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College Football Playoff has its new logo

100th Rose Bowl Game Press Conference Getty Images

Not a week after College Football Playoff was born into this world, fans (and, briefly, hackers from Austin, TX) have decided what CFP’s official logo will be.

An online vote on CFP’s official website concluded today. And the choice (presumably set to the background of Jerry World, the first championship site) is:

cfp logo

Now that the important stuff is out of the way, about that selection committee….

(Image via CFP) 

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Saban still waiting for a QB to ‘take the bull by the horns’

As has been the case since the spring, and especially since the Florida State transfer arrived, Alabama remains the most high-profile FBS team with an open and undecided quarterback competition. And, it appears, that will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

Just 10 days before the opener, neither Jacob Coker, the presumptive favorite, nor Blake Sims, AJ McCarron‘s backup in 2013, have pulled away from the other. Head coach Nick Saban, new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and the rest of the offensive staff are awaiting for it to go down, but it simply hasn’t happened yet.

And, seeing as we’re rapidly approaching opening weekend, it appears the formerly bristly Saban is getting a little anxious for someone to do just that — but not anxious enough for a premature trigger pull

“I would like to see somebody take the bull by the horns from a leadership standpoint, a consistency standpoint and win the job here sometime,” the coach said following practice Tuesday. “But we’re not going to make a decision until somebody does that.”

So, what if neither Coker nor Sims grabs the bull by the, uh, throat, before the opener against West Virginia? The Tide could very well be prepared to party like its 2011 under center. From al.com:

If that doesn’t happen, Alabama could very well play both Sims and Coker against West Virginia much like it did in 2011, when AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims split time in the season opener.

McCarron, of course, went on to grab hold of — eventually — the starting job for not only the 2011 season but the next two years as well. Saban can only hope that, eventually, either Coker or Sims does the same.

“One day one guy plays really well and you say, ‘Well, that looks like that might be it.’ And the next day the other guy plays really well,” Saban said. “I think the good news is we have two guys that I would feel very comfortable playing.”

Perhaps, comfortable enough to even play both in the same game depending on how the next week and a half goes.

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Irish OC missed start of camp as he battled prostate cancer

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwy2zge2nwezzgnjztm2yjm5nji4mwjiyjhlymzlzgq01 AP

And now we know the rest of what was, unbeknownst to most, a very serious story.

Earlier this month it was announced that Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock would “miss the first few weeks of preseason camp” due to what was described at the time as an undisclosed medical procedure. Tuesday, Denbrock spoke to the media and revealed the exact nature of his health scare: prostate cancer.

According to our own J.J. Stankevitz as part of his other gig at CSNChicago.com, Denbrock underwent routine medical testing for a life insurance policy. It was at that point it was discovered he had cancer.

All subsequent tests performed since the surgery have been positive, and the coordinator has returned to work. He isn’t though, back to 100 percent.

“I think it’ll be a little while,” Denbrock said when asked when he’ll be back to full strength. “I’m not going to say how much I’ve been involved with what’s been going on because my wife and doctor will probably hunt me down and get after me, but I’ve more than I anticipated I would up until this point. I haven’t tried to stress it or push it. Coach Kelly has been great about it, (as has athletic director) Jack Swarbrick and everybody here about letting me heal and get what I needed.”

Denbrock is in his first season as the Irish’s play-caller. During Danbrock’s absence, head coach Brian Kelly has taken over that responsibility.

In addition to coordinating duties, Denbrock serves as ND’s wide receivers coach. He’ll continue that part of his job description as well.

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Injuries cost KU its top two RBs for all of 2014

Brandon Bourbon, Ryan Reid AP

It’s not been a very good past couple of days for experienced members of Kansas’ backfield.

The Jayhawks confirmed Tuesday that running backs Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox will miss all of the 2014 season due to injuries. The former tore an ACL during a scrimmage Sunday, the latter ruptured an Achilles’ tendon during Monday’s practice.

“I feel bad for both Brandon and Taylor,” KU coach Charlie Weis said in a statement. “They were looking forward to the opportunity to be the replacement for James Sims. I sat down with each of them individually and talked through their options and was happy that they chose to further their education while attempting to play again next year if things work out.”

One of the options being considered by both seniors is petitioning the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility.  Bourbon missed the entire 2010 season with a broken leg. A hamstring injury cost Cox all but two games in 2013, so a sixth season, if they so choose, would appear to be a slam-dunk.

