Video: Oregon coach Mark Helfrich

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
10:34
PM ET
video
Chantel Jennings talks to Oregon Ducks coach Mark Helfrich at Pac-12 media day.

Media Days takeaways: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:57
PM ET
Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 1 of Pac-12 media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

Biggest football-centric takeaway?

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsRich Rodriguez said on Wednesday that he hasn't determined who will start at QB for Arizona this fall.
Kevin Gemmell: Arizona still doesn’t have a quarterback. Not that that’s shocking. We knew it was going to take awhile for Rich Rodriguez to find the right guy to run things in 2014. But with a really talented stable of wide receivers ready to break out and get all freaky on secondaries, you’d think he’d be at least a little bit closer to whittling down his pecking order. You’d be wrong: “Even if I knew who the starter was, I wouldn’t tell you all. Why would I tell you and tell our opponents? I really don’t know who not just No. 1 is, but I don’t know who No. 1, 2 or 3 is.” Maybe it’s a lot of coachspeak and he knows exactly what the offense will look like. Maybe he really doesn’t know. Feel like we’ve been here before …

Chantel Jennings: I knew there was a high interest in USC this year, but I guess I didn’t realize how high. The reporter crowd around Steve Sarkisian was about three times as large as for any other coach who attended today (including Mark Helfrich, whose team is the favorite for the Pac-12 title). Obviously, it’s USC and by nature, people will care. But with the program being back on track, a new coach, some exciting players and a new offensive scheme, the Trojans are going to be in a complete pressure cooker. Quarterback Cody Kessler talked about how last year -- and the amount of change and adversity they faced -- will help them this season. Yes, certainly the whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” argument is valid. But how much stronger is USC? And are the Trojans strong enough to put up a fight in the South? Are they strong enough to handle the growing pains under a first-year coach? Are they strong enough to handle the increasingly high expectations of the public?

Kyle Bonagura: When it comes to quarterback play, believe the hype. And while, by nature, these types of events exist almost primarily to generate hype, everyone seemed to be in agreement that the quarterbacks have a chance to be considered one of the best conference groups in college football history. That’s not hyperbole, either. There have been comparable years if you take a look at the top five or six, maybe, but to have 10 returning quarterbacks — and so many decorated players among that group — might be unmatched.

Biggest nonfootball takeaway

Gemmell: Oregon and Washington fans might not like this, but the chances their bitter rivalry will grow frostier are slim. When asked about his relationship with new Washington coach Chris Petersen, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich offered this: “My relationship with Pete will be great forever. I’m going to hate him on certain days and some days he’ll hate me, whether it’s recruiting or on game day. But the guy is a lifelong friend of mine and that won’t change. I know that’s going to make both of our fan bases very unhappy.” But it’s oh-so bromantic.

Jennings: The event today had a few different activities set up for the players, including a game of corn hole (for you non-Midwesterners, you’ll know this as "the game with the angled boards with holes in them that you try to get bean bags in"). I, myself, am a connoisseur of the sport and will challenge anyone. However, I wasn’t too impressed with some of the guys and coaches playing today. Especially some of the QBs. You can throw a football 60 yards, but you can't toss a bean bag 20 feet? C’mon.

Bonagura: The conference’s new buzzword is “innovation.” Commissioner Larry Scott used it nine times in his lengthy opening remarks to begin the day and seems focused on using the conference’s home near Silicon Valley to help aid the use of technology in as many ways as possible. He specifically referred to a partnership with AT&T, Sporting Innovations and Stanford that includes the development of an app that will supposedly make more information — videos, stats, etc. — more accessible to fans while in attendance. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on how innovative this innovation ends up being, but long term it’s not a bad thing.

Best quote of the day

Gemmell: Had a nice little chat with WSU linebacker Darryl Monroe about the fallout from the bowl game and what he thinks when he hears someone use the expression, "Coug’d it": “For me, Coug’d should mean you just went out there and dominated. I don’t understand where this impression of 'Coug’d it' means you did something in a negative light. Maybe the Urban Dictionary should think about rewriting that definition to 'Coug’d it means completely dominated your opponent.'”

