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SEC SIDs tap Tide over Tigers as preseason favorites

Alabama v Auburn Getty Images

Auburn may have beaten Alabama on a miracle last season, but the majority view the Tigers’ bitter in-state rivals as the favorite this upcoming season.

In its annual poll of the 14 sports information departments released over the weekend, al.com revealed that the Crimson Tide were picked by eight of the departments to win the conference championship.  The Tide was also second on the other six ballots.

The defending champion Tigers were tapped first on a total of six ballots.  Three had AU second, three third while one, apparently flashing back to the 2012 season, have them slotted as the ninth-best team in the conference.

The Tide and Tigers were the only teams to receive first-place votes.  It should be noted that the SIDs weren’t permitted to vote for their own football teams.

Not only are Alabama and Auburn 1-2, four of the top six are from the West division: LSU fifth (high of second by three voters, low of seventh by one voter) and Texas A&M (high of third by one voter, low of ninth by one voter).  The highest appearance by a school from the East is South Carolina, which

So, in other words, the SIDs foresee an Alabama-South Carolina SEC championship and, yes, the run-up to a Saban-Spurrier title game would be all kinds of fantastic and awesome.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Kentucky, which, despite the recruiting inroads Mark Stoops has made, is easily the worst team in the conference according to the SIDs.  The Wildcats are projected no better than 10th, while eight of the 14 placing them at rock bottom.  UK garnered a total of just 21 points; the next worst was Arkansas’ 33.

Courtesy of al.com, here’s a handy graphic showing how all the voting played out:

SEC SID preseason poll

In addition to the preseason poll, the SIDs also released its all-conference teams.

Auburn led all schools with eight selections (three first-team, five second-team) while Alabama’s four first-team performers were tops of any team. All schools but Vanderbilt had at least one player named.

Interestingly, Mississippi State, predicted to finish sixth in the West and 10th overall, tied the six total selections of Alabama and LSU. The voting thus takes on what’s likely an unintended indictment of Dan Mullens‘ coaching ability.

For the entire teams, click HERE for the al.com article.

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Pitt secondary takes another hit with transfer of Coles

Pitt Logo

Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the ACC in passing defense in 2013, but maintaining that level of play could be pretty difficult this season. The Panthers are starting to run dry on experience in the secondary as Trenton Coles has decided to leave the program. Head coach Paul Chryst announced the roster update on Wednesday, according to ESPN.com.

Coles was expected to be a starter for the Panthers this fall, so his late departure from the program comes at a complicated time. If he transfers to another FBS program, he will have to sit out the 2014 season due to NCAA transfer rules. He would, however, be eligible to play right away this season if he transferred to a school at the FCS level or below.

The transfer of Coles comes in the same month Pittsburgh suspended another member of the secondary, Titus Howard. Howard was suspended for the entire season due to a violation of team rules. For now, Pittsburgh has just one cornerback with any playing experience heading into the 2014 season. Lafayette Pitts has started 25 games for the Panthers and will now be relied on for leadership even more on the field this fall. Wisconsin transfer Reggie Mitchell could be looking to slide into a bigger role now, and freshmen Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley could compete for playing time as well.

Pittsburgh opens the 2014 season at home on August 30 against Delaware.

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DUI was cause for Michigan State receiver’s spring suspension

Macgarrett Kings Jr.

Michigan State wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. was suspended from team activities in the spring for a violation of teams rules. Now, according to court documents obtained by MLive.com, the cause for the suspension is known; DUI.

According to the information obtained in the court records, Kings Jr. was arrested and charged for driving under the influence on April 6 with a blood alcohol content above .17. A sentencing was later given in July with 13 months probation and a $750 fine for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. A little more than a week after the arrest, Michigan State suspended Kings Jr..

Kings did not practice during the spring due to the suspension from the team. That allowed head coach Mark Dantonio to give other players some more reps, including DeAnthony Arnett and R.J. Shelton. The two players needed the extra snaps after combining for just four receptions in 2013 between them. Kings was Michigan State’s second leading receiver in 2013. He was reinstated prior to the opening of fall camp.