This season, though, both of the losses are rather significant ones.  Last season, Bourbon ran for 191 yards and was second on the team with three rushing touchdowns. His 20 receptions were tied for third on the team.

Entering summer camp and heading into the season, Bourbon was considered the Jayhawks’ starting running back. Cox, who was listed as Bourbon’s backup, rushed for 468 yards during his only healthy season in Lawrence.

The twin injuries continue a long line of attrition at the position the past several months. In June, Darrian Miller, who finished second on the team in rushing in 2013 and 2011, left the team for personal reasons. A month later, four-star 2014 signee Traevohn Wrench, widely considered to be a lock to be an immediate contributor, failed to qualify academically and was forced to go the JUCO route this season.

The attrition means that Tony Pierson is the only running back on the roster that has carried a football in a game at this level — and he was moved to wide receiver last year. Safety Joe Dineen has been moved from safety to running back to shore up the depth at the position.

True freshman Corey Avery and JUCO transfer De’Andre Mann will now be expected to carry KU’s running-game load. Unless there’s further attrition, the plan is to keep Pierson, who missed five of the last eight games last season due to concussions, as a receiver.

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Alabama Class of 2015 receiver only eligible for 3 games this fall

No, we are not looking into the future at the 2015 Alabama outlook just yet, but this is a bit of an interesting story out of the state of Florida. One of Alabama’s recruits lined up for the Class of 2015, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, will only be eligible to play three games this fall for Monarch High School. The reason? An age restriction.

Ridley will be 19 years and nine months old following the third game of the season, which is the maximum age allowed for football players in the state of Florida by the Florida High School Athletic Association. That will allow Ridley to play in just three games this season for his high school in his senior season. His high school’s athletics director, James Klemke, told The Sun Sentinel there will be no appeal.

Ridley is a five-star wide receiver and top ten receiver nationally in the Class of 2015 according to Rivals. Ridley committed to Alabama in April as Alabama was already underway in organizing what will likely be another one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Staying in shape after he is done playing football will be key. It does not appear there are any restrictions on working out with his high school team after his eligibility runs out, but expect Ridley to do whatever he will be able to in order to stay in as close to game shape as possible as he prepares to head to Alabama.

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Jimbo Fisher comfortable with receiver position

Christian Green, A.J. Highsmith, Ladarius Gunter

Florida State lost a pair of wide receivers in the first round of the most recent NFL Draft, so you might think the Seminoles have some big shoes to fill. They do, after losing Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin. Fortunately, head coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited well since taking over as head coach and has options ready to fill in. If the season were to start today, Rashad Greene and Christian Green. Fisher, though, has faith in all of the tools in his toolbox at the position.

“I feel very comfortable with eight guys in that rotation right now,” Fisher said, according to the Associated Press. ”That’s not playing them all, but I’d feel very comfortable if they had to go into the football game.”

Greene starting was a given, of course. Despite a paid of first-round receivers on the field, Greene was Florida State’s leading receiver in 2013 with 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. Green finished the year sixth on the Seminoles with 157 yards on 13 receptions. Running back Devonte Freeman finished fifth on the team with 278 receiving yards as well.

Of course, having a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Jameis Winston certainly helps the stability in the passing game as well. Florida State looks pretty stacked for the upcoming season, and the passing game should once again be effective and ready to break out some big plays along the way to a potential title defense.

Florida State opens the 2014 season in Arlington, Texas against Oklahoma State.

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ND Shamrock Series uniform shows switching to Under Armour was wise

Notre Dame 2014 Shamrock Series

Notre Dame has had a cringe-worthy history when it comes to the special Shamrock Series uniforms. Two years ago brought us one of the most bizarre helmet designs that looked more like a printing error with its asymmetry, and last season’s uniform was only a little better. With the season drawing near and Under Armour taking over as uniform apparel provider, there were many questions about how the new uniform partner would leave their stamp on the Shamrock Series uniforms after years of working with Adidas.

Score one in the win column for Under Armour, which has come a long way since throwing together this atrocity.

Notre Dame and Under Armour unveiled the new uniforms for the upcoming season, and did so in non-offensive fashion by keeping true to Notre Dame’s classic look for the home and away uniforms and a Shamrock series

This video suggests the designers are trying to tell a story with the new uniform, which seems to be a trend for uniform designers lately. You can buy into the whole storytelling concept as you see fit, but the Cliff’s Notes version probably simply states Notre Dame sticks to the blue, slaps on a matte logo on the golden dome, which now features a subtle touch of a diamond pattern. At a quick glance, Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series uniform looks like it should have been shipped to Pittsburgh for the Panthers, but this is far better than past iterations of the alternate look.