Jennings: Can we just insert Mike Leach’s news conference transcript here? (Follow up: Can we just give Mike Leach a reality TV show?) But really, to give you the full experience … I walked up to the media scrum midway through Leach’s news conference. This is the exact moment I walked in. Enjoy.

“The gnats rarely got too hot, I guess. And then finally this one high school coach, as I'm recruiting there, he says, 'Try this.' Now I have big, old fat lips, so it didn't work very good. But he could fire up a little pucker, kind of blow the gnats off, then they had Skin So Soft [lotion], which is big. And I don't know what that is, but evidently gnats don't like it. They rub that all over [their faces]. But it looked kind of oily, you know? What I think is the gnats don't care about it, but it probably puts a little sheet of oil on there so it's harder to bite you. You don't feel the bite. That's just one guy's theory. I'm sure I'm wrong.”

Bonagura: “We've got a brand-new facility that's great, but everybody's got new stuff. Oregon changes it out like Porta-Potties. Like every four or five years like we need a new this, and they go do it.” -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on the facilities arms race in the conference

A couple of things to address here: (1) He’s right. As a whole, the conference has done a great job upgrading its facilities across the board. It’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how each construction project has helped each individual school — mainly from a recruiting standpoint — because it’s about keeping up with the Joneses as much as anything. (2) Who knew RichRod had a working knowledge of Porta-Potty lifespans?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota, a topflight NFL prospect, said he isn't sure if he will turn pro after this season.
Best lie of the day

Jennings: Marcus Mariota said he hasn’t made his mind up on whether or not he’d leave for the NFL after this season. Now, I will say that this is a hard case because it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If he came in and said, “Yep, no matter what happens, I’m out,” then he’d be criticized. So I’m not necessarily criticizing him for this -- he’s saying what he needed to say and that’s the right thing to do. But the moment it came out of his mouth, all the reporters silently went, “Riiiiiiiiiiiight.”

Bonagura: Agree wholeheartedly with Jennings. When asked if this will be his final year at Oregon, Mariota simply replied: “I’m not sure.” He sounded sincere, too, but it’s tough to envision a scenario in which he’s not beginning training camp with an NFL team at this time next year. Seeing one of the best talents in college football pass up potentially becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft back-to-back seasons doesn’t happen.

Gemmell: Have to agree with my colleagues. It was nice for Mariota to say there is a chance he could come back for another season. And everyone in emerald land just got all giddy at the prospect of maybe seeing Mariota rocking the "O" beyond 2014. But I think we all know it ain't going to happen. He took out an insurance policy for a reason. Enjoy him while you can for now, Oregon fans. Because he's as good as gone.

Which player made a good impression on you?

Gemmell: I’ve long been a fan of Connor Halliday’s play. Is he reckless sometimes? Sure. Does he throw too many interceptions? Yeah. But I also like a guy who will throw a pick and then on the next drive make the exact same throw for a 60-yard touchdown. I like the moxie. And I thought that confidence came through during his podium session. He fielded all of the questions about turnovers and bowl games and still had time to crack wise about his head coach. You need poise to play for Mike Leach. And Halliday showed me a little of that today.

Jennings: Utah WR Dres Anderson isn’t a guy who has had a ton of media training or been in too many situations in which he’s crowded by the media. But even so, he handled it very gracefully. He was energetic, funny and engaging without seeming disingenuous (which some players do when they’re so over-the-top). He told anecdotes without needed to be asked, “OK, do you have any examples of that?” by reporters. He was a player who it seemed was really just having a bunch of good conversations with strangers.

Bonagura: Cal quarterback Jared Goff was in a tough spot last year getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman on a historically bad team, but you wouldn’t have known that based on his demeanor today. Goff was polished, personable and said all the things you’d want your team’s starting quarterback to say. If there were any doubts about how well he’d evolve into a leadership role, there shouldn’t be. With 10 returning starters at the position, Goff might fly under the radar in the conference, but he’s as talented a young quarterback as there is in the country and has a chance to compete statistically with the nation’s best.

