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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: SEC Predictions

Florida v LSU AP

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 SEC. 

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

SEC EAST

1.  South Carolina (Last year: 11-2; beat Wisconsin in Capital One Bowl)
I’ve said it multiple times and I’ll say it again: this could very well be Steve Spurrier‘s best and deepest Gamecock team since taking over in Columbia a decade ago.  The loss of starting quarterback Connor Shaw will certainly have some impact, but the fact that Dylan Thompson isn’t your typical first-year starter — he’s started three games and thrown passes in 17 others — should help soften the transition.  Losing a pair of defensive line starters and two secondary starters won’t help matters either, but USC has recruited well at those positions the past couple of years and should have the on-paper talent to fill the voids.  A total of 16 starters return, though, including workhorse running back Mike Davis.  The Gamecocks are clearly the class of the East, and it would be more than a little surprising to not see them in Atlanta in early December after qualifying for the SEC championship game.

2. Georgia (Last year: 8-5; lost to Nebraska in Gator Bowl) 
After watching uneven and subpar defensive performances not just last season but the past couple of years, Mark Richt looked to right that ship by going out and reeling in Jeremy Pruitt of the defending BCS champion Florida State Seminoles as defensive coordinator.  Combine that with the returning talent — nine starters on that side of the ball — and the defensive woes of the past should be a thing of the, well, past.  The loss of a four-year starting quarterback will sting, at least initially, but the fact that his replacement, Hutson Mason, started two games at year’s end to go along with Todd Gurley carrying the offensive load while Mason gets his starting sea legs should help in the transition to the post-Murray era.  Having to travel to East favorite South Carolina won’t help the cause, but getting past that early-season hurdle could set the Bulldogs up for a return trip to Atlanta after a one-year absence.

3. Florida (Last year: 4-8)
The Gators could very well be the third-best team in the SEC East — and that may not be enough to save Will Muschamp‘s job.  Beset with injuries and overall poor play — especially on offense — in 2013, UF tripped, bumbled and stumbled its way through the program’s worst season in nearly two decades.  The offense was simply abysmal, especially in the passing game, which served as the impetus for Muschamp to swipe offensive coordinator Kurt Roper from Duke in the offseason.  The early signs point to a rejuvenated offense in general and quarterback Jeff Driskel in particular under Roper.  The defense, as has been the case under Muschamp, will be just fine; if the offense can merely climb to respectable, it should be enough for the Gators to get closer to 2012’s 10-win season than last year’s eight-loss abomination.  The schedule is essentially a wash, with games at Alabama and Florida State offset by tough games against LSU and South Carolina in The Swamp.  UF could be staring an eight-win season square in the face — and that should be enough for Muschamp to get a fourth year on the job.  Anything less than that, and his future employment in Gainesville becomes dicey.

4. Tennessee (Last year: 5-7)
Surprise!!!  Yes, this one could — and quite likely will — come back and bite me square in the arse, but what the hell.  Call it a hunch. Or the fact that they finished with a better record than did the Gators, who I have listed above.  Or a bad case of (insert serious mental disorder here).  Whatever the case, I love what Butch Jones is doing in Knoxville and, while I might be a year early on this, I’m buying in.  How mental am I?  I’m predicting the Vols to finish fourth in the seven-team East, even as I’m fully aware of the fact that UT is the only team in the country that lost every starter on both the offensive and defensive lines.  And then there’s the schedule: the opener at home against an underrated Utah State; a road trip to Oklahoma in Week 3; and SEC away games at Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina.  Yep, I’m nuts.  But I do like the defense and the receiving corps, and think that Justin Worley is ready to take a step up to the next level in a conference riddled with questions at the quarterback position, especially as he’s now solidified his hold on the job.  Again, I may not be right, but I think I’m closer to that than wrong.