Under Armour has already left a solid impression on a classic look, something Adidas was never able to do with the Irish. What do you think about the new uniform for Notre Dame?

Photo via Notre Dame Athletics.

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It’s official: Braxton Miller to miss 2014 season

Braxton Miller AP

O-H!  UH-OH!!!

Unfortunately for Ohio State and the fans of its football team, their worst fears have been realized as OSU announced today that, as widely expected, starting quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the entire 2014 season.  Miller, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year reinjured his right(throwing) shoulder during practice Monday, with at least a couple of reports indicating that the he suffered a dislocated shoulder on a throw in which there was no contact.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Braxton and his family,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement. “This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye nation.”

Other than he reinjured the same shoulder, the school declined to acknowledge the specific nature of the injury. They did allow that it was a non-contact play and the injury will require surgery to repair.

There is not timetable as of yet for surgery or a return to football activities.

Former Ohio State All-American wide receiver Joey Galloway, who was at yesterday’s practice, “said the injury to Braxton occurred on a rollout throwing a short pass toward the sideline.”

“He didn’t even get hit,” a source told Pete Thamel of SI.com. “He threw and it’s just a freakish thing. Everyone is scratching their head on how it happened.” Thamel added that Miller suffered a torn labrum, not a dislocation of his shoulder.

The injury didn’t go unnoticed all across college football and by former teammates.  And Las Vegas.

There was some good news, at least for now, amidst the gloom as Miller revealed that he will return to the Buckeyes for the 2015 season.  Miller is a fourth-year senior and has yet to use a redshirt.

He’ll use one this year and then, if he does return — he could change his mind and enter the 2015 NFL draft — he’ll be a fifth-year senior who would be poised to again lead his beloved Buckeyes.

“I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever,” said Miller, who is 26-8 as a starter, including 24-2 the past two seasons, in his statement. “I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season. In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season.”

That’s the future, though. The present is what currently matters most to OSU.

JT Barrett

JT Barrett

With the end of Miller’s season officially finalized, the Buckeyes will turn to, at least initially, J.T. Barrett.  The redshirt freshman had been in a battle throughout spring practice and on into summer camp with sophomore Cardale Jones to be Miller’s backup, only just recently moving into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

Both Barrett and Jones received extensive work during the 15 spring sessions as Miller rehabbed the partially torn labrum he suffered in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, which was subsequently repaired in what at the time was described as minor surgery in late February.  That extra work for the two reserves continued into summer camp as Miller had been limited due to what was described as soreness in his shoulder.

While the pair have received additional reps because of Miller’s issues, it won’t help the game-day inexperience.  Barrett has never thrown a pass at the collegiate level, while Jones has thrown just two.

Despite the lack of on-field experience at this level, Barrett will enter the huddle with a fairly lofty recruiting pedigree and an assertive leadership style.

A four-star member of OSU’s 2013 recruiting class, Barrett was rated as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  Easily the biggest knock on Barrett is his arm strength, or lack thereof.  His offensive coordinator/position coach, however, says the former Texas high schooler more than makes up for lack of a cannon on his shoulder in other facets of the game.

“Extremely cerebral. Very magnetic leader,” Tom Herman said earlier this month of a player who’s turned out to be his new starting quarterback. “I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him.

“We’ve got to work on strengthening his arm. He’s a distant third in terms of Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall. But he makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that. You don’t have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I’m very pleased with his continuing growth.”

Cardale Jones

Cardale Jones

Jones, a three-star member of the Buckeyes’ 2011 recruiting class who delayed his enrollment at OSU for prep school, was rated as the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the country that year.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman, then played sparingly in 2013; in 39 plays from scrimmage last season, Jones threw the ball twice (completing one for three yards) and ran 17 times (for 128 yards and a touchdown).

Meyer didn’t address just who will start the opener against Navy, although it was noted in the release that “[i]t was previously announced by Meyer on Saturday that Barrett, a 6-1, 225-pounder from Wichita Falls, Texas, had moved ahead of Jones for the No. 2 quarterback spot.”  Recently, Barrett has taken the lion’s share of reps with the first-team offense as he separated himself from Jones.

