Clint TrickettBrad Davis/Icon SMIWest Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett may want to watch for an extra bliz or two Saturday.

West Virginia's opener with Alabama this weekend took an interesting turn Tuesday when Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett was asked after practice about his relationship with Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Trickett's father, Rick, who is currently Florida State's offensive line coach, worked at LSU under Saban in 2000.

Trickett, however, apparently had a relationship with another Saban, as well.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Trickett, when prompted that he probably knows Saban well: "His daughter was my first kiss back in the day. So yeah... I don't know if I should have said that [laughs]. She's actually engaged now. Coach Nick is one of the greatest there is. My brother (Travis Trickett) worked for him. He was a GA for him when he first got to Alabama. And we've known him for years, family friends and just one of the best coaches out there."

Trickett cut off the next question to add one more tidbit: "For clarification, we were like six years old! Just so everyone knows that."

It's unclear at the moment whether this news will affect how many blitzes Saban dials up on Saturday.

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
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Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.

Video: Auburn's Week 1 QB plan

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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video
ESPN.com reporters Alex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf discuss Auburn's quarterback plan for Week 1.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It wasn't that long ago that a fresh-faced Landon Collins committed to Alabama in one of the strangest announcements ever recorded on national television.

[+] EnlargeLandon Collins
Ryan A. Miller/Icon SMIAlabama's defense will lean heavily on junior defensive back Landon Collins this season.
You know how it went: The five-star safety from Louisiana says, "Roll Tide Roll!" and pulls on a pair of Alabama gloves while his mother, April Justin, looks on in disappointment. Every one of Collins' 15 friends and family on stage -- that is, all but Justin -- applaud. And in the few weeks until national signing day, everyone wonders whether he'll flip to LSU. But he doesn't. He enrolls at Alabama and for the next year or so we catch only glimpses of the athlete who ignited such a firestorm of emotion.

That Landon Collins seems long gone now. His body has filled out. His hair has grown some, too. His mustache and chin-strap beard aren't trimmed up neatly like before. The talented special teams gunner fighting for reps is suddenly a veteran in a secondary hoping to return to its former glory. The drama of the past, the questions about his mother and LSU and his very public commitment, are now anecdotes in a larger story about one of the best safeties in the country, a First Team Preseason Coaches All-SEC selection and future NFL draft pick.

"Me and my dad sat down and talked about it before I ever signed to come here," Collins said. "He said by my junior year I'd be starting. I was like, 'No, I'll be playing my freshman year and get my starting job as a sophomore.' We didn't know the outcome, but by God's grace that's what we did.

"I just took it and ran with it."

In a way, both father and son were right. Collins played on special teams as a freshman and was expected to come off the bench as a sophomore. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, two upperclassmen, were entrenched at safety. But Clinton-Dix missed time sorting out an issue with the NCAA, and right as he returned, Sunseri tore his ACL. Collins stepped in, started nine games and filled up the stat sheet, finishing second on the team in tackles, first in passes defended and tied for second in interceptions and forced fumbles.

With Clinton-Dix and Sunseri off to the NFL and former starting cornerback Deion Belue gone as well, Collins is now the most recognizable face of Alabama's secondary. In fact, he might be the most indispensable player on Alabama's entire defense.

"He's been probably a key guy in a leadership role, defensively for this team in terms of how he's embraced that role and done a really good job," said coach Nick Saban. "The guy practices hard every day, works hard every day."

"I see a guy who's really hungry for this season, a guy who goes out and gets better and better every day" said fellow safety Jarrick Williams, who lauded Collins' speed and ability to tackle. "There's no slacking with him, it's full every day."

Amari Cooper, Alabama's star receiver, said you have to keep an eye on him.

"He's a fast guy getting to the ball," he said. "Like on a reverse, he's coming down really fast. He's always near the ball, so you have to be very aware of him."

Instead of answering questions about his infamous commitment, Collins is now answering for a defense expected to be one the best in the country, despite losing more than half of its starters from last season. On Monday, he talked up rookies, praised the defensive line and assessed the play of another hotly contested recruit, linebacker Reuben Foster. He even answered the tough questions like whether the defense has anything to prove after struggling against hurry-up, no-huddle offenses last season.

His response: "Definitely."

"We've always been known as a defense that's unstoppable [sic]," he said. "You can't run the ball or throw the ball on us. That's how we want to portray our defense like we did in previous years."

We'll know right away whether Collins and Alabama can paint that familiar picture.

The Crimson Tide's opponent to open the season, West Virginia, may have won only four games last season, but coach Dana Holgorsen's offense is potent, having averaged 26.3 points and 410.8 yards per game. It likes to push the tempo, too, as last season it averaged 22.8 seconds of possession per play, 26th quickest in the country.

Collins' leadership, as much as his talent, will be critical to Alabama's success. How he handles Saturday's fast-paced environment will be an indicator of how the defense will fair in the weeks to come.

But talking to Collins, you don't sense any pressure. After having gone through so much already, he's excited about what's ahead.

"Having these guys look up to me and the expectations I have for myself, I think it's going to be a great year," he said.
For several years, the Rose Bowl logo was nearly ubiquitous around Michigan State's practice facility, serving as a constant reminder of the team's ultimate goal.

The Spartans finally made it back to Pasadena last year for the first time since the 1987 season, prompting legions of their fans to follow them to California. The victory over Stanford in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl game will go down as one of the greatest moments in Michigan State history.

"That was a special place at a special time with special people," head coach Mark Dantonio said.