5. Missouri (Last year: 12-2; beat Oklahoma State in Cotton Bowl) 
The Tigers return just seven of 22 starters — three on offense, four on defense — from last year’s surprise SEC East championship squad.  Mizzou must find a way to replace its leading passer, rusher and three top receivers from a year ago, although the former is a little disingenuous as Maty Mauk showed he was the Tigers’ future at the quarterback position subbing for an injured James Franklin.  Losing Dorial Green-Beckham to a dismissal, though, was a huge blow for Mauk as he assumes the full-time offensive reins for the first time.  The good news is that, while Mauk is adjusting to his new role, Mizzou will feature a pair of running backs — Russell Hansborough and Marcus Murphy — who combined for nearly 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.  The schedule makers didn’t do Mizzou many favors, with road trips to South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M and Tennessee in the offing.  The Tigers surprised many most all observers by claiming a division title in just their second season in the conference; it’d be equally surprising if they came even remotely close to matching 2013’s success,

6. Kentucky (Last year: 2-10)
Despite just two wins last season, UK appears to be a football program on the upswing, especially if recruiting rankings mean anything.  The past two recruiting cycles, UK has pulled in the No. 17 (2014) and No. 23 (2013) recruiting classes, and are currently rated No. 20 for 2015.  Prior to Mark Stoops’ arrival, UK had just two recruiting classes — 2006 (No. 36) and 2009 (No. 41) — finish inside the Top 50 nationally since 2002.  How long before that success planted on the recruiting trail bears fruit on the field?  That remains unclear, although it could be 2015 before Stoops truly sees the fruit of his and his staff’s labor.  Until then, it could be another rough football season at the basketball school, even as doubling up on last year’s win total would seem to be a modest and attainable goal.

7. Vanderbilt (Last year: 9-4; beat Houston in BBVA Compass Bowl)
I’m fully aware that the Commodores finished fourth in the East last year and won nine games, including the program’s first-ever back-to-back bowl game.  I’m also fully aware that James Franklin was a huge part of that success, and Franklin and his coaching staff are currently in Happy Valley preparing for the upcoming season.  Do I think Stanford’s Derek Mason was a subpar replacement?  Most definitely not; he was one of the more underrated hires of the offseason.  Do I think he can do what David Shaw did after Jim Harbaugh left The Farm after laying the foundation?  No, because there’s simply not that type of foundation in place in Nashville.  Inexperience on the skill player side of the equation, especially at quarterback and wide receiver, could be Vandy’s undoing.

SEC WEST

1. Alabama (Last year: 11-2; lost to Oklahoma in Sugar Bowl)
Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback?  Pffft, no problem for a Tide squad that boasts two Top-Five SEC running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry… and the SEC’s best wide receiver-tight end combination in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard… and at least three returning starters along the offensive line… and a defense that, despite the return of  just four starters, is littered with four- and five-star recruits throughout the depth chart and will, again, be one of the most stout in the conference… and, hands-down, the best coach in college football in Nick Saban.  So, yes, the Tide will, as has ofttimes been the case over the past five-plus years, be the favorite not only in the division but in the conference, despite the presence of East/SEC title winner Auburn.  The Tide is locked and loaded to bounce back from two straight losses to end the 2013 season by a squad that was viewed by some, including its head coach, to be an entitled bunch.  A pissed-off Saban with a legitimate agenda and loads of talent at his disposal entering a season is a dangerous proposition not just for the SEC but for college football as a whole.

2. Auburn (Last year: 12-2; lost to Florida State in BCS title game)
There’s no way around it, no way to tap-dance whilst whistling past the biggest question when it comes to AU football in 2014: did the Tigers use a couple of years (decades?) worth of luck in their magical, unexpected, inexplicable ride to the BCS title game?  Even the biggest homer out on The Plains would have to admit that the Tigers were “fortunate” to end the season where they did.  Of their 12 wins, six were decided by eight points or less.  In four games — Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama — they were trailing with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Georgia (“Prayer at Jordan-Hare“) and Alabama (“Kick-Six“) wins immediately earned nicknames for the sheer improbability of the endings.  There’s little doubt that Gus Malzahn has, very quickly, turned AU around from the three-win embarrassment that was the final season of Gene Chizik in 2012.  How much was sheer luck, the kind of once-a-decade (or two) happenstance that simply can’t repeat itself?  Regardless of the answer — I’m guessing the talent is sufficient so as to make the question moot — Malzahn’s Tigers will be one of the more fascinating squads to watch throughout the 2014 season.

3. LSU (Last year: 10-3; beat Iowa in Outback Bowl)
Eight times in Les Miles‘ 10 season on the bayou, the Tigers have won at least 10 games.  Included in that total is a streak of five straight.  Don’t expect that skein to be broken in 2015.   Gone is starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, leaving LSU with arguably the biggest question mark in the conference at the most important position.  Gone also are the top two receivers and leading rusher.  Back, though, are four offensive line starters and seven defensive starters.  Entering the fray as well is Leonard Fournette, one of the most hyped freshman running backs since Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene as a true freshman in Norman a decade ago.  Fournette has the type of ability that will allow whomever emerges from LSU’s quarterback competition to ease into the job.  Well, that and a defense that will be as physical and stifling as it always is.  The schedule makers also smiled on LSU, with its toughest road trip likely proving to be a Oct. 4 date with Auburn at Jordan-Hare, although a regular season-ending trip to Texas A&M’s Kyle Field won’t exactly be a cakewalk.

4. Ole Miss (Last year: 8-5; beat Georgia Tech in Music City Bowl) 
I was almost — almost — tempted to put the Rebels ahead of the Bayou Bengals, but simply couldn’t pull the trigger.  Ole Miss is the “trendy” sleeper pick heading into 2014, and for good reason.  There’s really not a lot to not like about the potential of the 2014 version of Hugh Freeze‘s 2014 Rebels.  They will, once again, possess one of the best offenses in the SEC to go along with a defense that, quietly, is one of the best in a defense-heavy conference.  The biggest hurdle the Rebels have is something completely out of their control: the division in which they reside.  Since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, the Rebels are just 2-6 against those four programs — a three-point home win against LSU last season and a win in 2012 against an Auburn team that would ultimately win three games and fire its head coach.  And that’s without even mentioning that Ole Miss has lost four of the last five Egg Bowls against in-state rival — and divisional foe — Mississippi State.  How Ole Miss can crack the Top Three the way the West is currently constituted is unclear.  What appears to be clear is that they have the head coach who could do just that, whether it be in 2014 or in the coming years.

5. Texas A&M (Last year: 9-4; beat Duke in Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Where do we start?  You lose Johnny ManzielMike Evans, one of the best receivers in the country… the best left tackle in the game in Jake Matthews… myriad defensive contributors due to suspension/dismissals/other forms of attrition from a unit that was really bad in 2013… all of that, and it could be quite the season in College Station coming off the success that was A&M’s first two seasons in the SEC.  One known amidst the question marks is that Kevin Sumlin always fields a Top-10 offense as a head coach; even as just five starters on that side of the ball return, that shouldn’t change as Sumlin’s system remains a big consistent for the Aggies.  That defense, though, needs to step it up a level or eight so that the offense doesn’t have to outscore its expected unevenness on that side of the ball.  Games at South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn — the Gamecocks contest is the season opener — doesn’t bode well for the young but talented Aggies.

6. Mississippi State (Last year: 7-6; beat Rice in Liberty Bowl) 
MSU’s placement of second-to-last is not an indictment of Dan Mullens‘ football program, but merely an indicator of just how deep the West is.  If the Bulldogs were in the East, they could very well be the third-best team in the division.  Given their current football lot, they’ll continue to struggle to get past their in-division rivals.  Since going 5-7 in Mullens’ first season in 2009, MSU’s win total has ranged from seven (twice, including 2013) to nine (2010).  With 16 returning starters back, including nine on defense as well as one of the most experienced returning quarterback starters in the conference (Dak Prescott), MSU could and should very well get in that very same win range for a fifth consecutive season.  Whether that’s good enough for the fans and the administration remains to be seen.

7. Arkansas (Last year: 3-9)
In Bret Bielema‘s first season in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks won just three games; two of those wins came against FCS programs, the other against a Southern Miss team that was in the midst of what would become a 23-game losing streak.  UA ended the season on a nine-game losing streak, finishing up Year 1 of the Great Bielema Southern Experiment at 0-8 in SEC play.  Six of those nine losses came by at least 10 points, with two of them coming by a combined 97 points.  It was a rough first season for Bielema and his charges; it doesn’t expect to get much better in 2014.  The good news for Bielema and his coaching staff is that his boss, athletic director Jeff Long, is committed to them for the long haul; whether the long haul is three years or four years or even five years remains to be seen.  One thing is certain: Bielema has a helluva tough job ahead of him, cleaning up the mess left by the controversy-stained departure of Bobby Petrino and the lost 2012 season under John L. Smith.  Oh, and all the while sweeping the broom in the toughest division in any conference in the conference.  Yeah, good luck with that.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Alabama over South Carolina

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‘Off-field issues’ lead to 2015 Vols signee leaving program

Kyle Oliver

While we had one 2015 signee (unofficially) joining a new Power Five football program Thursday, we have another (unofficially) departing one.