There is no word on whether or not he will miss any playing time during the season.

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350 players named to Senior Bowl watch list

Senior Bowl

If you thought watch list season was over, think again. The Senior Bowl, the nation’s premiere college football all-star game, released a watch list with a massive list of players that will be eligible and scouted for the 2015 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. In all, 350 of the nation’s top seniors are named on the watch list, although other players may be added at any time just in case the folks at the senior Bowl happened to miss one of the seniors from around the country. Players from all levels of college football are considered for an invitation to the Senior Bowl, so the possibility exists for a Division 2 or Division 3 players to make a push out of nowhere for consideration.

The SEC has 75 players on the watch list, more than any other conference. The ACC (56), Pac-12 (40), Big 12 (36) and Big Ten (35) are all well-represented on the list. Clemson has the most players from one school on the list with 12 players named to the watch list, followed by Auburn (11), Alabama (10), Mississippi State (9), Georgia (8) and Louisville (8).

Many of the top names from around college football are included in the list, including Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, Florida State offensive tackle Cameron Erving, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley, Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker. Five Pac-12 quarterbacks are also on the list including Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley.

“With both of these players already graduated from college, we hope the opportunity to invite this duo will present itself through their play on the field in the Pac-12,” said Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage, speaking of Mariota and Hundley.

A total of 110 players will initially receive invites to the 2015 Senior Bowl. The game is generally attended very well by top players invited as it serves as the last major showcase for rookie NFL talent before the NFL Scouting Combine. The game is a big draw for NFL coaches and scouts and is the last chance to see players in pads and gear before the combine in Indianapolis.

You can check out the full watch list, and you can even break it down by position, conference or school for making browsing the list a bit easier.

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Volcano could disrupt Penn State-UCF in Ireland

Volcano herdubreid in Iceland

Although it could be taking place about 900 miles away, a possible volcanic eruption in Iceland could put the season opener between Penn State and UCF in Ireland at risk.

Penn State and UCF, the defending AAC champions from 2013, are scheduled to play the Croke Park Classic on Saturday, August 30, but getting there could prove to be difficult. Officials in Iceland are monitoring the developments and stability of a sub-glacial volcano following a series of small earthquakes that caused the evacuation of 500 people. If the volcano does erupt, it could fill the sky with volcanic ash that would interfere with air travel to Ireland.

According to the Associated Press, more than 100,000 flights have to be cancelled following a 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokul volcano in Iceland. Both Penn State and UCF are scheduled to leave for Ireland next week, days before the game, so both schools are paying close attention to the developments. For now, the game is still on, and odds are the schools will find a way to get there. Fans looking to make the trip, on the other hand, could run into more troubles.

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Following injury, Air Force RB must earn his jersey back

One of the basic principles most coaches will abide by in sports is a player will never lose a job due to injury. There are exceptions to that mantra, of course, but one has to wonder to what degree Air Force is taking it. Running back Devin Rushing, who missed the last 10 days of practice due to an ankle sprain suffered in a drill, says not only must he earn his starting job back, but also his jersey. His actual jersey.

“They took my jersey,” Rushing told The Gazette. “I talked to the equipment manager and he said my jersey is still in there with Rushing written on the back, but I’ve got to earn it back.”

That’s right. He must earn his actual jersey back. If you have a problem with that, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun seems to think players who have a history of getting hurt may be better off finding some other activity to participate in.

“I think at every position we’re going to have tough, durable guys,” Calhoun said. “If you aren’t, you’re going to get us beat. I think the other thing is you have a built-in alibi if you’re a guy who gets hurt easily. If you’re a guy who gets hurt easily, you need to find another activity where there’s not contact involved.”

Injured players at Air Force reportedly wear red jerseys in practice and are isolated to watch the practice rather than kept close to the action, where they can hear what coaches are saying and see up close what is happening on the field. Calhoun says this is used to enhance the chemistry on the field more than anything else.

