By now, you're probably familiar with the story of 8-year-old Nebraska fan and cancer patient Jack Hoffman, who gave a speech at the 2013 ESPY Awards after winning "Best Moment" in sports for his 69-yard touchdown dash during the Huskers' spring game. Big Red fans and well-wishers all around the country rallied behind the kid, with the #TeamJack Twitter hashtag a particular rallying point on social media.

However, Hoffman was dealt a setback recently as the inoperable brain tumor that was previously in remission began to grow again, forcing Jack to start new treatments that begin Thursday in Boston.

Undoubtedly with a heavy heart, Huskers head coach Bo Pelini and his football team created a video this week with words of inspiration and support for their biggest little fan.

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin has experienced his share of headaches with all the logistics of holding a season opener 3,000 miles away in Ireland. But there's one new wrinkle he probably hadn't counted on.

The potential eruption of an Icelandic volcano. Seriously.

The staff probably just wanted to watch some film on UCF quarterback Pete DiNovo or wideout Rannell Hall. Now, it's keeping an eye on Bardarbunga, the name of the volcano that kind of looks like it belongs to a defensive tackle. A real eruption could lead to some potential travel issues.

"We're aware of that, and we're monitoring that situation," said Michael Hazel, Penn State's director of football operations. "That's kind of out of our area of expertise."

Sadly, this isn't the synopsis to a terrible B-movie. Iceland evacuated the largely uninhabited area around the volcano, and its meteorological office raised its threat level to orange --which is the second-highest alert.

But don't go trading in those Croke Park tickets just yet. It's still too early to say whether the volcano will really erupt. And, even then, there's no telling whether the ash will create enough of a hazard to impact flights like an eruption did in 2010.

It could wind up as absolutely nothing. But the fact we even have to discuss a volcano -- and that Penn State is monitoring it -- sure is surreal. Normally, we just have to stick to following wind, rain and snow. Maybe we should start adding volcanoes and earthquakes to our Big Ten game-day weather reports?

Illini name Wes Lunt starting QB

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
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In what has to be one of the least surprising resolutions ever to a quarterback competition, Illinois has named Wes Lunt as its starter for the 2014 season opener against Youngstown State next Saturday.

Head coach Tim Beckman made the announcement after Wednesday's practice.



Oh, sure, the Illini officially held a three-way competition for the job this offseason, with Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey pushing Lunt. O'Toole, a senior, had the experience edge and played very well at times this spring. Bailey is an excellent athlete who's a little raw as a pocket passer, but his playmaking skills can't be ignored.

Still, just about everyone expected Lunt to be the 2014 starter for Illinois the moment he transferred in from Oklahoma State after the 2012 season, and it became increasingly apparent in preseason practice this month that he was The Guy. The former heralded recruit from Rochester, Ill., opened 2012 as the Cowboys' No. 1 quarterback and ended up starting five games as a true freshman; his transfer was seen as one of the best personnel coups Beckman has registered in his tenure.

At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds with a strong arm, Lunt very much looks the part as a future star at the position. He should fit in very well in offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's system, which helped turn Nathan Scheelhaase into the Big Ten's leading passer a season ago. Lunt has better pure tools than Scheelhaase; it remains to be seen if he has Scheelhaase's poise and moxie, and if he has enough weapons around him at receiver, where Illinois is young and inexperienced.

So, Lunt will open 2014 as the Illinois starter. And there's a good chance he stays there for the next three years.
Oddball is coming to the Big Ten in 2014.

After spreading through the NFL and much of college football, odd defenses -- with three down linemen instead of four -- will be more visible in the Big Ten this season. Three Big Ten teams -- Wisconsin, Maryland and Indiana -- will operate mainly with three linemen and four linebackers. Although the Terrapins and Hoosiers prefer the hybrid label for their defenses, all three units will show alignments somewhat foreign to the conference.

In 2012, all 12 Big Ten teams used base defenses featuring four down linemen. Defenses with odd fronts had made cameos at places like Michigan and Indiana in the past -- Northwestern considered moving to a 3-4 early in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure but has since elected to remain in a 4-3 -- but unlike the NFL, where about half of the teams use odd fronts, the Big Ten steered clear of the trend.

[+] EnlargeDave Aranda
AP Photo/David StlukaWisconsin coordinator Dave Aranda installed a 3-4 scheme last season, and the Badgers finished in the top seven nationally in points allowed (16.3 ppg).
Last season, Wisconsin installed the 3-4, which the new coaching staff had used at Utah State. Indiana hopes to upgrade a perennially poor defense as it uses more of a 3-4 look under new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. Maryland will keep its scheme -- three linemen, four linebackers but not the traditional two-gap approach seen with 3-4 defenses -- as it transitions from the ACC.

"[Big Ten teams] don't see an odd front every week," Knorr told ESPN.com. "Being multiple, giving them different looks, something they haven't seen, hopefully that's an advantage for us."

Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda always planned to install a 3-4 at Wisconsin. He just wasn't sure the Badgers had the personnel to do it in Year 1. They needed a nose tackle who could occupy two blockers, and outside linebackers with the speed-size mix to do it all. Fortunately, Beau Allen filled the nose position and Ethan Armstrong and Brendan Kelly occupied the outside spots.

Wisconsin finished in the top seven nationally in points allowed (16.3 ppg), rush yards allowed (102.5 ypg), total yards allowed (305.1 ypg) and third-down conversions against (30.6 percent). Aranda likes having an extra linebacker to defend spread offenses, and the 3-4 also has the flexibility to stop the traditional offenses for which the Big Ten is known.

"The power run fits in well with the 3-4," Aranda said.

Indiana will mix three- and four-man fronts, but like Aranda, Knorr inherits players he thinks can fill the critical roles in the 3-4. Nick Mangieri and Zack Shaw, who played defensive end in the previous system, have the ability to blitz from the perimeter or drop back in coverage.