And of course, no recap would be right without a series of Leach tweets:

Fun in the photo booth, Pac-12 style

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:10
PM ET
The Pac-12 introduced some silliness to its media days, as players and coaches took a reprieve from media questioning to have some fun with the props and costumes in the league's selfie photo booth.

Marcus MariotaCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsOregon's Derrick Malone and Marcus Mariota
 
USCCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsUSC's Cody Kessler, Leonard Williams and Steve Sarkisian
 
Mike LeachCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsWashington State's Darryl Monroe, Mike Leach and Connor Halliday
 
Dres AndersonCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsUtah's Dres Anderson and Nate Orchard
 
HillCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsArizona's Austin Hill and Jared Tevis
 
Jared GoffCourtesy of the Pac-12 Conference via Life of the Party PhotoboothsCal's Stefan McClure and Jared Goff
 

Strong encourages series with Texas A&M

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
5:18
PM ET
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Texas and Texas A&M have played 118 times, and their in-state rivalry was a longtime holiday tradition in the Lone Star State, with the teams meeting 64 times on Thanksgiving Day.

But one of the sport's most storied rivalries was a victim of conference realignment, as the Longhorns and Aggies stopped playing each other when Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC before the 2012 season.

While Texas and Texas A&M administrators have repeatedly said renewing the rivalry isn't on their front burners, new Longhorns coach Charlie Strong said he wants the rivalry to resume.

To read more, click here.

Big 12 media days takeaways

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
5:00
PM ET
DALLAS -- Big 12 media days have come and gone. Some of the storylines (Dairy Queen, fake watches) were silly. Others were far more serious. Here are some of the takeaways from this year’s edition of media days:

Baylor has a chip on its shoulder: Despite winning the Big 12 last season and returning the Big 12 offensive player of the year in quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor was voted second in the conference’s preseason poll behind Oklahoma. The Bears clearly felt a bit disrespected while in Dallas this week. "That comes with being Baylor," defensive end Shawn Oakman said. "We're gonna be great one day and y'all are gonna notice." The Bears were pretty great last season, stomping the Sooners 41-12 on the way to their first Big 12 title. "That game from OU last year, that should have showed you that that product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field," Oakman said. "The execution, the players from each and every position ... You could tell we were on a different level from OU." Still getting picked to finish behind Oklahoma has given the Bears extra fuel for this season. "In our minds, we’re still underdogs," Oakman said. "We play with a chip on our shoulder. You only get the respect if you earn it."

Stoops is loose as a goose: The loosest coach at Big 12 media days might have been Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He was cracking jokes, photo-bombing his wife’s TV interview (she was there for a Mary Kay convention) and taking a break between interview sessions to grab a strawberry smoothie. He even chided Alabama coach Nick Saban for suggesting the Crimson Tide didn’t care about being in the Sugar Bowl. "So if I’m not in a national championship game, that means I’ve got a built-in excuse?" Stoops said. Such bravado could be a sign that Stoops thinks he has a pretty good team. With Trevor Knight at quarterback and nine starters back defensively, it’s not hard to see why.

TCU has a big problem: Though they had already left, the Horned Frogs were the story the second day of Big 12 media days. Defensive end Devonte Fields, who last week was voted the league's preseason defensive player of the year, was accused of pulling a gun on his ex-girlfriend. TCU acted quickly after the news surfaced, claiming it had "separated" from Fields. If any part of the allegations levied against Fields are true, it’s difficult to see him ever playing another game in the Big 12. That is a big loss for the league. And an even bigger one for TCU, which is attempting to bounce back from one of its worst seasons in the Gary Patterson era.

Strong believes in Ash: The biggest question mark in Charlie Strong’s first season as coach at Texas is quarterback. More specifically, quarterback David Ash. But even though Ash missed virtually all of last season with concussion issues, then the spring with a fractured foot, Strong said he was impressed with Ash when watching old game film. "When Ash is healthy, he played very well," Strong said. All signs point to Ash being the starter when the Longhorns open the season. Whether he can be consistent and be healthy could go a long way in dictating how Strong’s first season goes, too.