GoVols247.com is reporting that Kyle Oliver is leaving the Vols football team and will transfer to another, undetermined program. Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, Oliver “is leaving… because of unspecified off-field issues.”

On what may or may not be a related note to those unspecified off-field issues, UT lineman Charles Mosley was arrested earlier this month and charged with first-offense driving under the influence and speeding.  From a member of the UT beat, via Twitter:

UT has yet to address Oliver’s status with the football team, which will open up its third summer camp under Butch Jones next week.

The 6-4, 226-pound Oliver was a three-star member of UT’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 17 tight end in the country and the No. 14 player at any position in the state of Tennessee.  He also becomes the second member of the Class of 2015 to leave Knoxville in less than a week, joining wide receiver Jocquez Bruce.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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How will Urban reveal starting QB? ‘1st guy that jogs out at Blacksburg’

Urban Meyer

Barring a leak of some sort in the days leading up to it, you’re going to have to wait more than a month to find up just who will line up under center as Ohio State begins its title defense.

While holding court at Big Ten Media Days, Urban Meyer spent a significant amount of time discussing the blockbuster news from earlier in the day that four contributors, including All-American Joey Bosa, had been suspended for the 2015 opener on the road against Virginia Tech.  There were also, understandably, copious amounts of questions regarding the situation at quarterback.

Braxton Miller cleared up some of the mystery earlier this month by announcing that he will be moving to wide receiver/H-back, with Meyer saying today that he will personally coach Miller at the receiver position in the early days of a summer camp that will in the coming days.  That move pared the quarterback competition down to two: regular season hero J.T. Barrett and postseason hero Cardale Jones.

As for the process in determining a starter between the redshirt sophomore Barrett and redshirt junior Jones, Meyer stated that he and his coaching staff will be “keeping score of everything” during practices that will begin next week and scrimmages and, well, pretty much anything and everything that can be tracked.  The process has actually already begun, the Columbus Dispatch writes, with “[c]oaches… grading Barrett and Jones all summer regarding leadership, academics and the weight room.”

As for when Meyer will reveal who his quarterback starter will be in the game against the only team to beat his title squad last season?

There you have it.  Secrecy and misdirection will rule the day when it comes to Meyer dealing with the media and his quarterback situation over the next 39 days.

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Via Twitter, ex-UCLA DB Priest Willis announces move to A&M

Priest Willis, D.J. Foster AP

Nearly two months to the day he was moving on from the program with which he signed coming out of high school, Priest Willis has apparently found a new landing spot in which to continue his collegiate playing career.

In a tweet posted to his personal Twitter account early Thursday evening, Willis announced that he will be continuing his education at Texas A&M and play football for the Aggies.  The playing part won’t happen in 2015 as the defensive back will have to sit out the upcoming season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

Then, beginning in 2016, Willis will have two years of eligibility remaining.

It’s at this point in the program where we note A&M has yet to officially announce Willis’ addition to the roster.

A four-star member of UCLA’s 2013 recruiting class, Willis rated as the No. 6 safety in the country; the No. 1 player at any position in the state of Arizona; and the No. 56 player overall according to Rivals.com. Along with fellow defensive back Tahaan Goodman, Willis was the highest-rated recruit in the Bruins’ class that year.

After sitting out his true freshman season as a redshirt, Willis played in nine games last season for the Bruins.

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Indiana loses leading returning receiver to torn ACL

Indiana v Ohio State

The news on the personnel front was decidedly negative for Indiana at Big Ten Media Days Thursday.

The most noteworthy is that J-Shun Harris sustained a torn ACL at some point this offseason. As a result, the wide receiver will miss the entire 2015 season.

Head coach Kevin Wilson stated during his time at the podium that “we knew for a long time j-Shun would be out.”

Harris’ 18 receptions and 168 yards receiving as a true freshman last season were fourth and third, respectively, on the Hoosiers. His two receiving touchdowns, meanwhile, were second on the team.

Thanks to attrition, Harris would’ve served as IU’s leading returning receiver. Instead, that honor among wide receivers now falls to Simmie Cobbs Jr. (114 yards) and Dominique Booth (eight receptions).

Additionally, the school announced that fifth-year senior offensive lineman Ralston Evans has been granted a medical hardship, which will end his football career. Evans started eight of the nine games in which he played last season, although the injuries, for the most part, prevented him from being viewed as a potential starter throughout most of the offseason.

