TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama wasn’t missing just three players to start fall camp on Friday.

In addition to announcing the suspensions of Brandon Ivory, Jarran Reed and Tim Williams, coach Nick Saban updated the status of two highly coveted signees who have not made it to campus.

“Two freshmen that are not here,” Saban said. “Bo Scarbrough, we have an appeal in place because he is very close to qualifying. That will take some time. We will have a plan here at his high school to try to do the things that he needs to do to finish and be able to qualify. And our goal is to get him here in January.

Montel McBride did not qualify and will be placed in junior college.”

McBride was one of six offensive linemen in the 2014 class. Multiple reports have the three-star prospect heading to Iowa Western Community College.

Scarbrough, on the other hand, was a much more highly regarded recruit. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound native of Northport, Alabama, was a five-star prospect and the No. 2 ranked athlete in his class, according to ESPN. He was the first to commit to the Crimson Tide from the 2014 class, which ranked No. 1 in the country.

Scarbrough, even if he had qualified, would have faced quite an uphill battle for playing time at running back, where T.J. Yeldon and his 2,343 career rushing yards are firmly atop the depth chart. Talented sophomore Derrick Henry, who scored two touchdowns and accounted for 161 total yards against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, is not far behind, and he’s trailed by junior Kenyan Drake, who had 694 yards on the ground and averaged 7.5 yards per carry last season. There’s also Jalston Fowler, Altee Tenpenny and Tyren Jones in the mix.

Without Ivory and Reed, Alabama is in a bigger pickle. Ivory was one of only five returning starters on the defense after starting all 13 games at nose guard last season. And Reed, a junior college transfer, was expected to push for reps at the same position. Now the incumbent is Darren Lake, who played in all 13 games last season and mustered only 15 tackles, none of which resulted in a loss.

To balance the good with the bad, Alabama welcomed back corner Eddie Jackson to the practice field only a few months after tearing his ACL during spring practice.

The sophomore, who started four games last season, wore a brace to protect his surgically repaired knee.

Jackson is on a “pitch count,” according to Saban, but he prefaced his comments by saying that Jackson had a successful rehab this summer and is is doing “really, really well."

“With these guys, it's always about how much can they do before they start to get sore or before they start to break down relative to where they are,” he said. “We'd like to just not push the envelope too far that we get to that point. We're going to kind of keep him on a pitch count that will gradually increase and see when he gets back to 100 percent.

“Eddie took all the tests and passed them, so straight-line running is not the issue. It's cutting, changing direction, doing those kinds of things and see what issues those things create. But we're very encouraged with where he's at."
The Big Ten is already moving to a nine-game conference schedule. Logically, the next step would be jumping up to 10, and one league coach is already anticipating that change as college football moves into the playoff era.

But is that the right move for the Big Ten, particularly with a certain high-profile conference in the south stubbornly sticking at eight games? In the latest Take Two, we tackle that topic and weigh the pros and cons.

Take 1: Austin Ward

There is no downside of significance, and really there's nothing that should hold the Big Ten back from tacking on one more league game.

If the conference wants to crown a truly unquestioned champion every year in a league with 14 teams that can’t possibly face each other each season, it would be wise to at least eliminate as many scheduling discrepancies as it possibly can. There may still be inequities between teams in this model, but bumping up to four games against the opposite division is clearly an improvement in that regard and cuts down on the number of teams that a potential champion "dodged" during the year.

If the Big Ten is as serious about beefing up its strength of schedule as it appears to be recently, wouldn't cutting down on non-conference filler in September be a benefit? Maybe this is obvious, but that would guarantee another Power Five conference member on every schedule and make less room for the McNeese States and James Madisons of the world.

Aren’t athletic directors worried about declining attendance? Add another meaningful matchup, with the added benefit of ensuring the same number of home and road conference games every season.

Don't the television partners want more valuable inventory? Problem solved.

It's understandable that teams at the bottom of the league might be wary of a slightly more difficult path to bowl eligibility by removing a surefire victory from the schedule. But if that’s the only trade-off of any consequence, get ready for a little extra Big Ten football.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

This might appear to be an internal decision, but the Big Ten has to pay attention to the national landscape before making such a move. While I agree that more league games would be great for fans, TV partners and those of us who cover the sport, there absolutely is a potential downside.

It's all about getting into the playoff and the Big Ten, like the other four power conferences, must schedule accordingly. There are schedule discrepancies entering the playoff era: the Big 12 plays a round-robin slate but no championship game, the Pac-12 plays nine league games and a title game, the SEC and ACC are staying with eight league games, while the Big Ten is headed to nine in 2016. If the power conferences don't separate and these schedule differences remain, the Big Ten would be doing itself a disservice by increasing the number of league games.

How many Big Ten teams would get into the playoff with a 10-game league schedule if the higher-regarded SEC plays only eight conference contests? It's all about the playoff and it doesn't matter how you get there as long as you get there. That's how the Big Ten must approach scheduling.

Nine games isn't ideal and creates inequities. It's a lot easier to have an even 5-5 split. But what I don't want is 10-game league schedules without marquee nonconference matchups. I love the effect the playoff already is having on nonleague schedules. We're seeing more exciting intersectional matchups, whether they're home-and-home series or neutral-site blockbusters. With five guaranteed road games per season, Big Ten teams likely would be less inclined to schedule other major-conference foes.