"The offenses are so wide open, and you have to be able to cover the entire field," Knorr said. "Having the ability to drop eight at times, gives you an extra guy in coverage. Having the ability to have five guys in a great position to blitz right away gives you the versatility we're looking for, while being able to keep our disguise."

The disguise, according to Aranda, is what can set 3-4 defenses apart. He wants to keep offenses guessing about the fourth rusher: Will it be the weakside inside linebacker? The strongside outside linebacker? A safety? A cornerback?

As long as the outside linebackers have the ability to both rush and cover, without giving up too much, defensive play-callers can really mix things up.

"I know a lot of teams will be confused and we'll cause a lot of uncertainty and chaos for the offense," Indiana linebacker David Cooper said. "I think we'll do great in the Big Ten."

Maryland typically will use four linebackers, but doesn't feature the massive defensive linemen seen in standard two-gap, 3-4 looks. The Terrapins last season generated pressure both from the linebacker spot (Marcus Whitfield had nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss) and the line (end Andre Monroe had 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss). They return nine defensive starters.

Aranda used to visit Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart when Stewart coached in the NFL under Wade Phillips, a longtime 3-4 defense practitioner. Aranda looks forward to seeing how other odd defenses fare in the Big Ten this season.

"Part of the issue with us last year is we'd go into games not knowing how people would block us," Aranda said. "That works both ways because people don't know how we're going to line up, either, or at least that first year. Now that film's out, but it definitely helps to me when you see someone play Indiana or someone play Maryland, you can see how they're lining up vs. 3-4."

Will the 3-4 keep spreading around the Big Ten? Defensive line has been the league's strongest position in recent years, as players in traditional end or tackle roles have gone on to the NFL in droves.

"There's such a fertile ground for defensive linemen in our area," Aranda admits. "We're trading some of those guys for linebackers and secondary players. Our corners and our safeties are as much our pass-rushers as our D-linemen are.

"There has to be a decision or a philosophy, somewhere along the line, of where you're going with it."

Depending on the results at Wisconsin, Indiana and Maryland, more Big Ten teams could choose to be odd.
There's a certain pride that comes with playing along the Alabama Crimson Tide offensive line. If you sign up to be one of Tuscaloosa's big uglies, you better be prepared for the pressure of living up to the past.

While this year's line, which is replacing two starters from last season, is still slightly covered by the shadows of players such as Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Cyrus Kouandjio, and William Vlachos, the pressure of living up to what they did is absent.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kelly
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsRyan Kelly and Alabama's offensive line are working together to build unity; plans include more speed in practice and more gatherings during the week.
The pressure for this line is to live up to its own potential.

"We want to be better than those lines," senior right tackle Austin Shepherd said. "We try not to live in the past so we'd like to have a million rushing yards if we could. We want to be the most dominant offense in the NCAA."

To do that, Alabama's offensive line tried to move faster this spring. Under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, speed has increased for lineman before snaps. Instead of lumbering to the line to make checks and adjust to the defense, redshirt junior center Ryan Kelly said offensive linemen have been running to get set and make calls earlier before the snap.

"That way we can at least be set before we want send motions or figure out what the defense is doing," Kelly said. "It's kind of speeding up the offense, but it's also helping us have more time and put us in better situations."

So far, the offensive line, which has the responsibility of protecting a new starting quarterback and arguably the nation's best running back stable, is coming together. There have been some natural hiccups, and coach Nick Saban even called out the line's physicality recently, but this doesn't appear to be a problem area for the Crimson Tide.

The three returning starters -- Kelly, Shepherd and fifth-year senior left guard Arie Kouandjio -- have cemented their places up front, while welcoming a few new pieces to the bunch. Most notably, left tackle Cam Robinson, the true freshman pegged to replace former All-American Cyrus Kouandjio.

The nation's No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2014 recruiting class, Robinson stepped into the first-team spot at left tackle toward the end of spring, and hasn't moved.

With senior Leon Brown and junior college transfer Dominick Jackson dealing with injuries during camp, there has been a little shuffling up front, but third-year sophomore Alphonse Taylor has impressed at right guard.

The biggest thing the players want to take care of along the line is communication. Kelly said communication broke down at times last year, leading to some glaring errors up front.

One way to enhance that? Develop better chemistry, and to do that, Alabama's linemen are hoping to bring back the Thursday night dinner tradition started by former quarterback AJ McCarron.

A chance to unwind and leave Alabama football talk at the facilities, the Thursday night dinners have done wonders for bringing the big boys together, Kelly said.

"It was good," Kelly said of past dinners. "You spend so much time up here [at the football facilities] talking about football and stuff that you can get away. ...It clears your mind going into Friday and getting ready for the game [on Saturday].

"When you get away, your bonds become more than just a football relationship. You have real friends you can do stuff with and that carries over to the football field and makes us a better team."

McCarron played host before, but Shepherd is hoping to take over the reins this season.

"It's time to get away from all the coaches and just be guys around everyone else," Shepherd said. "The only other time we're all together at the same time is when we're in the offensive line meeting room with a coach in there. We can't really talk because he's teaching us. It's time to mingle and do what you want and hang out."

From watching Thursday night football games and playing a variety of sports video games on the house Xbox to dining on the finest red meats and starches, Thursday nights for Alabama's offensive line are special.

Meals have usually involved a combination of steaks, burgers, brats and tight end Corey McCarron's famous mac & cheese. Every once in a while, the group gets a surprise, like when former guard Anthony Steen's parents brought over venison to make tenderloin.

Just looking for a succulent steak? Talk to Shepherd.

"I cook a mean filet. I like it fresh off the cow," he said.

Need a tidy house to eat in? Well, Shepherd doesn't think he needs to go that far.

"It doesn't matter when you have all these nasty guys in there."

Q&A: TCU safety Sam Carter

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
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Sam Carter is one of the Big 12's top defenders. The TCU safety has started 25 straight games and has earned second-team All-Big 12 honors twice for the Horned Frogs heading into his senior season. One of the leaders on Gary Patterson's defense, Carter took some time during Big 12 media days to chat about last season, the Horned Frogs' defense and Kevin White trying to fill the void left by Jason Verrett.