“They go to meetings,” Calhoun said. “I just think you either add to the chemistry or take from the chemistry. There’s no in between. If you’re a red jersey, I just don’t want anybody sucking the life out of everybody else who is working. Who is able to go out there even if they have an itch somewhere?”

“I think a warrior wants to be in battle, and we want warriors,” Calhoun explained.

This might not be the best way to change a potential image issue for Air Force’s football program.

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Aggies won’t have starting corner for opener vs. Gamecocks

Missouri v Texas A&M Getty Images

One of the biggest question marks for Texas A&M entering the 2014 season is its defense.  Unfortunately for the Aggies, one of the positive certainties on that side of the ball will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

In discussing the release of the latest two-deep depth chart Wednesday, head coach Kevin Sumlin confirmed that De’Vante Harris will be sidelined for at least another month due to what’s being described as a urinary tract injury (not infection). The odd injury* means the starting cornerback will definitely miss the opener against South Carolina (Aug. 28) as well as games against Lamar (Sept. 6) and Rice (Sept. 13). Going by the strictest sense of the timeline presented by Sumlin, the Sept. 20 SMU game is out as well.

A&M resumes SEC play the following week against Arkansas.

Harris has started 18 games the past two seasons for the Aggies. That total would’ve been higher but he was one of three TAMU defensive starters suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season.

On the plus side, Sumlin confirmed that redshirt freshman Victor Davis is out of the doghouse and no longer under suspension. The defensive back was arrested last month on a charge of shoplifting and then indefinitely suspended.

Davis, a three-star 2013 recruit who redshirted as a true freshman, is expected to take over as the starter for Harris, or at least get the initial crack at it.

(*for those who are curious, the National Institutes of Health describes a urinary tract injury as a “[t]raumatic injury of the bladder and urethra [involving] damage caused by an outside force.)

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Fresno St. working on waiver appeal for Duck transfer

Oregon State v Oregon Getty Images

Even as a new season is nigh, Fresno State is hoping one more move will be made that would allow a potential impact player to see the field immediately.

Tyrell Robinson transferred from Oregon in June and landed in Fresno late last month. While it was initially thought he would be forced to sit out the 2014 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, that may not end up being the case.

The Bulldogs are in the process of filing an appeal with the NCAA that, if successful, would give him immediate eligibility.

“We are in the process now of putting all of the information together,” interim co-athletic director Steve Robertello said according to the Fresno Bee.

We’re hoping to have a decision before the USC game, but in terms of a timetable we don’t have one yet because we don’t have all the pieces put together.”

Robinson, a linebacker, has been working with the No. 3 defense, although that’s a byproduct of the uncertainty over his availability for the upcoming season.

A four-star member of the Ducks’ 2013 recruiting class, Robinson was rated as the No. 5 athlete in the country. He played in nine games as a true freshman.

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Clemson’s leading returning rusher, Zac Brooks, lost for season

Zac Brooks, A.J. Marshall AP

This one will leave a mark.

Already charged with the task of replacing its five most potent offensive weapons from a year ago, Clemson will now have to replace an expected replacement for the lost production as Zac Brooks has been ruled out for the entire 2014 season due to injury.  Specifically, the running back suffered an unspecified foot injury during practice Monday night.

The head coach acknowledged the loss of Brooks is a big one.

“Zac was having an outstanding camp and was ready for a terrific year,” said Dabo Swinney in a statement. “The plan is for Zac to sit out this year due to the injury and come back next year as a red-shirt junior. This is a big loss because he is such a reliable player in all phases of the game. He knows the offense inside and out.”

In 2013, Brooks had 48 carries for 246 yards, a total that was third on the team. The good news for the Tigers is that there’s still talent in the backfield in the form of true freshman Adam Choice, junior C.J. Davidson, redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman and senior D.J. Howard.

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Two arrested Zips stripped of scholarships, still on team

Johnny Robinson, Jeremy Gallon

An off-field incident earlier this offseason will prove costly for a pair of Akron football players. Literally.

In a brief statement Tuesday, head coach Tommy Bowden announced that safety Johnny Robinson (pictured) and cornerback Donte Williams have had their scholarships stripped from them and will be forced to pay their own way through school. However, the players are still a part of the team and returned to practice this week.

Robinson will not start the opener against Howard, Bowden added.

A third player involved in the incident, running back Bryan Green, remains on scholarship and is listed on the team’s official roster.

In early June, all three were arrested by Summit County (Oh.) sheriff’s deputies and charged with aggravated rioting, which is a felony. Additionally, Robinson was charged with aggravated menacing while Williams was charged with obstructing and resisting arrest as well as being accused of fleeing the scene.

The felonies were ultimately reduced.

The incident occurred outside of an Akron McDonald’s two months prior to the arrests. The three players were part of a group of a dozen individuals arrested and charged in connection to the McBrouhaha.

The players had been suspended indefinitely by Bowden.

Over the past three seasons, Robinson has started 25 of the 34 games in which he’s played; 19 of those starts came the past two seasons. His two interceptions were tied for third on the team in 2013, and his 61 tackles were fourth on the team the year before.

Williams started three of the six games in which he played in 2013 as a junior.

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Washington schedules two future series with Michigan, BYU

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Washington is doing its part to continue what’s been a nation-wide push from (most of) the Power Conference members to strength their future out-of-conference matchups.

In that vein, UW announced Wednesday they have scheduled a pair of future home-and-home series with Michigan and BYU. The Wolverines will travel to Seattle Sept. 5, 2020, while UM will play host to the Huskies Sept. 18, 2021, in Ann Arbor.

Prior to that series, the Huskies will play host to BYU Sept. 29, 2018, and will travel to Provo on Sept. 21, 2019.

“We are excited about our future football schedules,” Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement. “Our goal is to win championships, and we will continue to work to supplement our challenging Pac-12 slate with games that are both exciting for our fans and beneficial for our program.”

UM and UW have faced each other 12 times previously, with four of those matchups coming in the Rose Bowl. UW and BYU have played nine times, the last coming in 2013 in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

UW also announced that, “due to conflicts with its Big Ten Conference schedule, Wisconsin was forced to cancel its two games with the Huskies, previously scheduled for 2018 and 2021.”

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UM’s Jake Ryan, three others added to Lott watch list

Jake Ryan AP

Just when you think you’re done with these watch lists for another year, they pull you back in.

Back in May, the Lott IMPACT Trophy released its initial watch list consisting of 42 players.  Tuesday, the award that’s given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest IMPACT — Integrity, Maturity, Performance,Academics, Community and Tenacity – on their teams both on and off the field added four names to that group, including one player each from the ACC, Big Ten, Conference USA and Pac-12.

Below are those players:

Xavier Cooper, Washington State, DL
Christian Covington, Rice, DL
Anthony Harris, Virginia, S
Jake Ryan, Michigan, LB

The most interesting names in that quartet are the last two.

Ryan suffered a torn ACL during spring practice last year and was limited to just eight games in 2013, including five starts. The year before, however, he was one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten as he started all 13 games and led the Wolverines in tackles as well as tackles for loss. In 2011 as a redshirt freshman, he started 11 games.

UVa’s Harris, meanwhile, led the nation in interceptions last season with eight.

Good to see the Lott people realized they made an oops in not including Ryan and Harris on their initial watch list.

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Okla. St. transfer Wes Lunt officially named Illini’s starting QB

Wes Lunt

Earlier this month, as part of CFT’s preseason previewpalooza, Wes Lunt was named as one of the key transfers entering the 2014 season.

With the news today, the quarterback will officially get the chance to prove just how key he is.