So instead of a "filler" game, we might be losing games everyone wants to see.

If you can guarantee me equal schedule models across all the major conferences and more marquee nonleague games, not less, I'm OK with a 10-game league slate. I've always felt teams in a league should play one another more, not less (cough, SEC, cough). But if the Big Ten is simply making it tougher to make the playoff, stick with nine league games.

Top Pac-12 players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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Our list of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 concludes.

No. 5: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly

2013 stats: Completed 62.4 percent of his throws for 3,635 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, giving him an adjusted QBR of 74.2, which ranked 24th nationally. He also rushed 173 times for 608 yards and nine touchdowns.

Why he's ranked here: There was some disagreement at the end of last season about who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback. Kelly won the official Pac-12 vote with the coaches, and that means a lot. It also helps that he is the quarterback of the defending South Division champion. Further, you have to love his story. Nothing has been given to Kelly. In the spring of 2012, he was little more than an afterthought, ranking third in the Sun Devils' quarterback competition. You have to be mentally tough to emerge from that sort of deficit. He has earned his spot by fighting like crazy to win the job, to lead his team well and, finally, to become an A-list quarterback worthy of national attention. He has a chance to play his way into a solid spot in the NFL draft too. As for this season, Kelly has a lot coming back on offense and, because of the Sun Devils' questionable defense, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell figures to set him free as a third-year starter.

No. 4: Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

2013 stats: Ekpre-Olomu was second on the Ducks with 84 tackles. He had five tackles for a loss to go with three interceptions and nine passes defended. He also forced a fumble.

Why he's ranked here: Ekpre-Olomu might be the best cornerback in the nation. He earned All-American honors last season and is pretty much a unanimous 2014 preseason All-American. He is not expected to last too far into the first round of the 2015 NFL draft, and truth be told, it was a bit of a surprise he stuck around for another season because he likely would have been a first-round pick last spring. It will be interesting to see if he sees much action on his side of the field this season, considering he is the lone returning starter in the Ducks' secondary. His numbers might not wow you, but opposing coaches will start their Monday meetings by drawing a line down one third of the field and saying, "Ifo is here, so we're throwing over here."

No. 3: UCLA QB Brett Hundley

2013 stats: Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,071 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 748 yards and 11 scores.

Why he's ranked here: Kelly-Hundley, Hundley-Kelly -- based on last season, Kelly should nip his buddy from UCLA. But Hundley ends up at No. 3 because of projection. He is simply overbrimming with talent. He's big, strong, smart, charismatic, etc. Outside of Johnny Manziel, no one has more scramble yards in the past two seasons than Hundley (per ESPN Stats & Information). Though there are parts of his game that didn't completely arrive in 2013 -- still more feared as a runner than downfield passer and still takes too many sacks -- those were delays, not cancellations. Hundley also has a stacked supporting cast. The Bruins are the favorite in the Pac-12 South, a preseason top-10 team and a dark horse national title contender. If UCLA surges, Hundley almost certainly will become a top Heisman Trophy candidate.

No. 2: USC DT Leonard Williams

2013 stats: Williams was second on the Trojans with 74 tackles, tied with Devon Kennard for the team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.

Why he's ranked here: Williams, a 2013 first-team ESPN.com All-American, is the consensus pick as the nation's best returning defensive lineman. He could be the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, and he's almost certainly not going to last past the top 10 picks. Former USC coach Ed Orgeron called him the best defensive lineman he's ever coached, and Orgeron's defensive line résumé is deep. Williams has great length and athleticism and surprising power. He is the centerpiece of what might be the Pac-12's best defense. Last season, he was the lone sophomore semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player, and he is likely to be a finalist for just about every award for which he is eligible.

No. 1: Marcus Mariota

2013 stats: Mariota completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 3,665 yards with 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also rushed for 715 yards and nine touchdowns.

Why he's ranked here: Surprise! Bet you didn't see this coming, considering Mariota finished No. 1 on this list in 2012 and 2013. This was the easiest spot to fill on this list, perhaps the only easy spot by the way. Why? Mariota might be the best quarterback and player in the nation. In the 2014 Heisman Trophy race, he is option 1A besides Florida State's Jameis Winston, who won it last year but has significant character issues. Mariota opted to return and get his degree -- yes, he is taking a light class load this fall because he doesn't need any more credits -- and instantly made the Ducks (again) the Pac-12 favorite and a national title contender. The biggest question of the 2013 season was what might have happened if Mariota didn't suffer a knee injury before playing at Stanford. Pre-injury, he had 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions; post-injury, 11 touchdowns and four picks. All nine of his rushing touchdowns came before he partially tore his MCL. Despite that injury, Mariota led an offense that averaged 45.5 points per game last season -- tops in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation -- in a very good defensive conference. While his speed and production as a runner is impossible to ignore, what separates him is his passing ability. He was No. 1 in the Pac-12 in efficiency and No. 1 in the nation in ESPN’s adjusted QBR rating. He set an Oregon single-season record with 4,380 total yards. He also set a Pac-12 record by attempting 353 consecutive passes without an interception. Though character isn't much of a factor on this list -- the Pac-12 is fortunate that it didn't see much of that weigh down the offseason -- Mariota's is difficult to ignore. St. Marcus of Eugene seems likely to be in New York in December.

