. In their two seasons combined under Kingsbury—the two seasons before he got this job—Keenum and Manziel ran and threw for 10,782 yards and 98 touchdowns.

The shelves behind Kingsbury hold trophies, books—an academic All-American, he reads widely—and pictures, including one of him, Mike Tyson and Tom Brady at the Preakness this year. Brady was his teammate with the New England Patriots, for whom Kingsbury spent 2003 on the injured reserve list.

Ten Post-it notes, each with plays drawn on them, stick to the top of Kingsbury’s desk. Next to them, legal pads sit atop each other, each full of plays. In front of the legal pads, the markers he uses to draw those plays line up in a row. This is the laboratory of a mad scientist…who is also organized and structured.

He will give rise to a new play today.

First, quick background: Kingsbury and Texas Tech’s offense became famous in 2000 for running Leach’s version of the Air Raid offense. The Air Raid offense features only a handful of plays, nearly all of them passes, run over and over, regardless of the opponent. Leach’s philosophy is simple: Here it is. Try to stop it.

Kingsbury’s offense borrows heavily from Leach and adds wrinkles from other coaches he played for and coached with, most notably Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his attention to detail. There might not be two more different football coaches on Earth than the wide-open Leach and the squeezed-tight Belichick, yet Kingsbury counts both of them as strong influences.

The play that Kingsbury will bring into the Texas Tech world today has been gestating for years.

When he served as offensive coordinator for the Houston Cougars in 2010, they played Tulsa. Tulsa ran a play in which after the snap, the offensive linemen just stood there, as if they didn’t know the ball had been snapped. The quarterback rolled to his right as the defensive linemen chased him. Then he threw back across his body to a running back on the left. Kingsbury made a mental note of that play at the time, both because it was creative and because it worked.

Kingsbury calls himself a big fan of Chad Morris, who was Tulsa’s offensive coordinator then and now holds the same job at Clemson. Kingsbury studies other coaches obsessively, and this offseason he broke down every play the Clemson offense ran in 2013. In doing so he saw that, against Syracuse, Clemson ran the same play as Tulsa ran against Houston. That reminded him that he liked the play.

At 8 a.m., Kingsbury and his coaches gather for the first meeting of the day. They discuss a handful of recruits, and then he shows the play on a TV screen. He returns to it repeatedly throughout the day, slowly turning the play from an idea into reality.

As Kingsbury shuffles in and out of meetings with staff and coaches, his office door remains open. Coaches wearing shorts and flip-flops come and go. They speak in the familiar shorthand of men who have known each other for years.

Kingsbury runs through a checklist in his head, coming up with only one coach whom he didn’t know before he hired him. “I know people say don’t hire your friends,” he says. “I’d rather go to war with my friends and guys I trust.”

Offensive coordinator Eric Morris, who played wide receiver at Texas Tech from 2005-08, shared an apartment with Kingsbury in Houston while they both coached there. They often played tennis against each other at 4 a.m. to avoid the heat. They screamed at each other so loudly they could be heard inside nearby apartments. Morris says between the two of them, they broke six rackets.

They still scream at each other like that, only now it’s during Texas Tech football games and sometimes in the office (though not today). Kingsbury calls the plays from the sideline, with consultation with Morris, who coaches from the booth.

Kingsbury likes constant chatter, to hear from Morris what he sees from above and what plays he recommends. Which is not to say he always likes what he hears. Their headsets connect only to one another, and that’s a good thing, because they fight over play calls in language bluer than the Texas sky.

When Morris got married and moved out of Kingsbury’s Houston apartment, Kenny Bell, whose title at Texas Tech is chief of staff, moved in. He plays the measured, calm adviser to Morris’ fiery, bombastic provocateur.

Now it’s late morning as another staff meeting winds down. The topic of conversation lands on a game years ago in Los Angeles. The coaches think they angered the football gods by going out on the town the night before a game. They haven’t done that since, because they lost their starting quarterback and his backup to injury during the game.

One topic leads to another and to another. It’s hard to keep up because everybody laughs so hard they only finish half their sentences. Apparently offensive line coach Lee Hays once accidentally swigged out of a cup full of someone else’s Copenhagen tobacco chew spit, and Hays also sleeps in a mask like Darth Vader’s, which he agrees makes him look funny but not as funny as the coach who sleeps in, as Hays puts it, “1985 silk-ass Speedo underwear.”

The son of two high school teachers, Kingsbury loves teaching the game more than any other aspect of coaching. He meets with his quarterbacks at 4:15 p.m., and he explains to them “Clemson” and “Freeze,” two versions of the Chad Morris play. He shows them video and diagrams the play on a dry-erase board and says “write this down,” and then he talks so fast that there is no way in the world they actually do so.

Kingsbury asks if they got it and they all nod and say yes and it is beyond obvious that they are lying. They didn’t “get” squat. Kingsbury knows this, even plans it that way. He knows they’ll text him later with questions.

He wants to bombard them now so that later on, when he formally installs the offense, everything will seem slower. He barrels through practices the same way, running plays as fast as possible so that when the games start the pace seems easy.

The quarterbacks meeting breaks up, and that means it’s time for practice. Football outside in Texas in late July is a terrible idea. It’s like football in hell, only with fewer Alabama fans. The high this day reaches 94 degrees, and it feels every bit of that as players file outside late in the afternoon.

But at least it’s a dry heat as they sweat through agility drills. Kingsbury walks around the field, zigzagging among the players, wearing sunglasses and occasionally bouncing to the beat of the music blaring out of the speakers.

He pulls the offensive players onto an adjacent field to give them a first look at “Clemson” and “Freeze,” sans ball. He lines up at quarterback, calls the signals, takes the “snap,” rolls right, pops up and “throws” left. He does this several times and then calls the team to circle around him.

It’s the end of the last day of summer practice. A long and free weekend awaits the players before fall practice starts the following week. Kingsbury tells them to be smart because big things await this team. “You want to be part of this ride,” he says.

The football building buzzed all day, and now it’s time to find out why: Kingsbury will host the second Kliff Kingsbury Women’s Clinic, a fundraiser that teaches women the basics about football. Kingsbury’s coaches expect his arrival at the dinner that opens the clinic will turn it into a madhouse. Wait until you see that, they all say, in one form or another.

Early in the day, Texas Tech head basketball coach Tubby Smith—who won a national championship at Kentucky in 1998—pokes his head into Kingsbury’s office to say hello. He says his wife wanted to go to the clinic, but she couldn’t get tickets.

The clinic’s organizers believe that however many tickets they wanted to sell, however much money they wanted to raise, they could do it, so long as Kingsbury’s name (and picture) appeared on the brochure. As it is, they only had room for 357 tickets, which sold out easily.

“He’s Elvis Presley,” says Tommy McVay, director of football operations. McVay has worked for the school for 18 years through four coaches and recruited Kingsbury when he was a player. “It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. People just want to touch him.”

Kingsbury says he has had enough of the superficial attention he gets and wants the focus to turn to his players, not the cheekbones that could sharpen a pencil or the abs that look like speed bumps. But attention and buzz are valuable currencies in college football and, to an extent, Texas Tech will take its moments in the spotlight however it can get them.

So he hams it up, too. He gets so many Twitter mentions testifying to his hotness that ESPN asked him to read some of them aloud, which he did. And when an Arkansas fan (whom he had never met) wrote him a letter in which she simultaneously expressed her love for him and dumped him, he wrote her back.

He says his fame has turned him into more of an introvert. On the road he loves exploring new restaurants, but he can’t go out to dinner in Lubbock without causing a ruckus. He is not married and has no family in town, so he and his friends say a typical night for him includes getting home late in the evening, eating a sandwich for dinner, watching Law and Order and going to bed early.

Whatever ambivalence Kingsbury feels about his celebrity, he sets it aside today because the football clinic benefits an important cause—the Jennie Bailey Fund. Bailey is Texas Tech’s administrative assistant for recruiting. She is fighting cancer, and cancer smacks Kingsbury right in his heart.