Taking all of that into account, there’s no reason to tap dance around it — losing Miller for the year is a significant blow to the Buckeyes and will certainly have an impact on the Big Ten Race.  It also may very well significantly impact the first year of the College Football Playoff as the Buckeyes, despite the Big Ten title-game loss to Michigan State, were the overwhelming favorites to claim the conference and emerge as the league’s playoff representative.  Miller is one of the most irreplaceable and indispensable players in college football; some would even argue that he’s the most irreplaceable and indispensable, given the unproven running backs in OSU’s stable and the coaching staff having to replace four of its five starting offensive linemen.

Even as it may seem like it in the here and now, the season’s not completely lost for the Buckeyes.  As, just to name a few, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel,  Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Florida State’s Jameis Winston have shown over the past couple of years, redshirt freshmen are perfectly capable of successfully leading their teams in their first seasons as starters.  One of those four (Winston) won a BCS title, while another (Golson) helped lead his team to the BCS title game.  Winston won the Heisman en route to the championship, while Manziel took home his while helping the Aggies win 11 games their first season in the SEC.  Mariota was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012 as the Ducks won 11 games, including the Fiesta Bowl.

More than likely, the Ducks and Aggies would’ve qualified for the playoffs were that system around in 2012, the former in particular.

Then there’s this: USC’s Matt Leinart (2004), LSU’s Matt Flynn (2007) Alabama’s Greg McElroy (2009), Auburn’s Cam Newton (2010), Alabama’s AJ McCarron (2011) and Winston (2013) all won BCS titles in their first year as starters over the last decade.

Who knows, Barrett could make it three seasons in a row for the second-year freshman/first-year starter phenomenon that’s done nothing but grow over the past handful of years.  And, for now, that’s about all Buckeye Nation can hang their title hopes on.

Well, that and a schedule that features just one team at the moment ranked in the Top 25 — No. 8 Michigan State in East Lansing.  That’s easily OSU’s toughest road game of the year, with other games away from The Horseshoe consisting of against Navy (9-4 in 2013) (in Baltimore), Maryland (7-6), Penn State (7-5) and Minnesota (8-5).  Their home slate features matchups against Virginia Tech (8-5), Kent State (4-8), Cincinnati (9-4), Rutgers (6-7), Illinois (4-8), Indiana (5-7) and Michigan (7-6).

According to FBSchedules.com, Ohio State’s 2014 schedule is tied for fifth-toughest, with Oregon, among the teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 10.  The .569 winning percentage of its opponents top that of defending BCS champion Florida State (.550), Oklahoma (.477) and Alabama (.473).

In other words, it’s not the cakewalk some have perceived to be.  It’s not exactly a football death march either, which means that, depending on how fast Barrett — or Jones — get acclimated, all the gloom and doom currently hanging over the football program could give way to a postseason full of possibilities.  Or it’ll be 2011 all over again in terms of the won/loss ledger.  One of the two.

 

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Backup Auburn DE transferring to Arkansas State

Arkansas State

For the second time in a little more than a year, defensive end Chase Robison is relocating to play football. The Auburn backup will hope to play a more meaningful role at his new school, Arkansas State.

According to information from A-State Nation, via Twitter, Robison will enroll and join the football program. Because he sat out the 2013 season after transferring to Auburn from Texas Tech, he should be eligible to play right away this season for the Sun Belt Conference contender. He will also be playing at the same program his father, Lanier Robison, once played.

Robison was never able to work his way up the depth chart at Auburn, but at Arkansas State he may have an opportunity to compete for a starting job. The former three-star recruit in the Class of 2012, according to Rivals, was offered a scholarship by Arkansas State but decided to accept an offer from Texas Tech. Maybe the third spot in as many seasons will allow Robison some peace and stability.

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Miami’s Rayshawn Jenkins could be back for spring ball

Virginia v Miami Getty Images

It has already been confirmed that one of Miami’s top players in its defensive secondary would not play at all this season.  Now we know when the player’s expected to resume football activities as well.

Miami announced Monday that Rayshawn Jenkins underwent successful surgery on his lower back Monday.  Because of the surgery, Jenkins’ 2014 season is already over before it began.

Jenkins is expected to be released from the hospital Wednesday, with rehab expected to take up to six months.  Such a timeline, though, would put the defensive back on track to return for the start of spring practice.

As a true sophomore last season, Jenkins started 12 of the 13 games he played at safety. His three interceptions were tied for second on the team, while he was a solo second with five passes broken up.

