Geneo Grissom

ECU passing duo among 11 players accepting Senior Bowl invite

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With the 2014 college football season heading down the final stretch the Senior Bowl is beginning to put together its roster for 2015 game. The Senior Bowl is the top all-star game for senior college football players heading to the NFL, and it serves as one of the premier offseason events leading up to the NFL Draft. On Monday the Senior Bowl announced 11 players have already accepted invites to play in the 2015 game in Mobile, Alabama.

East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy were among the first players to accept their invites. Penn State safety Adrian Amos and linebacker Mike Hull, Navy long snapper Joseph Cardona, Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis, Michigan State free safety Kurtis Drummond, Oklahoma linebacker Geneo Grissom, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard also accepted invitations to play in the Senior Bowl.

The Senior Bowl also announced two players from the FCS has accepted his invite. Northern Iowa running back David Johnson and Samford free safety Jaquiski Tartt will look to show what they can do against some of college football’s best.

“We are so pleased that these invited players have responded so quickly in accepting to play in our 2015 game,” Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage said. “The importance of this event in the timeline of the NFL Draft cannot be understated and these prospects really understand the opportunity here.”

The Senior Bowl will be played Saturday, January 24, 2015 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference (tied 2nd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (45-31 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/No. 6
Head coach: Bob Stoops (160-39 overall; 160-39 in 15 years at Oklahoma)
Co-offensive coordinators: Josh Heupel (9th year at Oklahoma) and Jay Norvell (6th year)
2013 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (223.9 ypg); 90th passing offense (199.1 ypg); 52nd total offense (423 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (eight years at Oklahoma)
2013 defensive rankings: 25th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 30th passing defense (212.5 ypg);  20th total defense (350.2 ypg); 22nd scoring defense (22.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112; grass)
Last conference title: 2012 (co-champions with Kansas State)

THE GOOD
The Sooners lay claim to the best defense in the Big 12 conference. The unit finished 20th overall in total defense last season, which is an impressive feat considering the wide-open offenses seen during conference play. The defense is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker. Striker is one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. Not only is the linebacker one of the most explosive edge rushers in college football, but the Sooners move him around throughout the game to keep offenses on their heels. It’s nearly impossible for an offense to key on a specific defender and set their blocking schemes if they don’t know where he’s going to be lined up on a down-by-down basis. The team’s linebackers as a whole are very talented. Leading tackler Frank Shannon won’t play this season due to suspension, but senior Geneo Grissom showed how dangerous he can be opposite Striker with 2.5 sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And inside linebacker Dominique Alexander was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both starting cornerbacks return as does strong safety Quentin Hayes. The defense will also get a boost when the massive (6-6, 334) Jordan Phillips returns to the lineup as the starting nose tackle after missing the final 10 weeks of the season due to a back injury. The Sooners defense is talented, aggressive and experienced. Even if Oklahoma’s offense struggles during stretches, the defense is good enough to win games for them this season.

THE BAD
If the Sooners are going to be earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff, the team absolutely has to be more consistent at the quarterback position. Expectations are sky high for Trevor Knight (see: below) after his surprising and dominant performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight has to prove it wasn’t an one-game aberration. The most damning evidence against Oklahoma’s quarterbacks last year was finishing ninth (out of 10 teams) in the Big 12 in passing offense. The ability to stretch the field vertically opens up the rest of the offense, but Oklahoma was never able to do so last year until the bowl game. And for a quarterback to be able to open up the offense, he has to have reliable receivers. Junior wide receiver Sterling Shephard will have to develop into a No. 1 target after finishing second on the team last season with 51 receptions for 603 yards. The Sooners’ other projected starters at wide receiver, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, combined to make 15 receptions for 205 yards. Consistency at quarterback and wide receiver will be the primary indicator of how successful the Sooners are in 2014.

THE UNKNOWN
The University of Oklahoma suspended two of the team’s most talented players in Shannon and running back Joe Mixon prior to the start of the season for the entirety of 2014 campaign. Plus, the team hoped Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham would be eligible to play this season. The NCAA denied Green-Beckam’s transfer waiver, and the wide receiver will have to wait until next year to make a mark with the Sooners…if he does at all. These are three very talented players that would have contributed plenty to the Sooners this season. Shannon was the team’s leading tackler in 2013. Sophomore Jordan Evans, who played in eight games last season as a true freshman, will take over for Shannon. The Sooners’ passing game will have to rely heavily on Shepard due to the lack of experience with the rest of the team’s wide receivers. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will split reps without the explosive Mixon being a part of the running back stable. Of the three, the junior linebacker’s suspension could prove to be the most problematic this season, while the team will simply have to wait another year to receive contributions from Mixon and Green-Beckham.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Tennessee
The scheduling within the Big 12 Conference is so underwhelming an one-loss Sooners’ squad might be the team on the outside looking in during the inaugural College Football Player. It’s quite possible Oklahoma will slip up at least once during Big 12 play. The reason the Tennessee game is so important is due to it being the team’s only non-conference game against a Power Five opponent. The Volunteers may have been 5-7 last season, but their affiliation with the SEC holds plenty of water. The game will be a test to see how Oklahoma stacks up against the best conference in college football. A resounding victory by Oklahoma will show the Sooners are superior to the SEC’s middle class. And it will leave a positive impression in the playoff committee’s collective mind as the Sooners attempt to navigate their treacherous conference schedule.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Trevor Knight
Knight made it look easy against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The ball effortlessly flew out of the quarterback’s hand as he broke a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s performance in the bowl game leaves a lasting impression on Heisman voters and provides momentum as he enters his first season as a full-time starter. The reality, though, is Knight didn’t play well during the regular season. Knight won the starting job in fall camp last year only to hand the spot back to Blake Bell. Knight’s highest output in a single game before his explosion against Alabama was 171 passing yards. In fact, Knight only passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns during his previous eight appearances. But Knight’s Heisman candidacy is based purely on potential. If Knight can play at the same level seen against Alabama throughout the 2014 campaign, the Sooners will be one of the best teams in college football and the quarterback will be sitting in New York City waiting to hear his name called as the latest Heisman Trophy winner.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Oklahoma scores 35 points off five Alabama turnovers in Sugar Bowl win

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For one half it looked as though we went back in time watching some of the great Oklahoma teams from the earlier part of the Bob Stoops era. In the second half Stoops found a way to keep his Sooners in front of Nick Saban‘s Alabama Crimson Tide and held off any possible rally in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma shocked the two-time defending BCS champions with a 45-31 victory, Alabama’s first loss in a postseason bowl game since the 2009 Sugar Bowl upset to Utah. Alabama lost five turnovers, which turned in to 35 points for the Sooners.

Leading 31-17 at the half, Oklahoma got off to a poor start in the second half. Alabama eventually picked up the first score of the second half with a touchdown run by Derrick Henry from 43 yards midway through the third quarter to bring Alabama to within one score. Things looked to be going Alabama’s way, but the Sooners extended their lead in the fourth quarter when Trevor Knight rolled to the right side and then threw back a little to his left to find Sterling Shepard for a touchdown. The score made it a double-digit lead, 38-24. Alabama managed to score once more with AJ McCarron tossing a short pass to Henry, who then ran right up the middle of the field for a 60-yard touchdown to make it a once-score game. Once Oklahoma got their hands back on the football though, Alabama’s defense could not get off the field with enough time to work with on offense. Oklahoma punted away with 1:02 to play but without any timeouts Alabama failed to drive the length of the field to tie things up.

On the first play from scrimmage, McCarron dropped back and had the ball knocked out of his hand by Eric Striker. The loose football was picked up by Okla Geneo Grissom, who then stretched his body to reach for the goal line and one last touchdown. The 15-point underdog won by 14 as a result of the seventh sac of the night by Oklahoma’s defense.

Trevor Knight ended the night with 348 yards and four touchdowns while Alabama’s McCarron ended his collegiate career with 387 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in addition to the late fumble. The Crimson Tide actually out-gained Oklahoma 516-432 but were uncharacteristically careless with ball protection with five turnovers, which as mentioned above resulted in 35 points for Oklahoma.

Next season Oklahoma will open the season knowing Trevor Knight will be the main guy running the offense. If the Sugar Bowl and the regular season finale against Oklahoma State was any indication of what to expect from the Sooners in 2014, watch out in the Big 12. Oklahoma showed signs of improving as the season went along, so if they can carry that momentum in to the spring then they could be in store for a successful season next fall. The schedule is certainly favorable with home games against Tennessee, Baylor and Kansas State. The Sooners pen the 2014 season at home against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, August 30.

As for Alabama, it is back to the drawing board. For the first time in a few years the Crimson Tide will officially open a quarterback competition for the starting job in 2014. With McCarron moving on, Alabama will have a new starting quarterback but they could also be set to lose a running back. Fortunately the position is stocked. The focus should also be on the defense that had cracks all year and started to be beyond repair in the final games of the season. Alabama is not going anywhere though as far as the national title picture is concerned. With four spots up for grabs in the new college football playoff model starting next season, the Crimson Tide will continue to be a contender as long as Nick Saban is in charge.

Alabama opens the 2014 season in Atlanta against West Virginia on Saturday, August 30.