He keeps a copy of the eulogy from his mother’s funeral in his locker. Sally Kingsbury wrote the eulogy herself as she prepared to die from sarcoma, a form of lung cancer, in 2005.

Kingsbury admires his mom for displaying grace in using the eulogy to honor all of the people in her life as it drew to an end. He recites the eulogy’s opening line from memory: “It’s been one hell of a party, Woodrow.” She cribbed that from The Lonesome Dove, her favorite show. In life and in death, it was her motto.

Kingsbury’s mom and dad, the two biggest influences in his life, were opposites. His dad, Tim, is a former high school football coach, an alpha male Vietnam veteran. His mom was a free spirit with a permanent smile who delighted in being loud and boisterous and embarrassing her two boys (Kliff has an older brother, Klint).

So idyllic was Kingsbury’s upbringing in New Braunfels, Texas, that he says, “I have no excuse to ever do anything but live an amazing life considering the way I was raised.”

He briefly left the New York Jets to be with her in her last days. “She was really the only person I ever showed weakness to,” he says. He talked to her about girl problems, confidence issues, whatever troubled him, and she always listened.

“I still talk to her a bunch,” he says. “When I’m at home or before games, I just kind of talk to her on my own.”

Seeing her stay strong as she succumbed to the sarcoma, and the loving way his dad took care of her, changed Kingsbury.

“I stopped worrying about things as much, what people thought. Just cut loose. Watching her go through that, how she handled it, I’ll never have a bad day after that,” he says. “To her last dying breath, it was about, ‘Hey, make sure your dad’s OK, make sure you’re OK. Are you going to be OK? Is your brother going to be OK?’ Not once was it about her. That selflessness, and that courage, was something that always stuck with me.”

Sunshine pours in through the windows into the Frazier Alumni Pavilion as Kingsbury enters. The 357 women crowd around round tables. They eat dinner and drink beer and wine. They wear gym clothes because there will be football drills later.

Kingsbury walks to the podium. The applause is, frankly, unimpressive. He steps from the podium to center stage. “Last year, you gave me a standing ovation,” he says, and he moves his arms up and down, like a player on the sideline asking the crowd for more noise.

They give it to him.

“Take off your shirt!” a woman yells.

He sits at a round table to the left of the stage and laughs when coaches and ladies in the audience compete in a dance-off inspired by video of him doing “the stanky leg” with his team in the spring.

Eric Morris takes the stage. On the screen behind him, he shows side-by-side pictures. In one, a shirtless Leach sits on a bicycle. In the other, a shirtless Kingsbury, with abs like the walls of a log cabin, stands with a woman in a bikini under each arm.

The crowd voices its approval.

The football clinic transitions from dinner to the Football Training Facility, where the women move from a video room to the weight room to the locker room. Kingsbury cuts in through the back way.

His executive assistant, Kirstie Sherman, and Bell, his chief of staff, insist he retreat to his office. All evening, Sherman shoos away women who want photos, some of them more than once. The event’s brochure said “no cameras,” but apparently nobody read that.

“He is so nice,” Sherman says, “(but) there comes a time when everybody needs a bad guy. Well guess what? I’m the bad guy.”

She is part-mother, part-watchdog and totally loyal to Kingsbury. “We’re going to do big, big things,” she says. “I would pay them to let me work here.”

It’s not that Kingsbury or Sherman or Bell don’t want him to interact with fans, it’s that one photograph turns into two photographs turns into two hours of photographs. If he shows his face in the lobby, he’ll get mobbed. So he sits back in his office, behind a password-protected locked door, reading the news online and watching a Jeremy Lin video.

Safeties coach Trey Haverty walks in. He’s on the phone with a recruit. He gives the phone to Kingsbury, who explains to the recruit just how great he (the recruit) is.

“I’ve already mapped out your future after about a 15-year NFL career,” Kingsbury tells him. Kingsbury hands the phone back to Haverty, who keeps the recruit on the phone and passes it to at least two more coaches over the next several minutes.