Jenkins, a three-star member of The U’s 2012 recruiting class, played in 10 games (two starts) as a true freshman that year.

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OSU’s CFP odds tumble on reports of Braxton’s season-ending injury

Braxton Miller AP

At some point this afternoon or this evening — maybe — Ohio State is expected to announce that starting quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the 2014 season with a shoulder injury.

In late July, Ohio State was the prohibitive favorite from the Big Ten to claim the College Football Playoff at 10/1; Michigan State was 25/1 while Wisconsin was 33/1.  Those odds for OSU were at 10/1 in January, prior to Miller’s “minor” surgery in February.

They were also, at 10/11, heavy favorites to win the Big Ten over the former (15/4) and the latter (9/2).

Now?  In the wake of Miller’s injury, reportedly one of the dreaded non-contact variety, the Buckeyes have tumbled in the eyes of Las Vegas.

“Ohio State was a major contender at 10-1 to win the National Championship and considering Braxton Miller was a frontrunner for the Heisman at 15-2, this injury has impacted their odds drastically going from 10-1 to 18-1 amidst the rumors of the injury and now are confirmed at 40-1,” Kevin Bradley, Bovada‘s sports book manager, said. “Michigan State and Wisconsin will now surpass them as favorites for the Big Ten and only time will tell if we are over-adjusting on the Buckeyes, even though they still have a fairly easy schedule.”

It’s far from surprising that the odds have plummeted as they have seeing as Miller is one of the most irreplaceable and indispensable players in college football.  It’s nonetheless startling to witness such a precipitous drop, less than two weeks before the start of the season, for one of the preseason favorites to claim one of the four spots in the newly-minted College Football Playoff.

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UMass, touted RB Drew Harris ‘part ways’

Drew Harris

In early June, UMass made what was considered by many to be one of its most important personnel addition of the offseason.  Just a month or so later? That important addition is no more.

According to MassLive.com, head coach Mark Whipple confirmed that Drew Harris is no longer a part of the Minutemen football program. There was no specific reason given for the abrupt divorce, although the head coach didn’t appear too happy when discussing it.

“He’s gone. He left. It just wasn’t a good fit,” Whipple said. “Personally, he was a good kid, but it just wasn’t a good fit for the program.”

Based on his pedigree, Harris was expected to make an immediate and significant impact this season.

The four-star recruit was rated as the No. 22 running back in the country in the Class of 2012. With offers from, among others, Arizona State, Arkansas, Georgia, Miami, Michigan State, Penn State, South Carolina and West Virginia, the Pennsylvania native signed with Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, Harris failed to qualify academically and spent 2012 and 2013 at a prep school and a New York JUCO, respectively.

To where Harris may ultimately end up next is unknown.

“We’ve got too many other issues to worry about things I can’t control,” Whipple said when asked what Harris next career move will be

There was some concern that Harris may not qualify academically at UMass, however, although it’s unclear if that aspect played a role in the departure.

(Photo credit: UMass athletics)

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Ex-Herd RB Grooms lands at Liberty

After a trio of legal issues over the past 15 months, Kevin Grooms was summarily dismissed by Marshall in late July. A couple of weeks later, the running back has found a new home.

In a press release, Liberty announced that Grooms has enrolled at the school and will be a member of the Flames football team. Despite the fact that Liberty plays at the FCS level, Grooms won’t be eligible to play immediately in 2014. He will have one year of eligibility remaining beginning in 2015.

Below is a statement attributed to head coach Turner Gill.

“Kevin sought out our football program because he is at a point in his life where he wants to make some positive changes. He believes Liberty University would provide the type of atmosphere that would allow him to be successful in this endeavor. He understands that he will be expected to grow academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. We are excited to have the opportunity to work with Kevin and be a part of his growth and maturity.

“While Kevin has enjoyed success both academically and athletically at Marshall, the thing that made Kevin attractive to us is the fact that he has had some adversity and he wants to make changes in his life. Liberty University is a place that has always offered young people a second change and we are excited to be a part of that process in Kevin’s life.”

Most of the adversity to which Gill refers was of the player’s own doing.

His departure from the Herd came a few hours after Grooms was arrested on a felony burglary charge as well as misdemeanors of domestic assault, petit larceny and fleeing on foot.

The arrest was Grooms’ third in a little over 15 months. In late April of last year, the back was charged with underage consumption of alcohol and obstruction. Seven months later, he was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested and charged with domestic battery and obstruction.