[+] EnlargeSam Carter
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSenior safety Sam Carter is looking to help turn around TCU after a 4-8 season in 2013.
How do you look at last year? You were close in so many games then let them get away, what did you learn so those games won’t get away this year?

Sam Carter: You learn from all of your losses, you learn from all of your wins. It’s just understanding that, at the end of the day, they made one more play than you did and understand it’s in the past. I forgive all those teams that beat us but never forget. I have not forgot about those games, it’s not winning games that make you a better team, it’s losing games. Sometimes when you win, some guys think, ‘I did this, I did that.’ When you lose, you can’t point fingers because you lost as a team. I’m excited to go into the season and know those mistakes are behind us. We went 4-8 last season, it's in the past.

Do you think people overlook your defense?

SC: I don’t really know, they might. I’m not a big stats guy but I know my coach [Patterson] is one of the top coaches in the nation. He has a lot of wins. Folks say, ‘Well, that was the Mountain West,’ but I’ve seen Mountain West teams beat all these other big programs. You just have to not worry about what people say and just play football.

When you look at your defense, I know you won’t put it on your offense, but there were situations where the defense was actually was real solid.

SC: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that we wish our offense had played better, but that’s in the past. I forgive them but haven’t forgot, either, with our offense. We know if you live in the past you might think, the offense just went three-and-out then we go out there and let them score because we’re worried about what the offense did. Just play, let the chips fall where they fall. We need to give them the ball back so they get another opportunity to score. That’s all we can control.

Tell me more about Kevin White.

SC: He’s like a brother to me, we came in the same year. We call him “Squirrel.” Kevin started off rough, just like Jason did, first few games were rough. He has the confidence now, he’s the guy. Last year, Jason was the guy. Now Kevin is the guy and all the young corners look up to him. I believe the experience that he has and the leadership he brings knowing what it takes to play in Division I and in the Big 12 is going to help the young cornerbacks. I’m excited to see what he does. To be able to say I left with this guy after coming in with this guy, I’m excited.

Do you think he has a chip on his shoulder? He’s been overshadowed by Jason.

SC: I tell people all the time, sometimes it’s your time, sometimes it’s not. I feel I’ve been overlooked for the longest, not just on my team but in the nation. When it’s not your time, you have to wait. God does things for a reason. Patience is the key to success. If you feel you’ve been overlooked, the only way to stop people from overlooking you is to do something they remember. And that’s how I look at every year, I try to come out and do something to make people say, ‘Wow, that’s the kid we should watch.’ When the light is shining on someone, you never want to be the guy to say, 'Give me that.' No, be happy for them and let God bless you later. I’m happy for Jason. If [Kevin] feels overshadowed, the only way to stop that is do something you’ve never done before.

Do you have a much better feel for the conference now than when you came in?

SC: I don’t know. There are still things all these Big 12 schools do that you get there and say, 'Wow, I didn’t see that on tape.' Every snap I’m learning something new about the Big 12.
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights:

2013 record: 6-7 (3-5 American Athletic Conference)

Key losses: WR Brandon Coleman, QB Chas Dodd, WR Quron Pratt, DT Isaac Holmes, DE Marcus Thompson, S Jeremy Deering, DE/LB Jamal Merrell

Key returnees: RB Paul James, DT Darius Hamilton, LB Steve Longa, QB Gary Nova, WR Leonte Carroo, TE Tyler Kroft

Instant impact newcomer: Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen was out of football for three years before Rutgers came calling. The former longtime head coach at Maryland is known as a quarterback guru, and the Scarlet Knights are counting on him to help fix the passing game and improve senior quarterback Nova's decision-making.

Projected starters

[+] EnlargePaul James
AP Photo/Mel EvansRunning back Paul James will be counted on as one of Rutgers' top returnees.
Offense: QB: Gary Nova, Sr., 6-2, 220; RB: Paul James, Jr., 6-0, 205; FB: Michael Burton, Sr., 6-0, 230; WR: Leonte Carroo, Jr., 6-1, 205; WR: Andre Patton, Soph., 6-4, 200; TE: Tyler Kroft, Jr., 6-6, 240; LT: Keith Lumpkin, Jr., 6-8, 310; LG: Kaleb Johnson, Sr., 6-4, 300; C: Betim Bujari, Sr., 6-4, 295; RG: Chris Muller, Soph., 6-6, 300; RT: Taj Alexander, Sr., 6-4, 290

Defense: DE: David Milewski, Sr., 6-4, 245; DT: Darius Hamilton, Jr., 6-4, 255; DT: Kenneth Kirksey, Sr., 6-1, 275; DE: Djwany Mera, Jr., 6-4, 260; LB: Steve Longa, Soph., 6-1, 225; LB: Kevin Snyder, Sr., 6-3, 235; LB: Quentin Gause, Jr., 6-1, 220; CB: Nadir Barnwell, Soph., 5-11, 185; FS: Johnathan Aiken, Sr., 5-11, 190; SS: Lorenzo Waters, Sr., 6-0, 195; CB: Anthony Cioffi, Soph., 6-0, 185

Special teams: K: Kyle Federico, Jr.; P Joseph Roth, Jr.

Biggest question mark: How ready is Rutgers for the Big Ten after never winning an outright conference title in the Big East or American Athletic conferences? The Scarlet Knights have a difficult schedule, with crossover opponents Nebraska and Wisconsin, rugged East Division competition and nonconference games at Washington State and at Navy. They have been a strong defensive team in recent years, particularly against the run. But will the philosophy of smaller but quick defensive linemen work against the brute force of many Big Ten squads?

Most important game: Penn State, Sept. 13. It's the first Big Ten game ever for the Scarlet Knights, arriving in Week 3 at home in what should be a special atmosphere in Piscataway. Rutgers hopes to make the Nittany Lions game a true rivalry and, more importantly, cool James Franklin's jets on the recruiting front. Winning this one -- or at the very least staying competitive -- could set the tone for the entire year and maybe the next few seasons.