The Rose Bowl remains the most revered postseason name in college football and has long been viewed as the Holy Grail for the Big Ten. The sunny skies and majestic setting that beckoned chilly Midwesterners to Southern California for New Year's Day helped fuel the popularity of the event. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany rightly calls the Rose Bowl "the most important external relationship that we have."

But as the Granddaddy of Them All begins its second century, both its relationship with the Big Ten and its very nature are about to change, thanks to the arrival of the College Football Playoff.

The Rose Bowl will serve as a national semifinal site this year and in the 2017, 2020 and 2023 seasons. If a Big Ten team wants to go to Pasadena in those years, the playoff is the only route. (And even that is not necessarily guaranteed, as it will be up to the selection committee's seeding preferences). In the years in which it is not a part of the playoff rotation, the Rose Bowl will stage its traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup. But any Big Ten team that makes it in those years either (A) won the league and missed out on the playoff or (B) did not win the conference title.

Think about this: A Big Ten champion that gets snubbed for the four-team playoff could actually be -- gasp -- disappointed to play in the Rose Bowl. That would be a first.

"If you're knocking at the door and you don't make it, there may be a little short-term disappointment," Delany said. "But [the game] is still iconic and emotional and traditional. So I think everyone who goes there will be excited."

What if a team that loses in the Big Ten championship game to the league's eventual playoff rep gets picked for the Rose Bowl? Recent history shows that fan bases don't travel well after their team loses in a league title game, and some bowls have avoided inviting those teams for that very reason.

"We're well aware that emotionally, that can be a downer for not only the team but for the fans," said Scott Jenkins, football committee chairman for the Tournament of Roses. "But the opportunity to come to the Rose Bowl game, for the vast majority of teams, doesn't come along very often."

When it's a semifinal game, like this season, the Rose Bowl is no longer the destination; it's part of the journey. Any team that goes to Pasadena this year will hope to move on to Arlington, Texas, for the championship 11 days later. That could change the entire feel of the event.

"I think it has the real opportunity to lose something for the teams, not for the fans," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "You really have to see how that travel is going to be and what events you're going to do. Are you going to Disneyland for a day? I don't think so. Because you're hoping to play in the next one."

Jenkins said game officials still plan on holding the side events, like the meet-and-greet at Disneyland, the "Beef Bowl" steak-eating competition and a night out at local comedy clubs. But teams will now be arriving in Los Angeles one day later than they have in the past, which puts a time crunch on the entire schedule.

"While it's a little bit squeezed, we hope they enjoy our events here just like they would for a regular, traditional Rose Bowl game," he said. "We're treating this semifinal as we would any other Rose Bowl."

Tradition at times took a backseat for the game during the BCS era, too. Big Ten teams didn't appear in the 2002, 2003 or 2006 Rose Bowls, and Ohio State played in the game only once (2010) during the era despite winning multiple Big Ten titles. The 2011 game matched Wisconsin and TCU. No wonder the screensaver on Jenkins' work computer reads: "Only change endures."

But can the Rose Bowl endure all this change? The playoff eventually could make all non-semifinal bowls seem like secondary concerns. Hey, the NIT was once considered a prestigious tournament in college basketball, after all.

But if any bowl game can continue to thrive, it's the Granddaddy. People don't speak in reverential tones about one day getting to step foot in Sun Life Stadium or the Superdome, for instance. The Rose Bowl, Dantonio says, still "has a mystique about it."

"Generations and generations of football players in the Midwest dreamed of playing in the Rose Bowl, and I think that will still be the case," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who played in the game as a Wildcats linebacker in 1996. "It was an experience at least from my standpoint that was surreal. It's still Pasadena, the San Gabriel [Mountains] are still in the background, and it's still a special opportunity when you get the privilege to play there."

It just may no longer stand as the ultimate goal for Big Ten teams.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Las Vegas gambling community considers Miami to be the ACC Coastal Division team with the best chance to win the conference. Based on point spreads, it also sees the Hurricanes as the team with the best chance to upset Florida State this season.

With Miami handing the starting quarterback job to a true freshman and a defense that hasn't convinced many outsiders it will be vastly improved, much of the positive preseason outlooks stem from the return of running back Duke Johnson.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIEntering his third season at Miami, RB Duke Johnson says the Hurricanes are a program that other ACC schools should be worried about playing this season.
What does he think about Las Vegas' predictions?

"I don't deal with Vegas. Vegas confuses me," Johnson said smiling. "I just play football."

The follow-up question was whether Miami is finally "back," an annual preseason query but an even more pressing one in 2014 now that Florida State has returned as a player on the national landscape.

"I don't see why we could say [Miami is back]. We don't have a reason to say that. We've been in the ACC for 10 years and haven't been to the ACC championship once," he said. "We were co-Coastal champs, but that doesn't count as a step. We have to win it outright."

Johnson said there is progress that indicates the Hurricanes are at least a program on the rise, but it was stunted 10 months ago in Tallahassee. Miami rode the then-sophomore Johnson to a 7-0 start to the season, setting up a nationally televised, prime-time game against Florida State. It had the pre-game hype reminiscent of the late 1980s and 1990s, but Miami was blown out. Its season derailed from there, too, with the loss of Johnson to an ankle injury that cost him the rest of 2013. The Hurricanes would go on to lose three of their final five games, and in three of those games the running backs failed to rush for 100 yards combined.

The only pain Johnson said he felt from the ankle fracture came in the following weeks. When he initially broke it, he said his foot went numb. The pain arose the next two Saturdays while he watched Miami, which still could have won the division and set up a Florida State rematch, lose to Virginia Tech and Duke, sending Miami on a three-game skid. Johnson saddles himself with some of the responsibility from that streak, wishing he prepared his backups better.