Meanwhile, the ladies move to the football stadium. Under the guidance of Kingsbury’s assistants, they will learn to catch, throw and long snap the ball. Kingsbury stays behind at first, again at Sherman’s and Bell’s insistence.

When Kingsbury arrives at Jones AT&T Stadium, he walks the length of the field, mostly unnoticed, because the drills capture the participants’ attention. He watches the women play catch for a few minutes in the north end zone into which he threw so many passes himself.

As he starts to leave, Sherman walks with him, protecting him as best she can, as nicely as she can. But even the best offensive lineman occasionally allows a sack. A woman touches Kingsbury’s shoulder, which turns into a picture and then into a hug, which makes him stop and therefore submit to still more pictures.

He soon starts walking again, eventually making his way through the south end zone and onto the ramp that leads back to the training facility, a reverse Raider Walk. The clinic is almost over anyway. It’s dark now, and the sun has set behind him. He has been at work for more than 16 hours, and he hasn’t eaten dinner yet. He has to get home.

It’s probably too late for Law and Order. He has to be back at work early tomorrow.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Wolverines vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers Complete Game Preview

Michigan enters its opener determined to bounce back from last season’s 7-6 record and vanquish the ghosts of one the program’s most devastating defeats.


Date: Saturday, November 30, 2013

Time: Noon ET

Place: Michigan Stadium (109,901), Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Series vs. Appalachian State: Appalachian State leads 1-0

Television: ESPN2

Radio: Michigan IMG Sports Network

Spread: Michigan by 34.5, via TheSpread.com

Live Stats:MGoBlue.com

Last Meeting vs. Appalachian State: Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32.

Michigan entered the 2007 game ranked No. 5 in the nation but lost 34-32 in a stunning upset. The game ended the team’s national title hopes and knocked it out of the Top 25 rankings.

The first quarter ended with Michigan leading 14-7, but Appalachian State scored three second-quarter touchdowns to take a 28-17 lead into the half. Michigan battled back in the second half but failed on two two-point conversions and missed on two field-goal attempts, with the final one being blocked on the final play of the game.

The game is considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of college football.

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Texas A&M vs. South Carolina: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time, More

The SEC Network's debut game features two teams with much to prove in the wake of high-profile departures when the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks play host to the No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies.

For the visitors, a new era begins under center with Johnny Manziel out of the picture. Now in his third year with the school, coach Kevin Sumlin and his new-look offense will get a shot at a South Carolina defense hoping to replace a few notable starters, the highlight being Jadeveon Clowney.

There is a tad of bad blood to this one due to some schedule disagreements, but as ESPN Stats & Info points out, the general consensus seems to be that the higher-ranked team and host will come out on top:

Of course, anything can happen on the field, especially in the SEC. Below, let's take a look at all of the pertinent game info and a few storylines to monitor.

 

When: Thursday, August 28, 6 p.m. ET

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.

Television: SEC Network

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 58
  • Spread: South Carolina (-13)

 

Team Injury Reports

 

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

What's at Stake

Everything. As in, the SEC.

It's a crossover contest, yes, but one that is going to set one team back in a major way in its respective division of the conference. This is especially the case in Steve Spurrier's mind, who took the time to take a parting shot at Thursday's opponent recently concerning its schedule crafting as of late, per Josh Kendall of GoGamecocks.com:

They haven’t played the bigger teams so their schedule has been a little misleading. 

I find it interesting that they quit playing Texas. They played Texas 115 years like we have played Clemson and then they left that Big 12 conference and both schools got mad at each other and said, ‘We aren’t going to play you anymore.’ It would be like us and Clemson saying we are not playing anymore. Our whole state would go crazy. The governor would get involved in that.

That's one way to get the blood boiling a bit between the two sides. The man has a point, though, as the Aggies will find it mightily difficult to recover from a loss this week. A nonconference slate that features Lamar, Rice and SMU won't do Sumlin and Co. any favors, especially with trips to Alabama and Auburn in the cards too.

South Carolina has an easier go of it, sans trips to Auburn, what should be a much better Florida team and a date with Clemson to close the season.

It's the matchup both teams wanted, but the one neither can afford to lose.

 

Boots to Fill

The big story is the absence of Johnny Football.

Manziel, who threw for 4,114 yards and 37 touchdowns to go with 759 more yards on the ground and nine scores last year—the year he didn't win the Heisman—is gone. In his place is sophomore Kenny Hill, he of 22 career pass attempts.

Hill beat out freshman Kyle Allen and is a dual-threat presence in the same vein as Manziel—traits quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital says won him the job.

"He's been here for a year, he's learned under Johnny Manziel so he understands how this offense operates," Spavital said, per ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr. "He's more of an athletic guy. He has a pretty quick release, too."

Notice that none of this mentions the loss of wideout Mike Evans. It is an easy pill to swallow thanks to the presence of true freshman Speedy Noil, a game-breaking threat both on offense and special teams. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman puts it best:

The biggest questions for the Gamecocks come on the defensive side of things, and not just because of Clowney's departure. 

Remember that starters Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton are also gone, meaning J.T. Surratt is the last man standing from last year's beef in the trenches. His ability to help along the younger players around him will have a ripple effect on the entire unit.

But don't pretend that the South Carolina offense does not have issues either. The unit is without the winningest quarterback in school history, Connor Shaw, not to mention the sure-handed Bruce Ellington.

The good news is that senior signal-caller Dylan Thompson has four years of experience in the offense and has shown flashes when asked to take the reins. Even better, Spurrier hints that the players believe in the familiar face, per William Gunter of 560 The Team: 

Whichever team can have more of a seamless transition on units that features new faces in prominent roles will likely emerge the victor.

If that sounds simple, that's because it is.

 

Prediction

Expect Thursday to be the Mike Davis show.

No, rumblings about his health are not an issue. Just ask him:

Davis is a surefire Heisman contender this year just one season removed from taking a minimal 203 totes for 1,183 yards and 11 scores on a 5.8 per-carry average.

For as much talent as the Aggies tout, the young defense is not to the point where it will be able to handle that sort of efficiency in a proper manner. Furthermore, to rely on an inexperienced quarterback for production in his first start in a hostile environment is a risky endeavor.

Spurrier doesn't lose on Thursdays. The Gamecocks have won 18 straight and have some semblance of strong continuity on the offensive side of things. It won't get ugly, but Davis and Thompson will be able to get the job done to open the season. 

Prediction: Gamecocks 35, Aggies 28

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting Top College Football Week 1 Performers

Remember the last time you had college football stats for lunch?

Yeah, that would have been eight months ago in January, when bowl season wrapped up and you were left with the tail end of the NFL season and basketball to keep you warm at night.

All that changes this week with 85 college games over six days, providing you with box-score palooza, just the kind of thing to make you feel alive as summer makes its last stand.

Now we can get back to saying, “Did you see that kid run for 200 yards on Saturday or that other guy run two picks back for touchdowns?”

With a load of mismatches slated for Week 1, the possibilities for stellar individual performances are literally endless, so we’ll limit the discussion to five potential leaders for each major statistical category.

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SEC Football Q&A: Would Georgia's D or Florida's O Be Bigger Turnaround?

Our long national nightmare is over. It's game week.

Week 1 of the college football season marks the beginning of the journey for several teams, and for others, it marks the end of the offseason phenomenon known as "universal hope."

Let's kick the regular season off in style with a game-week Q&A, which has moved to Tuesdays during the regular season.

 

@BarrettSallee What would be the biggest turn around? roper at UF or Pruitt at UGA? If both units succeed.

— John (@jnorris10000) August 14, 2014

They both are similar in the sense that they don't need "Malzahn-like" turnarounds for their teams to be successful. They just need to be adequate.

I'd say turning around Florida's offense would be a bigger turnaround for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper than new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt turning around Georgia's defense.