In a move that’s been expected since spring practice, head coach Tim Beckman announced today that Lunt has been named as the Illini’s starting quarterback. Lunt had been involved in a nominal competition with Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey, although his experience and big arm gave him a decided edge over the competition.

On the whole, the experience may have been the biggest factor.

Lunt was named Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback after spring practice in 2012 as an early enrollee true freshman and started the first three games of the season before being sidelined with an injury.  He came back to start two more games before another injury sidelined him again.

Following a spring practice last year in which he had apparently slipped down the depth chart, Lunt decided to transfer from the Cowboys.  He moved on to the Illini in June of 2013 and sat out the season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

Illinois opens the season Aug. 30 at home against Youngstown State.

(Photo credit: Illinois athletics)

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 9 Baylor

Bryce Petty

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 in Big 12 (1st in conference)
2013 postseason: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF (52-42 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 13/No. 13
Head coach: Art Briles (78-60 overall; 44-32 in six years at Baylor)
Offensive coordinator: Philip Montgomery (6th season at Baylor)
2013 offensive rankings: 13th rushing offense (259.7 ypg); 5th passing offense (359.1 ypg); 1st total offense (618.8 ypg); 1st scoring offense (52.4 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Phil Bennett (3rd season at Baylor)
2013 defensive rankings: 38th rushing defense (145.4 ypg); 34th passing defense (214.9 ypg);  28th total defense (360.3 ypg); 36th scoring defense (23.5 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: four
Location: Waco, Texas
Stadium: McLane Stadium (45,000; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
The Baylor Bears are the Lamborghini of college football offenses. Last season, the Bears’ offense was ranked No. 1 overall and averaged 618.8 yards per game. To put that number in perspective, the Oregon Ducks finished 2nd overall in total offense and they averaged 53.8 less yards per contest. That is truly an astonishing number. It’s possible the Bears’ offense will be better in 2014. Quarterback Bryce Petty enters his third year as a starter. Five of the team’s top six receivers also return. Three offensive linemen are back, with a near 400-pound monster replacing one of the departing starters. And running back Shock Linwood was nearly as good as Lache Seastrunk when given the opportunity to carry the load. In the two games Linwood carried the ball more than 20 times, he rushed for at least 182 yards. To top it all off, the Bears added a pair of four-star recruits at wide receiver with K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall. The Bears’ offense is simply a well-oiled machine that will be nearly impossible to slow down this season.

THE BAD
When a team’s offense throws the ball all over the yard while operating at a breakneck pace, opponents will try to keep pace. Baylor took a big step in the right direction on defense last season, but the lasting impression of that unit will be sacrificing 556 yards to the UCF Knights during a 52-42 loss in the Fiesta Bowl. Each time Baylor made a comeback, the defense let them down. And the team now has to replace all but two starters from that game, four of which are currently on NFL rosters. Maybe a complete overhaul was needed. But there is always something to say about continuity within one unit of a football team. Baylor isn’t starting from scratch. They’re talented up front with both starting defensive tackles back for another season and the enigma known as Shawn Oakman at defensive end. Two key players, middle linebacker Bryce Hager and defensive end Jamal Palmer, will be asked to assume leadership roles as the rest of the defense continues to grow and improve around them.