Top SEC players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
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Finally, the moment you've all been waiting for. Our top-25 countdown ends here and now with our best five players in the SEC entering the 2014 season.

5. Landon Collins, S, Alabama Crimson Tide
It was only a matter of time before Collins became one of the league’s best DBs. The former five-star recruit had to wait his turn, but when he got his chance as a sophomore, he jumped at the opportunity. Despite switching back and forth between free and strong safety and not starting the first four games of the season, he filled up the stat sheet with 70 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and eight passes defended.

4. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida Gators
Cornerback is one of those positions that’s supposed to take time to master. You have to learn the various coverages and physically mature to handle more experienced receivers. But Hargreaves defied convention last season, quickly becoming the top on-ball defender in the SEC by season’s end with three interceptions and 11 passes defended. "At the end of the day, he has some natural instincts that others of us don't have," his coach, Will Muschamp, explained.

3. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama Crimson Tide
We didn’t see Cooper’s best until late in 2013. By the time his foot injury healed, he tweaked his knee, and without full mobility, he wasn’t his usual elusive self. But in the final six games, he looked more like the Cooper we saw burst onto the scene as a true freshman, catching 30 passes for 507 yards and three touchdowns. Now fully healthy and armed with an offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin who loves to highlight his playmakers, Cooper’s stock could soar even higher as a junior.

2. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M Aggies
There’s got to be something in the water in College Station, Texas. The way the Aggies keep producing NFL-caliber offensive tackles defies any other explanation. First, it was Luke Joeckel. Then, it was Jake Matthews. Now, it’s Ogbuehi, who made himself a potential first-round pick at right tackle last season before deciding to return for his senior year and a shot at playing left tackle, the O-line’s biggest money position. You'd be hard pressed to find an offensive lineman who has a better blend of size, strength and athleticism than Ogbuehi.

1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia Bulldogs
Coaches, players and sports writers can agree on at least one thing: Gurley is a beast. At SEC media days, nearly every player surveyed by ESPN called Georgia’s lead tailback the most intimidating player to tackle in the league. Reporters, meanwhile, made Gurley a first-team All-SEC choice, awarding him the second-most votes overall. If he can stay healthy, he’s the league's best shot at winning the Heisman Trophy. With 2,374 yards in the past two seasons, only Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah has more career rushing yards entering 2014.

Top Big 12 players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
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With the season just a month away, we’ve used this week to rank the top 25 players in the Big 12.

You can click here to see the previous four installments.

Today, we wrap up the series with who we think the top five players in the league will be in 2014:

5. Cedric Reed, DE, Texas: Overshadowed by his Big 12 defensive player of the year teammate in 2013, Reed had almost as productive a season as Jackson Jeffcoat. Reed was third in the Big 12 with 10 sacks, fourth with 19 tackles for loss and tied for first with five forced fumbles. With Jeffcoat gone, Reed takes over as the centerpiece of coach Charlie Strong’s defense. He bring as much speed off the corner as any defensive end in the league and could play himself into the first round of the NFL draft with another big season.

4. Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma: He’s the Lawrence Taylor of the Big 12. Striker still needs to refine other parts of his game, but when it comes to rushing the passer off the blitz, there’s no one better in the country. Everyone remembers his three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, including the game-clinching forced fumble that led to an exclamation-point touchdown. But Striker had a penchant for creating big plays all season. On the first possession at Notre Dame, Striker slammed into quarterback Tommy Rees, knocking the ball into the air and into the arms of linebacker Corey Nelson, who gave the Sooners a quick 7-0 lead on the way to a 35-21 victory. Reed, Shawn Oakman and Ryan Mueller are all double-digit sack contenders, but Striker could be the odds-on favorite to win the Big 12’s sack crown in 2014.

3. Antwan Goodley, WR, Baylor: Goodley was arguably the league’s most improved player in 2013. He exploded right along with the Baylor offense, hauling in 1,339 receiving yards and a Big 12-best 13 touchdown catches. The big-play deep threat also led the nation with five receptions of 60 yards or more. Goodley won’t sneak up on anyone this season, but that doesn’t mean anyone will be able to contain him. The Bears have plenty of other weapons in the passing game and one of the nation’s top quarterbacks to get him the ball in Bryce Petty. Goodley has a legitimate chance to join Justin Blackmon and Michael Crabtree as the third Big 12 wideout to win Biletnikoff Award.

2. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State: One of Goodley’s prime competitors for the Biletnikoff Award figures to be Lockett. Prone to utterly unconscious performances in big games, Lockett combined for 35 receptions, 631 yards and six touchdowns in the three games against Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan last season. He’ll have a prime opportunity to show the nation what he can do in September, when defending SEC champion Auburn visits Manhattan, Kansas, for a Thursday night clash. Lockett is on pace to break every school career receiving record held by his father, Kevin Lockett. Tyler Lockett will square off against Goodley in the final week of the regular season in a showdown featuring two of the best wideouts to come through the Big 12.

1. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: The Dairy Queens in Salem, Oregon, might not appreciate Petty, but we do here, as slotting Petty No. 1 was the easiest decision we made while putting together this top-25 player ranking. In his first season as a starting quarterback, Petty totaled 46 touchdowns and threw just three interceptions while earning Big 12 offensive player of the year honors. It will be difficult for Petty to replicate such gaudy numbers, but with a year of experience behind him operating Art Briles' offense, Petty should be even sharper in 2014. If he is, he’ll have a chance to become the second Baylor quarterback to capture the Heisman Trophy in the past four seasons.

That’s it for our top 25 player ranking. Did we get it right? Send your thoughts to the Big 12 mailbag.

Top Big Ten players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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video

All week, we've been revealing our rankings of the Top 25 players in the Big Ten for 2014.

Now comes the moment you've been waiting for: the best of the best. Here are the top five players as we see them, based on past performance and potential for this season and as voted on by our crew of Big Ten reporters:

5. Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Beast. That's the first word that comes to mind when you watch Gregory. He can match anyone in the country athletically, and he's got a motor that runs all day. Gregory led the Big Ten in sacks with 10.5 last season, and what's most impressive about that is that it was his first season of major college football. The potential for even greater things is there in 2014.

No. 4: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin Badgers
Few players cause you to hold your breath when they touch the ball more than the Badgers' junior tailback. He gobbles up turf with his long strides, and when he turns the corner on a defense, he's gone in a flash. Gordon averaged a ridiculous 7.8 yards per carry last season, and he could easily lead the nation in rushing in 2014.

No. 3: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa Hawkeyes
Is there a stronger player in the Big Ten, or college football? After watching this, that seems doubtful. But Scherff, who played quarterback in high school, is more than just a hulk of muscles. He's nimble and physical, making him one of the best offensive tackles anywhere and the anchor of Iowa's plan of attack.

No. 2: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Abdullah led the Big Ten in total rushing yards last season and has the most career 100-yard games among FBS players with 17. His 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame belies the toughness with which he runs, and he's also got the speed to blow by people. He's the heart and soul of Nebraska and one of the fiercest competitors around.

No. 1: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State Buckeyes
Who else? Miller is the back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year who will try to make it three straight as a senior. There are holes to pick in his game -- he's not a pinpoint passer, he gets banged up a bit too much -- but he almost always finds a way to get the job done, especially in the clutch. The belt belongs to him until someone else snatches it.

Top ACC players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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We wrap up our preseason countdown of the top 25 players in the ACC with the best of the best:

5. Jamison Crowder, Duke

Position: Wide receiver
Year: Senior

Crowder has a chance to leave school as the ACC's career leader in receptions and yards receiving. The electrifying Crowder needs 85 receptions and 1,152 receiving yards to set those marks, well within reason considering he has gone over 1,000 yards receiving each of the last two years. But beyond his receiving skills, Crowder is one of the best punt returners in the country, ranking No. 6 in the nation last year. He has led Duke in all-purpose yards for three straight seasons and needs just 1,537 yards to set the school record in all-purpose yards.

4. Rashad Greene, Florida State

Position: Wide receiver
Year: Senior

Greene makes the top five here, but he continues to be one of the most underrated receivers nationally. His numbers speak for themselves. Greene has led the Seminoles in receiving three straight seasons and is coming off his first 1,000-yard campaign. Already, he ranks fourth in school history in career receptions (171), sixth in receiving yards (2,465) and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns (22). Greene has caught a pass in 29 straight games, and that speaks to what he has done better than any receiver in recent history. He is consistent. Greene rarely makes mistakes and rarely drops passes. He will be critical to Jameis Winston's success this year.

3. Duke Johnson, Miami

Position: Running back
Year: Junior

Johnson knows how much he means to Miami. That became pretty clear when the Hurricanes went into a tailspin after he broke his ankle against Florida State in November. Nobody else on that team can replicate his speed, power, quickness and ability to make defenders miss. Johnson has never posted a 1,000-yard season -- a backup as a freshman and injuries derailed him last year -- but he does have something more impressive. His career average is 6.6 yards per carry, a true testament to how dynamic he is as a runner.

2. Vic Beasley, Clemson

Position: Defensive end
Year: Senior

Beasley could have left school early for the NFL draft after a monster 2013, in which he had 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss to rank as one of the best in the nation. But he decided to return to anchor what could be one of the best defensive lines in the country. Beasley is not that much bigger than a year ago, but he has worked on dropping back into coverage along with fine-tuning his pass-rushing skills to be even better this season. Clemson expects him to be, especially since the Tigers will be relying on Beasley and the defense to set the tone.

1. Jameis Winston, Florida State

Position: Quarterback
Year: Redshirt sophomore

Maybe Winston can do what Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel could not -- become just the second player in history to repeat as the Heisman winner. Winston has a terrific shot to do so, given all the talent the Seminoles return. He was the overwhelming choice to repeat as ACC Player of the Year and is on the preseason watch list for every major quarterback and player of the year award. He will be playing behind the best offensive line in the country, though he faces his biggest test adapting to new players at the skill positions. Outside of Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary, a new cast of players need to step up as reliable targets. There is no 6-foot-5, 240-pound safety blanket named Kelvin Benjamin anymore. If the offense can transition seamlessly with new faces at key spots, Winston will be the reason.
Isaiah Johnson has been playing football for 15 years. He went 13 straight years without getting hurt. When injury struck the Georgia Tech safety at the most inopportune time, the wait was insufferable.