Bowlsby does not believe in the NCAA: According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, cheating pays. And the enforcement wing of the NCAA is broken. Bowlsby painted a bleak future for the NCAA, also predicting that Olympic sports could be in trouble down the line. "If you like intercollegiate athletics the way it is, you're going to hate it going forward," he said. "There's a lot of change coming." Because of its popularity, football will always be fine. But with lawsuits and athletic department expenses about to rise dramatically, Bowlsby thinks something will have to give.

Everyone’s mind is on the playoff, even if all minds don’t quite get it: The inaugural College Football Playoff was one of the big topics of conversation this week. The Big 12 coaches all believe the league is positioned strongly for inclusion, thanks to a robust nonconference slate of games and a nine-game conference schedule. Many players, however, weren’t well-informed about how the playoff will work. One didn’t know how many teams would be in it. Another thought every conference champ automatically advanced to it. And still another had no idea just how the playoff would be picked. The playoff is going to be an adjustment for college football fans. There is going to be an adjustment for the players, too.

Trickett was always the guy: According to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, Clint Trickett was always going to be this season’s starting quarterback. It was just a matter of him getting cleared medically. "We wanted him to be the guy," Holgorsen said. "We had to wait and see how he did coming off the shoulder surgery." Holgorsen said there was little the other West Virginia quarterbacks could have done this spring to unseat Trickett, who sat out while recovering from the shoulder injury. "He was the best option we had this year, he was the best option we had last year," Holgorsen said. "Once I was pleased with what I saw, it was a no-brainer to me."

Hill will get the ball a lot: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has had some talented offensive players over the years. But Gundy said it has been a long time since the Cowboys had a playmaker like juco running back Tyreek Hill. "He's very fast," said Gundy, comparing him to former West Virginia standout Tavon Austin. "He gets [past] that first level [of the defense] and no one is caching him." Gundy wants Hill to touch the ball at least 20 times a game. Whether he’s at running back or lined up in the slot, Hill is going to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack.

Snyder is still the man: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is 74 years old, just two years younger than former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who popped by media days Monday night. But Snyder is still coaching strong, with a team that was voted third in the preseason poll behind co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor. Apparently everyone should eat only one meal a day.
From time to time, our SEC reporters will give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They will both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We will let you decide which reporter is right.

With the start of the 2014 season a little more than a month away, we are still trying to figure out who will be in position to capture the league title this fall. But there are a few teams we are still trying to get a good read on.

Today’s Take Two topic: What is the toughest SEC team to get a handle on in 2014 -- Missouri or LSU?

Take 1: Edward Aschoff

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMaty Mauk returns, but Missouri has several question marks on both sides of the ball.
To me, the Missouri Tigers are the toughest team to figure out in 2014. After last season's special run through the SEC, there is plenty of confidence in Columbia, Missouri, but there is also a lot of uncertainty in some areas on this team. I could see this group of Tigers continuing to ride the momentum they created last season, but I could also see Mizzou take a nosedive this fall.

I do like that Mizzou has a confident, talented quarterback returning in Maty Mauk. He went 3-1 as a starter last season in place of an injured James Franklin. Mauk threw for more than 1,000 yards and had 11 touchdowns to just one interception. He lost almost nine pounds this summer because of a viral infection, but he thinks it has made him lighter, faster and quicker. He has a stacked backfield to work with and an experienced offensive line in front of him. The defense will again be anchored by a stout defensive line, starting with potential All-SEC defensive end Markus Golden.

But there are plenty of questions. Who is Mauk going to throw to? How will reshuffling affect the offensive line? Are there true playmakers at linebacker? How is an inexperienced secondary going to hold up this season? Who's going to replace all those proven leaders?

Receivers Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White have good field experience, but one of them is going to have to stand out as the guy for Mauk to rely on. Are any of them ready? Can any of them be dynamic enough playmakers to force defenses to adjust? Not having someone like Dorial Green-Beckham could really hurt this offense.

Two starters are gone at linebacker, and this unit dealt with injuries this spring. Not great. Mizzou’s secondary was one of the SEC’s worst last season, and three starters are gone. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? There is depth in the secondary, but not a lot of proven guys, and that concerns me.