Head coach Doc Holliday reinstated Grooms before the start of spring practice, with the player exiting the 15 sessions as the clear starter at the position.

After redshirting as a true freshman — he was a three-star member of the Herd’s 2011 recruiting class coming out of high school in Hollywood, Fla. — Grooms led Marshall in 2012 with 737 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He was named Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year following that season.

Despite not playing the in the last three games last season due to a combination of injuries and his suspension, Grooms finished third on the team with 503 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns.

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Ole Miss WR Sammie Epps charged with pot possession

Sammie Epps

An off-field incident could lead to on-field punitive measures for one of the newest member of the Ole Miss football team.

According to the Tupelo Daily Journal, wide receiver Sammie Epps was arrested late last week and slapped with a pair of misdemeanors.  Specifically, those were possession of marijuana and driving without valid license.

What led to the initial traffic stop by the Oxford Police Department wasn’t detailed.

We are aware of the matter and will address it once we have gathered more facts,” Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze said in a statement.

Epps was a three-star member of Ole Miss’ 2014 recruiting class who was rated as the No. 27 tight end in the country. The 6-5, 215-pound Epps was subsequently moved to receiver.

(Photo credit: Ole Miss athletics)

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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

Washington v Arizona State Getty Images

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Pac-12. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

PAC-12 NORTH

1. Oregon (Last year: 11-2; beat Texas at Alamo Bowl)
The Ducks have been on the cusp of elite status as a program for the past four seasons. It’s time for the program to get over the hump and win a national title. This year’s squad may have the best chance to capture the school’s first national championship. It all starts with the quarterback position. Marcus Mariota is the best signal caller currently playing collegiate football. Yes, that includes Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston. Mariota may have hoisted the trophy last year if he didn’t suffer a knee injury late in the season which hampered his style of play. Mariota is extremely efficient as a passer, highly intelligent with his decision-making and a deadly athlete when he decides to run with the football. The Ducks also return key starters at vital positions. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu may have been the top players selected at their position in May’s NFL draft. Yet, they decided to return to Eugene.  The team’s leading rusher (Byron Marshall), tackler (Derrick Malone) and sack artist (Tony Washington) return as well. As Mark Helfrich enters his second year as head coach, there aren’t any excuses for the Ducks this season. It’s a national championship or bust. This is the year for Oregon to prove its more than a flashy offense and uniform trendsetters.

2. Stanford (Last year: 11-3; lost to Michigan State in Rose Bowl)
Cardinal faithful will almost certainly remind anyone who will listen that their team beat Oregon the past two seasons and claimed Pac-12 conference titles. However, the Cardinal simply aren’t as talented from top to bottom as the Ducks. The key players Oregon retained; the Cardinal lost. The team lost it’s leading rusher, tackler, sack artist and four of its starting offensive linemen. While Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan may be entering his second full season as the team’s starter, he’s a notch below the elite quarterbacks in the Pac-12 conference.David Shaw is one of the best coaches in college football. This team will continue it’s winning ways. But Stanford will likely take a slight step backwards as the Ducks reclaim the honor as the best team in the Pac-12 Conference.

3. Oregon State (Last year: 7-6; beat Boise State in Hawai’i Bowl)
College football’s leading-returning passer resides in Corvallis, Oregon. Quarterback Sean Mannion returns for his senior campaign after throwing for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. But Mannion won’t have Biletnikoff Trophy winner Brandin Cooks to throw to anymore. And that ‘s a good thing. Mannion’s experience behind center is a major positive for the Beavers, but Oregon State head coach Mike Riley admitted the coaching staff became enamored with throwing the football due to their dynamic duo at quarterback and wide receiver. This season, the Beavers will be more balanced on offense and more closely resemble the team that went 9-4 in 2012 instead of the one that was 7-6 last season. Senior Terran Ward and junior Storm Woods combined for 1,060 rushing yards last season. They should receive bigger workloads. With a more balanced attack, the Beavers hope to avoid another five-game losing streak in Pac-12 play. The team seen during its 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawai’i Bowl is the one Pac-12 opponents should expect to face Saturdays this fall.

4. Washington (Last year: 9-4; beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl)
The University of Washington did the impossible; they pried Chris Petersen out of Boise and made him their new head coach. Petersen inherits a talented roster built slowly over time by previous head coach Steve Sarkisian. After three straight 7-6 seasons, the Huskies finally broke through with an 9-4 campaign in 2013. The team then lost it’s head coach, quarterback and workhorse running back. Change of that degree will likely cause the Huskies to take a small step back during the upcoming season. While Peterson was ultra-successful during his eight seasons at Boise State, his team stumbled last year and lost four games for the first time in eight years. The last coach to have that type of success at Boise then finish with a four-loss team before moving to the Pac-12 was Dan Hawkins. Furthermore, there are still questions at quarterback for the Huskies. Cyler Miles hasn’t shown he’s ready to take over the team. Until one of the quarterbacks does, the Huskies will have to rely on a talented defense, particularly a defensive line that features nose tackle Danny Shelton and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha.

5. Washington State (Last year: 6-7; lost to Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl)
This will be Mike Leach‘s third year in Pullman, Washington. It was in Leach’s third year at Texas Tech he was able to lead the Red Raiders to a nine-win season. He won’t be as lucky with the Cougars. It’s taken Leach some time to implement the “Air Raid” offense that far north. This should be the first season in which it’s fully functional with senior Connor Halliday as the trigger-man behind center. However, the team’s defense struggled mightily in 2013 and finished 102nd overall. Leach’s run at Texas Tech was special, because he could out-scheme nearly everyone in the Big 12. But he could always rely on the talent he recruited in the state of Texas. The state of Washington doesn’t present the same level of talent. In three recruiting classes, only one former four-star recruit, wide receiver Gabe Marks, is expected to contribute for the Cougars this season. And that talent disparity will keep Wazzu toward the bottom of the Pac-12.

6. Cal (Last year: 1-11)
The hiring of Sonny Dykes as Cal’s head coach was an absolute disaster. The Golden Bears finished 1-11. They didn’t play any defense whatsoever. Players were leaving the program as soon as possible once the season ended. The only expectation for the team this season is to improve on last year’s record and actually win a conference game. Cal should be able to move the ball in Dykes’ version of the “Air Raid” offense. Quarterback Jared Goff enters his second season as starter after he put together a solid season as a true freshman. Plus, four of Goff’s top five receivers return. The Golden Bears will be able to throw the football, but the question is whether or not the defense will be able to stop anyone. History says no. Art Kaufman was hired as the team’s defensive coordinator this off season, and he has an uphill battle in front of him. Even when Dykes led Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 record, a national ranking and nearly defeated a Texas A&M team led by Johnny Manzielthe Bulldogs were the worst defensive team in college football. Dykes’ emphasis falls on the offensive side of the ball, and that is not going to change. It’s only a matter of time before Cal is looking for another head coach once the school’s new athletic director is named.

PAC-12 SOUTH

1. UCLA (Last year: 10-3; beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl)
Expectations are sky high at UCLA. And they should be. In two short years, Jim Mora has completely rebuilt the culture in Westwood. Plus, the Bruins are fortunate to have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brett Hundley. If Hundley declared for the NFL draft this year, he would have been a first-round selection. He’s projected to be a Top 10 pick for next May. The quarterback is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talent on this roster. Senior Jordan James and sophomore Paul Perkins return in the backfield after combining for 1,107 rushing yards in 2013. Devin Fuller is a dynamic play maker out of the slot. And the defense may be even more talented. The two-way superstar Myles Jacks is one of college football’s top linebackers and a pretty good running back too. Erik Kendricks is highly instinctive and a tackling machine. Sophomores Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes will be one year better and impossible to move along the defensive interior. And the secondary is experienced with Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams returning. The No. 1 one goal for the Bruins will be to claim a Pac-12 championship, but this team has legitimate national championship potential. They simply have to get past Oregon and Stanford to prove they’re worthy of a berth in the College Football Playoff.

2. USC (Last year: 10-4; beat Fresno State in Las Vegas Bowl)
It’s hard to maintain momentum from one season to another. Although, USC appeared to regain its confidence and swagger as a program when it won six of its last seven games under the direction of interim head coach Ed Oregeron. Despite the team’s late season success, Oregeron wasn’t hired to become the team’s permanent head coach. Enter Steve Sarkisian, a former co-offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll. Despite sub-par seasons by USC’s standards in recent years, the team has two things in its favor. First, the talent from the top of the roster to the bottom is always among the best in college football. Second, the team’s depth will continue to improve as the bottom of the roster is rebuilt after being previously hamstrung by NCAA sanctions. The Trojans will be led by a strong defense which features the potential No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The unit finished 13th overall in total defense last season. The offense, meanwhile, will continue to grow under the direction of offensive coordinator Clay Helton and junior quarterback Cody Kessler. The offense played at a much higher level once Lane Kiffin was fired and Helton became the primary play-caller. It was a smart decision by Sarkisian to retain Helton on his staff.  All the pieces are in place for the Trojans to become a factor in the Pac-12 again. USC faithful has to hope Sarkisian was the right hire to keep them in the national conversation.