Nineteen months removed from a devastating knee injury, however, Johnson is ready to take the field and re-establish himself as a leader in the Yellow Jackets' defensive backfield. Georgia Tech opened fall camp Thursday, and the countdown to Week 1 and return to meaningful action for Johnson is within a month.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Johnson
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson missed all of the 2013 season after knee surgery.
"Oh, I'm past 100 percent," Johnson said with a laugh. "It's been a year-and-a-half — what have I been doing? I'm good. I went through spring practice and it was good. After that first day, it was just back to normal."

Johnson had a difficult time adjusting after tearing both the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament in his left knee in a bowl practice leading up to the Hyundai Sun Bowl against USC in December 2012. The 21-7 victory over the Trojans marked the first missed game of his career, snapping a 39-game playing streak — which included 26 consecutive starts — in his first three college seasons.

But the most difficult part might have come nine months later, with Georgia Tech's 2013 campaign already underway. Three games into the season, Johnson, who had missed spring practice, came to the conclusion with his coaches that he would be better off sitting out the remainder of the season, lest he risk further damage to a still-recovering knee.

"It was very difficult. I had to get it out of my system," Johnson said of the frustration. "But once I thought about it, [I] realized that this is the best thing for me."

"I've been playing football nonstop every year since I was 7, and 'til this point last year, I hadn't sat out a season, so it was hard for me and my family," the Tyrone, Georgia native later added, "because they had a whole football season [in which] they didn't know what to do, because they're used to watching me play."

Johnson said he stayed active by doing some light scout-team work during the season. He returned to practice this spring and was relieved to feel no hesitation breaking on balls or delivering hits to receivers. He said that the entire ordeal has only validated his love for the game.

"I think that it's been a work in progress for Isaiah," coach Paul Johnson said. "He was actually cleared last year but he just didn't feel right, so he wanted to make sure when he came back that he was completely healthy, and I think he's done that and I'm sure he's excited to play his senior year."

Isaiah Johnson led the team in tackles during his junior campaign, with 87 in 2012. And with safety Jamal Golden also returning after being granted a medical redshirt last season because of a shoulder injury, Georgia Tech will rely on its secondary to anchor the defense in coordinator Ted Roof's second season.

"Turnovers," Isaiah Johnson said when asked about the defense's goals, repeating the word three times for emphasis. "We want to lead the ACC and lead the nation or be in the top five, so turnovers, and being able to finish. We need to finish games."
Nick Harwell brings something to Kansas' offense that no other receiver on the roster can match: proven, consistent production.

[+] EnlargeNick Harwell
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerMiami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell is expected to open up Charlie Weis' offense at Kansas.
The Miami (Ohio) transfer has the ability to kick-start KU's offense this fall, as a proven go-to guy for an offense in dire need of additional playmakers.

"He will bring leadership, a guy that is consistent and someone we can count on," tight end Jimmay Mundine said. "He was their go-to guy [at Miami] and they could count on him to be that. Every time."

The numbers speak for themselves.

During the past three seasons, KU receivers have combined for 229 receptions for 2,759 yards and nine touchdowns. While suiting up for Miami from 2010-12, Harwell had 229 career receptions for 3,166 yards and 23 touchdowns in three seasons. That included 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore.

Harwell should bring a level of consistency to the Jayhawks' passing game that Charlie Weis has been searching for since he arrived in Lawrence, Kansas, before the 2012 season.

"He's going to open it up for everybody," Mundine said. "If you put him 1-on-1, he can beat anybody. We need that consistency, leadership and the thought that he will be there for us."

Harwell's playmaking ability could create more space for Mundine, receiver/running back Tony Pierson and quarterback Montell Cozart in KU's new offense. If the Jayhawks' spring game is any indication, offensive coordinator John Reagan will make it a point to put the ball in the hands of the explosive Harwell.

"Anytime you can plug in a No. 1 wide receiver that's already been playing, played three years already as a starter with big production, it puts a whole different composition to your wide receiver position," Weis said. "Adding a valuable senior leader like Nick, with his athleticism, just makes everyone around him play better."

After off-the-field troubles forced Harwell to transfer to KU before the 2013 season, linebacker Ben Heeney got to see first-hand just how talented he was during Harwell's time on the scout team. The Jayhawks' first-team defense had to deal with Harwell every day during his 2013 season on the sideline, so those defenders could have the best understanding of the type of impact Harwell could have on KU's offense.

"Every time he touches the ball, something special happens," Heeney said. "He's got the speed and playmaking ability. He's going to be special for us this year."

FSU No. 1 in coaches' poll

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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Surprise, surprise -- Florida State is the preseason No. 1 team in the Amway Coaches Poll.

The Seminoles received 56 of the 62 first-place votes as they enter 2014 looking to repeat as national champions.

Clemson and North Carolina were the only other ACC teams to be ranked, coming in at Nos. 16 and 23, respectively. For those keeping track, that means UNC is the only team from the Coastal Division to be ranked in the poll. This comes after Miami was chosen by the media in Greensboro, North Carolina, last week as the preseason Coastal favorite, in the same poll that saw Duke receive the most first-place Coastal votes. It is worth repeating again: This division race is wide open.

Notre Dame, which begins its football affiliation with the ACC this fall, checks in at No. 17 in the coaches' poll.

Miami leads the ACC contingent in the "others receiving votes" category of the coaches' poll, coming in at No. 34 overall. Right behind the Hurricanes? Duke and Louisville, at Nos. 35 and 36, respectively. Virginia Tech comes in at No. 40 while Georgia Tech is No. 48.