The biggest thing might be finding new vocal leaders. Who can carry this team like Franklin, Michael Sam and L'Damian Washington did last season? Is Mauk up to the task? Golden? I don’t think we really know what the locker room scene is like for this team.

Take 2: Greg Ostendorf

Let’s start with the fact that LSU lost nine players to the NFL draft this past year, more than any other team in college football. The team’s starting quarterback, its top two running backs, top two wide receivers and its top offensive lineman have all moved on to the next level. Time to rebuild, right? Not in Baton Rouge. Not under Les Miles.

Since Miles took over in 2005, LSU has had 60 players taken in the NFL draft, yet the Tigers have managed to win at least 10 games in seven of Miles’ nine seasons as head coach.

So don’t expect this season’s LSU team to fall off completely, but with so many unknowns and a stacked SEC West, the Tigers could finish anywhere between first to sixth in their own division. They are talented enough to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff, but they could just as easily end up in the Music City Bowl.

Where this team goes will be dependent on its incoming recruiting class. Between Brandon Harris, Leonard Fournette and Malachi Dupre, LSU could have three true freshman starting on offense by the time the season opener rolls around.

Fournette might be the closest thing to a sure thing. The 6-foot-1, 224-pound running back was the No. 1 recruit in the country and has already drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson. He was one of the top stories at SEC media days, and he has yet to record a carry. But can he handle the pressure and the rigors of a college football season? Can Harris and Dupre handle it? All three were playing high school football in Louisiana less than a year ago.

As for the defense, there are even more question marks. Linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Tre'Davious White are good players, potentially All-SEC, but what is the status of Jalen Mills after his arrest this offseason? Who will fill the big shoes left by Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson on the defensive line? Who are the leaders going to be?

This might be the toughest coaching job yet for Miles, but don’t be surprised if LSU is in the playoff conversation when it travels to Texas A&M on Thanksgiving.

Video: 2015 class rankings update

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
3:00
PM ET
video
National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to break down updates to the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. Nearly a dozen ranked prospects announced college decisions in the last week.
video
HOOVER, Ala. -- For better or worse, Nick Saban has a reputation. And after four decades of coaching, it's not likely to change.

He's gruff. He's demanding. He's hard-nosed, unrelenting and oftentimes furious.

He is, according to a survey conducted by ESPN, the most-intimidating coach in college football. Of the 58 recruits who responded to a survey, 22 selected Saban as the most intimidating coach they've spoken with. The next-highest on the list was Urban Meyer, who was selected only seven times.

What's maybe more telling: Among the 58 recruits who answered the question, "Of all the head coaches you've spoken with, who was the easiest to talk with?" none said Saban.

To continue reading this story, click here.
The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

Here is the 2014 preseason All-ACC team, as voted on by the media at the ACC Kickoff:

 
 
 

Thoughts: While the ACC had the second-most NFL draft picks in May, there is significant talent returning to the conference for the 2014 season. Of the 26 players, 21 were named to one of the three All-ACC teams at the end of last season. That doesn’t include Parker, who will play his first season in the ACC this coming season. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the leading vote getter (although not a unanimous one), and Beasley, who received the second-most votes, are two of the three returning consensus All-Americans from the 2013 season.

Few conferences would be able to rival that offense with Winston throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Crowder and Greene and a 6-foot-3 target in Parker. O’Leary is one of the best tight ends in the country. There was a seemingly close battle at running back behind Duke Johnson, Williams got the nod over Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Defensively, that is one talented line. Beasley received the second-most votes for the preseason player of the year, and Edwards was the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2012 class. Maddy and Jarrett are two of the best defensive tackles in the country.

Duke has the second-most players on the team, which speaks to the program David Cutcliffe is building in Durham. The Blue Devils were not picked to win the ACC Coastal despite winning it last season and returning quarterback Anthony Boone. There is a constituency out there that still doesn’t believe Duke is the real deal and is bound for a letdown, but the media believes there is talent throughout the roster; the Blue Devils have a player at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary. Miami, which was picked to win the division, has two players on the list.

Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.

SEC lunchtime links

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
12:00
PM ET
Between Steve Spurrier taking jabs at Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban opening up about where his dance moves originated, Tuesday was quite a day on ESPN's "Car Wash." At one point, the two shared the desk on "College Football Live."

 

The coaches have all returned to their schools, and fall camp is just around the corner. Be sure to read Wednesday's lunch links for the latest news and notes around the SEC.

Pac-12 media days live: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
11:00
AM ET
Pac-12 media days kick off in Los Angeles Wednesday. Keep this page open beginning at noon ET/9 a.m. PT as ESPN.com reporters bring you the latest from the day's proceedings. Scheduled to appear Wednesday are players and coaches from Arizona Wildcats, California Golden Bears, USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Washington State Cougars and Utah Utes, as well as commissioner Larry Scott.
 
HOOVER, Ala. -- At SEC media days, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn confirmed the worst -- sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson had indeed undergone ACL surgery on the knee that he injured the last week of spring practice.

[+] EnlargeCarl Lawson
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstCarl Lawson's absence at defensive end will be felt, but Auburn has capable bodies ready to fill in.
Lawson waited until the first week of May to have the surgery, and now, the Auburn coaches are hoping to get him back "toward the end of the year."

"That's yet to be determined," Malzahn said of Lawson's return date. "But he is an unbelievable worker. He's a physical specimen, put together extremely well. He's very determined, so we'll see where that goes."

The former five-star recruit, ranked No. 2 overall in the 2013 class, was in line to replace top pass-rusher Dee Ford this fall. Ford led the team with 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season, but Lawson showed glimpses of greatness when he got the opportunity. As a freshman, he was second on the team with four sacks.

However, it's time for Auburn to move on. If the Tigers get him back for the last two, three, four games, it would be a huge lift, but they have to worry about how to replace his production prior to his return, if he comes back at all.

Senior LaDarius Owens is already penciled in at one of the two starting defensive end spots. He started 12 games a season ago, and, though he missed all of spring practice, he's expected back for the beginning of fall camp.

The question will be who starts opposite of Owens and who else will be in the rotation once the season gets underway.

The candidates

Elijah Daniel, sophomore: If not for Lawson, Daniel might have been talked about more last season. He too was a top recruit coming out of high school, ranked No. 34 overall in the ESPN 300, and he wasn't far behind his teammate with 2.5 sacks as a freshman. The plan was for the duo to play opposite each other down the road, but with Lawson out for the foreseeable future, the time is now for Daniel. Can he step out of Lawson's shadow and make his own mark?

DaVonte Lambert, junior: Fans don't know his name yet, but Lambert might prove to make the biggest impact of anyone in Auburn's 2014 recruiting class. He arrived on campus last month, meaning he'll have to pick up the defense in a hurry, but there's no doubting his physical tools. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound junior college transfer was the top-rated defensive lineman in the ESPN JC50, and he's eager to get on the field for the Tigers.

Andrew Williams, freshman: As the other newcomer on this list, Williams has yet to go through an organized practice with his new team. He was in high school just two months ago. Don't be fooled, though. That didn't stop Lawson and Daniel from making an impact their freshman season, and Williams could be on a similar path. The Georgia native practically lives in the weight room, which should help ease his transition at the next level.

Gabe Wright, senior: The Auburn coaching staff experimented with Wright at defensive end this spring due to injuries and a lack of depth at the position, but nobody thought it would stick. That sentiment has since changed with Lawson's injury, and there's a chance the so-called "Rhino Package," with Wright on the edge, will be used more often than not.

Montravius Adams, sophomore: Wright wasn't the only defensive tackle to try his hand on the edge this spring. Adams, who measures in at 6-foot-4, 306 pounds, took reps at defensive end, and Malzahn mentioned his name, along with Wright's, as a player who could help fill the void left by Lawson's injury.

Analysis

The early leader in the clubhouse is Daniel because he has the experience to go along with the talent, and both Wright and Adams are better suited for defensive tackle. However, fall camp will be critical for the newcomers, specifically Lambert. If he can pick up the defense and impress the coaches, he has as good a chance as anybody to start the season opener.

Regardless of who starts, expect Ellis Johnson and Rodney Garner to rotate a lot of bodies throughout the game and use a variety of packages. The key will be generating a pass rush, an area in which they struggled last season when Ford wasn't on the field.