"That could have been our first time winning the Coastal," Johnson said.

Miami coach Al Golden acknowledges there will be games when his star player will be tapped for 30 carries and probably more. Johnson knows it, too. But there is a belief in Coral Gables the weapons around Johnson, even with freshman Brad Kaaya at quarterback, will be enough to warrant Johnson being used in more than one role.

Johnson welcomes it, too. During an hour-long media session, he was asked at least three times if he has any 2014 personal goals -- rushing yards, touchdowns, receptions, Heisman press -- and each time he shook his head.

"You ask Duke to return kicks, he returns kicks. You ask Duke to split out in the slot, he goes in the slot. You throw him a screen, he'll catch a screen. But you don't have to take Duke Johnson out on third down or in pass protection," Golden said. "He's an unselfish kid."

Miami has a tough beginning to the season with its opener on Labor Day against newcomer Louisville. It also has a road game at Nebraska and hosts reigning Coastal champion Duke and Arkansas State, one of the most successful Group of Five teams of the past few years.

With marquee national and conference games through the first half of the season, Johnson is counting down the days before the Sept. 1 opener.

Asked what he has left to prove, he said: "A lot."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The true measure of any recruiting class' worth isn't fully realized until a couple of years down the road. Regardless of the hype and golden stars racked up before signing day, getting the most out of a class takes time.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor
AP Photo/Stephen MortonRunning back Kelvin Taylor and the rest of the Florida Gators' underclassmen are looking to rebound from a 4-8 season in 2013.
For Florida, that time might have to be now for its 2013 class following last season's 4-8 debacle. It's a class that ESPN's RecruitingNation ranked second nationally with its 30 signees and 16 ESPN 300 members and held the nation's best high school cornerback -- Vernon Hargreaves III -- and running back -- Kelvin Taylor. It grabbed a potential game-changing receiver in Demarcus Robinson and 12 players who ranked within the top 10 at their respective positions.

The Gators will certainly need a lot from their upperclassmen, but the 2013 class could hold the key to Florida's present -- not just its future -- especially after a handful of its members were thrown into the SEC fire last season.

"We knew we wanted to come in and make an impact," said sophomore receiver Ahmad Fulwood, who caught 16 of his 17 passes in the final seven games of last season. "Not necessarily take someone's position or anything out of the ordinary, but we knew we had to come in and make an impact as a class and that's pretty much what we did."

For the most part, this class was mainly constructed of a group of contributors last season, with Hargreaves and Taylor being the headliners. Hargreaves was a third-team All-American member and ended up being one of the nation's best corners, leading the Gators with three interceptions and ranking third in the SEC with 14 passes defended. Taylor was a freshman All-SEC selection after rushing for 508 yards and four touchdowns.

Eleven members of the class lettered last season and collected 22 combined starts. With the majority of the class redshirting, even more is expected from this group, but players don't feel any added pressure. They don't mind the added responsibility.

"I feel like the guys who the coaches are looking at will definitely be able to step up," sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis said. "They know what to do and they know they're talented."

"These guys are ready to take on that role."

And it isn't just the talent and potential this class contains that has teammates and coaches trusting it. Once players saw injuries piling up, Taylor said the freshmen realized they were going to be counted on more so they started to buckle down with their preparation.

In a year in which this group could have resisted and pushed away from the core group, it grew closer and began to see older players looking up to them. Not even a year removed from high school, and this group was being relied on to help carry the team through some very dark weeks in 2013.

"You were a freshman, but they were depending on you to win games," Taylor said.

The wins didn't come, but resiliency did, redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor said. What impressed him the most was how this group continued to work through an exhausting seven-game losing streak.

"When you face adversity that you'll see in a 4-8 season, those guys kept fighting through all of it -- through the injuries, through the losses," Taylor said. "That's what shows that they have what it takes to take ownership of the team and lead us."

Moving forward, the contributions from this class will only grow. Keanu Neal, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington could be staples in Florida's secondary this year. Following a suspension-filled first year, Robinson has been one of the Gators' best offensive players during the offseason, and Fulwood has been even more consistent and could be a real vertical threat for the offense this fall.

Roderick Johnson is the next tackle in line after vets D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green, while linebacker Alex Anzalone has a chance to see time in Florida's linebacker rotation.

Davis was pegged as an early leader for the Gators last season and is right in the thick of a battle for a starting spot. Joey Ivie and Jay-nard Bostwick are in the early rotation along the defensive line, and Caleb Brantley has the chance to play his way in to as well.

This group has barely scratched the surface, but Taylor said guys are playing faster and thinking less. Last year this class was asked to learn, now, Taylor believes it will lead. Then, well, Taylor expects big things ... soon.

"Our whole mindset was that we were going to come here together and try to win a national title," he said.

"Now that we're so close, like brothers, it's going to be special in the future. We're looking forward to it."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just after warm-ups with the team, right before heading back out to the field for kickoff, that’s when J.T. Barrett really shined.

Obviously the quarterback was no slouch on the field, and his individual numbers and piles of wins while leading Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas, were what really drew the spotlight on him as he emerged into a recruit worth chasing for Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThe Buckeyes say they think J.T. Barrett can be more than just a vocal leader this season.
But in the privacy of a locker room, or in the huddle, or while gathering up teammates on the sideline to rally the troops for a comeback, that’s where Barrett made his biggest impression. The new starter for the Buckeyes has always had an accurate arm, enough mobility to make life tough for defenders on the ground and a burning desire to compete. But for Barrett, everything seems to start with his voice.