3. Arizona State (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl)
Since the Pac-12 South is generally considered the weaker division in the conference, it’s been somewhat overlooked that the Sun Devils played in the league’s championship game last year. Head coach Todd Graham has built a team that is known for its fast-pace offense and aggressive defense. In fact, Arizona State features the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12 with Taylor Kelly behind center and Jaelen Strong creating mismatches for defenses. Kelly, in particular, has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12 the past two seasons. And running back D.J. Foster is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. Arizona State may even be able to challenge UCLA and USC atop the Pac-12 South, but the team’s previously devastating defensive front is being completely rebuilt. The team lost it’s top tackler, sack artist and two-time Pac-12 Defense Player of the Year Will Sutton to the NFL. Graham will continue to blitz every chance he gets, but he no longer has the talent to win individual match-ups on a regular basis. The offense will score points, but the defense will have trouble stopping anyone. 

4.  Arizona (Last year: 8-5; beat Boston College in AdvoCare V100 Bowl)
Is the year the Wildcats are ready to take the next step under head coach Rich Rodriguez? During his first two seasons with the program, Arizona finished with an 8-5 record. The problem with Rodriguez is the passing game and defense suffer from the coach’s insistence to implement his offensive scheme, which is a zone-read heavy. The x-factor this season will be whomever Rodriguez’s names as his starting quarterback. Last season, B.J. Denker didn’t provide any consistency throwing the football. It will either be redshirt freshman Anu Solomon or senior transfer Jesse Scroggins which takes over the offense. Solomon reportedly has a slight lead in the competition during fall camp. These two will have to be better dual-threats out of the backfield than Denker was. And the defense has to be better after surrendering 401.1 yards per game last season. If these two things happen, the Wildcats will finish higher in the standings than CFT currently projects. But, it’s unlikely.

5. Colorado (Last year: 4-8)
A 4-8 record for any other program would be a disappointment. Colorado, however, isn’t just any program. It’s a school that went through an ugly divorce with previous head coach Jon Embree. Four wins by first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre was actually a three-game improvement. MacIntyre has a history of rebuilding a program in a similar fashion. He took San Jose State from a one-win team to 10 wins in three seasons. While the growth at Colorado should be far more incremental, the Buffaloes will continue to improve under the current coaching staff. The team returns 16 starters, including quarterback Sefo Liufau, and has a manageable non-conference schedule. There are at least five games the Buffaloes could be considered the favorites to win. It will be up to the coaching staff and players to steal one or two more wins from Pac-12 opponents.

6.  Utah (Last year: 5-7)
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham enters his 10th season with the program, and it could be his last if the Utes fall to the basement of the Pac-12 South. The problems start on the offensive side of the football. Whittingham used numerous different play-callers in recent years, but the Utes’ offense continued to sputter. Utah finished 76th overall in total offense during the 2013 campaign. Last season the defense wasn’t the team’s saving grace either. The Utes finished 60th overall in total defense. Whittingham will need key players to step up this season if the team has any hope of consistently competing in the Pac-12. Quarterback Travis Wilson has to improve after throwing 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as a sophomore. Another 5-7 season or worse will likely signal change within the program.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Oregon over UCLA

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2014 lost to torn ACL, Buffs’ starting DB Jered Bell seeks sixth year

Colorado Arizona NCAA Football AP

While Colorado has seen the last of a starting member of its defense for 2014, they likely haven’t seen the last of him at the school.

Last week, Jered Bell suffered a torn ACL during practice that will cost him the entire 2014 season. Because he already missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL, the redshirt senior would make a solid candidate for a sixth season of eligibility.

That appears to be the tack the defensive back will take.

“It’s a shame being a guy with so much experience, good leader,”head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I think he will come back (in 2015) for his sixth year. I believe that will all go through. He told me he wanted to if the knee heals right and (rehabilitation) goes as it should.”

Bell has played in 36 games when healthy for the Buffs, starting 14 of those contests. 11 of those starts came at free safety in 2013.

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