The loss of Lawson shouldn't be understated -- the coaches will try to get him back as quickly as possible -- but there are enough capable bodies to make do without him.

Walter Payton Achievement nominees

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
10:00
AM ET
First presented in 2008, the Walter Payton Achievement Award is an honor given annually to one player from each of the two schools participating in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney.

The award is named in honor of the late Walter Payton, the Professional Football Hall of Fame running back who spent his entire NFL career (1975-1987) with the Chicago Bears. Payton attended Jackson State University, a SWAC school, in the 1970s.

Three nominees from each school -- the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's North Carolina A&T State University (Greensboro, N.C.) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Alabama A&M University (Normal, Ala.) -- were selected by a committee of academic advisers and coaches.

The two winners -- each school nominates a pool of three players -- is determined via online fan voting through the summer and announced before the game. Voting for the 2014 Walter Payton Achievement Award opens July 24 and closes Aug. 20, with the winners announced Aug. 30, from the welcome reception banquet at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Here are the nominees from each school:

Alabama A&M University nominees

Jordan Puente, PK
Hometown: San Luis, Mexico
Major: Business Administration, Class: Junior
When James Spady was appointed head football coach at Alabama A&M in January, he expressed his exuberance by saying: "Starting this morning, we're in the process of building a dynasty." With student-athletes like place-kicker Puente, Spady is well on his way. "He is a great student, good team member and a good person to be around in the locker room," Spady said of the Business Administration major with a 3.58 GPA. A standout soccer star in high school, Puente -- who is fluent in Spanish, English and Portuguese -- played in five games last season, posting 10 kickoffs (for 404 yards, averaging 40.4), five PATs, and was 1-for-1 on field goals. Spady said of Puente, who is on the Dean's List: "We are excited to have him on our team, and look for him to do great things."

David Dagrin, DL
Hometown: Miami
Major: General studies, Class: Redshirt junior
A decorated high school track star and football star, Dagrin participated in the Florida North vs. South All-Star game and was a third-team All-Dade County player. Having been on "The Hill" since 2011, Dagrin played in 17 games, netting 21 tackles (three for loss), two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass defended. "We are looking for [Dagrin] to give us depth in our defensive front," Spady said. "We like coaching smart football players, and he fits our mold: smart, fast and physical." Dagrin maintains a 2.91 GPA.

Alan Cruz, OL
Hometown: Huntsville, Alabama
Major: Physical education, Class: Senior
Since a 2010 redshirt season, Cruz has been on a tear. In 2011, he anchored an offensive line that gave up only 22 sacks on 399 passing attempts and 1,805 rushing yards. In 2012, while seeing action in only 10 games (due to injury), Cruz was vital on an A&M line that opened holes for 1,657 yards rushing while yielding only 21 sacks. Through 34 games in three years, Cruz was the lone returner on a line that gave up just 1,840 rushing yards and 2,300 passing yards. "He's maybe our biggest contributor on the field," Spady said of Cruz, who maintains a 2.78 GPA, "a very mature player who has contributed quite a bit up front."

North Carolina A&T State University nominees

Denzel Keyes, WR
Hometown: Kinston, North Carolina
Major: Chemistry, Class: Sophomore
A two-sport athlete (he also plays basketball) at North Carolina A&T, Keyes is also a two-sport starter, proving he's not one to shy away from a challenge -- all while maintaining a 3.14 GPA. "You have to admire his fortitude and willingness to take on such a challenge," coach Rod Broadway said of the Chemistry major. "In order to do something like this you need to be a pretty good athlete, and Denzel is definitely as superb athlete."

Quentin Todd, WR
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Major: Broadcast production, Class: Redshirt senior
A valuable special teams player the past two seasons, Todd will compete in 2014 for time at receiver alongside a solid group of Aggies route-runners. Todd is a speedster (4.65 40-yard dash) with hops (31-inch vertical) who also has an excellent academic history at A&T. His resume includes scholar athlete and All-MEAC Academic Team honors, as well as a 3.12 GPA. "Todd will likely step into a larger role during the 2014 season," Broadway said of Todd. "He is a hard worker and dedicated to the role we give him each year."