“It was always the pregame speech,” said Jim Garfield, Barrett's coach at Rider. “We would always come in before warmups and J.T. would have free rein. Really I can’t focus on just one that stands out, because it was throughout his career, and he was doing that for us since his sophomore year.

“Everything he says was like gold.”

The Buckeyes will likely need more than just a golden voice to replace two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller. But as far as first impressions go, Barrett may have a head start thanks to his confidence as a speaker and a knack for motivating his teammates.

While the Buckeyes haven’t yet heard him in a game or seen what he can do on the field for a team with College Football Playoff aspirations, they’ve had the better part of a year to get used to him in Miller’s place on the practice field and also had plenty of time during his redshirt season to learn how Barrett carries himself. And to a man, the entire program has come away raving about his leadership skills, maturity -- and when it’s time to stop talking, his physical tools.

“He’s got a great voice in the huddle,” left tackle Taylor Decker said. “He’ll pick guys up and he just displays confidence in himself, which is good to see.

“He’s become the face of our program, basically overnight. He’s definitely coming along with that voice, that leadership role, which is good to see. But other than that, he’s always gone about his business and handled himself well. I’m not worried about that at all. ... There’s just something about him.”

That realization may not come for everybody around Barrett at exactly the same time, but the opinion might as well be universally shared ahead of his first start on Saturday against Navy.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has long praised Barrett’s work ethic, but his interest on the recruiting trail was really piqued by the consistent feedback he received about his desire to compete against the best competition. That’s been reinforced by the way he dove into what was initially a battle to back up Miller, which he won over Cardale Jones just two days before a season-ending injury earned him a promotion to the top gig.

Wide receiver Evan Spencer pointed to Barrett’s ability to motivate, stressing that Ohio State would be “way more than all right” after hearing him boost up the offense with his encouragement during rough patches in training camp.

And while Garfield was sold early on, his belief was truly cemented during Barrett’s junior year when Rider was facing its own adversity as it trailed Abilene Cooper 28-0 in the third quarter.

“We ended up winning it, and it was because of J.T.’s motivation,” Garfield said. “He called the guys up and in his words, he just basically said we’ve got to get this done. He had everybody up, everybody’s attention -- I’m talking like defensive linemen and things like that. Everybody was drawn to him.

“When he started to speak, everybody sat up and listened.”

Barrett has a new audience now, and the Buckeyes are all ears.

Q&A: Eagles QB Tyler Murphy

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Tyler Murphy's path to Boston College has been unconventional, to say the least. But the Connecticut native and former Florida quarterback has come full-circle as he enters his final year of college ball, reunited with head coach Steve Addazio, who had recruited to Murphy to the Florida Gators when Addazio was an assistant in Gainesville.

ESPN.com caught up with Murphy recently to touch on a number of topics.

What has the acclimation process been like at BC?

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertQB transfer Tyler Murphy on the offense BC will run this season: "We're still trying to find our identity."
Murphy: It's been going very smooth. As soon as I got here in the spring the team welcomed me with open arms. I was able to get to know some of the guys, allow them to get to know me, so we've been building a bond since I've gotten here. We've been working really hard on and off the field, knowing coach Addazio and some of the coaches from before, like (offensive line) coach (Justin) Frye and (tight ends) coach (Frank) Leonard, they've really made it smooth, knowing some of the guys and having some familiarity with the offense.

Were you familiar with any of the players before?

TM: No, I really didn't know anyone really before I got here. I came up with Ian (Silberman), me and Ian helped each other with the process. But I was able to get to know the guys quickly and build relationships really fast, which made everything easy for both of us.

What did you remember about Addazio from recruiting and from Florida?

TM: He's a very passionate guy, I remember that from the recruiting process. He loves what he does, he takes pride in what he does. Not only does he try to make you the best football player that you can, he also tries to develop you as a person and make you the best man off the field as well. That really stuck with me. That's something I really look for when trying to find a new program, and knowing that coach Addazio had that instilled in him, it made my decision very easy.

Did you watch BC at all last season? Were you surprised by the jump they made in Addazio's first year?


TM: I definitely followed the team a little bit last year, especially with coach Addazio being the offensive coordinator my freshman year. You always kind of root for guys that you know, so any time BC was playing I'd definitely tune in and watch. It shows what kind of guy coach Addazio is and the leader he is, and the seniors last year did a great job of turning things around and building a culture. You have to give them credit, and it's something that I really look for when choosing a new school, and it's a great culture, it's something I'm happy to be a part of. And I'm just going to do my best to help this program, help this team and find a way to lead, get us a few "Ws" and take the next step for this program.

Coach Addazio said you are a BC guy and that you fit into the culture there. How so?

TM: When you think of Boston College you think of a high-standard program with lots of great people that really do the best to try and excel and help the community around them. The people academically and athletically are all very nice. They all go out of their way to try to help people and uplift people. When I got here you could also see that with the team. Guys were really a close-knit bunch of guys and they were sacrificing for one another and doing things that that they probably wouldn't do for themselves, but they would push through things because they didn't want to let the guy down next to them. When I saw that and felt that, I was really happy and I felt like I made the right decision.

How would you describe the offense you are running?

TM: Right now we're in heavy sets, we're in spread sets, we're a little bit of everything right now. We're still trying to find our identity. We're trying a bunch of things out to see what we're good at and we're just going to really try and excel once we find out what we are good at. We're just trying to be successful with everything the coaches throw at us and try to execute everything, because the more things we have, the more versatile we can be and the more pressure on the defense. So we're just trying to make things easy for us, and the more things we can do, the better. We're just trying to go out there, execute, fly around, have some fun.