Half of the ACC's coaches vote in the poll: Frank Beamer, David Cutcliffe, Larry Fedora, Jimbo Fisher, Al Golden, Paul Johnson and Dabo Swinney. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly votes as well. Shockingly, all eight of those coaches saw their teams receive votes.
Last week at Pac-12 media days, the media poll was announced and the resounding response was that the media believes the Ducks will win this year’s Pac-12 championship game.

When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.

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Which will be the matchup in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game?

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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,830)

We didn’t need a media poll to start thinking about the Pac-12 championship game, but this just gave us even more reason to explore it. Yes, these four teams seem to be a step ahead in personnel and game plan for the season, and have some favorable matchups here and there. But, it’s college football and craziness happens, so there is certainly a chance that a team not in this group jumps into the lead in the North or South and ends up playing in Levi’s Stadium at the end of the season.

So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?

Will it be:

Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.

Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.

Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.

Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.

Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Finding inspiration was the easy part for Cameron Lynch. All he had to do was walk out to a varsity high school football game and focus on the undersized linebacker making all the tackles.

Lynch, in middle school at the time, had a similar size and also played linebacker. If the undersized player in front of him could make all the plays, Lynch could, too, when he got his chance. He vowed to make them even better.

Trying to get there? Well, that would be the hard part.

[+] EnlargeCameron Lynch
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonSyracuse linebacker Cameron Lynch had 69 tackles (12 for loss) and four sacks last season.
Because that linebacker was one of the top prospects at his position despite his smaller stature. Rennie Curran racked up 198 tackles one year, and had 13 sacks the next on his way to a scholarship offer from Georgia. Curran made an immediate impact with the Bulldogs, too, eventually becoming an All-SEC player and third-round NFL draft pick.

All those accolades served as motivation for Lynch, happy to follow the footsteps. His mom made a poster for his room, detailing all Curran’s stats, along with his numbers in the weight room. Whatever Curran did, Lynch wanted to do.

“He set the bar,” said Lynch, now a senior linebacker at Syracuse. “He put up major numbers. He inspired me to do a lot of things that I've done so far, and I look up to him a lot.”

Lynch put up nearly identical numbers at Brookwood High in Snellville, Georgia. He had 188 tackles his senior season, and ended up breaking Curran’s sack record. He also led Brookwood to a state championship, something Curran was unable to do.

Still, Curran received interest from the SEC’s big-time programs. The only SEC school to offer Lynch was Vanderbilt. The two had nearly identical size (both 5-foot-11 and about 225 pounds) and nearly identical numbers. But in Lynch’s case, his smaller stature scared off some schools.

Not Syracuse. Coach Scott Shafer said Lynch’s performance in the state championship game remains “one of the best high school performances from a linebacker that I've ever watched.” Lynch ended up choosing Syracuse over Harvard and Vanderbilt, giving himself an opportunity to excel both in the classroom and on the football field.

But Curran was never far from his mind. Lynch eventually reached out to his role model for advice. The two formed a friendship, and Curran still mentors Lynch to this day.

“I go back to Brookwood a lot to speak, and I always hear how he plays like me,” Curran said in a recent phone interview. “It's an awesome feeling. When you work hard at something and put your passion into it and overcome adversity, you think you’re going at it by yourself sometimes. But when you look back, you realize you inspire other people indirectly just by overcoming different obstacles.”

The best piece of advice Curran has given Lynch, from one undersized linebacker to another?

“The biggest key is just consistent and persistent effort, just fighting hard and being mindful of trying to be the first guy to the ball every play, every down,” said Curran, who now plays in the CFL with Edmonton. “Doing the extra work in the weight room, in the film room, doing all the little things that can help you overcome not being the prototypical size.”

Lynch has been among the hardest workers at Syracuse, and he also happens to be one of its strongest – earning him a spot on the NFL.com ‘Freaks’ list for his combination of speed (4.7 40-yard dash) and strength (435-pound bench press, 620-pound squat).

He finished last season with 69 tackles (12 for loss) and four sacks but wants to bump those numbers higher, following the same upward trajectory he had in high school. His goal? One hundred tackles. Shafer said Lynch can get there before quickly saying, “Hopefully he can't get it because it means we're not on the field.”

After the season, a shot in the NFL awaits. Curran says “without a doubt” Lynch has what it takes to play in the NFL, but also added that he would need to be in the perfect system and with the right coaching staff since measurables hold much more significance in the pros.

Curran saw his NFL career cut short for a variety of reasons, including coaching staff changes. He detailed his experiences in a book he wrote called, “Free Agent.” Lynch read the book, leading to a discussion between the two about future prospects.

“I try to be real with him and let him know not only the importance of his senior year, but also the business side. There's so much to it,” Curran said. “I think he's going to be just fine. He's got a great head on his shoulders. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't have your head right, it really doesn't matter. That's one thing I feel confident in with him. He's a great kid. He has his head on right. He's going to be successful whether he plays football or not.”
What do you really know about the origins of college football? If you're like me, you think of Ivy League types meeting on fields before small crowds. It was a simpler game -- no forward pass until 1906 -- played at a simpler time.

The big topics these days -- player compensation, player safety, cheating, academic/eligibility questions, scheduling ethics, football factories, soaring coaching salaries and saturated media coverage -- seemingly have no connection with the sport in its infancy.

