Terrence Magee

CFT Previews: Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

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WHO: Notre Dame (7-5) vs. No. 23 LSU (8-4)
WHAT: The 16th Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
WHERE: LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.
WHEN: 3:00 p.m. ET Dec. 30 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Both the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the No. 23 LSU Tigers limp their way into the 2014 edition of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The Fighting Irish lost its last four contests and five of its last six. LSU, meanwhile, lost two of its last three games.

The obvious starting point for both teams is which quarterbacks will take the field.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly revealed Friday that redshirt freshman Malik Zaire will get his first career start for the Fighting Irish, while senior Everett Golson will rotate into the lineup throughout the flow of the game.

”I want to put Malik in a position and really challenge him and put him in this kind of environment,” Kelly told the Associated Press.

In limited action, Zaire didn’t fare as well as Notre Dame hoped. The young signal-caller was 9-of-20 passing for 170 yards in six previous appearances. He’ll now face one of the nation’s most tenacious defenses.

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis — in what may be his final game with the program — is a master of dialing up pressure on opposing quarterbacks. LSU’s athletic front will certainly be breathing down Zaire’s neck the entire afternoon.

LSU head coach Les Miles, on the other hand, will again trot sophomore Anthony Jennings out as his starting quarterback. Despite completing less than 50 percent (48.8) of his passes and freshman Brandon Harris playing in eight games this season, Jennings received the majority of first-team repetitions during bowl practices.

“I don’t think I’m in a competition at all,” Jennings told NOLA.com. “I get all the one reps. I come in every day and continue to get better. I run with ones, and those guys know that. That’s not really what everybody thinks it is.”

With Jennings behind center, LSU will attempt to set the tone by running the football, which the Tigers have done successfully throughout the season.

“You won’t see much new in this game at all,” Miles told ESPN.com. “What we’re doing is we’ve got young players and we’re trying to grow them up and have them do the things they’ve done in the past here and see if they can do them better, execute well on game day.”

The three-headed backfield of Leonard Fournette, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hillard combined for 1,867 rushing yards. Against Notre Dame’s 61st-ranked run defense, there shouldn’t be a reason for Jennings to throw the ball all that often.

LSU will likely prove to be a little too big and a little too physical in the trenches for Notre Dame to overcome.

THE PREDICTION: LSU 17, Notre Dame 14

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 13 LSU

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2013 record: 10-3 overall, 5-3 in SEC (third in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Outback Bowl vs. Iowa (21-14 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 14/14
Head coach: Les Miles (123-45 overall; 95-24 in nine years at LSU)
Offensive coordinator: Cam Cameron (second season)
2013 offensive rankings: 29th rushing offense (202.3 ypg); 44th passing offense (251 ypg); 35th total offense (453.3 ypg); 23rd scoring offense (35.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: John Chavis (sixth season)
2013 defensive rankings: 35th rushing defense (143.2 ypg); 13th passing defense (197.5 ypg);  15th total defense (340.7 ypg); 21st scoring defense (22 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Baton Rouge, La.
Stadium: Tiger Stadium (102,321; grass)
Last conference title: 2011

THE GOOD
The good when it comes to the LSU Tigers is usually the following: powerful running game and dominating defense.  2014 is not expected to be any different.  Sure, the Tigers lost their leading and No. 3 rushers, but Nos. 2 and 4 — Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard — return.  Oh, and there’s the addition of one of the most touted running back prospects in a decade or more, 2014 five-star signee Leonard Fournette — he could immediately make anyone and everyone say “Jeremy Hill who?” given the immense talent he possesses.  Among the returning starters are four offensive linemen, three of them seniors, which bodes well for both the revamped running game and whoever the new starter under center will be.  The defense returns seven starters from a group that finished inside the Top 20 in total defense and just outside the Top 20 in the most important statistical category: scoring defense.  LSU has won 10 or more games in seven of Miles’ nine years in Baton Rouge, including each of the last four seasons; given the amount of returning talent and the deep recruiting classes brought in year after year — all but two of those classes in the Top 10, none outside the Top 18 — don’t expect that win total to dip below double-digits in 2014.

THE BAD
As is ofttimes the case with the Tigers, it’s the departures, early and otherwise, that constitute a negative.  On offense, LSU lost its starting quarterback, top two wide receivers and nearly 1,800 rushing yards.  Defensively, the Tigers must replace its top two defensive tackles, although they grow athletic, dominant tackles on trees down on the bayou.  All of the departures, especially offensively, could make for choppy, uneven play early on; fortunately, after the opener against Wisconsin in Houston, LSU has a four-game stretch that consists of three games — Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State — that are essentially scrimmages that actually count.  The first conference tilt comes in the fourth game against Mississippi State (Sept.20); the first true conference test comes two weeks later against Auburn, which gives Les Miles and his coaching staff what they hope will be plenty of time to work out the kinks.