Upset special: Sept. 27 vs. Tulane. This home game follows a tough two-game stretch against Penn State and on the road at Navy, a team that often discombobulates opponents with its option attack and cut blocking. The Tulane game also precedes a stretch that sees Rutgers face Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights could already have nagging aches and pains by the time the Green Wave arrive in town.

Key stat: Rutgers' pass defense in 2013 was the worst in school history, as the Scarlet Knights gave up 4,056 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. That's not good news with an opener against Mike Leach's Washington State looming and quarterbacks such as Christian Hackenberg, Connor Cook, Nate Sudfeld and Braxton Miller on the schedule.

What they're wearing: The Scarlet Knights haven't unveiled any new looks yet but have announced that they intend to wear all-black uniforms for the Oct. 4 game against Michigan at home.

Team's top Twitter follows: The team's official account (@RFootball) is chock-full of excellent updates. The Star-Ledger's indefatigable stable of writers (@NJ_RutgersFB) is constantly churning out Scarlet Knights stories. Coach Kyle Flood (@KyleFloodRU) offers occasional insights into the program as well.

They said it: "I would describe us as a tough, physical football team. Going to a new league opens up new opportunities for us. We've played a lot of different teams from a lot of different conferences, a lot of different caliber of teams. We'll be prepared for when the season starts." -- senior fullback Michael Burton

ESPN Stats & Information projection: 4.81 wins

Wiseguys over/under: Four wins

Big Ten blog projection: Four wins. Sorry, Scarlet Knights fans, but we think your first year in the Big Ten is going to be a rough one. Rutgers has been an annual bowl team in the past decade but not much better than a fringe one. And with that daunting schedule, it's hard to envision many paths back to the postseason. Flood's team should be significant underdogs against Washington State, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Maryland, Indiana and Navy won't be easy games either. Maybe Rutgers surprises everybody in Year 1, but the odds are heavily against it.

Texas A&M Aggies season preview

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
10:30
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Texas A&M Aggies:

2013 record: 9-4

Final grade for 2013 season: The Aggies finished fourth in the SEC West, and considering the lofty preseason expectations placed upon them with a returning Heisman Trophy winner and three eventual first-round NFL draft picks, it wasn't quite the season they hoped for. The nine wins are nice, and so was the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory, but they were 1-4 against Top 25 teams. We'll give them a B-minus.

Key losses: QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, WR Mike Evans, WR Travis Labhart, OT Jake Matthews, DT Isaiah Golden, DE Gavin Stansbury, LB Darian Claiborne, LB Steven Jenkins.

Key returnees: QB Kenny Hill, RB Tra Carson, RB Trey Williams, WR Malcome Kennedy, WR Ricky Seals-Jones, OT Cedric Ogbuehi, C Mike Matthews, DE Julien Obioha, LB Jordan Mastrogiovanni, CB Deshazor Everett, CB De'Vante Harris.

Projected 2014 starters: QB Kenny Hill, RB Tra Carson, LT Cedric Ogbuehi, LG Garrett Gramling, C Mike Matthews, RG Joseph Cheek, RT Germain Ifedi, WR Speedy Noil, WR Ricky Seals-Jones, WR Malcome Kennedy, WR Joshua Reynolds, DE Daeshon Hall, DT Alonzo Williams, DT Hardreck Walker, DE Julien Obioha, OLB Donnie Baggs, MLB Jordan Mastrogiovanni, OLB A.J. Hilliard, CB Deshazor Everett, S Howard Matthews, S Armani Watts, CB De'Vante Harris.

Instant-impact newcomers: WR Speedy Noil, DE Myles Garrett, WR Joshua Reynolds, DT Zaycoven Henderson, S Armani Watts

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDeshazor Everett and the Aggies' defense will have their work cut out for them this season.
Breakout player: His collegiate debut as a true freshman gave us a glimpse of his ability but an injury robbed Ricky Seals-Jones of the rest of his season. Now he's healthy, big (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), fast for his size and only continues to get better as a receiver. He'll be able to line up inside or outside, but expect him to spend most of his time as an inside receiver, looking for mismatches against linebackers and safeties. He is developing good chemistry with new starting quarterback Kenny Hill, so expect the 2013 ESPN 300 recruit to have a huge season.

Most important game: There are plenty of big ones, but our pick is South Carolina. Yes, it's the season opener and there are 11 games that follow, but for a young A&M team that has inexperienced players in many key positions, most notably quarterback, going to Columbia and generating some confidence -- win or lose -- will be important. The Gamecocks are a top-10 team and SEC road games are tough, but think of the way the Aggies got on a roll after their competitive SEC debut in 2012, a 20-17 loss to Florida. Like that season, the Aggies have a lot to prove and many tough SEC road games in their future, and a win or at least playing well on Aug. 28 can go a long way toward getting this group heading in the right direction.

Biggest question mark: Without question, it's the defense. It was atrocious last season and the Aggies lost four players this offseason who they expected to return, three of which would likely have been starters. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is encouraged by the increased athleticism and depth his group has, thanks in large part to the influx of talent from the 2014 recruiting class, but there are still many unproven talents who will log significant time in the front seven. Can they take a step forward this season?

Upset special: Keep an eye on the LSU game. Seems to be an unusual choice, since the Aggies didn't beat the Tigers the two years Manziel was on campus, but the last time LSU visited Kyle Field, Texas A&M took a 12-0 lead with its up-tempo offense before the Tigers came from behind to win 24-19 in Manziel's freshman season. Night games at Kyle Field usually provide for an electric atmosphere, so expect nothing less on Thanksgiving night. By Game 12, the Aggies' offense should be operating at peak efficiency and the young defense should be coming into its own. Don't be shocked if the Aggies finally upend the Tigers here.

Key stat: Texas A&M returns offensive linemen that combine for 78 career starts, though the most tenured starter of them all -- guard Jarvis Harrison (31 starts) -- might not start, an indication of the depth the Aggies developed across their offensive front.