William Ray Robinson III, OL
Hometown: Clinton, Maryland
Major: Journalism and mass communication, Class: Redshirt junior
Robinson is regarded as one of the best offensive linemen in the MEAC, having been named First-Team All-MEAC as a sophomore. Tasked with protecting the quarterback's blindside, Robinson has been a constant through 30 games (29 starts). "William has been a leader for us on and off the field," Broadway said of Robinson, who is looking to return to the field after a knee injury to add to the 100-plus pancake blocks in his career. "We're looking forward to seeing how well he performs his senior season."
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There was quite a different feel around the ACC Kickoff this season. More swagger, more puffed out chests, more bravado.

All those years of BCS misery? Almost like they never happened. Losing bowl record last season? Forgotten. How about that losing record against power-five conference teams? Nope, not going to talk about that. Because the ACC is now home to the national champions, and everybody in the ACC did their best to remind us all over two days.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFSU's national title has given a confidence boost to the ACC.
Florida State permeated every single conversation, its national championship win serving as a national championship win for all. Its momentous victory meant fist pumps around the room. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team lost to Florida State in the ACC championship game by 38 points, might have summarized the mood best when he was asked about the Seminoles’ championship.

“Go Noles!” he shouted.

Anybody think Coach K shouted, “Go Heels!” when North Carolina won its national title a few years back?

The dynamic in football is obviously different. There are rivalries, yes, but there also is a brotherhood among these coaches, steeped in their determination to make the ACC shed its “basketball conference” label. They have all shared in the pain over the past 10 years, watching the SEC exert its dominance while the ACC was left to answer questions about why it was always a step behind.

They all promised their day would come, selling the league hard to anybody who would listen. Jimbo Fisher has been one of their loudest defenders, his stock line: “There is really good football in this league!”

People used to roll their eyes. But now, finally, there are believers. Finally, the national conversation has flipped from, "Who can take down the SEC?" to "Who can take down Florida State?"

Without a doubt, the ACC deserves this moment. Winning national championships should come with a shot of confidence and an infusion of new energy. So what if it felt like some of the coaches were reciting a list of carefully scripted, neatly orchestrated talking points? Talking points, by the way, that John Swofford recited in his Commissioner Forum media event, perhaps hoping to set the tone for the Kickoff.

Every league coach should revel in the victory. They should use those talking points on the recruiting trail. Do you want to play against the best? Well, the best is right here, in the ACC.

Now, one championship does not make a league, nor does it change the perception that the ACC is not yet among the top three conferences in the country. There has to be consistency. The SEC did not earn its reputation based on one national championship alone, or one team alone carrying the flag for the conference.

Everybody else in the league needs to step up their level of play. Everybody else in the league needs to start winning its elite nonconference matchups. A national championship, a BCS bowl win, and 11 bowl teams are obviously a terrific start. But it cannot end there.

All this bravado and swagger need to be translated into results on the football field. Confidence needs to be channeled into momentum. Having bragging rights now is great. But the ACC knows it has to find a way to hang onto those bragging rights, so that every year it can beat its chest just a little bit louder.
Considering its long history of Polynesian influence, it should come as no surprise that the Pac-12 led the way with 15 players named to the preseason watch list for the inaugural Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

Headlining the list is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, USC safety Su'a Cravens, Oregon State center Isaac Seumalo, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha and BYU linebacker Alani Fua.

The award was established by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class of members in January. That group of seven included Kurt Gouveia (BYU), Olin Kreutz (Washington), Kevin Mawae (LSU), Junior Seau (USC), Jack Thompson (Washington State), Herman Wedemeyer (Saint Mary's College) and Ken Niumatalolo (Navy/Hawaii).

The full breakdown of players on the watch list by conference is as follows: Pac-12 (15), Mountain West (12), Independents (4), American Athletic (1), Big 12 (1) and Sun Belt (1).

Here is the complete list (34 total):
Five finalists will be announced on Nov. 20 with the winner set to be named on Dec. 9.

SPONSORED HEADLINES