“Injuries ended Ralston’s final two seasons and limited him this spring,” the head coach said in a statement. “He was a great player and is an even better man. Fortunately, Ralston will serve as a student coach this year. His leadership will continue to be invaluable to our team.”

Finally, Wilson also confirmed that projected cornerback starter Donovan Clark will be limited during summer camp because of a back injury.

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CFP won’t force Notre Dame, other independents to join a conference

kelly Getty Images

Over the past 10 days, in the midst of various conference media days, one of the talking points has suddenly become Notre Dame and its lack of a conference when it comes to consideration for a College Football Playoff spot.  Head coaches from Missouri to Clemson to seemingly everyone in between has been very publicly — and loudly — calling for the football-independent Irish to join a conference in order to be eligible for one of the four playoff spots.

If the South Bend institution is going to be forced into becoming a conference member (don’t count on it), the pressure won’t be coming from the folks who run the playoff.

Thursday, CFP executive director Bill Hancock, in a conversation with ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich, confirmed that there has been no internal discussions about forcing Notre Dame or the other two independents, Army and BYU, to join a conference in order to be eligible for one of their postseason slots.

“The three independents are perfectly happy being independent,” Hancock said. “They have the ability to craft their schedules to fit their needs. If their need and goal is to be in the playoff, then they’re in the same boat as everybody else. You better play a good schedule if you want to be in the playoff.”

When it comes to the Fighting Irish, that last sentence shouldn’t be a problem.

In 2015, Notre Dame will play nine games against teams from Power Five conferences (Texas, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Boston College, Stanford) and three from Group of Five leagues (UMass, Navy, Temple). In 2016, it’s the exact same split between P5s and G5s.

In fact, those two regular season slates stack up quite well with the four teams that qualified for the inaugural CFP last year:

Ohio State — eight Big Ten games; one P5, two G5 non-conference games
Oregon — nine Pac-12 games; one P5, one G5 non-conference game; one FCS game
Alabama — eight SEC games; one P5, two G5 non-conference games; one FCS game
Florida State — eight ACC games; two P5, one G5 non-conference games; one FCS game

What Notre Dame would lack, the same thing that impacted the Big 12 last season, is a conference championship game on its résumé, something all four of those semifinalists had. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney suggested ND add a 13th game in lieu of joining a conference, although that would require a change in current NCAA bylaws that only permit a 13th game when a road trip to Hawaii is involved.

Like the Big 12 and its lack of a title game, Hancock stated that the Irish would have to weigh the benefits of joining a league — and a potential 13th game in the form of a conference championship game — against its storied history as an independent.

“The risks and rewards of conference championship games will always come into play,” Hancock said. “I feel the same way about Notre Dame that I feel about the Big 12. It’s impossible to quantify the effect of a championship game because you don’t know who’s going to win the game.”

In another breath, Hancock very plainly explained that a league title game had no impact on how the four teams were selected last year, even as some would suggest otherwise.

“Frankly, in the committee room, it wasn’t a factor,” Hancock said of a 13th game. “The committee has the luxury of looking at the full body of work from an entire season — 12 or 13 games — for each team, irrespective of what conference they’re in. Having been in the committee room, I can tell you, it’s just not a factor.”

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Recruit who had Mich. St. offer pulled after attending Ohio St. camp gets Buckeye offer

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Maybe this was the kid’s plan all along?

Quite the ruckus was kicked up over the weekend when it was reported that Michigan State had pulled the scholarship offer made to one of its 2016 commits, Gavin Cupp, because the player attended a football camp hosted by rival Ohio State.  As it turns out, it wasn’t Cupp’s attendance that was the issue; rather, it was the fact that Cupp didn’t let MSU know of his intentions and the perceived lack of “loyalty” that led to the yanking of the offer.

That left Cupp offers from, among others, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Virginia and West Virginia… but none from OSU.  Until today.

The Ohio high school offensive lineman confirmed to ElevenWarriors.com that he received a scholarship offer from his state’s flagship football program Thursday.  And, to say the least, he is a little bit excited over the development.

“It feels great,” Cupp told the OSU-centric website. “It’s just a huge relief and a childhood dream. I’m very happy at the moment.”

That said, Cupp, the No. 31 tackle in next year’s class according to Rivals.com, hasn’t pulled a trigger on a verbal commitment to the Buckeyes.  Yet.