They said it: "That was a very tough decision. Both of them are playing at a very high level. I just kind of went back to my gut feeling and the maturity of him and being around this system for one year. There were a lot of other factors, but that was the one that kind of stood out the most to me, because he sat here and watched Johnny for a year and he's going to be put in some situation that he has probably – hopefully – seen before, and he can get us out of those bad looks." -- Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital, on why the Aggies chose Kenny Hill to start at quarterback over Kyle Allen.

Preseason predictions:

ESPN Stats & Information: 8.3 wins

Bovada over/under: 7 wins

Our take: The schedule-makers did the Aggies no favors by giving them road games at South Carolina, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn. That's tough for a young squad. Fortunately for the Aggies, after the opener at Williams Brice Stadium, they have three manageable nonconference games and Arkansas, so the opportunity to string wins together is there early in the season. Even minus Manziel, Evans and Matthews, this offense should still be one of the best in the nation given Kevin Sumlin's and Jake Spavital's track record for coaching offensive football. Will the defense be better? It should be given the added talent and depth. How much better is the key question and will be the difference between a six- or seven-win season and an eight- or nine-win season. This is definitely a bowl team but probably not ready to finish in the top two of the SEC West yet; 2015 is the season this team could take a huge step forward. If the Aggies finish the 2014 regular season with eight wins, that should be considered a good year and something to build on for 2015.
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Virginia Tech Hokies:

Key returners: RB Trey Edmunds (675 yards, 10 TDs), WR Willie Byrn (51 catches, 660 yards), WR Demitri Knowles (641 yards), WR Josh Stanford (640 yards), C David Wang, LB Kyshoen Jarrett (71 tackles, 2 INTs), CB Kendall Fuller (6 INTs, 11 pass break-ups), CB Brandon Facyson (5 INTs), DT Luther Maddy (13.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

Key losses: QB Logan Thomas, OG Andrew Miller, WR D.J. Coles, K Cody Journell, LB Jack Tyler, LB Tyriq Edwards, DL Derrick Hopkins, CB Kyle Fuller, DL James Gayle, DL J.R. Collins,

Most important games: Sept. 6 at Ohio State, Oct. 4 at North Carolina, Oct. 16 at Pitt, Oct. 23 at Miami.

Projected win percentage: .637

Vegas over/under: 8 wins

[+] EnlargeWillie Byrn
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Willie Byrn says the Hokies plan to embark on a championship run in 2014.
Instant impact newcomers: Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer has his eyes on the starting quarterback job, and plenty of Tech fans view him as a potential savior for an offense that languished the past two years. Freshman tailback Marshawn Williams had an encouraging spring and could push Edmunds for carries. Redshirt freshman Seth Dooley figures to help fill the void on the defensive line. Tight end Bucky Hodges, a redshirt freshman, is 6-foot-6 and could be an inviting red zone target.

Biggest question mark: The quarterback position was undoubtedly the biggest question mark entering fall camp, but turning around the offensive struggles for Virginia Tech will be a group effort, regardless of who takes the bulk of the snaps this season. Edmunds and the other running backs need to take pressure off the QB by moving the ball on the ground. The O-line needs to be more physical and help Tech convert more third downs, a huge problem last season. The receivers need to get open and, just as importantly, hang on to the football when it comes their way. If all those other things happen, the wins may come regardless of the quarterback.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Coach Frank Beamer finds his quarterback, the rest of the offense grows up around him, and Virginia Tech finally has an offensive identity. The special teams unit returns to its “Beamer Ball” roots, and the defense looks as good as it did a year ago, even without its departed stars. An early upset of Ohio State earns the Hokies national credibility and a reasonable schedule in conference puts Tech in the hunt for a division title and a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: No QB emerges as an obvious choice to start, and a revolving door opens at the position. Edmunds and the receivers show little improvement from a year ago. The defense misses Tyler and the elder Fuller and can’t mask the offensive struggles any longer. The atmosphere gets tense internally and the Hokies struggle against flawed teams in their own division. The 21-year bowl streak comes to an end.

Number to know: 12.6. That’s Virginia Tech’s yards per completion last season, which, surprisingly enough, was right about the same as what the prolific offense at Clemson managed (12.7). The difference in the two passing games? The Hokies completed just 56 percent of their attempts. Clemson completed 69 percent. Chalk it up to the accuracy issues of Thomas, but the receivers also need to do a better job of avoiding drops in key spots.

They said it: “I’m thinking about, it's ACC championship or bust, and I think our whole team has that sense of urgency.” -- Byrn
DANVILLE, Calif. -- As he stood outside a movie theater in an affluent East Bay Area suburb on Sunday, Landrin Kelly fought back tears.

He's used to it now. Ten years have not completely quelled the pain he was left with following the murder of his son, Terrance, just days before he was set to begin a promising college football career at Oregon. No amount of time will.

A couple hundred others also gathered at the theater to see an early screening of "When The Game Stands Tall," a movie that chronicles the story of Terrance's death and the ensuing impact it had on the famed football program at Concord's De La Salle High. Based on the book by author Neil Hayes, the movie is set to hit theaters nationwide on Friday.

[+] EnlargeKelly
Courtesy of the Terrance Kelly Youth FoundationTerrence Kelly was killed in August of 2004, just days before leaving for the University of Oregon.
For Landrin, the emotions were bittersweet.

"I've been to a lot of events [that remember Terrance]," he said. "The exciting part is that the story is being told of my son."

Violence is a harsh reality in the crime-riddled city of Richmond, just north of Oakland, where the Kelly family called home. It was a main factor in the decision to send Terrance to De La Salle, a private Catholic school 25 miles to the east. Known nationally as a football power, De La Salle provided a safe haven for Kelly and the opportunity to play for legendary coach Bob Ladouceur.

"We wanted to get him out of Richmond," Landrin said.

During his four years at De La Salle, Kelly blossomed into a good student, a team leader and one of the best football prospects in the country. A running back and linebacker for the Spartans, Scout.com ranked Kelly as the No. 16 safety in the country -- one spot ahead of current Washington Redskins and two-time Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson.