Georgia's defense actually has a solid foundation. The Bulldogs finished sixth in the SEC in rush defense last year and showed flashes of being the kind of stifling defense that can lead the program to a championship. The front seven absolutely shut down LSU and Jeremy Hill to the tune of 77 rushing yards and were particularly stout in the first half. The majority of that front seven returns sans defensive end Garrison Smith.

Florida, on the other hand, didn't have much go right for it offensively last year. It finished last in the SEC in total offense (316.7 YPG), 12th in passing offense (170.9 YPG) and 13th in rushing offense (145.75 YPG). With running back Kelvin Taylor, dual-threat quarterback Jeff Driskel—who should thrive in Roper's no-huddle system—and wide receivers Demarcus Robinson and Andre Debose on the roster, the foundation is there. 

It's just more of an uphill climb in Gainesville.

With that said, both coordinators will find relatively instant success in their first years at their respective gigs. The personnel base is there for both coaches, and that should lead to, at the very least, adequate turnarounds.

 

@BarrettSallee is Georgia a legitimate contender without Ramik Wilson and Malcolm Mitchell?

— Sam Simpson (@samsimpson24) August 25, 2014

Since we neglected Georgia's defense in the previous question, we'll hit more on Pruitt's crew.

Ramik Wilson—the SEC's leading tackler from a year ago (133)—was not listed as the starter at "Mike" linebacker in Georgia's Week 1 game notes. Wilson had missed several practices this fall with what is reported to be a concussion, according to The Red & Black. Because of the injury, it's not terribly surprising that he's "behind," and I'd be floored if he isn't a big part of the game plan sooner rather than later.

If not, Georgia's front seven is still rather loaded, particularly at linebacker. Amarlo Herrera is fundamentally sound, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is a star in the making, and "Jack" linebacker Jordan Jenkins is one of the most underrated defenders in the SEC.

Malcolm Mitchell's absence wouldn't be great, but if there's any spot on the roster where Georgia can absorb some injuries, it's at wide receiver. Mitchell had his knee scoped earlier this summer and missed virtually all of last season after tearing his ACL in the opener vs. Clemson.

In his stead, Chris Conley emerged as a star, Michael Bennett continued to prove that he's a reliable target, Justin Scott-Wesley should be back after sitting out the season opener with an ankle injury/possible suspension, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Reggie Davis and Jonathon Rumph certainly have the talent to provide mismatch opportunities when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gets creative.

I don't believe Scott-Wesley's absence is long term, nor do I think Mitchell's is. Even if one or both are, Georgia will still be competitive. Those injuries just can't pile up like they did last year.

 

@BarrettSallee which running back is this years tre mason. Bound to break out and not really known... I nominate kelvin Taylor

— YepFB (@YepFB) August 25, 2014

This year's "Tre Mason" is the man who is replacing Tre Mason—Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne.

The senior split carries with Mason last year before Mason got hot down the stretch, and he still managed to rack up 610 yards and six touchdowns for the Tigers during their run to the SEC title. Now, Artis-Payne is the feature back, with quarterback Nick Marshall and speedster Corey Grant still in place to replicate last year's success.

That's exactly what will happen.

Mason was a great running back in a great system, and that great system is still in place. Head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 11 1,000-yard rushers in eight seasons as either a college head coach or assistant coach. It's no secret that Grant wants more of a responsibility, redshirt freshman Peyton Barber has potential and incoming freshman Roc Thomas has the makings of a superstar. That's just making Artis-Payne better.

"It's nice having those guys, they help push me to get better every day," he said earlier in fall camp, according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "I don't really worry about competition; I'm just worried about getting better myself." 

No, it won't be easy to replace Mason. But at 5'11", 210 pounds, Artis-Payne has the size to be a force between the tackles, jets to be a home run hitter and is surprisingly shifty in space. I like Kelvin Taylor, too, but Artis-Payne is in a spot that's ready-made for instant ground success.

 

@BarrettSallee has Bo Wallace shown enough growth over last two seasons to lead Ole Miss to SECCG or will they depend more on defense?

— Ken Sanders (@kenosando) August 25, 2014

Both, really. But I don't think either will lead Ole Miss to the SEC Championship Game.

I picked Ole Miss to tie for third with LSU in the SEC West at 9-3 but lose the tiebreaker to LSU.

Quarterback Bo Wallace is a big reason why I'm picking the Rebels to have a good year. He's thrown 40 touchdown passes over the last two seasons with a bum shoulder that was never really allowed to heal properly due to Wallace's responsibilities as a runner between the tackles. Bigger backs Mark Dodson and Jordan Wilkins should take some of that off Wallace's plate with I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton still showing off the jets on the edge, which will allow Wallace to be more of a passer and less of a runner.

Ole Miss might have one of the most underrated defenses in the SEC this year, led by a remarkably deep and talented secondary. That secondary will get a huge boost from a full season of Robert Nkemdiche at defensive tackle and a healthy C.J. Johnson at defensive end.

Will that get Ole Miss over the hump and to the SEC Championship Game? No, because that's a big hump—especially for a team that's playing its first-ever game in the Georgia Dome on Thursday against Boise State. The Rebels will, however, be competitive in most (if not all) of their games, which is still a step forward for the program.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma vs. Louisiana Tech Complete Game Preview

With the season opener against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs only days away, it’s finally time to see whether or not the Oklahoma Sooners are deserving of all the preseason hype.

The pressure will certainly be on the boys from Norman, as they are ranked in the Top Five in both major polls. However, backed by an impressive Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama in January, along with a stellar finish to the 2013 recruiting class, the Sooners have a lot to be confident about heading into 2014.

But as college football has taught us in the past, it only takes one game to change a team’s entire season.

Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s matchup.

 

Where: Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium, Norman, Oklahoma

When: Saturday, August 30 at 7 p.m. ET

Watch: Fox Sports regional coverage

Live Stream:Sooner Sports

Listen:Sooner Sports Radio Network

Betting Line: Oklahoma (-38), per Vegas Insider

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UCLA Football: 4 Bold Predictions for Bruins' 2014 Season

The hype surrounding the UCLA football program hasn't been seen in quite some time. Jim Mora has completely transformed an average program into one squarely sitting in the hunt for both a conference and national championship. 

This upcoming season also gives signal-caller Brett Hundley a chance to cement his legacy as perhaps the best quarterback to ever play at UCLA. In order to enhance his profile, he'll need to take the next step in defeating top competition (such as Oregon or Stanford). 

Ranked as the No. 7 team in the initial poll, expectations are incredibly high. Anything short of a division title will be seen as a massive disappointment. 

This piece will look at four bold predictions heading into the 2014 season. These proclamations will be listed down from the most tame to the most outlandish. 

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UCLA Football: 4 Bold Predictions for Bruins' 2014 Season

The hype surrounding the UCLA football program hasn't been seen in quite some time. Jim Mora has completely transformed an average program into one squarely sitting in the hunt for both a conference and national championship...

Begin Slideshow

Pac-12 Football: Biggest 2014 Games with Playoff Implications

2014 marks the first year that Pac-12 teams will be aiming for the Rose Bowl not simply because of the glory a win in Pasadena provides, but because winning there on Jan. 1 will earn a spot in the national championship game.

The notion of the Rose Bowl as a springboard to something bigger is yet another sign that college football is in the middle of major changes, and fans everywhere are buzzing about the new four-team playoff that will determine the sport's champion.

The top four teams in the country will play for the trophy, but each program's resume will be under the microscope more than ever, and big games will weigh heavily in the mind of the selection committee, which has the ultimate say in which squads belong in the top tier.

It's likely that given the rise of the Pac-12 in recent years, the conference champion will have a spot in the playoff. Which games will have the most say in the race to be among the top four?

Here are five such games that will go a long way in determining which Pac-12 team(s), if any, will make it into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

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Pac-12 Football: Biggest 2014 Games with Playoff Implications

2014 marks the first year that Pac -12 teams will be aiming for the Rose Bowl not simply because of the glory a win in Pasadena provides, but because winning there on Jan. 1 will earn a spot in the national championship game...

Begin Slideshow

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