THE UNKNOWN
As is the case up and down the SEC, the quarterback position is a big unknown.  With Zach Mettenberger‘s departure, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris — not necessarily in that order — will battle to take over as the starter.  While Jennings has the edge in experience — he served as Mettenberger’s primary backup in 2013 —  Harris came out of spring practice looking as the slight leader in the eyes of some observers.  Regardless of which player wins the job, LSU will, as it always does, rely heavily on a force-of-nature running game and ask its quarterback to be a mistake-free(ish) game manager.  Can either, though, come up big in the passing game when the need inevitably arises?  That question can’t and won’t be answered for several weeks on down the road.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Auburn, Oct. 4
Given how the series has played out over the last few years — and how important it’s been in both the conference race and national chase — I was extremely tempted to go with the Alabama game Nov. 8.  Instead, I’ll go with the road trip to Jordan-Hare a month earlier.  After all, The Plains Tigers are the defending SEC champions and BCS runner-ups, making them the first measuring stick (sorry, Badgers) for just where the Bayou Bengals are as a team.  With the two Tiger teams and the Tide all coming off a season in which they won 10 or more games — and with Texas A&M expected to dip a bit given the offensive departures and defensive attrition — most expect the SEC West to come down to, essentially, a three-team round-robin tournament.  The first of the three all-important games is LSU-AU; how that game plays out could go a long way in determining the division’s rep in the SEC title game.  Then again, Auburn lost to LSU last year and still stood atop the league at season’s end, so…

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Leonard Fournette
The past two Heismans were won by a redshirt freshman for the first two times in the history of the award.  Could a true freshman ever break through that stiff-armed ceiling?  It seems doubtful, but Fournette certainly looks the part.  Fournette is a highly-touted five-star member of LSU’s most recent recruiting class, rated as the top running back in that class; the No. 1 player in the state of Louisiana; and the No. 4 player at any position in the country.  He’s a mountain of a man-child already at 6-1, 230 pounds, yet he’s one of the fastest players on the Tigers team.  His ability is off the charts; whether that ability translates into immediate on-field results is unknown, but don’t be surprised if he’s not at least on the periphery of the Heisman discussion at some point this season.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Each LSU RB will get ‘fair share of carries’

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LSU running back Terrence Magee could be bitter. As a senior, this should be his season to shine as the feature runner in the Tigers’ offense. Yet, freshman Leonard Fournette is the running back generating all the buzz around the program.

Magee may not be the team’s starter this season, but he sees the value of having a strong stable of running backs.

“It’s always been running back-by-committee at LSU,” Magee told ESPN.com’s Alex Scarborough. “Everyone is going to get their fair share of carries. But at the same time, everyone in our backfield are team-oriented guys. Whatever is in the best interest of the team, that’s what I’m willing to do. If that means me taking 15 carries or taking five carries, then I’m for it.”

Magee actually fed the hype machine which surrounds Fournette by comparing the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit to former Oklahoma great Adrian Peterson.

“I honestly don’t think I’m putting too much on him,” Magee said. “I truly feel that he can do it. He’s proven himself in high school, and in a few more weeks everyone will get to see what he can do on the college level.”

While Fournette isn’t guaranteed to start this season, the freshman is expected to become the primary ball carrier. With that said — Magee and fellow senior Kenny Hilliard were able to rush for a combined 936 yards last season behind Jeremy Hill. Each back was given a handful of carries each game, and they can expect the same this season.

“I think that’s an advantage,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “If you look at Terrence Magee, we’ve gotten them tired. There have been times when he just busted a big run, took significant contact. Kenny Hilliard had just played. In fact, we will need those guys that have fresh legs. I think you can always kind of count on that from us.”

Leonard Fournette isn’t guaranteed a starting spot with LSU

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LSU running back Leonard Fournette is supposed to be college football’s next big thing. Despite the hype that comes along with being the No. 1 running back recruit in the nation, Fournette isn’t even guaranteed to start for the Tigers this season.

Seniors Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee aren’t simply going to hand Fournette the starting spot. And the two veterans are making it hard on LSU’s coaching staff.

The assumption is Fournette will be the opening-day starter at running back, but the decision has yet to be made.

“I don’t know that right now,” LSU running backs coach Frank Wilson said in an radio interview on ESPN 104.5 in Baton Rouge. “We’ll see. We’ll see.”

LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron doesn’t seem to have a preference which back eventually becomes the team’s starter. Cameron is happy with the depth he has at the position.

“This is how Cam calls it. He says, ‘We have our first starter, our second starter, our third starter, and our fourth starter. Just rotate them in.’”

Last season, Magee and Hilliard combine to rush for 936 yards, despite playing behind the ultra-productive Jeremy Hill.

It may actually take some time before Fournette earns the trust of the coaching staff and his teammates.

“He’s a freshman tailback for us who we see as a freshman tailback for us,” Wilson said. “He can’t control the media hype. He’s extremely humble and works extremely hard.”

Once Fournette gets on the field, he’s expected to make a major impact. LSU will benefit from the most talented stable of running backs in college football, whether Fournette becomes the starter or not.

(Hat tip: CoachingSearch.com)

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Impact Freshmen

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College football recruiting can be a cutthroat business. Every coaching staff is looking for the one player that can change the fortunes of its program.

In recent years, college football fans have seen freshmen such as Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston take their programs to the next level.