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Four-star RB denied Wisky admission opts for ‘Huskers

Jordan Stevenson

For whatever academic reason, Wisconsin denied admission to touted 2015 signee Jordan Stevenson.  Now, though, they could very well have to face the running back once a season for at least the next three years.

While nothing is official from his new school, Jordan Stevenson announced on his personal Twitter account that he has decided to continue on with UW’s Big Ten West rival Nebraska.  Stevenson had taking a visit to Lincoln shortly after he was denied admission to the school with which he signed, then followed that up with a visit to Miami.  There was also talk that yet another visit, this one to Alabama, could be in the offing this weekend, although that never came to fruition.

For the past week or so, though, the Cornhuskers have been widely viewed as the favorites to land the player’s services.  Stevenson will be eligible to play immediately for the ‘Huskers in 2015.

Rivals.com had the Texas high school product as a four-star prospect, rated as the No. 27 running back in the country and the No. 34 player at any position in the state.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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Urban on suspensions: ‘Get going. Move forward’

Urban Meyer

The announcements of the suspensions of four Ohio State football players — possibly related to marijuana and/or academics — dropped roughly three hours or so prior to Urban Meyer‘s turn at the microphone for Big Ten Media Days.

Not surprisingly, that particular topic dominated a good portion of the media Q&A with the head coach of the defending national champion Buckeyes.  Also not surprisingly, Meyer delved into very few details as to what led to the punitive measures.

“A violation of team policies.  That’s as far as I’ll go,” Meyer responded when the first query on a specific reason for the suspensions was tossed his way.  Meyer also acknowledged that he’s “known about the suspensions for a little while.”

The suspensions will be owned by junior defensive end Joey Bosa, sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall, senior wide receiver Corey Smith and junior H-back Dontre Wilson, who will all miss the opener because of the sanctions.  Meyer very powerfully intimated that the temporary losses should not be used as a crutch by his football team, mainly because he and his staff have collected the kind of depth that can withstand the impact of losing a player or players.

“The university, the athletic department has the policies that we expect and that I 100-percent fully support,” the coach said. “Whether it’s a sprained ankle or [other] stuff, you try to create a culture where a team knows how to move forward and not concern yourself.  When we lost Braxton [Miller] 10 days before the first game [of the 2014 season], you lose J.T. [Barrett] a week before the Big Ten championship game, you push forward.  We’re pushing forward.

“The comment I did make, we are playing an extremely talented team [in the opener vs. Virginia Tech in Blacksburg], very well-coached team on the road in a tough environment.  However, we have recruited very well.  So, get going.  Move forward.”

When pressed by a Tech beat writer regarding his greatest concern for an impact stemming from the suspensions, Meyer responded, “Off the get-go, arguably one of the best defensive players in the United States of America [Bosa] won’t play in that game, so that’s the one.”

Meyer did, though, attempt to mitigate the loss of Bosa by… referring back to the depth that’s been accumulated at the wide receiver and H-back positions before finally circling back to “the big defensive end.”

“I think if we stay healthy throughout training camp, and continue to improve,” Meyer began, before rattling off a sizable portion of his skill-position depth chart, “and [projected H-back/wide receiver] Braxton and then we have [wide receiver] Noah Brown, we have [wide receiver] Michael Thomas, you have [tight end] Nick Vannett,  you have [wide receiver] Johnny Dixon, [wide receiver] Terry McLaurin and [wide receiver] Parris Campbell, [running back-turned-H-back] Curtis Samuel, you know, we’ve recruited pretty good.  Now we have to get them ready to go play and I’ll know more as we get going.

“But I’m not overly concerned at that spot [defensive end].  Obviously when you lose the big defensive end, that everyone knows where he’s at, that is [still] a concern.”

In other words, Meyer wants to hear no excuses.  And he wants his players to know there are no excuses at their disposal, and that it’s very much next man up for the opener — just as it was when the Buckeyes lost two starting quarterbacks in its run to the title.

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Likely starting center abruptly leaves Cal football team

Ohio State v California Getty Images

Sonny Dykes will begin his third summer camp at Cal next week, and the head coach will do so without the projected anchor for his offensive line.

A school spokesperson confirmed to Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News that Matt Cochran is no longer on the Cal football team.  No reason was given for the abrupt departure, although the spokesperson did state that Cochran is still a student at Cal.

The junior’s brother, Aaron Cochran, is a sophomore offensive lineman for the Bears and remains a member of the team.