[+] EnlargeYale-Princeton 1893
Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library With 50,000 fans watching, Princeton's Phil King places the ball at midfield to begin the 1893 game against Yale. King went on to become the head coach at Wisconsin, where he coached Pat O'Dea.
But there are links between college football's distant past and present -- lots of links. Dave Revsine's terrific new book, "The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation," details how college football between 1890-1915 isn't all that different from the current sport.

The meticulously researched book describes a wildly popular, often corrupt, extremely dangerous sport filled with power-hungry coaches and larger-than-life stars promoted by media members at every turn. Back then, the University of Chicago was a football factory, and kickers, including Wisconsin's Pat O'Dea, dominated the spotlight. But the same themes that resonated then still hold true today.

"These games were so huge and the sport was so important to schools," Revsine recently told me. "Anyone who follows college football knows it was played in the late 1800s, but I always had this notion that it was a bunch of well-mannered Ivy Leaguers taking a break from their Shakespeare recitations to kick the ball for two hours in front of 200 people. It just couldn’t be further from the truth. I open the book with the 1893 game between Yale and Princeton, and there's 50,000 people in New York City and the New York Sun has 17 reporters at the game.

"That was such an eye-opener."

It's a great read, especially for Big Ten fans, as Revsine, the Big Ten Network's lead host, describes the league's early stages and stars like O'Dea. I caught up with Revsine to discuss the book.

What is O'Dea's legacy and place in college football history?

"I just thought he was a fascinating story and how he really helped raise the profile, not just of the University of Wisconsin, but all of the schools in the Midwest. That game in 1899, where they go out and play Yale, that was a huge, huge deal. He was such a curiosity. And the legend may have been a little larger than the reality at times, and at other times it was not. His significance is partly raising the profile of football in the Midwest. There's a great quote in there, when Michigan went out to play Harvard in the 1890s, [the Wolverines] were referred to as, 'Crude blacksmiths, miners and backwoodsmen.'

"You think of what people thought of our area of the country, and, in a larger sense, this whole sense of superstardom and our need for superstars was really fascinating. And then his story, the mystery that surrounded him. Was O'Dea the most significant college football player in that time period? Probably not. But everything that happened, all these big-picture things in the sport, happened to him in some way. He was a great way to make it a narrative."

What was the Big Ten's role in the sport?

The biggest thing I learned is how invested [the University of Chicago] was in football. I always had this notion that at a certain point, Chicago just decided that the sport was beneath them and going in a direction they weren't comfortable with. If it was going in that direction, it was going there because of the world they, more than any school in the Midwest, had helped create. And just the idea that the Big Ten's founding principles were about eligibility and academics. They were wrestling with this idea of who can play and who can't play. It was a bunch of like-minded schools trying to figure out, 'How can we put structure to this?' Now, as we see in the book, they put structure to it and then instantly ignored it. When it wasn’t convenient, they went in the other direction."

You have 60 pages of citations at the end of the book. What was the research process like?

"It took me four years. I read a lot of articles, I was in a lot of archives, I wanted to make sure that everything I put in there, I attributed. It was arduous. There were definitely times when I said, 'What in the world am I doing? What did I do this to myself? I have a job. I have a family.' But there's just a passion to it. I got so fired up by it."

What lessons does that time period in the sport provide?

"It's fascinating, just the discussion about likenesses this summer with the Ed O'Bannon case. The book mentions Willie Heston, who played for Michigan, and they sold Willie Heston cigars on campus in Ann Arbor. Part of the lesson is there's nothing new. We live in this time period where we say these are unique challenges for the sport and the sport is in an unprecedented place. The scope has definitely changed, it's a much bigger enterprise, but the sport has been grappling with these issues for a long time, almost from the outset."
HOOVER, Ala. -- Last year's season-opener should have been a moment of triumph for Jay Hughes. His unranked Mississippi State Bulldogs went into Reliant Stadium in Houston against the No. 13 Oklahoma State Cowboys with something to prove. Down three starters in the secondary, including two NFL-caliber cornerbacks, it was thought that the game would devolve into a shootout that favored the air-it-out Cowboys offense, which had averaged 547 yards and 45.7 points per game the season prior.

[+] EnlargeJay Hughes
Marvin Gentry/USA Today SportsJay Hughes, who has recovered from last year's season-ending injury, says the Bulldogs have the talent to make some noise in the SEC this season.
Hughes heard "all the negative things about the secondary," he said toward the end of fall camp. He also heard one Cowboys player say that, "Sometimes those SEC defenses lose their breath" against up-tempo offenses like theirs. He heard it all, and showed up anyways, ready for his first full season as a starter at safety. And for two series, it looked like Hughes and his defense would have the last laugh.

But with a second straight three-and-out in sight, Hughes stepped in front of a pass from Clint Chelf, knocked down the ball and immediately fell to one knee. He could have been stepped on or fallen awkwardly; you couldn't tell from the television replay. Writhing on the turf, he grabbed his right heel, and after a minute or so, tried to get to the sideline under his own power but couldn't. With the support of two trainers, he limped out of the frame. He had a torn ACL. His season was over.

It was hard for everyone on the team to see Hughes go down like that. Veteran linebacker Bernardrick McKinney described it as a "very emotional time for Jay." He had a decision to make: Either ask "Why me?" or "What can I do?" He chose the latter.

"I knew the moment I got hurt I still had to be there for my teammates," Hughes said. "I was still going to meetings, still going to special teams meetings, all while I was doing my rehab."

After a couple of road trips spent recuperating at home in Starkville, Mississippi, he decided enough was enough. He was going to the Texas A&M game to be a part of his team no matter what.

"I said, 'I'm going to pack my bags. I'm going to go with my boys this week,'" he said. "I'm on the sideline with crutches and a boot. I'm there saying, 'I don't need no crutches.'"

As the lone member of the Juice Boys in College Station that day -- the group whose "role is to keep the crowd going" is made of primarily scout team players who don't usually travel to away games -- he wrapped two towels together in order to better stand out. And he did, especially to his teammates.

"That means a lot," McKinney said. "He has a lot of heart. He pushes us even when he's hurt. He was at every game trying to push us up, even in the bad times telling us, 'We got it.'"

Despite losing the opener to Oklahoma State, 21-3, and dropping five of the next nine games, Mississippi State rallied to win three straight and finish 7-6 overall.

Instead of entering this season with a bleak outlook and a lack of experience on defense, there's hope and optimism and depth on both sides of the ball. The secondary alone returns three starters -- not including Hughes, who wasn't able to fully participate in spring practice but will be 100 percent in time for fall camp, which begins Thursday.

"I'm back, so let's go," Hughes said. "It's time. Let's do it.

"I'm hungry. I'm ready to eat. It's really good to be back on the field."

"Him coming back made his life complete again," McKinney said. "He's a hard worker. He's getting the safeties right. He's back running full-speed."

Coach Dan Mullen called Hughes a "great young man, worker and leader" on defense.

"It is a huge lift for all of our guys to have him back," he said.

Even quarterback Dak Prescott has noticed.

"They're all following Jay's lead," he said. "When you have a guy like that to look up to, it's fantastic."

If Hughes is setting the tone, it might be best described as "Championship or bust."

After so many years of running in the middle of the pack of the SEC West, Mississippi State feels this season is its best chance to reach Atlanta. Alabama and LSU have new quarterbacks, and Auburn has one of the toughest schedules in the conference. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have a promising offense with Prescott under center, a defense loaded with depth and young talent such as rising star Chris Jones, and a schedule that sets up favorably with no real challenges out of conference and an SEC East rotation that includes Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

"It's almost like we know, man," Hughes said of the team's hunger to win a championship. "It's almost like we know. We have as good of talent as anybody with the numbers and the experience we have on the field. And with that, it's all up to us.

"We have the talent, we have the numbers, now what are we going to do?"

Expectations have risen among coaches, fans, family and "even ourselves," Hughes said. After the way last season went down and the promise that lies ahead, Hughes isn't ready to waste the opportunity.

"It's really serious right now," he said. "I tell my guys as soon as you step in this building, nothing else matters. You get that look in your eyes, and let's go, let's work."

Top Big 12 players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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With the season just a month away, we’re taking this week to rank the top 25 players in the Big 12.

This is a ranking of who we think the best 25 players will be over the course of the 2014 season.

You can click here to see the previous three installments.

Today, we continue the series with Nos. 10-6:

10. Le'Raven Clark, OG, Texas Tech: Clark was a freshman All-American tackle two years ago and a first-team All-Big 12 performer last season as the anchor of the Texas Tech offensive line. With the addition of junior-college tackle Dominique Robertson, Clark is moving inside to guard, a more natural position for his 315-pound frame. Clark already has proven to be a terrific pass-blocker, but he could also become a road-grader in the run game in his new spot.

9. Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor: Sometimes you don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty found out the hard way just how valuable his left tackle is when Drango suffered a season-ending back injury in early November. With Drango protecting his blindside, Petty was sacked only eight times through the Bears’ first nine games. With Drango sidelined, Petty was sacked nine times in Baylor’s last four games -- two of which the Bears lost as their high-powered offense sputtered down the stretch. The good news for Petty, and Baylor, is that Drango is healthy again and ready to help keep one of the nation’s most lethal quarterbacks upright.

8. Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma: One offensive lineman at Big 12 media days noted that Tapper was the most difficult defender to block in the Big 12. The 6-foot-4, 281-pound junior runs like a linebacker with the strength of a defensive tackle. He was the only defensive underclassman to be named first-team All-Big 12 last season, and considering he’s only started 12 games in his career, he figures only to get better playing alongside one of the most talented and deepest defensive lines in the country.

7. Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor: Coach Art Briles has been effusive in his praise of Oakman, whom he called “unblockable” during the spring. The 6-foot-9, 275-pound outspoken defensive end could be an unstoppable force this season in the Big 12. Despite being a part-time player in 2013, Oakman still finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. The switch just now appears to have flipped for Oakman this offseason, which is a frightening proposition for Big 12 quarterbacks not named Bryce Petty.

6. Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State: Mueller doesn’t have the length or the athleticism that Tapper and Oakman do. But the former unrecruited walk-on finds a way to make plays. In 2013, Mueller finished with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, both of which were second in the league only to Jackson Jeffcoat, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Mueller forced four fumbles, too. There are players, and then there are playmakers. Mueller fits the latter.

Coming Friday: Nos. 5-1 ...

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