Ask those around the De La Salle community how good Kelly was, and they'll tell you -- like his high school teammates Maurice Jones-Drew and T.J. Ward -- there was little doubt he was destined for a career in the NFL.

Oregon was the first school to offer Kelly a scholarship, but the entire Pac-10 followed suit. He ultimately committed to the Ducks -- over UCLA and Cal -- based largely on the relationship he developed with defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, whose brother, Joe, was on Ladouceur's staff.

In his personal statement, as part of his admissions application at Oregon, Kelly reflected on what life was like growing up in Richmond and his plans for the future:
Many people imagine the life of a teenager as being carefree and simple, but that in not the case in the city I live in. While growing up in Richmond, California there has been a lot of distractions. For example, the murder rate of young African Americans in the city is very high, drugs are rampant in the community, not very many of the youth in the community understand the importance of an education, much less if they live or die. Many youth place more importance on being in a gang than an education. A large number of the youth don't even graduate from high school. They either dropout, go to jail, or unfortunately get murdered. Something as simple as sitting down doing your homework can be a challenge. While trying to study I have often had to contend with hearing gunshots, ambulance or police cars racing up and down the streets. The library is just a shelter for the homeless and a baby-sitter for young children waiting until their parents get off work.

Through all of this I have established high expectations and standards for myself. I am determined not to end up like many of my peers. I have a strong sense of purpose and direction for my life. I am motivated to strive to be the best person I can be, with the understanding that a solid education can lead to self-improvement as well as, social and economic empowerment.

De La Salle teammates Cameron Colvin, Jackie Bates and Willie Glasper also signed with Oregon, in no small part because of Kelly. Ward eventually walked on the following year.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Kelly
Jeff Chiu/AP PhotoBrother Christopher Brady, principal at De La Salle High School, adjusts a makeshift memorial for Terrance Kelly in this 2004 photo.
"T.K. was the guy that held them all together," said Ladouceur, who is portrayed brilliantly in the movie by Jim Caviezel. "When that happened to him, it took a real motivation out of their lives. They were like the four musketeers and for them to all of a sudden have to go up there minus one, was really, really hard."

The impact Kelly's death had at Oregon was nearly as substantial as it was at home.

"[Aliotti] didn't believe it when I called him and told him somebody killed my baby," Landrin Kelly said. "He didn't believe it. I had to say, 'No, for real Nick.' I was crying. I had to give the phone to my wife because I was so heart broken."

After Terrance's passing, the bond between his family and the Oregon program continued to strengthen. At his funeral in Richmond, part of which is depicted during an emotional scene in the film, Aliotti delivered the eulogy and he went on to keep a picture of Terrance on his desk until his recent retirement.

In 2007, in what would have been Kelly's senior year, Oregon invited Landrin, and his grandson, on to the field to take part in the Senior Day ceremony. He proudly showed off a No. 32 jersey that day and continues to make at least one trip to Eugene a year to watch the Ducks.

In memory of his son, Landrin, along with the help of several others, operates the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation. The foundation exists to provide community outreach for children between the ages of 5 and 17, and aims to inspire kids to become responsible and productive adults in the community. The non-profit organization provides several programs and scholarships for youth in Richmond.

Darren Pratcher was 15-years-old when he shot Kelly four times as sat in his car outside a house in Richmond, waiting to pick up his stepbrother to give him a ride home. The killing came in retaliation for a perceived slight during a pick-up basketball game, which is also depicted in the film.

Pratcher was prosecuted as an adult, and after five days of deliberations in October 2006, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder and weapon enhancements. He was later sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.
Some national reaction to the news of Braxton Miller's season-ending shoulder injury is focusing not only on the harsh consequences for Ohio State but also on the impact for the Big Ten as a whole. Mark Schlabach basically says the league's quest for a spot in the College Football Playoff took a huge hit.

To that, I say let's all slow down for just a bit. Some key counterpoints to consider:

[+] EnlargeJosiah Price
AP Photo/Al GoldisTo say the loss of Braxton Miller dooms the Big Ten's College Football Playoff chase is demeaning to the defending Rose Bowl champs.
1. It's Aug. 19. To pretend any of us has any idea what will happen in an upcoming college football season is to ignore history. How many pundits picked Auburn to make the BCS title game last year? I'm guessing most people would have sold their stock on Michigan State's season after the Spartans' lost at Notre Dame on Sept. 21. They turned out all right.

2. Ohio State isn't suddenly going to turn into a 6-6 pumpkin. There is still a ton of talent on this team. I watched an entire practice this spring in which Miller did not participate. I was still blown away by the speed and athleticism on the roster. Are the Buckeyes a top 10 team now? Maybe not. But they will still be, at the very least, a top 20 club. They're probably not a playoff team, but beating Ohio State won't be a meaningless win for other Big Ten teams, either.

3. There is more than one team in the Big Ten. Sure, the Buckeyes have been the league's flag-bearer for most of this century and have more national credibility than any other conference program. But don't forget the Buckeyes haven't won an outright Big Ten championship since 2009. There is no guarantee they would have claimed one this year, either, as Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska are all legit title contenders.

4. Let's go back to Michigan State here. The Spartans proved themselves as elite the past year, as they finished No. 3 in the final polls and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Mark Dantonio's team goes to Oregon in Week 2 in a game that could define their season. If the Spartans win there, assuming Oregon goes on to have a very strong season, they will be formidable playoff contenders no matter what else is going on in the Big Ten. Even if, say, they lost to the Ducks by a field goal, going undefeated the rest of the way should be enough to get Michigan State into the field of four.

5. Let's say another team from the West -- such as Iowa or Wisconsin, should the Badgers beat LSU in the opener -- runs the table. Don't you think a Big Ten championship game featuring the Spartans and an undefeated West team would get the attention of the selection committee? Iowa and Nebraska probably need a zero in the loss column, while Michigan State and Wisconsin could afford a setback, given their marquee nonconference opposition. And, hey, who's to say Ohio State doesn't go 12-0 again, even without Miller? Urban Meyer has yet to lose a regular season game in Columbus, after all.