Who are some of the receivers you think will step up this year?

TM: I think all of the receivers are doing a great job. Starting with Charlie Callinan to Dan Crimmins to Drew Barksdale, those guys have really stepped up and are finding roles. And we also have Shakim Phillips with some experience, David Dudeck and Josh Bordner, he's been doing a good job lining up and doing some things outside. So I think our fans should be excited, because these guys can make some plays and they work hard and they do a lot of the little things right to help this offense go. They're going to do some things and surprise some people, and hopefully they'll be able to have great careers while they're here.

How did you and (NC State quarterback) Jacoby Brissett help each other throughout the transfer process?

TM: We both played at Florida and we both didn't play much, so we kind of would try to keep each other up. Sitting on the bench isn't fun, it could be difficult. We tried to build a friendship where we keep each other up, keep each other motivated, and each and every day find a way to go into the office and get better, and so we both decided we needed to move on. We both talked to each other, and when it was his time and he wanted to leave I sat down with him and we both tried to break things down and what his options were and what was the best option. And it was vice versa, he did the same thing with me. So we have a really good relationship. We still talk to this day. We talk, if not every day then maybe every other day, just to check up on each other and see how things are going, because it can be a tough transition. And as friends you always want to see your other friend do well, and we both look forward to competing against each other when we do line up and play this year.
AUSTIN, Texas -- We're all a bunch of suckers.

We fell for a powerful form of distraction during the first eight months of Charlie Strong's debut year at Texas: The misdirection.

We got fixated on changes, some real and many inconsequential: Strong's media savvy, his muscles, the throwing of horns, the bus ban, the deposed smoothie bar, the gadgets, the breakfast club, the Moncrief four, the helmet decals, the roped-off logo, the dorms. You know, the low-hanging fruit.

Reporters, fans, critics, everybody. We fell for it because it was easy, and because Texas hadn't seen this kind of different in 16 years. And in the process, during this excruciatingly long offseason, it seems we overlooked a question that matters now: How will this Longhorn team line up and play? What's the mission and identity on offense and defense?

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
Erich Schlegel/Getty ImagesCharlie Strong wants to build Texas into a winner based on on old-school beliefs about running the ball, defense and power.
Basically, we took our eye off the ball.

What seems clear, upon some deeper digging, is Strong intends to bring his own style of ball to the Big 12, one with a complementary vision for both sides of the ball. And no, this has nothing to do with the offseason buzzwords like "toughness."

This is about the chess match that's about to begin, the one where we find out if what Strong has planned can change the Big 12, or if the Big 12 will force him to change.

Strong has played coy on this topic. The idea that he might have the element of surprise on his side seems, at least to him, dubious.

"Football is football. It's still about fundamentals and technique and that's what it comes down to," Strong said. "Everyone thinks it's about scheme. When you have players, scheme looks really good. It doesn't matter. If our kids go out and do what we ask them to do, you always have a chance."

What Texas players will be asked to do could resemble what Stanford, Alabama, Michigan State, LSU and even Big 12 foe Kansas State have come to master. Those programs are winning on old-school beliefs about running the ball, defense and power.

Texas players say the offensive philosophy is build on a downhill run game. The tag team of a potentially elite inside runner (Malcolm Brown) and a true all-purpose back (Johnathan Gray) must win the day. Run the ball, run the clock, run the pace. And then quarterback David Ash must capitalize when he sees a stacked box.

"It's very multiple. You probably hear that about our offense a lot, but it's multiple," Ash said. "We're going to do every tempo you can out of a huddle and every tempo you can out of a no-huddle. We're going to try to keep teams off-balance."

Joe Wickline coordinates the run game. Shawn Watson oversees the passing. They'll share the playcalling duties in some fashion, with Watson having final say. And recent history says this offense, for all of its fast-paced ideals, should fall in lockstep with Strong's defensive vision.

Louisville's offense wasn't just No. 2 in time of possession nationally last year. The Cards had 17 scoring drives extend 5-plus minutes (second-most in FBS only to K-State) and 21 exceed 10-plus plays. This was, on average, a two-plays-per-minute offense, one of the comparatively slowest in the country, and it won 12 games.

Watson's offense kept Strong's defense off the field. The Louisville D played 779 snaps in 2013. Texas' defense played the same number of games and finished at 966. The rest of the Big 12 averaged 937.

When you're playing 200 fewer snaps on defense, you get fresh and physical players. You get to attack. And Strong has never been afraid to do that. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford recalls one game at Florida when Strong called six straight zero blitzes, rushing everyone who wasn't locked in one-on-one coverage.

"It worked six straight times," Bedford said proudly.

Bedford has been studying Big 12 film since the day he took the job. He knows the rest of the conference has been watching Louisville and Florida film.

"People are gonna know what we're gonna do," Bedford said. "Coach Strong came back from a Big 12 Conference thing (this summer) and they said, ‘What you guys did at Louisville, you can't do that here.' They're exactly right. I totally agree with what they're saying."

And then Bedford grinned and kept going, each line more facetious than the last.

"So what we're going to do: We're going to rush three, drop eight. Rush two, drop nine. Sit back, keep the inside in front and we'll have a chance. We're not going to pressure anybody, anytime, anywhere. We're just going to slow ‘em down.

"I'm not full of it. I'm telling the truth. Listen to me, all of you out there," he said, turning his gaze to a bank of TV cameras. "We're going to play it safe. No pressure. We don't want any quarterbacks hurt."

And while that last sentiment rings especially true of Texas, Bedford is merely offering a friendly warning. He knows that in Malcom Brown, Cedric Reed, Quandre Diggs, Jordan Hicks and several others, he and Strong have the weapons they need to pair with an offense that understands its duty.