The past two seasons, Cochran has played in 13 games.  Four of those were starts, including three first three games at right guard in 2013.

With Cochran’s departure, a pair of redshirt freshmen, Addison Ooms and Michael Trani, are now the likely 1-2 at center on the depth chart.

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Report: ‘marijuana, academics’ led to OSU Four’s suspensions

Jalin Marshall

The world of college football received quite the jolt earlier Thursday when it was announced that four Ohio State Buckeyes, including All-American Joey Bosa, had been suspended for the opener against Virginia Tech because of unspecified violations of “Department of Athletics policy.”

A couple of hours later, we now somewhat know what those unspecified violations were.  Reportedly.

ESPN.com‘s Joe Schad reported via Twitter a short time ago that, per an unnamed source, the four suspensions involve “marijuana and academics.” In addition to Bosa, H-back Jalin Marshall, wide receiver Corey Smith and H-back Dontre Wilson were suspended as well.

Just who was suspended for what reason was not detailed by Schad.

Regardless of having a specific reason attached to a specific player, one parent of one member of the suspended quartet could not have been more supportive of the decision to mete out punishment.

I fully support Ohio State and I fully support my son,” John Bosa, Joey’s father, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Coach Meyer, to his character, has team rules and it doesn’t matter who breaks them.”

Another of John Bosa’s sons, five-star 2016 recruit Nick Bosa, verbally committed to OSU earlier this past week.

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Four key Buckeyes, including Joey Bosa, suspended for opener

Joey Bosa, Mitch Leidner

Just a short time ago, Ohio State received the first of what’s expected to be a string of No. 1 votes in preseason polls.  Now we learn that, when the Buckeyes take that No. 1 ranking into the opener, they’ll do so without a handful of key components.

In a press release, OSU confirmed that four players will miss the first game of the season, Sept. 7 vs. Virginia Tech: junior defensive end Joey Bosa, sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall, senior wide receiver Corey Smith and junior H-back Dontre Wilson. The only reason given was “violating Department of Athletics policy.”

The loss of Bosa will be most noteworthy nationally as the 2014 All-American is a consensus pick to similar squads entering the 2015 season. He’s also projected to be a Top Five pick in the 2016 NFL draft if he leaves OSU early, perhaps even the top pick overall.

The Columbus Dispatch writes that “[t]he Buckeyes likely will make do for the loss of Bosa by picking from a defensive end corps which includes sophomore Tyquan Lewis, who emerged in the spring as the new starter for the vacated spot on the other end of the line, redshirt-freshman Sam Hubbard, sophomore Jalyn Holmes and redshirt-freshman Darius Slade.”

Wilson and Marshall had split time at H-back prior to the former’s injury, which allowed the latter to become a breakout star and one of the most dangerous weapons on an offense loaded with them. In traveling to Blacksburg to face a tough Hokie defense, just how deep and loaded that group is will be tested.

Braxton Miller, who announced last week that he would be moving from quarterback  — probably — could very well be an option at the H-back in the opener, and even beyond.  Curtis Samuel, the primary backup to star running back Ezekiel Elliott, has been working , the Dispatch wrote, “almost exclusively at hybrid back in the spring as the coaches sought ways to get his speed and possible playmaking ability on the field more often.”

Smith is the Buckeyes’ second-leading returning pass-catcher among wide receivers, hauling in 20 passes for 255 yards last season.

Head coach Urban Meyer is expected to address this development as he takes to the podium for the Big Ten Media Days later this afternoon.

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Ohio State a near-unanimous No. 1 in preseason coaches’ poll

All State Sugar Bowl - Alabama v Ohio State Getty Images

Ever since Ohio State finished off its magical, and some would say improbable, postseason run by hoisting the first-ever College Football Playoff trophy, and with the talent it has returning, it’s been widely assumed that the Buckeyes would be ranked No. 1 entering the 2015 season by nearly major poll.

After the first release, OSU is on its way to doing just that.

In yet another sign that a fresh college football season is right around the corner, the Amway coaches’ poll was released late Thursday morning and — surprise! — OSU is ranked No. 1 in the country.  Perhaps the only real surprise is that the Buckeyes weren’t a unanimous selection, receiving “just” 62 of the 64 first-place votes.

The only others receiving first-place votes were preseason No. 2 TCU (one) and No. 3 Alabama (one). OSU holds a 112-point edge on No. 2 TCU; in last year’s preseason poll, Florida State held an 88-point edge on No. 2 Alabama.