The bottom line is there are far too many variables -- including what goes on in the other Power 5 conferences -- to count the Big Ten out at this early date. The path to Pasadena (or, less likely, New Orleans) certainly got a lot bumpier with the loss of the league's best player. But the road hasn't been closed yet.

O-H-N-O!

Tuesday's news that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the upcoming season with an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder seriously deflates the Buckeyes' hopes of making the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff. Their national championship aspirations seem all but over -- 11 days before they'll open the season against Navy in Baltimore on Aug. 30.

Miller's injury also puts a serious dent in the Big Ten's chances of having a representative in the playoff. Miller, the two-time reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, was a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite and one of the country's top returning quarterbacks.

Without Miller, the Buckeyes will have a difficult time matching their success in coach Urban Meyer's first two seasons, when they won 24 games in a row before losing to Michigan State 34-24 in the 2013 Big Ten championship game and 40-35 to Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Miller, who threw for 2,094 yards with 24 touchdowns and ran for 1,068 yards with 12 more scores, was a tailor-made fit for Meyer's spread offense. Without him, the Buckeyes will probably turn to freshman J.T. Barrett, who has never played in a college game. In fact, Barrett played in only five games as a senior at Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 2012 before injuring his knee. He redshirted at OSU last season while recovering from knee surgery.

How valuable was Miller to OSU? When news of his season-ending diagnosis broke on Tuesday, oddsmakers at the Las Vegas Hilton Sportsbook dropped the Buckeyes' odds of winning a national championship from 12-to-1 to 50-to-1. Ouch. There's a reason Las Vegas has so many glitzy buildings; the oddsmakers usually know what they're talking about.

Read the rest of Mark Schlabach's column here.

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Wait a minute, Michigan State Spartans fans.

Hang on a second, Virginia Tech Hokies.

Braxton Miller's season-ending injury wasn't good for anyone. Not the Ohio State Buckeyes. Not the Big Ten. And not the inaugural College Football Playoff -- or any of Ohio State's opponents trying to get there.

Put simply: Beating a ranked Ohio State team led by a Heisman contending, veteran quarterback would carry more weight in the eyes of the 13-member playoff committee than a win against a 9-3 team led by a rookie quarterback who hasn't played in two years. (This is all assuming, of course, that J.T. Barrett will play like the redshirt rookie he is.) If Ohio State is now weaker -- a logical assumption following the injury to one of the nation's best quarterbacks -- then its opponents' strength of schedule just got weaker, too.

And so did the Big Ten.

In spite of Michigan State's ascension (not to mention its 2013 win against the Buckeyes), the Big Ten has still been measured by Ohio State in the court of public opinion. The Buckeyes had two things going for them this season: Miller and arguably the best defensive line in the country. Even with having to replace four starters on the offensive line, there was enough confidence in Urban Meyer's recruiting to consider the Buckeyes a true contender for the playoff. Now, Michigan State clearly has more answers and should be the clear-cut favorite to win the East Division, but would a win against Oregon in Week 2 be enough to propel the Spartans into the playoff?

Not if the selection committee shares the public's perception of the Big Ten, which has lost 25 of its past 33 games against ranked, power conference competition and Notre Dame. The Big Ten hasn't played for a national title since Ohio State's last appearance in 2007. As a Power Five conference, the Big Ten has been playing catch-up to the SEC (like everyone else), the Pac-12 and even the ACC, which finally raised its profile with Florida State's national title.

Virginia Tech's schedule, though, looks like a cotton ball with the exception of their visit to Ohio State in Week 2. With North Carolina the only other ranked opponent on the schedule, and seven home games, the Hokies could be one of the country's most deceiving teams come November. A road win against a full-strength Ohio State team would have shocked the country and propelled the Hokies into the playoff conversation.

Now? Strength of schedule will be called into question, but Virginia Tech isn't alone.

Should Michigan State win the East and play in the Big Ten title game, it's debatable whether a win against the West Division winner would do much to further impress the committee. The East is the stronger and more compelling race, as three teams in the West had losing records last season (Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois), and Nebraska was the only team to win its bowl game.

Fair or not, Ohio State was entering this season carrying the banner for the entire conference once again. The Buckeyes certainly aren't doomed -- there are plenty of rookie quarterback success stories for a blueprint, and Barrett could easily join them. The big picture, though, has certainly changed. After what was easily the most impactful playoff news of the summer, the Buckeyes aren't the only ones who have lost.
videoUnlike a wide-eyed freshman, nothing is exactly new for Tennessee defensive end Curt Maggitt, but he does enter the 2014 season hoping for a fresh start after injuries ravaged the better part of his first three years on campus.

There was the lingering high school shoulder injury his freshman year, and his sophomore season brought turf toe, an everlasting shoulder stinger and an eventual season-ending ACL injury.

After multiple surgeries, and some frustratingly long recovery time, Maggitt sat out all of the 2013 season.

An ankle injury is currently nagging Maggitt during fall camp, but all indications are that his coaches have held him back for precautionary measures, making sure he’s ready for the season, because Tennessee needs a healthy Maggitt in 2014.

“We missed Curt a lot [last season] because we know what he can bring to the table,” said linebacker A.J. Johnson, who is Maggitt’s roommate. “He’s like a brother to me and we missed him a lot. We know how much he’s going to help us and how much work he’s put in to get back to be ready for this season.”

What the Vols missed was an elite pass-rusher and finisher. Last season, Tennessee was last in the SEC with 18 sacks and 12th in the league with 65 tackles for loss.

Getting Maggitt back – and fully healthy – would be a major upgrade for a team completely rebuilding its defensive line. Maggitt will line up all over at linebacker this fall, but will spend most of his time with his hand in the ground at defensive end, a position Maggitt said he prefers to outside linebacker.

Maggitt has endured a career-long struggle with his body at Tennessee. The once-prized recruit from West Palm Beach, Florida, arrived in Knoxville and promptly recorded 56 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, despite a surgically repaired shoulder that needed surgery again after the season.