THE UNKNOWN
With strength of schedule once again being an emphasis for determining the top teams in college football, the Bears fall short. Baylor suffers from a weak non-conference schedule. The Buffalo Bulls, which finished 8-5 and second in the MAC East last year, is the best non-conference opponent on the Bears’ schedule. Even when the Big 12 conference schedule is factored into the equation, the Bears only face two teams ranked in the preseason polls. A single loss could spell doom for the Bears. An undefeated run through conference play may be Baylor’s only chance to be named one of college football’s final four in the first College Football Playoff. Would that even be enough for the committee to vote the Bears into the tournament over a one-loss SEC or Pac-12 team?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Oklahoma
Baylor is still the new kid on the block with the shiny new toys. Whereas Oklahoma remains the Big 12’s neighborhood bully. As the two teams enter the season, the Sooners are considered national title contenders, while the Bears are still scratching and clawing to prove they can be an elite program over the long haul. This particular game is crucial for Baylor. The Bears have beaten the Sooners two years in a row. The Sooners, however, enter the season as the favorites to win the Big 12 and ranked in the Top 5 of both the AP and Coaches’ Polls. Another victory in Norman will clearly establish Baylor as the team to beat in the Big 12 this year and moving forward.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Bryce Petty
The thought of Baylor ever truly replacing quarterback Robert Griffin III was unimaginable. Yet, Petty quickly escaped RG3’s shadow and continues to build a legacy of his own. When RG3 won the Heisman Trophy in 2011, he threw for 4,293 yards, 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. In 2013, Petty’s numbers were quite similar. The current Baylor quarterback passed for 4,200 yards, 32 and a microscopic three interceptions. While RG3 had decided advantages in overall accuracy and rushing yardage, Petty led Baylor to a better overall record (11-2) and a higher average per completion (16.8 yards). Due to the success of these two quarterbacks, Baylor is now considered a national contender. And in Briles’ explosive offense, the Bears’ starting quarterback has a chance to be in the Heisman conversation.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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Kent State’s Jason Bitsko found unresponsive, passes away

Jason Bitsko

Sadly, there’s some terrible and tragic news coming out of Kent, Oh., this afternoon.

In a release Wednesday, Kent State announced that offensive lineman Jason Bitsko died unexpectedly this morning.  According to the school, Bitsko was found unresponsive in the bedroom of his off-campus apartment shortly before 9 a.m.

Police believe he passed away from an undetermined medical issue.

Bitsko was just 21 years old.

“Kent State University and the entire Kent community mourns his passing,” said athletic director Joel Nielsen in a statement. “We are heartbroken by the news of Jason’s death. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, teammates and everyone whose lives he touched.”

“Our players, coaches and everyone involved with our team are hurting because he was family,” head football coach Paul Haynes said. “As a team, we will come together and get through this one day at a time.”

The school added in its release that Bitsko would’ve been entering his fourth year with the Golden Flashes and that he would’ve been the starting center this coming season.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to everyone impacted by Bitsko’s way-too-early death.

(Photo credit: Kent State athletics)

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Four-star 2015 QB: ‘being mentored by Braxton Miller, that’d be awesome’

Torrance Gibson

Could Braxton Miller‘s devastating season-ending injury actually have a positive impact on the recruiting trail for Ohio State? That could very well be the case.

As a fourth-year senior who had yet to use his redshirt season, 2014 was set to be Miller’s final year of eligibility. The shoulder injury — or reinjury as the case may be — changed all of that, with Miller vowing to come back from the non-contact injury and return to the Buckeyes in 2015.

In tandem with that, Torrance Gibson, a top 2015 quarterback recruit, currently has OSU as his top choice of myriad interested schools. The fact that Miller would likely be around if/when Gibson arrived in Columbus next year? That appears to have done nothing but further cement OSU’s positioning as Gibson’s leader.

“Being mentored by Braxton Miller, that’d be pretty awesome,” Gibson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Ari Wasserman during a telephone interview shortly after the announcement on Miller’s injury. “Being mentored by one of the best quarterbacks that ever came to Ohio State, man that would be something. It would be great if I decided to go to Ohio State.”

Gibson is rated as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and is the No. 6 quarterback in that class according to Scout.com.  He is expected to announce his verbal commitment Oct. 20.

In Late May, Gibson released a Top Seven ($ link) that consisted of Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Miami and UCF. Tennessee and Auburn were his two favorites at the time.

However, a visit to Columbus in July ($ link) flipped his order of preference, with Ohio State jumping to the lead. That’s where they’ve stayed the past couple of weeks — and where they’ve apparently solidified themselves on the strength of the Miller gloom and doom.

“Nothing has changed, Ohio State is still the leader,” the player told the paper.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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