While we were obsessed with everything else this offseason, Strong and his staff were quietly busy preparing a plan and a roster for what promises to be a fascinating four-month battle. Against North Texas on Saturday, finally, Texas gets to line up and play.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sitting in a freshman humanities class, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III learned the harsh reality of losing in a Gators uniform.

The class was "What is the Good Life?" -- a required course for freshmen -- and students were asked to list their short-term life goals. With three football players -- Hargreaves, linebacker Matt Rolin and defensive back Nick Washington -- present, a student said she'd like to attend a Florida football game and actually see the Gators win.

Her words and eyes pierced through the players, shooting a humbling feeling through their bodies.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports"It's a humbling experience to go 4-8 at the University of Florida," Will Muschamp said.
"We really couldn't say anything because we didn't win so she was basically telling the truth," Hargreaves said.

It was an uncomfortable reminder of one of the worst seasons in Florida football history. A rash of injuries and loss of leadership resulted in a disastrous 4-8 year, the first losing season for the Gators since 1979 and a missed a bowl for the first time since 1990.

"People are going to bash Coach [Will] Muschamp, they're going to bash us, even around campus," Hargreaves said. "… If you don't win at Florida they're going to talk about you, and they're going to talk about you right to your face."

As the Gators enter Year 4 of the Muschamp era, they'll do so with the program at a critical crossroads. Rebounding could throw a program six years removed from its third national championship back on its intended track. Another let down could send Florida into a tailspin.

There is no Urban Meyer for athletic director Jeremy Foley to hire if Muschamp doesn't work out. Florida can't afford to fall any further behind Eastern Division rivals Georgia and South Carolina, and the gap between instate rival Florida State is already wide enough. Not to mention, Miami, which beat Florida and won nine games last year, and Tennessee are having recruiting resurgences.

Florida's own recruiting has been successful, but coaching turnover could cut into that, leaving unknowns for the future.

There's panic and unrest in the Gator Nation, as Florida finds itself in a make-or-break situation in 2014.

Muschamp isn't blind to that reality. While he refuses to publicly acknowledge any sort of talk surrounding his job, which he's very much coaching for this fall, he understands how important this season is for a program that won 11 games two years ago. There's a reason he decided to completely change his offensive philosophy and hire former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will run an uptempo, spread offense.

So far, Muschamp has liked the progress made during practices. The offense is moving more smoothly and the defense still has the patented Muschamp bite to it.

"I feel like everything is headed in the right direction, personally," said Muschamp, who is 22-16 at Florida. "Every year is a pivotal year. I don't put any more pressure on myself, I don't work any harder than I worked last year. I worked hard last year so it's not like I have renewed energy. ... I was energized last year."

"I'm excited about this football team and moving forward."

What this team -- and Muschamp -- has to show is significant improvement. That will start with an offense that finished last year's regular season ranked 112th in total offense, but end with more victories than losses.

How many wins? That's yet to be seen, and athletic director Jeremy Foley has even come out recently and said that he has no requirement for Muschamp, he just wants progress.

That means a competitive offense, a team in the postseason and some sort of run toward an Eastern Division title. Winning the East probably isn't a must for Muschamp, but being in the race late in the season could be.

Florida has a certain standard it should be living up to, and losing to the top teams on its schedule -- even by the smallest of margins -- isn't good enough. This a program used to winning, not settling for close losses.

"This is the best team chemistry I've been around ever since I started playing football," defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said. "I feel good about this year. I think this year's going to be special.

"We have a lot of hungry guys, a lot of guys with bad tastes in their mouths and they're just ready to get it out."

After a year that featured an embarrassing home loss to Georgia Southern, any sort of positive news out of a camp comes with cautious optimism for fans. For a program that achieved wild success in the 1990s and won two national titles under its last coach, Florida hit a wall last season.

Now we find out which direction this team will propel the program in.

"It's a humbling experience to go 4-8 at the University of Florida," Muschamp said. "You get your ass kicked enough and you get tired of it and you decide to do something about it. That's what this team has done."

Big Ten fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
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With the season just days away, our Big Ten reporters offer up their bold predictions for the 2014 season:

Brian Bennett: Minnesota wins back a long-lost trophy
The Gophers have won the Little Brown Jug game against Michigan only once (2005) since 1986 and have lost 10 straight Paul Bunyan's Axe games to Wisconsin. Jerry Kill's team reverses one of those trends this season, even though both games are on the road. Watch out for the Sept. 27 game at the Big House in particular.

[+] EnlargeJesse James
MCT via Getty ImagesThanks to his freakish athletic ability and excellent opportunity, Penn State's Jesse James could be the Big Ten's best tight end this season.
Josh Moyer: Penn State's Jesse James earns All-B1G honors and is named conference tight end of the year
This is predicated on equal parts opportunity and ability. Michigan's Devin Funchess appears to be sticking outside, so that means the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year Award will be heading elsewhere this season. Tyler Kroft (Rutgers) has tougher defenses to deal with this season, Maxx Williams (Minnesota) has a quarterback more geared toward the run and Jeff Heuerman (Ohio State) is dealing with a rookie signal-caller. But James? Well, he has one of the Big Ten's best in Christian Hackenberg, who just so happens to be looking to replace the 97 catches from Allen Robinson, who was last year's Big Ten receiver of the year before heading to the NFL. James stands 6-foot-7, runs in the 4.6s and has been lauded for his hands. Put simply, he's a freak.