In 2012, Maggitt suffered a nasty case of turf toe in the season opener when his foot got caught in the turf of the Georgia Dome while he blocked NC State quarterback Mike Glennon during an interception return by teammate Prentiss Waggner.

Trainers made him a thick, plastic cast for his toe, which forced him to wear a size 14 shoe on his right foot and a normal size 13 on his left.

“You really realize how important that big toe is,” Maggitt said. “Every time I would try to plant or push off of it, it would hurt.”

The cast helped, but it created an awkward, wobbly running style. Maggitt couldn’t stop properly on his right foot, which he thinks resulted in his subsequent ACL injury against Missouri on Nov. 10, while landing awkwardly on his right foot after hurdling Mizzou quarterback James Franklin.

Maggitt missed spring and part of summer before he, his father, Roosevelt, and coach Butch Jones decided to officially shut his season down after the Oregon game.

The heart of Tennessee’s defense was forced to helplessly sit and watch, as the Vols suffered through Jones’ inaugural 5-7 season.

“When he’s been playing ball since he was 9 years old, it’s really tough because he has it in his bloodstream to be out there,” Maggitt’s father said. “No matter the intensity level of the game, whether it’s in the backyard, he loves playing. It was tough for him.”

Maggitt said he got down on himself a lot and needed extra comfort from his teammates at times. His injuries kept him away from football and normal workouts. He went from having a max bench press of 330 pounds to not being able to lift the bar.

While he still assumed the role of the team’s top leader, Maggitt felt the pain of separation during road games, when Maggitt couldn’t travel.

“It was weird because since Day 1 when I was a freshman, I was never left behind,” Maggitt said. “It was kind of a salty feeling, feeling like you’re being left, put up for adoption almost.”

However, Maggitt found his release by taking advantage of his time away from the field. He recorded his highest GPA of 3.5 for a semester and began to plan for a future without football.

Very personable, Maggitt’s interest in becoming a sales rep for a business drew him to an internship with Omega Technical Services in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. There, Maggitt shadowed a business developer and did everyday work, like writing and sending emails, organizing meetings and sitting in on meetings with potential clients.

The day-to-day work helping to organize and develop a business really interested Maggitt, but that’s for the future. For now, his focus is on getting back on the field and making an impact for his team.

Maggitt is excited about having a more versatile role within Tennessee’s defense and already knows the first time he steps on the field he’ll have his eyes pierced on the quarterback lining up opposite him, waiting to make first contact.

“I’m excited about that,” he said. “It’s been a long time, especially in Neyland [Stadium]. “If I get a sack in Neyland, man, I might just end up laying on the ground for a little bit and soak that moment up.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Walking off the Doak Campbell Stadium field, Mario Edwards Jr. held his helmet in his left hand. The relentless Florida sun reflected off the helmet’s base, which was only now visible through the scratches and scrapes that rubbed the gold paint off.

This wasn’t after a Clemson, Florida or Miami game. Florida State just finished up its first preseason intrasquad scrimmage.

The only players whose helmets might look similar? “Maybe the offensive linemen,” Edwards said, because those are the unfortunate ones the physically imposing junior defensive end bludgeons on a daily basis.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSack totals don't explain the impact of Mario Edwards Jr. for the Seminoles.
Edwards’ job along the defensive line is often an unenviable one, as his helmet that will require a retouching every week indicates. It’s also a position where Edwards doesn’t get the same recognition as his Florida State predecessors, such as Cornellius Carradine, Brandon Jenkins or Bjoern Werner, who each had the liberty of focusing on rushing the passer from the edge more than Edwards, who is shifted all over the defensive line.

Last week, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was asked about Edwards and whether he should be in line for more than the 3.5 sacks he tallied as a sophomore in 2013. Once the reporter mentioned the word “sacks,” it set Fisher off and he challenged the logic of the query.

“Sacks don’t equate to greatness. You better watch that film. That guy’s a heck of a football player. You watch when the draft comes around,” said Fisher, pointing to Edwards' role on the country's top-scoring defense. “He’s as athletic and dominant as any defensive tackle we’ve ever had.”

The question set in motion a 10-minute coach's clinic session from Fisher, who broke down all of the responsibilities Edwards has, and there were many.

Edwards said he probably missed a few sacks last season because he didn’t understand the entire playbook, and it is easy to see why. As a first-year starter, Edwards was shifted from end to tackle and asked to line up in gaps, heads up with a lineman or shaded to a shoulder. The difference could be a matter of a few inches, but it completely alters the landscape of a defensive scheme. First-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said this season Edwards might edge rush one play then drop into coverage on the next because he’s “very powerful but at the same time he’s athletic.”

Fisher likes to call upon the time he witnessed Edwards do a standing back flip … in full pads. If that’s not impressive enough, consider the 20-year-old stands 6-foot-3 and tips the scales at a Twinkie shy of 300 pounds. And while the weight was a concern early in his career, Edwards dedicated himself this offseason, reshaping his body and turning much of the weight into muscle to prepare for the increased attention he’ll see with Timmy Jernigan off to the NFL.

“Talking with Timmy and talking to other guys, I realized it’s back on me now. I’m an upperclassman and we have to carry the tradition,” Edwards said. “I took my workouts serious. I lifted, ran, tried to watch what I ate.”

That has opposing offensive coordinators on heightened alert, especially after observing Edwards chase down speedy Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall in the national championship game. While many offenses are switching to uptempo speeds predicated on spreading the defense out, the philosophy of running the football between the tackles remains largely unchanged. However, the scheme forces defenses to eliminate players from the box and substitute a lineman or linebacker for a smaller defensive back.

The rise of the spread formation has made linemen with Edwards’ athletic ability all the more vital.

“The front guys that are big and agile are so much more critical now than they’ve ever been because the game is spread so they’re getting isolated more,” Fisher said. “… He’s as strong and naturally powerful as anyone I’ve been around.”

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