Rounding out this year’s Top Five are No. 4 Baylor and no. 5 Oregon.  The lone 2014 playoff team outside of the Top Five is Florida State,. which will begin the year at No. 8.

Two SEC schools and one each from the Big Ten and Pac-12 finish up the initial Top Ten: Michigan State (No. 6), Auburn (No. 7), Georgia (No. 9) and USC (No. 10).

The coaches still loves themselves some SEC, with eight schools from that conference ranked in the Top 25.  The Pac-12 is next with six, followed by three each from the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC.

The highest-ranked Group of Five member is Boise State at No. 24.  Independent Notre Dame nearly cracked the Top 10, coming in at No. 11,

1 Ohio State 14-1 1598 (62)
2 TCU 12-1 1487 (1)
3 Alabama 12-2 1452 (1)
4 Baylor 11-2 1365
5 Oregon 13-2 1260
6 Michigan State 11-2 1230
7 Auburn 8-5 1103
8 Florida State 13-1 1057
9 Georgia 10-3 1026
10 USC 9-4 1014
11 Notre Dame 8-5 883
12 Clemson 10-3 838
13 LSU 8-5 727
14 UCLA 10-3 697
15 Ole Miss 9-4 668
16 Arizona State 10-3 577
17 Georgia Tech 11-3 573
18 Wisconsin 11-3 470
19 Oklahoma 8-5 407
20 Arkansas 7-6 377
21 Stanford 8-5 365
22 Arizona 10-4 299
23 Missouri 11-3 229
24 Boise State 12-2 190
25 Tennessee 7-6 166

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USC picked by media as preseason Pac-12 title favorites

Pac-12 Championship Game - UCLA v Oregon Getty Images

If the media is correct — and when are they ever wrong? — the Reign of the Duck will be a short one.

The results of the media’s preseason voting was released Thursday morning, with the voters determining that USC will win the 2015 Pac-12 championship.  The Trojans received 21 of the 44 first-place votes submitted.

USC was far from an overwhelming favorite, though, as Oregon, the 2014 conference champion, was named on 17 first-place ballots.  The only others receiving votes were Arizona State (three), UCLA (two) and Stanford (one).

Oregon and USC were overwhelming favorites to win their respective divisions, with the former receiving 37 first-place votes to win the North and the latter 32 to claim the South.  As when it came to the overall conference championship, just three other schools received first-place votes: Stanford, which received eight to win the North, and Arizona State and UCLA, which received seven and six votes, respectively, to win the South.

(Writer’s note: I have no idea why the number of votes for Pac-12 champion totals 44, while the votes for divisional champions totals 45.)

Pac-12 media Preseason Picks

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Arizona State the latest to unveil new uniforms for 2015

Arizona State Uniforms

The number of football programs that have unveiled new uniforms this offseason is in the double digits, so what’s one more?

The latest to do the unveiling is Arizona State, which last December announced a new agreement with apparel provider adidas.  And, in what will come as a surprise to some, or maybe even most people, there’s very little change from what ASU fans have become accustomed to over the past several years.

There are, though, some tweaks to the new duds, as the Arizona Republic noted:

These uniforms retained the fonts, “PT42″ crest and similar sleeve stripes from recent designs, but Adidas looked to enhance those components with a glossier, metallic accent. A larger pitchfork logo has also been added to the pants.

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B1G’s 11-strong ‘Players to Watch’ list released

Big 10 Championship Game - Ohio State v Michigan State Getty Images

Most conferences this time of the year release their preseason players of the year.  The Big Ten is not like other conferences.

Ahead of the start of the the B1G Media Days in Chicago Thursday afternoon, the Midwest league released what it calls its “Players to Watch” list.  This year’s list consists of 11 players — six from the West division and five from the East.  There is one more in the West than in the East due to a tie in the media voting.

While there are 11 players listed, just seven schools are represented as four members earned two players each: Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.  The schools with just one each include Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State.

Interestingly, six of the 11 come from the defensive side of the ball while five come from the offensive.  Also, just one quarterback is represented, and that one wasn’t from Ohio State.

Below is the complete list of preseason honorees.

EAST DIVISION
Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Anthony Zettel, DT, Penn State

WEST DIVISION*
Drew Ott, DE, Iowa
Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska
De’Mornay Pierson-El, WR, Nebraska
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
Michael Caputo, S, Wisconsin
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

*Additional honoree due to tie

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