Adam Rittenberg: Tevin Coleman leads the Big Ten in rushing
Coleman isn’t part of the national discussion like fellow Big Ten backs Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah, but people will know his name come November. The Indiana junior is explosive like Gordon, averaging 7.3 yards per carry last season and tying for the national lead with eight rushes of 40 yards or more, while playing in only nine games. If Coleman can stay healthy, he will put up monster numbers playing behind of the nation’s most underrated lines. He might not win Big Ten offensive player of the year honors, but he’ll be the first IU player to lead the league in rushing since Vaughn Dunbar in 1991.

Mitch Sherman: Indiana is going to make it back to a bowl game
It’s been too rare an occasion in Bloomington for football season to extend into December. The Hoosiers’ 2007 visit to the Insight Bowl marks the program’s lone postseason appearance in the past two decades. Kevin Wilson’s club possesses plenty of firepower -- led by the dynamic trio of Coleman, Nate Sudfeld and Shane Wynn -- and just enough defense to forge a .500 record. It’s no simple task to find six wins on this schedule, but Indiana will sweep the Big Ten’s new duo and beat Purdue on Nov. 29 to secure that elusive bowl bid.

Austin Ward: Half the league will have a 3,000-yard quarterback
The Big Ten might be better known for its running backs, and it certainly has had some well-documented issues recently at the game’s most important position. Even a year ago only one passer in the conference topped 3,000 yards, and Nathan Scheelhaase isn't even in the Big Ten anymore. But passing games leaguewide are poised to make a big jump, starting with Scheelhaase’s replacement at Illinois, Wes Lunt, and including Penn State’s Hackenberg, Michigan’s Devin Gardner, Indiana’s Sudfeld and Michigan State’s Connor Cook. If Iowa’s Jake Rudock continues his improvement and J.T. Barrett keeps the Ohio State attack rolling in place of Braxton Miller, at least half the Big Ten could have passers hitting that yardage milestone.

ACC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
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The college football season is finally ready to kick off. No doubt all the time we’ve spent studying depth charts and devouring news will be rendered meaningless by September’s end, but that won’t stop us from making a few bold predictions about what’s to come in 2014. If we get half of them right, we’ll call it a success.

1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.

Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesUnder coach Bobby Petrino, Will Gardner has a chance to flourish as Louisville's starting QB.
2. Louisville’s Will Gardner will be the ACC’s second-best quarterback.

It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.

3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.

The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.

4. Virginia goes bowling.

The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.

5. Clemson is a running team.

With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.

6. Young runners make a big impact.

Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.

7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.

If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.

8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.

Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.

9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.

Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.

10. The Coastal champ will be ...

Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.

Big 12 fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
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Today, Ivan Maisel offered up his bold predictions for the college football season. We figured we'd get in on the fun, too. Here's what we're comfortable forecasting in what should be a crazy Big 12 season.

Jake Trotter's bold predictions

Davis Webb will throw for more yards than Bryce Petty. This is no slight against Petty, who himself should be in for another monster season. But Petty will also be handing off plenty to Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson. Webb, meanwhile, will be airing it out virtually every down to his big-play trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis. As long as Webb stays healthy, 4,500-plus passing yards isn't out of reach.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb passed for 2,718 yards as a freshman and could compete with Baylor's Bryce Petty for most passing yards in the Big 12 this season.
Kansas State will beat either Baylor or Oklahoma on the road. Two years ago when the Wildcats traveled to Norman, they toppled Oklahoma, 24-19. Last year, nobody played Baylor tougher -- at least when the Bears were still at full strength -- than K-State (which at the time was missing Tyler Lockett). Bill Snyder teams usually come to play in big games. This season, that will come at the expense of one of the league's two co-favorites.

Tyreek Hill will lead the league in rushing. The Longhorns have the Big 12's best one-two punch at running back in Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. And West Virginia has the league's deepest backfield. But Hill has the tools to be the best big-play back in the conference. He also figures to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack. Up until last season, the Cowboys had enjoyed a 1,000-yard rusher in six consecutive seasons. Hill will start another 1,000-yard rushing streak for the Pokes in a big way in 2014.

Brandon Chatmon's bold predictions

Iowa State's offense will be much improved. After finishing in the bottom two in most offensive categories a year ago, Iowa State will finish no lower than sixth in most of those categories, with a clear jump forward in points, yards per play, total yards and third-down conversion rate during its first season with Mark Mangino as offensive coordinator. The Cyclones have plenty of skill-position talent, led by receiver Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs, and may have a healthy offensive line after a 2013 season full of injuries up front.

Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas will emerge as an All-Big 12 candidate. The sophomore safety has continued to develop and improve for the Sooners and looks like a future star in the defensive backfield. He's versatile and gives the Sooners plenty of options with his ability to line up all over the field. Coaches and teammates have raved about his ability, so he could emerge as an All-Big 12 performer, particularly if the Sooners defense becomes a dominating force this fall. Thomas is not a household name right now but he could be by the time December rolls around.

Texas will lead the conference in rushing and finish top 10 nationally. Charlie Strong plans to run the football and the Longhorns have the horses to get it done in the backfield. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are a terrific foundation to build UT's offense around, and the offensive line should be solid. Add Strong's insistence that the Longhorns' “soft” label is a thing of the past, and it's a recipe for UT to grab a spot among the nation's top ground games this fall.

Max Olson's bold predictions

Texas Tech will start 7-0 again. The only major hurdles in a pretty favorable early-season schedule are back-to-back road games at Oklahoma State and Kansas State. I like Tech's chances of surviving both games so long as Webb is healthy. If the defense has come together by then and shows up in the big games, look out. From there, Kliff Kingsbury's squad will have a tough slate but a huge opportunity.

Kansas State beats Auburn. Go ahead, call me crazy. This just feels like it's going to be a weird ballgame, almost akin to KSU's 24-19 win over No. 6 Oklahoma in 2012. Kansas State's coaches have the brainpower to come up with answers to Auburn's dangerous option attack. They recruited Nick Marshall hard out of junior college and know his weaknesses. And Tyler Lockett can score on anybody. In a crazy Thursday night home game atmosphere, I think KSU can get it done.

David Ash earns All-Big 12 honors. I didn't say first team! I'm not necessarily saying second-team honors, either. But Texas' fourth-year quarterback remains one of the league's most underrated players and someone who's going to make a breakthrough if he can play all 12 games. Ash was a top-25 passer in 2012, and with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson's tutelage and the aid of Texas' impressive run game, he can do it again.

Our boldest prediction

A Big 12 team will make the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma and Baylor will meet on Nov. 8 in Norman, Oklahoma. The winner will go on to represent the conference in the inaugural playoff. You'll see.

SEC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Believe it or not, we are two days away from SEC football officially kicking off the 2014 season. And you thought we'd never get here!

Each season we make perfect prediction after perfect prediction. From weekly game picks to preseason teams, we think we've got this whole prognostication thing down to a science!

It's become a tradition here on the SEC blog to release our fearless predictions for the season ahead. I'm riding solo on them this year, but they shouldn't be any less correct this time around.

Here are my 10 fearless predictions for the SEC in 2014:

1. The SEC champion will have two losses ... but still make the playoff: With the talent gap between the teams at the top and the middle of the pack growing tighter, the SEC might be in store for the most exciting divisional races we've seen in a long time. No team is perfect. I've said this since the end of last season: No team will go undefeated in the SEC and no team will leave Atlanta with fewer than two losses. But with how strong the conference is this year, there's no way the SEC champ will be left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesMike Davis rushed for 1,183 yards on 203 carries and 11 scores in 2013.
2. Mike Davis will lead the conference in rushing: He can steamroll over you or just run by you. Davis has everything you'd want in a back and even though he's dealing with a rib injury, he'll lead the SEC in rushing yards this season. It won't hurt that he has arguably the nation's best offensive line in front of him. Georgia's Todd Gurley has yet to make it through an entire season healthy, while T.J. Yeldon will undoubtedly have his carries eaten into by Derrick Henry. With what should be a solid passing game taking some pressure off him, Davis will blow by the 1,183 yards he had last year.

3. The SEC will have 12 bowl-eligible teams: Last year, the SEC saw 10 teams go bowling. This year, Florida and Tennessee will reach at least six wins this fall and join the teams that made bowl games last year. Yes, a Tennessee team with brand-new offensive and defensive lines will go bowling, and yes, Florida's offense will be much better.

4. Will Muschamp will finally beat Georgia: After going 0-3 against his alma mater, Muschamp will finally get a win at the World's Largest Outdoor, eh, Party. It's a rebound year in Gainesville with a better offense. Of course, the game will be close, but quarterback Jeff Driskel will engineer a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter to end the bleeding the Bulldogs have caused the Gators the past three years. That means the SEC East title will come down to the Gators' home game with South Carolina on Nov. 15.

5. Arkansas will have two 1,000-yard rushers: The Razorbacks came close last year after Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined to rush for 1,926 yards. With so many unknowns still lurking in the passing game, coach Bret Bielema will have no problem handing the ball off to his duo as much as possible. Williams might even lead the Hogs in rushing this year after an impressive offseason. Stacking the box won't stop this duo.

6. The Mississippi schools will reach nine wins: It seems like whenever Mississippi State and Ole Miss have higher expectations, they fail to live up to the hype. Well, that ain't happening this season. With two very manageable seasons, and a host of talent returning, both of these schools will reach at least nine wins this season. Ole Miss gets Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State at home and should sweep nonconference play. Mississippi State has an extremely soft nonconference slate and gets Auburn and Texas A&M at home. Both Mississippi teams will pull a big upset on their way to nine wins.

7. Leonard Floyd will lead the SEC in sacks: Last year, Floyd led the Bulldogs with 6.5 sacks. This year, Georgia's best pass-rusher will push for All-American status by reaching double-digit sacks and leading the league. He's fast, strong and terrifying off the edge. Floyd had a great offseason and will be a nightmare for quarterbacks.

8. Vanderbilt will make it four bowl trips in a row: No James Franklin? No problem. What Franklin didn't take was the talented core of players the Commodores have. The Commodores return a strong offensive line and a deep, talented group of running backs. New coach Derek Mason also likes what he has defensively. The new 3-4 scheme will make the Dores faster off the edge with Kyle Woestmann and Caleb Azubike moving to outside linebacker. Vandy should win its four nonconference games and will find two more wins to make it back to the postseason.

9. The SEC won't win the national championship: Look at prediction No. 1. While I think the SEC is stronger than ever as a whole, the winner of this league (I'm predicting Alabama) will be pretty beat-up come playoff time -- monthlong break and all. But it isn't just that. I think the country has a great set of teams at the top this year, and I don't see one SEC team really sticking out like seasons past. The seven straight titles were good for the league, but the conference will hit a two-year snag.

10. Ohio State will lose to another SEC team: The loss of quarterback Braxton Miller might have spoiled the Buckeyes' playoff hopes, but they'll find a way to meet an SEC team during the postseason and continue their time-honored tradition of losing to the SEC. Come January, the Buckeyes will be 0-11 against the SEC in bowl games.

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