Incoming players now hold leverage when teams are recruiting them due to the program’s willingness to do nearly anything — within NCAA guidelines, of course — to acquire these types of game-changing talent. The promise that is most often made revolves around early playing time. More freshmen than ever are given starting spots from the moment they step on campus.

There will undoubtedly be numerous freshmen CFT could have pegged to make an impact this season. There will certainly be plenty left off this list that will. But here are the Top 10 impact freshmen we’ve identified entering the season:

1. LEONARD FOURNETTE, LSU, RB
This is the easy choice. Fournette was considered, at least by one of the major recruiting services, as the No. 1 recruit in the country. At 6-1 and 226 pounds, Fournette is a tailor-made running back for the SEC and LSU’s offense. Fournette also benefits from the Tigers losing two of the team’s top three leading rushers to the NFL. Fournette will still surrender some carries to Kenny Hillard and Terrence Magee, but the freshman is expected to get the bulk of the work. Another benefit for Fournette is playing in LSU’s run-heavy offense. The Tigers ran the ball 62 percent of the time in 2013. They should be expected to do the same behind the team’s massive offensive line.

2. CAM ROBINSON, ALABAMA, OT
During spring practice, the Crimson Tide held a competition at left tackle to replace Cyrus Kouandjio. Robinson, an early enrollee, was able to step in and claim the top spot on the depth chart. Very few offensive linemen are physically ready to start from Day 1, particularly at left tackle. Robinson, however, has a combination of size (6-6, 323 pounds) and athleticism that makes him a rare exception to the rule. Alabama head coach Nick Saban already complimented Robinson by stating, “He’s a very good pass blocker.” Whichever quarterback starts behind center this year for the Crimson Tide will know they have one of the most talented freshmen blocking their blindside.

3. RAEKWON MCMILLAN, OHIO STATE, LB
Since Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State, the coach’s goal was to become faster and more athletic on both sides of the football. Linebacker, in particular, was a sore spot for the team. Depth and play-making ability were lacking sans Ryan Shazier. While McMillan has yet to earn a starting spot, Ohio State’s coaching staff clearly has high expectations for the freshman. At the start of fall camp, McMillan was practicing with the the team’s veterans instead of with the other freshmen. Meyer stated his reason behind doing so was because McMillan acts like a “grown man.” A grown man that will eventually be asked to fill the role vacated by Shazier.

4. JABRILL PEPPERS, MICHIGAN, CB
The Wolverines’ defense was far too prone to giving up big plays against the pass last season. Peppers has the potential to be a dynamic play maker in the secondary to combine with the experience returning  at cornerback in Blake Countess and Ramon Taylor. Peppers’ athleticism projects to multiple positions in the secondary. He’s a cornerback by trade, but the Wolverines could start him at free safety to let him roam the field. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison could use him as the team’s nickel corner. Or he can do all of the above. Where the Wolverines will use Peppers will be decided throughout fall camp.

5. K.D. CANNON, BAYLOR, WR
The Baylor Bears can never have too much talent at wide receiver. Four of the team’s top five targets from last season return this fall. Although, there is one key omission. The team will be without the services Tevin Reese, who was a dynamic deep threat. Cannon has the potential to fill the role Reese left behind and take the top off of defenses.

6. DA’SHAWN HAND, ALABAMA, DE
Hand, who was rated as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 class by Rivals.com, may have been a little higher on this list if not for the depth Alabama already has along its defensive line. Although, with A’Shawn Robinson’s status currently up in the air, Hand should benefit from extra repetitions in camp and may be asked to make a bigger impact in the fall than initially anticipated.

7. JALEN TABOR, FLORIDA, CB
A year ago, Florida fans wondered how Vernon Hargreaves III would assimilate into the Gators’ lineup. For Hargreaves, it was a seamless transition, and he quickly developed into one of the top cornerbacks in the country. Florida’s coaching staff hopes Tabor will have a similar learning curve. The freshman will have an opportunity to prove himself after Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson left Florida for the NFL.

8. KYLE ALLEN, TEXAS A&M, QB
The last time Texas A&M had a freshman start at quarterback, he went on to win the Heisman Trophy. Granted, it was “Johnny Football” and he was a redshirt freshman, but these are the footsteps in which Allen will have to follow. Allen was considered the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation. Expectations will be very high for him to play this season, but he still has to beat out Kenny Hill for the starting spot.

9. QUIN BLANDING, VIRGINIA, S
Blanding has the potential to make a bigger impact on his particular program than anyone else on this list. Despite a 2-10 season last year, Blanding became the catalyst for a tremendous recruiting class for the Cavaliers. Blanding, a five-star recruit, has received first-team repetitions from the start of fall camp. If Blanding becomes the level of defender the Cavaliers expect, he can help push the entire program in the right direction.

10. ALLEN LAZARD, IOWA STATE, WR
When one is looking for impact freshmen, the first stop usually isn’t Ames, Iowa. Lazard is a completely different story. He chose Iowa State, because his brother was already on the roster. While the Cyclones are quite talented at wide receiver, there will be plenty of balls to go around in a passing offense under new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino. At 6-5 and 210 pounds, Lazard will be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses.