College Football
NCAAF News Wire
  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014
    CFB roundup: Kent State's Bitsko found dead in his room
    By The Sports Xchange

    Kent State starting center Jason Bitsko has died from an undetermined medical condition, the university confirmed Wednesday.

    • Bitsko was found unresponsive in the bedroom of his off-campus apartment shortly before 9 a.m.

      Calls were placed to Bitsko's roommate after he failed to show up for morning practice. The roommate called 911 after finding Bitsko in his bed. Brimfield Police arrived on the scene within three minutes of the call.

      Bitsko, 21, was set to begin his fourth year on the team. He started all 12 games in 2013 and was recently selected to the Phil Steele's Preseason All-MAC Third Team. Bitsko graduated from Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio.

      "Kent State University and the entire Kent community mourns his passing," Joel Nielsen, Kent State's director of athletics, said 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."

      Members of the football team were told of Bitsko's passing during the end of the morning practice. All remaining football activities on Wednesday were canceled.

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

      ---Illinois named Wes Lunt starting quarterback for the 2014 season.

      "I have not been in an offense where the quarterback has so much control," Lunt said. "As a quarterback, if you're not comfortable with a play before it starts, then it's probably not going to be a successful one. Being able to change that, if you can, is a big plus."

      Lunt transferred to Illinois from Oklahoma State in May 2013 and at 6-5, 225, gives Illinois a strong-armed pocket passer. As a freshman, Lunt threw for 1,108 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions in five games.

      Due to NCAA rules, Lunt had to sit out the 2013 season.

      ---Clemson junior running back Zac Brooks is out for the season with a foot injury.

      Coach Dabo Swinney said Brooks, the team's most complete running back and one pegged for an expanded role this season with Roderick McDowell gone.

      Brooks hurt his shoulder as a freshman and re-injured it last season. He was the team's leading returning rusher with 246 yards in 2013.

  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014
    Clemson loses RB Brooks (foot) for season
    By The Sports Xchange

    Clemson junior running back Zac Brooks is out for the season with a foot injury.

    • Coach Dabo Swinney said Brooks, the team's most complete running back and one pegged for an expanded role this season with Roderick McDowell gone.

      "This is a big loss because he is reliable in all phases of the game," Swinney said.

      Clemson enters the season with new starters at running back, quarterback and wide receiver, where stud All-American Sammy Watkins might prove to be the most difficult to replace.

      Brooks hurt his shoulder as a freshman and re-injured it last season. He was the team's leading returning rusher with 246 yards in 2013. However, Swinney said earlier in the week that running back is one of the team's deepest positions.

      "This is the deepest group we've had around here in a long time," he said. "The one group I'm not worried about is running back. We're going to be just fine right there. We've got some good football players. Some really, really good football players."

  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014
    Illinois QB Lunt to start
    By The Sports Xchange

    Illinois named Wes Lunt starting quarterback for the 2014 season.

    • "I have not been in an offense where the quarterback has so much control," Lunt said. "As a quarterback, if you're not comfortable with a play before it starts, then it's probably not going to be a successful one. Being able to change that, if you can, is a big plus."

      Lunt transferred to Illinois from Oklahoma State in May 2013 and at 6-5, 225, gives Illinois a strong-armed pocket passer in Bill Cubit's offense.

      As a freshman, Lunt threw for 1,108 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions in five games last year.

      Due to NCAA rules, Lunt had to sit out the 2013 season.

      Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy placed transfer restrictions on Lunt after he decided he wanted to be closer to home. He chose between Illinois and Louisville.

      Lunt grew up in Rochester, Ill., about a 90-minute drive from the Illinois campus in Champaign.

  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014
    Kent State's Bitsko found dead in his room
    By The Sports Xchange

    Kent State starting center Jason Bitsko has died from an undetermined medical condition, the university confirmed Wednesday.

    • Bitsko was found unresponsive in the bedroom of his off-campus apartment shortly before 9 a.m.

      Calls were placed to Bitsko's roommate after he failed to show up for morning practice. The roommate called 911 after finding Bitsko in his bed. Brimfield Police arrived on the scene within three minutes of the call.

      Bitsko, 21, was set to begin his fourth year on the team. He started all 12 games in 2013 and was recently selected to the Phil Steele's Preseason All-MAC Third Team. Bitsko graduated from Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio.

      "Kent State University and the entire Kent community mourns his passing," Joel Nielsen, Kent State's director of athletics, said 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."

      Members of the football team were told of Bitsko's passing during the end of the morning practice. All remaining football activities on Wednesday were canceled.

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

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    CFB roundup: Ohio State loses QB Miller
    By The Sports Xchange

    Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, considered a preseason contender for the Heisman Trophy, reinjured his right shoulder in practice on Monday and will undergo season-ending surgery, the school announced Tuesday afternoon.

    • Miller was hurt throwing a short pass in practice but was not hit on the play. There was no indication from the university when the surgery would take place.

      Miller plans to stay in school and return next season. He is eligible for a redshirt.

      Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett likely will be the starting quarterback for the season opener on Aug. 30 against Navy. Barrett and third-year sophomore Cardale Jones were competing for the backup job before Miller went down.

      ---Football and basketball players and all student-athletes at Maryland will be offered a lifetime degree guarantee, the university announced Tuesday.

      The program, called "The Maryland Way Guarantee," starts in November and is one of the first of its kind for all athletes and not just those in revenue-producing sports. Other schools in power conferences are expected to follow suit.

      ---Michigan dismissed suspended wide receiver Csont'e York from the football team on Monday night.

      York, a sophomore, is facing two counts of assault and battery and one count of aggravated assault after an incident outside a bar in Ann Arbor, Mich., on July 18. Coach Brady Hoke had suspended York in early August for failing to meet team standards.

      In surveillance video released by police, a man whom police identified as York punched another man outsdie Scorekeepers. The victim was reported to have sustained multiple jaw fractures.

      York, of Harper Woods, Mich., had no receptions during his freshman season in 2013.

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    Ohio State loses QB Miller for season
    By The Sports Xchange

    Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, considered a preseason contender for the Heisman Trophy, reinjured his right shoulder in practice on Monday and will undergo season-ending surgery, the school announced Tuesday afternoon.

    • Miller was hurt throwing a short pass in practice but was not hit on the play. There was no indication from the university when the surgery would take place.

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

      The senior's throwing shoulder was surgically repaired in February after he was injured during the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson in January.

      Miller had been nursing the shoulder along during preseason camp. He did not participate in contact drills during the spring after the surgery.

      Miller indicated through the university that he plans to remain in school and return next season. He is eligible for a redshirt.

      "I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever," Miller said. "I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season.

      "In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season."

      The Buckeyes returned to practice Tuesday morning without Miller. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett likely will be the starting quarterback for the season opener on Aug. 30 against Navy. Barrett and third-year sophomore Cardale Jones were competing for the backup job before Miller went down.

      Jones is the lone quarterback on the Buckeyes' roster with game experience. He took 39 snaps in wins over Florida A&M, Penn State and Purdue last season.

      Ohio State is ranked No. 5 in the preseason Associated Press poll and was considered a contender to land one of the berths in the four-team playoff to determine a national champion this season. But the loss of Miller caused Ohio State's odds in Las Vegas for winning the title to plummet from 10-1 to 40-1.

      Last season, Miller completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions and also ran for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is a two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year.

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    The Sports Xchange: Big Ten breakout players
    By The Sports Xchange

    One player's bad break is a chance for another to become a breakout.

    • Such is the hope in Columbus, where Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner Braxton Miller re-injured his right shoulder, paving the way for untested redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett to grab the reins of Urban Meyer's offense.

      No pressure, kid. This finely tuned machine enters the 2014 opener Aug. 30 against Navy with a No. 5 national ranking and national championship aspirations.

      While Barrett is classified as a dual-threat quarterback -- he was No. 3 in the nation coming out of high school in 2013 -- arm strength isn't his greatest asset, but offensive coordinator Tom Herman said that is no concern.

      "He makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that," Herman said of Barrett. "You don't have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I'm very pleased with his continuing growth."

      Here are the other breakout players to watch in the Big Ten:

      DT Darius Hamilton, Rutgers: Still just a junior, the 6-4, 260-pound Hamilton should fit right in in the Big Ten. He's a captain now and his coach is counting heavily on his continued improvement.

      WR DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State: The former four-star recruit had to redshirt last season while recovering from a wrist injury that had bothered him during his final year of high school. He maintained his conditioning and added strength last season and has impressed teammates with his route-running and hands since the spring. The Nittany Lions will need a playmaker following the offseason departure of four wide receivers, including second-round draft pick Allen Robinson, and Hamilton is in line to claim one of the starting wide receiver spots.

      CB Sojourn Shelton, Wisconsin: Despite leading the Badgers in interceptions as a true freshman, Shelton wants to top last season's goals and take his game another step. After becoming the first true freshman starter at cornerback since Scott Starks in 2001, Shelton wants to top last season's four interceptions and seven pass-breakups. At 5-foot-9, Shelton gained nearly eight pounds to become better in press man-to-man coverage.

      "I didn't meet a lot of my personal goals that I wanted to meet as far as me getting better," Shelton said. "Not to be too hard on myself. I am satisfied, as a freshman, it is kind of nice, but I just want to continue to improve. I want to have the same goals going into next season, and I want to accomplish those goals. They're pretty big goals."

      WLB Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Maryland: A remarkable combination of size, speed and athleticism, Cudjoe-Virgil was coming into his own last year when he went down with an upper body injury. He showed a penchant for the big play with 3.5 sacks and then an acrobatic interception in the West Virginia game last year. Cudjoe-Virgil is at the weakside linebacker slot where he has free reign to attack the backfield and create havoc in former NFL defensive coordinator Brian Stewart's 3-4 scheme. Coaches love his "passion" for the game.

      DE Chris Wormley, Michigan: A knee injury kept Wormley off the field his first year in Ann Arbor, but the time appears right for this freakish athlete to shake things up in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder was a multi-sport standout in high school, and he uses his athleticism to create all kinds of problems in the pass rushing attack. Look for Wormley to be a fixture in the defensive lineup by the time the Big Ten season gets rolling.

      DT Maliek Collins, Nebraska: Let's not yet compare Collins to Ndamukong Suh, but it's not a stretch to say the 6-foot-2, 300-pound sophomore could be Nebraska's most imposing defensive tackle since Suh, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2009. Collins played as a true freshman, blossomed in the weight room in the offseason and was impressive throughout spring practices. He's got a nice blend of speed and power that allows him to not only hold up on the inside, but play on the outside in obvious passing situations.

      WR Nick Stoner, Indiana: Someone has to catch the passes no longer intended for Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes, and Stoner figures it might as well be him. A two-sport athlete at IU, Stoner redshirted this spring in track and field, beefing up to give his senior season his best shot. He showed big-play ability last year, averaging 18.8 yards on his 12 catches, including a 44-yarder for a touchdown.

      DT Carl Davis, Iowa: The Iowa senior grew up in a Michigan fan in Detroit, but the Wolverines weren't interested and Davis would up at Iowa. In his first two seasons, Davis played behind some future NFL defensive linemen and battled injuries, but now he's ready to take off. Has flashed signs of his ability last year with 42 tackles, including eight against Michigan.

      QB Wes Lunt, Illinois: The sophomore sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State. An Illinois native, Lunt was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school. He won the starting job for the Cowboys as a freshman before suffering a knee injury and losing his spot. Lunt decided to leave and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy restricted Lunt from transferring to 37 schools before he wound up at Illinois. Since Lunt arrived in Champaign, he has impressed Illini offensive coordinator Bill Cubit with his arm. "He has one of the prettiest motions I've seen in a long time," Cubit said. Lunt had yet to win the job in fall camp in an open competition with Riley O'Toole and Aaron Bailey, but coach Tim Beckman said he plans to settle on a quarterback soon and Lunt is likely the guy. He has big shoes to fill replacing longtime starter Nathan Scheelhaase.

      RB Dontre Wilson, Ohio State: As a freshman last year, Wilson displayed dynamic speed and big-play capability with 983 all-purpose yards, but he was limited to contributing as a hybrid back and returner. After going through the offseason strength program, Wilson is ready to make more of an impact as a runner and receiver, especially with Braxton Miller out of the mix.

      "Last year, he was a hybrid guy that really wasn't great at anything," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He had potential, but couldn't block at the level we expected him to. Was not quite strong enough to run inside like you need that hybrid guy to do. Was simply an outside running player. He's gained the weight. He's much stronger. He's much more prepared for this level of football."

      S Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern: A fifth-year senior safety, looks for a big season as the unquestioned leader in the secondary. Tied for ninth on Northwestern's all-time list with eight interceptions, he had 73 tackles and four picks last year on the way to honorable mention all-Big Ten selection. "He's taken all the young guys under his wing and really shown them how to study tape, how to work out, how to think and operate and tick like a Big Ten defensive back, and just show them all the ropes," Fitzgerald said.

      CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State: After being thrust into a starting role in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in 2012, Waynes was the full-time starter opposite Darqueze Dennard in 2013. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors while intercepting three passes and starting all 14 games. Now the junior's name is all over the preseason watch lists and he is primed to become the next great defensive player to come out of Michigan State.

      WR Donovahn Jones, Minnesota: He came to campus as a quarterback, but was moved to wide receiver as a freshman. The transition took some time, but the coaches are optimistic Jones, who is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, will contribute this season. He made 10 catches for 157 yards and had 16 carries for 73 yards last season.

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    Injury woes impact Braxton Miller's NFL stock
    By The Sports Xchange

    The worst is now reality for the Ohio State Buckeyes: quarterback Braxton Miller is done for the 2014 season. The Heisman Trophy candidate dislocated his throwing shoulder in practice on Monday, the same shoulder that required surgery this past spring.

    • Ohio State has a talented redshirt freshman ready to step in at quarterback, but for Miller, what's next?

      A fourth-year senior, Miller has the option of redshirting in 2014 and returning to Columbus for the 2015 season, which he said in a statement Tuesday is his intention.

      "I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever," Miller said in the release. "I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season. In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season."

      However, it's still very possible he will go to the NFL, rehabbing over the next six months to get his shoulder ready for the pre-draft process. Miller has long felt ready for the NFL, and it seems unlikely that he would return to college and risk further injury.

      After the Orange Bowl last January, Miller strongly considered entering the 2014 NFL Draft as an early entrant, but ultimately decided to return to school for his senior season. According to on-campus sources, Miller wanted to go pro, but "had to be convinced" to stay at Ohio State for one final season in 2014 with his impending shoulder surgery being a major factor as well.

      Looking at Miller's NFL projection, the first question is what position will he play? Some scouts and scouting services grade him as a better running back prospect while others aren't closing the door for him at quarterback. Before Monday's injury, he was the No. 6 quarterback eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft and the No. 111 prospect overall, according to NFLDraftScout.com ratings.

      Over his first two seasons at Ohio State and the first half of last year, Miller looked like a better running back prospect than at quarterback. But down the stretch in 2013, Miller progressed in several areas as a passer, giving evaluators reason to believe he could develop into a NFL-level quarterback with more seasoning.

      I've said all offseason that it would be a mistake to dismiss him as a viable NFL quarterback until we see what his senior year brings, but with Miller out for the 2014 season, there are still many questions that will likely be unanswered if he decides to enter the 2015 NFL Draft.

      Evaluating him as a quarterback, Miller has the arm strength and natural athletic tools that translate very well to the next level. But it's the concerns with touch, accuracy and the mental side of the position that lead many scouts to believe a switch in positions is necessary for Miller to find the field in the NFL. Factor in the multiple throwing shoulder injuries and there seem to be more negatives than positives. Here's a quick scouting report on Ohio State's polarizing passer:

      First, the positives: Miller spins a pretty football with top-shelf arm strength and an easy delivery, doing a nice job changing arm angles as needed. He showed improved pocket mobility and field vision last season to quickly scan the field, paying much more attention to technique and not allowing his mechanics to break down outside the pocket. Miller is an above average athlete with game-changing speed, acceleration and explosive cuts to make defenders respect his mobility with agile feet to dance around the noise, following blocks well with vision and toughness to finish.

      Now, the negatives: While much improved in areas, Miller needs to continue his development as a passer for some NFL scouts to be sold. His touch and accuracy still run hot/cold with too many fastballs in his arsenal and needs to develop a change-up.

      Starting with his footwork and base, Miller needs to continue to tweak his mechanics and improve his ball placement, something that continues to be a work in progress. Ball security (10 fumbles in 2013) and durability are two other areas that are concerns, especially after multiple shoulder surgeries and a knee injury that plagued him throughout last season.

      Miller has never thrown for 300-plus yards in a game (his single game-best is only 252 passing yards), but his weapons at wide receiver have been average at best and with his legs, he hasn't needed to chuck the ball 30-plus times per game. He set career-bests last season in every statistical category, including 63.5 percent completions, but his performances against Michigan (40.0 percent) and Michigan State (38.1 percent) late in the season were discouraging.

      Should Miller return to Columbus for the 2015 season to continue his development and prove he is a legitimate quarterback prospect and help his draft standing? That's one thought. But it's not about draft positioning for Miller anymore. With his injuries, it's more about simply getting to the NFL with all his body parts still intact. Once on a roster, it won't really matter if Miller was a fourth round pick or seventh round pick. He will have to earn his spot at the next level.

      It's important to note that Miller doesn't have to make an immediate decision on his football future, and will likely take some time to make up his mind. However, in my opinion, the next time we see Miller playing on the football field will be in an NFL uniform. But will it be as a quarterback? Running back? Offensive weapon?

      Every fan and analyst will have their own opinion on the matter between now and when he is drafted - if he is drafted. But the one thing we do know for sure: neither his critics nor supporters will have the 2014 season to help back up their position on the matter.

      (Dane Brugler is an analyst for www.NFLDraftScout.com, a property of The Sports Xchange distributed in partnership with CBSSports.com)

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    The Sports Xchange: Big Ten newcomers to watch
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Sports Xchange polled its college football correspondents in the Big Ten to identify the top newcomers in the conference.

    • One player who could be a star from the opening snap is Illinois wide receiver Geronimo Allison.

      He is one of six junior college players brought in this year in an attempt to jump-start the Illini. Allison is already listed as a starter. At 6-foot-4, he is tall and rangy and a big target that quarterbacks love. The Floridian had 69 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns last season for Iowa Western and was a second-team Junior College All-American.

      Allison's play in preseason camp has caught the attention of offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.

      The other Big Ten newcomers to watch:

      TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State: The true freshman from New Jersey didn't take long to wow teammates with his leaping ability and athletic catches when he arrived on campus this summer, and the injury to Adam Breneman could mean more time for him in the tight end rotation. Gesicki never played his new position in high school and could see as much time at wide receiver as he does at tight end in his first year but it's hard to imagine he won't be on the field -- and targeted with a few passes -- sooner than later.

      DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State: The five-star recruit can play both end and tackle but will get his first shot at nose tackle for the Spartans. At 6-foot-6 and 286 pounds, he has the size and strength to play inside but also possess plenty of speed and quickness. His recruiting process was an eventful one, but now that McDowell is on campus, the Spartans are expecting an immediate impact.

      Tom Hruby, Northwestern: A 32-year-old married father of three, a full-time Northwestern student and, oh yeah, he's a U.S. Navy SEAL, Hriby is trying to make the team as a walk-on. "He's a man's man," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. An instructor at nearby Great Lakes Naval Air Station, Hubry hopes to contribute on special teams. "I don't feel like where I'm at today is some outstanding or amazing thing," Hruby told the Sun-Times. "It's just more of a challenging route … the way I kind of think about finding and accepting and trying to take on these challenges that most people would probably say are impossible, one, or very unlikely or just plain dumb."

      LB RaeKwon McMillan, Ohio State: McMillan was one of two freshmen to practice with the veterans during the first day of fall camp. A highly regarded recruit from Georgia, McMillan enrolled at Ohio State last winter and impressed coach Urban Meyer, who said MacMillan and freshmen wide receiver Johnny Dixon acted like "pros" and "so we let them practice with the grown men." McMillan began preseason practice as the No. 2 middle linebacker, but he's expected to push senior Curtis Grant for playing time.

      S Kieron Williams, Nebraska: A true freshman, Williams was originally committed to Air Force under assistant coach Charlton Warren, who then was hired as defensive backs coach at Nebraska. He brought Williams with him, and it's a move that could pay dividends for a secondary that's already seen attrition in fall camp. The 6-foot, 185-pound Williams has been flying to the ball and exuding confidence at safety, where he could see snaps after the season-long suspension of LeRoy Alexander.

      WR Derrick Willies, Iowa: The redshirt freshman is the player mentioned most often this spring and summer as an up-and-comer. He has excellent size (6-4) and good speed. "Willies is one of those young guys who I think is going to surprise some people this year," Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said. "He's put a lot of work into his game and if he keeps it up, he's going to be there making plays." Willies created a buzz in April when he had a 42-yard touchdown reception and a 52-yard catch-and-run in the spring game in Kinnick Stadium.

      LT Derwin Gray, Maryland: The 2013 non-qualifier prepped a year at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy and steps in now as the Terps best hope to add some more athleticism and raw talent at the troublesome left tackle spot. The 6-5, 300-pound Gray was tabbed the No. 1 recruit out of Washington, D.C., by ESPN in 2013, and was No. 2 according to Rivals. Another true freshman, Damian Prince, could also push up front but neither has found their way to the top of the depth chart. Yet.

      DB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan: He comes to Ann Arbor accompanied by more hype than any recruit in recent years, and his work in camp has Peppers pushing to start as the nickel back, with a larger role likely just around the corner. Michigan has worked Peppers returning punts, and head coach Brady Hoke has not ruled out having Peppers make situational appearances on offense for the Wolverines. If Peppers is the dynamic play-maker that many expect him to be, Michigan will find many ways to utilize those skills.

      DB Craig James, Minnesota: The true freshman was a late addition to the recruiting class and could turn out to be a good find for the coaching staff. James chose the Gophers over Iowa, Indiana, Iowa State, Missouri and Syracuse. He got some time with the first-team defense in fall camp. "Craig James is a hell of a player," coach Jerry Kill said in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I can tell you that right now. He's different. He's a difference maker "

      C Michael Deiter, Wisconsin: Enrolling early at Wisconsin, the true freshman is already making waves in the first weeks of practice. Deiter was one of the standouts in spring practice, and continued that momentum into the fall. Starting center Dan Voltz has been hampered by an injury that opened the door for Deiter, who already has taken snaps with the first-team offense.

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    Hoke, Michigan enter critical season
    By The Sports Xchange

    ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brady Hoke enters his fourth season as head coach at Michigan staring at a troubling graph that charts this stint in Ann Arbor. His team has been trending in the wrong direction, and Hoke will be under a lot of pressure to reverse that tangent in 2014.

    • In his first season in the corner office, the former Wolverines' assistant, who had successful runs as a head coach at Ball State and San Diego State before returning to Michigan, went 11-2 with players he inherited from the fired former UM boss Rich Rodriguez.

      Those players did not fit Hoke's offensive plans, but he won a lot of games anyway. His 2012 team seemed to get caught in quicksand on offense, and appeared to lack significant play-makers on defense as the Wolverines slipped to 8-5.

      Year three, the point where recruiting and the implementation of a new offense are expected to really hit fifth gear, Michigan stumbled and staggered to a very lackluster 7-6 mark. That sends Hoke into the 2014 season with a less than glitzy 26-13 overall record, and Michigan still seeking the Big Ten title he was brought here to reclaim.

      Hoke spews optimism, as coaches are prone to do when the practices are crisp and nobody's keeping score, but he will need more than confident language to turn this program around and get the Wolverines back in contention in the conference race.

      "We're all excited for another season to get started," Hoke said as Michigan opened fall camp. "Our football team has come together this summer and worked very hard. I think they've worked hard, and I think a lot of that is the foundation that has been laid over the last three years and the depth that we have on our football team. It's as competitive as a team that I've been around at all positions.

      It needs to be. Senior quarterback Devin Gardner has won the starting job in a competition with Shane Morris that was either real or feigned. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who left Alabama to join Hoke in the frigid north, is expected to get more consistent play from Gardner, and more production for a wildly inconsistent running game.

      Team MVP Jeremy Gallon has graduated, leaving a void at receiver that converted TE Devin Funchess should fill now that he has made the move outside. The offensive line remains a work in progress, for a third consecutive season. On defense, there appears to me more pop in the lineup, more athleticism in the secondary, and occasional flashes of the nasty edge Michigan built into its reputation.

      The fate of Hoke will be determined by how this team plays on the road, since both meetings with its rivals -- Michigan State and Ohio State -- will be away from Ann Arbor. Even without Braxton Miller, who injured his shoulder Monday, the Buckeyes could still be bullies in the division.

      A road test at Notre Dame in the second week of the season will be about as critical an early September game as Michigan has played in some time -- critical for a team building confidence, and for a coach looking over his shoulder.

      "The identity part of it is a toughness I think this program has had for many years. That's part of what I'm looking for," Hoke said.

      Wolverines at a glance

      HEAD COACH: Brady Hoke, fourth year at Michigan, 26-13 record at Michigan, 73-63 in 13 seasons overall as a head coach

      DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):

      --TE/WR Devin Funchess (No. 1 tight end, 35th overall) --After winning the honor as the Big Ten's top tight end last season, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior moves to wide receiver this season for the Wolverines. If he continues to improve, the pros should be salivating over this big, athletic target in a season or two. Funchess caught 49 passes for 748 yards and six touchdowns last year as a sophomore. The Wolverines hope he can replace graduated top receiver Jeremy Gallon.

      DT Frank Clark (No. 5 defensive end, 115th overall) -- This compact, powerful, athletic player has forced Michigan to be exceedingly patient as it has waited for him to approach his considerable promise. His streaks of dominance will catch the eyes of the pros, and if Clark is consistent and demands the double-teams he should, that will improve the Wolverines' chances, and his future prospects.

      QB Devin Gardner (No. 7 quarterback, 187th overall) --Whether he is looked at as a quarterback on the next level, or gets moved to another position, Gardner has the size and skill set to get an NFL audition. A spectacular senior season will enhance his future options, and his future earnings.

      MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Devin Gardner -- The athleticism Gardner possesses, combined with the experience he brings to the field, should all be showcased in the most favorable manner by the offense of new coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Gardner needs to be explosive one play, and efficient the next. His command of the revised playbook will help Michigan transition into Nussmeier's offense, and return to contender status in the Big Ten.

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    Spartans' quest: Prove '13 was no fluke
    By The Sports Xchange

    Michigan State has spent the last few months basking in the glow of a Big Ten championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl. Or, at least, that's what it has done publicly.

    • Behind closed doors, the Spartans insist the focus on 2014 began on the plane back from Pasadena.

      The Spartans are on a mission to prove they belong, that last season's success was simply the latest step in a progression toward national prominence. In fact, their coach is convinced if the College Football Playoff existed last season, Michigan State would have been the champions.

      "I thought we would have been national champions to be perfectly honest with you," Mark Dantonio said. "I think we would have had a shot to do that because I think we were playing, coming out of the end of the season -- that stretch coming out of the season -- we were playing great football and we were believing in ourselves. Were we there at the beginning of the season? No. But coming out we were playing our best football in November and then into the championship game and then the Rose Bowl."

      There is little doubting how well Michigan State was playing at the time, and victories over Ohio State and Stanford certainly helped prove that.

      But there is still doubt about Michigan State heading into 2014. It could be as much about how long it takes to change perception in college football as it is about the fact the Spartans are replacing six starters on the No. 2 defense in the nation.

      Either way, it's the Buckeyes who are the favorite in the eyes of most observers and the Spartans intend to use it to their advantage.

      "It's more than a little bit of a chip (on our shoulder)," senior safety Kurtis Drummond said. "But it's on us to put in our work and handle our business. Any added fuel is good, but we do a great job of being self-motivated."

      Added junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, "We may have a little more respect but we're still underdogs. I think someone mentioned to me Ohio State is favored to win the Big Ten championship. I consider that an underdog. We can use that to our advantage and focus on being the best no matter what."

      Dantonio hasn't focused much on the fact his team is being picked against. After all, they enter the season as a top-10 team nationally. Instead, he has pushed his team to "handle success" and not feel at all entitled after last season.

      He hopes they simply continue a trend that has seen the Spartans win 11 or more games in three of the last four seasons.

      "We've gotten to the point where we've done some special things," he said. "We're a little bit more the hunted. It's a good place to be but also a precarious place, as well. We've had a knack for winning football games, but we've also taken a step back a couple of times. We have to continue to find those inches and gain even more ground, because respectability can fly right out the window on us, and I understand that."

      Spartans at a glance

      HEAD COACH: Mark Dantonio, eighth year at Michigan State, 64-29 at Michigan State, 82-46 overall

      DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):

      --DE Shilique Calhoun (No. 3 defensive end, 7th overall) -- The Big Ten's defensive lineman of the year in 2013, Calhoun enters his junior season as one of the top defensive linemen in the country. He recorded 7.5 sacks last season, his first as a starter, and also scored three touchdowns while being named a second-team All-American.

      --S Kurtis Drummond (No. 1 free safety, 29th overall) -- The fifth-year senior has often been overshadowed in a secondary that has produced plenty of standout players. But Drummond has started 39 games in his career and is the epitome of consistent for the Spartans. He had 91 tackles last season along with four interceptions and six pass breakups while earning first-team All-Big Ten honors.

      --QB Connor Cook -- He entered his sophomore season as the backup in 2013, but by the end of the year he had won MVP honors in both the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Cook went 12-1 as a starter for the Spartans and completed 223 of 380 passes for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns against just six interceptions.

      MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: LB Taiwan Jones -- Entering his senior season, the Spartans are asking Jones to not only make the move from outside linebacker to the middle, but also fill the shoes of Max Bullough. The key for Jones won't be handling the position physically. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he will be just fine. His biggest challenge will be running the defense the way Bullough did the last three seasons. The Michigan State coaches will do everything they can to make the transition a smooth one, but Jones' ability to make the move won't be an easy one. He can always move back outside and others will be pushing him in the middle, but the Spartans have made it clear they want Jones to win that battle.

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    Huskers optimstic despite ominous open for Nebraska
    By The Sports Xchange

    LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska lost three potential defensive starters for the entire 2014 season -- two because of knee injuries, and one because of suspension.

    • And that was before the Huskers even donned full pads for the first time in fall camp.

      Even with defensive back Charles Jackson and linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey sidelined with knee injuries, and safety LeRoy Alexander suspended for undisclosed reasons (he can continue to practice), Nebraska coach Bo Pelini remains optimistic about his defense, and his team's chances as a whole to win the school's first conference championship since 1999.

      "Our team morale is fine," Pelini said one week into fall camp, after news of Rose-Ivey, the second player to go down with a knee injury. "I feel sorry for those kids. But as far as going forward, we got a lot of good players, we got a lot of good competition. We'll be just fine."

      Jackson was pegged to fill Nebraska's vacant nickel back position, and Alexander was in line to start at safety. Pelini still has ample talent in the secondary but may need to turn to a couple of true freshmen, Josh Kalu and Kieron Williams, along with juco transfer Byerson Cockrell, now the likely starter at nickel.

      The unfortunate irony about the injuries is that they've come after Pelini and his staff pinpointed changes in practice style and habits in an effort to keep players fresh for the long haul of the season.

      None of Nebraska's first six practices lasted longer than two hours, with one as short as 75 minutes. Players noticed the crisper, more efficient practices, and offered favorable reviews after only a couple of days.

      "We've tried to turn over every stone in the offseason, look at everything we can do to make ourselves a better football team," Pelini said before practices began. "We're going to institute some changes, some things, different things about how we practice, when we practice. It's a long season. Do everything we can to make sure that we give our players the best opportunity to have success on the field."

      Nebraska has a bevy of talent and experience returning on defense, a trouble spot the past two seasons. If the defense lives to expectations, and Nebraska can keep prized running back Ameer Abdullah healthy while also limiting turnovers -- another recent bugaboo -- the Huskers feel they break their string of four-loss seasons and push to the next level in Pelini's seventh season.

      "We have some returning -- key returners coming back," Pelini said. "I think we have depth in areas that is really going to help us be a good football team, and also we saw a lot of young guys last year kind of come of age as the season went on, and I'm looking forward to seeing those young men continue to develop into the type of players we feel can win championships at our school."

      Huskers at a glance

      HEAD COACH: Bo Pelini, seventh year at Nebraska, 58-24 record at Nebraska and as a head coach

      DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):

      --RB Ameer Abdullah (No. 2 running back, 62nd overall) -- A first team All-Big Ten selection last season, Abdullah bypassed early entry to the NFL Draft to return for his senior season. The youngest of nine children, he emphasized the importance of following in his siblings footsteps and completing his college degree. The powerful and hard-nosed Abdullah, who has a chance to move to No. 2 on Nebraska's all-time rushing charts, will be among the first Huskers chosen in April.

      --DE Randy Gregory (No. 2 defensive end, 4th overall) -- Last year's Big Ten sacks leader as a sophomore, Gregory is Nebraska's most logical early-entry NFL Draft candidate this season, and figures to be a first-round pick. There was talk, in fact, of Gregory leaving after last season, but he and coaches agreed he has room to grow -- mentally and physically. The 6-foot-6 Gregory had problems keeping on weight last season, but worked in the offseason to pack on some pounds and entered fall camp weighing 248.

      --S Corey Cooper (No. 10 strong safety, 279th overall) -- The returning starting safety sat out spring practices with an injury but is back fully healthy after leading the team with 91 tackles last season. He's strong in both run support and coverage and could be a late-round selection with a senior strong season.

      MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: RB Ameer Abdullah -- Without Abdullah, expectations for Nebraska's offense -- and the team as a whole -- wouldn't be nearly what that are at the present time. Nebraska learned the hard way each of the last two seasons what it's like when your top offensive player is sidelined by injury -- Rex Burkhead in 2012, and Taylor Martinez in 2013 -- and can't afford the same with Abdullah, its standout senior running back who will be vying for some major national awards.

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    Franklin opens Penn State run chasing cohesion
    By The Sports Xchange

    STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- In James Franklin's experience, sometimes the wrong play call isn't always a bad thing if every guy on the defense is carrying out that assignment.

    • "A lot of times, I've seen that over and over, as coaches, as you're watching something, and they didn't get the check and the coaches go, 'No, no, no … yes, yes, yes,' because the players ended up executing a different call but they executed it together and that's the important thing," Franklin said.

      "It's not always about making the perfect call. It's about getting everybody on the same page and pulling the rope in the same direction."

      Franklin, in his first season in State College after three successful campaigns at Vanderbilt, doesn't mind if his young Penn State team makes mistakes -- he just wants it to make them, and do everything else, together.

      Part of that is getting an offensive line with four new starters -- two of them who were defensive tackles last season -- to jell quickly and stay healthy. Part of that is fostering better communication in the secondary, an area where the Nittany Lions have talented but were picked apart last season by the Big Ten's better passing attacks. And part of that is putting the focal point of his offense, quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year in 2013, in the best spots to succeed.

      All of it is done with a team-first approach.

      "Where our focus really is, is all the pieces of the puzzle around Hack," Franklin said.

      Penn State will enter 2014 with just 72 scholarship players, three fewer than it is permitted this season under the terms of the sanctions the NCAA handed down in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal two years ago. That's 13 fewer scholarship players than every other team it will face has, and although a strong walk-on program has helped fill in some gaps, it could be a rocky season for the Nittany Lions, who went 15-9 in the first two seasons of sanctions under Bill O'Brien.

      Still, there is talent; senior running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton are as experienced as any in the conference, and linebacker Mike Hull, defensive backs Jordan Lucas and Adrian Amos and defensive linemen Deion Barnes, C.J. Olaniyan and Anthony Zettel all have all-conference potential. Hackenberg has young wideouts but a deep and talented tight end corps led by 6-foot-6 junior Jesse James.

      Another big emphasis for Franklin this summer has been building chemistry and getting to know his new players as much as possible. For a team that has just a dozen seniors, who saw several of their classmates transfer to other programs over the years, building trust is just as important as getting a handle on the new playbook.

      "For these redshirt seniors, I'm the fourth head coach they had -- they have been through a lot," Franklin said. "Early on, there was some challenges there but since then, they have been great and I'm so appreciative and thankful to them that they allowed us to enter their family, because this is their family."

      SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Penn State opens its season Aug. 30 in Dublin, Ireland, with an intriguing game against George O'Leary and Central Florida, which beat the Nittany Lions last season in Beaver Stadium. Manageable home games against Akron (Sept. 6) and Massachusetts (Sept. 20) sandwich a visit to Rutgers for Penn State's first game against its old Eastern rival as a member of the Big Ten conference. The Nittany Lions host Northwestern on Sept. 27 in a game that should show how ready Penn State is for an October that includes games against Michigan and Ohio State and a five-game November.

      KEYS TO SUCCESS: Penn State will need consistent production -- and ball security -- from its three-headed tailback of Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch, who will run behind an inexperienced offensive line. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg allows Penn State to attack any part of the field and should continue to develop. The defense will need a consistent push and dynamic pass-rushing from a defensive line that is an intriguing blend of talented veterans and athletic young players, and a more athletic secondary could thrive in coordinator Bob Shoop's more aggressive schemes.

      AREAS OF CONCERN: Left tackle Donovan Smith is the only returning starter on the offensive line, which needed to transport defensive tackles Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey to offensive guard during the offseason to rebuild depth. Smith is also the squad's only upperclassman offensive tackle. Three true freshmen and a redshirt freshman are likely to be among the top six options at wide receiver for Penn State, and it could take them some time to get on the same page with Hackenberg. Penn State will have a first-year starter at punter, either walk-on Chris Gulla or freshman walk-on Daniel Pasquariello.

      QUOTE TO NOTE: "Numbers are a powerful thing. It's a powerful tool being able to have 175 guys show up for a tryout is important because it allows us to be really selective and we all know there's walk-ons all over the country that have had huge impacts at universities and have gone on to play in the NFL." -- Penn State head coach James Franklin, on how walk-ons will help the Nittany Lions' sanction-riddled depth this season.

      DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):

      --Christian Hackenberg -- The 6-foot-4 quarterback has a cannon arm, good mobility and a good feel for how to play the game. Many believe the draft ceiling for Hackenberg, who has three seasons of eligibility remaining but might only be around for two of them, is no lower than the overall No. 1 selection.

      --Jesse James -- The junior tight end put up some freakish numbers in the weight room -- a 400-pound bench press and 12 deadlifts at 495 pounds -- during the offseason and will enter the season carrying nearly 270 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame. James runs like a wide receiver, has improved his blocking and will be a tasty target for the Nittany Lions this season and for an NFL squad in the near future.

      --Adrian Amos (No. 5 free safety, 144th overall) -- The senior defensive back has played both safety and cornerback during a strong career and his new coaching staff -- particularly defensive coordinator/safeties coach Bob Shoop -- believes he can be most effective at safety. A big hitter with solid cover skills, Amos will also line up at nickel, corner or Penn State's linebacker/safety hybrid spot, the "Star." Where he'll play at the next level is anyone's guess but his versatility will make it easy for pro teams to find room for him.

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    Michigan WR York booted from team
    By The Sports Xchange

    Michigan dismissed suspended wide receiver Csont'e York from the football team on Monday night.

    • York, a sophomore, is facing two counts of assault and battery and one count of aggravated assault after an incident outside a bar in Ann Arbor, Mich., on July 18. Coach Brady Hoke had suspended York in early August for failing to meet team standards.

      In surveillance video released by police, a man whom police identified as York punched another man outsdie Scorekeepers. The victim was reported to have sustained multiple jaw fractures.

      "Representing the University of Michigan is a privilege and, while second chances are certainly deserved, sometimes it's better for everyone if that happens somewhere else," Hoke said in a statement. "Overall, I have been proud of how responsible our team has been this offseason and how hard they've worked to prepare for the season."

      York, of Harper Woods, Mich., had no receptions during his freshman season in 2013.

      The Wolverines open the 2014 season at home against Appalachian State on Aug. 30.

  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014
    Maryland to provide lifetime degree guarantee
    By The Sports Xchange

    Football and basketball players and all student-athletes at Maryland will be offered a lifetime degree guarantee, the university announced Tuesday.

    • The program, called "The Maryland Way Guarantee," starts in November and is one of the first of its kind for all athletes and not just those in revenue-producing sports. Other schools in power conferences are expected to follow suit.

      "Our vision is to be the best intercollegiate athletic program while producing graduates who are prepared to serve as leaders in the local, state and global communities," athletic director Kevin Anderson said in a statement. "We are confident 'The Maryland Way Guarantee' will further demonstrate our commitment to our student-athletes' pursuit of a college degree."

      According to the school, the program works like this:

      "Beginning in November of 2014-15, 'The Maryland Way Guarantee' will provide all incoming student-athletes with a multiyear scholarship guarantee. Pursuant to this program, should a student-athlete exhaust his or her eligibility prior to graduating, Maryland will guarantee his or her aid will continue through graduation. If a student-athlete is injured and unable to compete, we will guarantee his or her aid will continue through graduation.

      "Additionally, Maryland will provide tuition, books and fees for any student-athlete who leaves the institution in good academic standing and returns to complete his or her degree.

      "Again, student-athletes will be permitted, at no cost to them, to return to the university and obtain their degree at any point in their life. Previously, and as is the case all across the country in every sport, Maryland student-athletes were offered one-year scholarships, which were subject to renewal every year."

      Current NCAA regulations allow schools to renew, rescind or reduce scholarships on an annual basis.

  • Monday, August 18, 2014
    Hawaii AD says football program on shaky ground
    By The Sports Xchange

    The University of Hawaii football program has hit hard times, and the school's athletic director dropped a bombshell when he suggested Hawaii might drop football at some point.

    • "There's a very real possibility of football going away," Hawaii athletics director Ben Jay said at a Board of Regents meeting on Monday, according to television station KITV in Honolulu.

      Jay and University president David Lassner are meeting with the university's Board of Regents to discuss the athletic department's financial situation, according to the report.

      Jay says the university's athletic department expects a $2.1 million deficit this year and has operated in a deficit in 11 of the past 13 years.

      Seven years ago, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors were 12-0 before playing Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

      But it has been downhill since.

      The Rainbow Warriors are 4-20 in two seasons under Norm Chow, including 1-11 last season.

  • Monday, August 18, 2014
    CFB roundup: Oklahoma's Mixon suspended for season
    By The Sports Xchange

    Oklahoma freshman running back Joe Mixon was suspended for the 2014 season following charges stemming from an altercation at a Norman restaurant last month.

    • Mixon, who was arraigned Monday and ordered not to contact the alleged victim by any available means, will be excluded from all team activities but is still enrolled in classes.

      He is accused of punching Amelia Rae Molitor in the face during an argument at Pickelman's Gourmet Cafe in Norman, Okla. Mixon, who pleaded not guilty, is charged with a misdemeanor count of acts resulting in gross injury. He was released without paying bail and ordered to appear in court Sept. 23.

      The presiding judge ordered police and authorities to prohibit the release of surveillance video that captured the incident, but did not divulge specific reasons for withholding the evidence from the public.

      OU President David Boren acted on a joint recommendation from head coach Bob Stoops and athletic director Joe Castiglione.

      ---Former Texas running back Joe Bergeron is staying in-state, enrolling at NCAA Division II Texas A&M-Commerce to avoid having to sit out a year after a transfer to another FBS school.

      Bergeron was dismissed from the Texas program by new Longhorns coach Charlie Strong during the summer for undisclosed rules violations.

      ---Travis Wilson won a preseason battle with Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson for the starting quarterback job at Utah.

      Wilson was No. 1 on the depth chart that came out Monday. The two quarterbacks entered Saturday's scrimmage in a wide-open competition for the job.

      ---Kentucky's quarterback competition was four-deep as mid-August approached with sophomore Patrick Towles viewed as the favorite over redshirt freshman Reese Phillips, junior Maxwell Smith and true freshman Drew Barker.

      Coach Mark Stoops announced he is going with Towles as the starter.

      Towles is a big pocket passer at 6-5, 238, but accuracy can be an issue. He redshirted last season under a new coaching staff after playing five games in 2012 as a true freshman.

  • Monday, August 18, 2014
    OU RB Mixon suspended for 2014
    By The Sports Xchange

    Oklahoma freshman running back Joe Mixon was suspended for the 2014 season following charges stemming from an altercation at a Norman restaurant last month.

    • Mixon, who was arraigned Monday and ordered not to contact the alleged victim by any available means, will be excluded from all team activities but is still enrolled in classes.

      He is accused of punching Amelia Rae Molitor in the face during an argument at Pickelman's Gourmet Cafe in Norman, Okla. Mixon, who pleaded not guilty, is charged with a misdemeanor count of acts resulting in gross injury.

      The presiding judge ordered police and authorities to prohibit the release of surveillance video that captured the incident, but did not divulge specific reasons for withholding the evidence from the public.

      OU President David Boren acted on a joint recommendation from head coach Bob Stoops and athletic director Joe Castiglione, who issued a statement that read: "As the university has demonstrated in the past, we are committed to winning the right way. As an example to others, OU sets the highest possible standards for its student athletes, coaches and staff."

      Mixon was released without paying bail and ordered to appear in court September 23.

      With Mixon, a five-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American, out of the mix, redshirt sophomore Alex Ross could be in line for a bigger role with competition from Keith Ford.

      The former high school All-American saw limited opportunities in 2013, but was the Oklahoma Class 6A 200-meter state champion as a senior. He ran a 4.42 at his timing day and bulked up to 220 pounds in the offseason.

  • Monday, August 18, 2014
    Former Texas RB finds new home
    By The Sports Xchange

    Former Texas running back Joe Bergeron is staying in-state, enrolling at NCAA Division II Texas A&M-Commerce to avoid having to sit out a year after a transfer to another FBS school.

    • Bergeron was dismissed from the Texas program by new Longhorns coach Charlie Strong during the summer for undisclosed rules violations.

      Bergeron began practicing last weei with Texas A&M-Commerce, which is close to his family in Mesquite, near Dallas.

      In three seasons at Texas, Bergeron rushed for 1,392 yards and 25 touchdowns.

  • Monday, August 18, 2014
    Wilson claims Utah's QB job
    By The Sports Xchange

    Travis Wilson won a preseason battle with Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson for the starting quarterback job at Utah.

    • Wilson was No. 1 on the depth chart that came out Monday.

      The two quarterbacks entered Saturday's scrimmage in a wide-open competition for the job. Wilson completed 11 of 12 passes for 145 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Thompson, a graduate transfer who spent three years at Oklahoma, was 8 of 18 for 192 yards and two touchdowns and added 89 yards and two rushing touchdowns on nine carries.

      Wilson was Utah's starter for 16 games in a row until he suffered an intracranial artery injury resulting from a concussion last November. He received medical clearance this summer to resume playing.

      In nine games last season before the injury, Wilson passes for 1,827 yards and 16 touchdowns but was intercepted 16 times. He added 386 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

      The Utes open the season on Aug. 28 against Idaho State.

  • Monday, August 18, 2014
    Kentucky names soph QB Towles starter
    By The Sports Xchange

    Kentucky's quarterback competition was four-deep as mid-August approached with sophomore Patrick Towles viewed as the favorite over redshirt freshman Reese Phillips, junior Maxwell Smith and true freshman Drew Barker.

    • Coach Mark Stoops announced Monday he's going with Towles as the starter.

      "After thorough evaluation and a hard fought competition, we are naming Patrick Towles as our starting quarterback," Stoops said via Twitter, adding "This competition has brought out the best in our quarterbacks and I'm confident in Patrick moving our team forward."

      Towles is a big pocket passer at 6-5, 238, but accuracy can be an issue. He redshirted last season under a new coaching staff after playing five games in 2012 as a true freshman.

      Kentucky begins the 2014 season Aug. 30 against Tennessee-Martin.

  • Monday, August 18, 2014
    The Sports Xchange: SEC breakout players
    By The Sports Xchange

    Nick Marshall and Dak Prescott were not household names in August 2013. Marshall, who guided Auburn to the national championship last season, and Prescott, a big and mobile quarterback at Mississippi State, had breakout seasons and are legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in 2014.

    • With eight SEC teams in the 2014 preseason poll, plenty of attention will be paid the conference.

      Attention and hyperbole are nothing new to South Carolina junior wide receiver Shaq Roland.

      He was "Mr. Football" in South Carolina as a high school senior playing less than 30 minutes from Williams-Brice Stadium. He caught five passes as a freshman and struggled early last year before serving a three-game suspension in the middle of the season.

      When he returned, Roland seemed to have a renewed focus. He had 16 of his 25 catches in the final five games of the season that was capped off by a six-reception, 116-yard day in the Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin. He seems have moved to the next level in preseason camp and with a throw-first mentality in the Gamecocks' offense, Roland could be the biggest benefactor on the team.

      With a narrowed focus on the SEC, The Sports Xchange pegged breakout players like Roland.

      DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss: So much was expected of Nkemdiche, the nation's consensus top-ranked prospect in the 2013 recruiting cycle, as a freshman. Injuries and some shuffling -- Nkemdiche alternated between end and tackle -- slowed Nkemdiche down, but he finished the year with 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks. Now weighing 288 pounds, the 6-5 Nkemdiche has found a permanent home at tackle and has been a disruptive force in fall camp, which has halted the offense's progress. "Our gap schemes, we can't back block because of (Nkemdiche)," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "That causes us to have to change some things. He's a handful."

      LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia: Floyd had an excellent true freshman season for the Bulldogs in 2013, finishing with 55 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore should continue to thrive as an edge pass rusher at outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's 3-4 scheme. Pruitt gives his linebackers the freedom to make plays and Floyd and junior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins form a formidable duo for opposing offensive lines to handle.

      RB Braylon Heard, Kentucky: The Nebraska transfer will be part of the running back mix with sophomore Jojo Kemp and junior Josh Clemons. The junior rushed for 452 yards over his two seasons with the Cornhuskers and has impressed coaches since arriving on campus. He had a strong spring to put himself in position to be Kentucky's main ball-carrier this season. The 5-foot-11, 189-pounder could provide the gamebreaking element lacking in recent seasons.

      CB Tre'Davious White, LSU -- The Tigers struggled in the secondary early last season, but White's emergence at mid-season helped provide improved play from the group down the stretch. His continued improvement during the offseason and preseason has LSU gushing about his impact.

      DT Josh Augusta, Missouri: As a freshman, "Big Josh" showed up to Missouri's preseason camp on the first day, after the NCAA Clearinghouse finally deemed him eligible in early August. Even while his conditioning needed to improve, Augusta got on the field as a freshman and had two sacks, three tackles-for-loss and a blocked kick. Now, Augusta has a year under his belt and is down to 335 pounds, he said. He also reported a 4.9-second 40-yard dash. He had a dominant first scrimmage, including a sack, and Augusta could be poised for a breakout year.

      DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State: Jones flew under the radar for much of his recruitment but ended up as a five-star and the No. 2 rated prospect nationally. He started three games as a true freshman and tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss last season. Coach Dan Mullen smiles talking about his potential, because Jones "can do things he should be able to at his size." The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder is athletic enough to line up outside at defensive end on some snaps, and driven to make a major impact.

      DB Robenson Therezie, Auburn: Playing the "star hybrid" position in Auburn's 4-2-5 scheme, Therezie led Auburn in interceptions with four last season. After receiving honorable mention in 2013, he will compete for higher SEC honors in 2014.

      WR Demarcus Robinson, Florida: The talent is there, but Robinson was unable to display it as a freshman last season due to a myriad of disciplinary problems. Robinson appeared in just seven games, missing three games due to a pair of disciplinary suspensions. He wound up with 5 catches for 23 yards, with his longest catch a 10-yard reception against Kentucky. But there is hope that the speedy 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore will flourish in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's scheme. Robinson displayed his 4.39-second, 40-yard dash speed in UF's spring game, catching a 31-yard TD pass. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel calls Robinson "a home run threat on every play."

      DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama: Allen (6-3, 272) had an impressive showing in Alabama's spring game (blocked kick, two sacks) after playing in all 13 games for the Tide as a freshman in 2013. His pass-rushing skills could make a big difference for the defense this time around.

      DT Darius Philon, Arkansas: A second-team Freshman All-American last year, according to Athlon, Philon displayed the ability to establish a new line of scrimmage. He notched 46 tackles despite not winning a starting job until mid-October, and recorded nine tackles for loss. Philon's first collegiate start was at No. 1 Alabama and he registered eight tackles, showing that he wouldn't be intimidated by a big-time atmosphere. Team him with DE Trey Flowers and Arkansas could have one of the SEC's best D-lines.

  • Monday, August 18, 2014
    The Sports Xchange: SEC newcomers to watch
    By The Sports Xchange

    In the Southeastern Conference, the best team is quite often the deepest team, the one suited to withstand the gauntlet that is conference play.

    • Depth was Alabama's defining characteristic during championship seasons, coach Nick Saban said, and with top recruits rolling in by multiple of five every February, the Crimson Tide will be loaded once more.

      There are several other schools banking on newcomers to push them over the top.

      Missouri is testing out running back Marcus Murphy as a slot receiver this August, and because of that, more of the carries are going to true freshman Trevon Walters. In the first scrimmage, he had 14 carries for 98 yards, and it seems like a safe bet that he'll play this fall. While he'll still have to share carries with Russell Hansbrough, Murphy and Morgan Steward, Walters could make a big impact with fresh legs on the ground.

      The Sports Xchange asked its college football correspondents to identify others like Walters, newcomers who could be positioned to crash into the conference with a tangible impact.

      QB Jake Coker, Alabama: The Florida State transfer is considered the favorite to take over for the departed AJ McCarron. Coker was 18-of-36 passing for the Seminoles in backing up Heisman winner Jameis Winston last year before injuring his knee. He is eligible immediately after graduating from FSU in the spring.

      TE Jake McGee, Florida: A graduate student transfer from Virginia, McGee could fill the black-hole void that UF's tight ends produced for the offense following the 2012 early departure of Jordan Reed to the NFL draft. Florida tight ends combined for just 4 catches for 42 yards and no touchdowns in 2013. McGee was a prime target at Virginia last season, finishing 2013 with 43 catches for 395 yards and 2 TDs. He figures to get plenty of targets in new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's scheme.

      WR D'haquille (Duke) Williams, Auburn: The junior college transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College will give the Tigers another receiving threat to take some of the pressure off Sammie Coats. Williams (6-2, 216) caught 51 passes with nine of them for touchdowns in 2013.

      DE Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: The 6-foot-5, 235-pound true freshman has impressed coaches with his combination of intelligence and athletic ability. In new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's 3-4 scheme, Carter could see time at both outside linebacker and defensive end. He's another talented, speedy edge rusher for Georgia who has the ability to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

      S A.J. Stamps, Kentucky: The junior-college transfer will be asked to make an immediate impact in the back end. His team at East Mississippi Community College won the 2013 JC national championship and he had a strong spring after enrolling at Kentucky in January. Stamps is pegged to the starting free safety and has solid coverage skills after playing at corner for most of his two JC campaigns. "He's a guy that helps fill a big void right there," said Stoops, "because I just love the way he's playing."

      WR Malachi Dupre, LSU: Because it would have been too easy to ID No. 1 national recruit Leonard Fournette, we introduce Dupre. He was one of the top-rated receivers coming out of high school last season. If it weren't for Fournette being in the same class, Dupre would be the newcomer attracting the most attention. It shouldn't take long for him to attract the attention of opposing defenses.

      CB Tee Shepard, Ole Miss: Shepard, a junior college transfer, was a signing day surprise for Ole Miss as he flipped his commitment from Mississippi State. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, Shepard can give receivers problems with his length and physicality. The former Notre Dame signee has made a quick impression, getting reps with the first team throughout fall camp. "I expect Tee to come in and be hopefully a lockdown corner that we've been missing," Freeze said. "He's got the size, the strength and the speed. He's physical."

      TE Darrion Hutcherson, Mississippi State: Although the Bulldogs have two seniors back at tight end, Hutcherson was signed out of junior college in February. At 6-foot-7, 250-pounds, Hutcherson creates a big target for Dak Prescott to throw to. He will create a lot of mismatches in the passing game.

      QB Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: His bid to become the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Aggies since World War II went by the wayside when the Aggies tapped Kenny Hill the No. 1 quarterback for the Sept. 28 opener at South Carolina. Allen figures to get his shot running the show for Texas A&M. Allen passed for more than 8,000 yards and 86 touchdowns in high school. He’s not the runner that Johnny Manziel was, but that could just take the pressure off of him to be Manziel-like.

      OT Frank Ragnow, Arkansas: Head coach Bret Bielema dug into his Big Ten roots, lifting Ragnow out of Chanhassen, Minn. At 6-6, 292 pounds, Ragnow has the frame of a tackle and can probably add another 20 or 30 pounds without losing his edge. While the line is one of this team's strengths, Ragnow has made an impression on Bielema in the preseason and should be a mainstay of future Razorback O-lines for years to come.

  • Sunday, August 17, 2014
    QB Hill named starter at Texas A&M
    By The Sports Xchange

    Texas A&M named sophomore Kenny Hill as its starting quarterback.

    • The Aggies open the season Aug. 28 at South Carolina.

      Hill beat out freshman Kyle Allen as the successor to former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who was a first round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns this year.

      Hill played four games as a backup last season, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards with a touchdown. He will make his first start for Texas A&M.

      "I thought both guys really competed in a great way," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We put a lot more emphasis on situational football in this camp and put guys in some situations to see how they'd perform and see what their learning curve is and not just playing 7-on-7. There's not really one deciding factor; I think it's a body of work and a feel that you have through practice and with your team."

      His father, Ken Hill Sr., is a former major league pitcher who played 14 seasons and was an All-Star in 1994.

      Hill, 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, gives the Aggies a dual-threat quarterback with lots of experience in the spread offense. He ran a similar offense at Southlake Carroll High School in Texas.

      "He's been here for a year, he's learned under Johnny Manziel so he understands how this offense operates," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "He's more of an athletic guy. He has a pretty quick release, too."

      Hill was suspended this spring after a public intoxication arrest but overcame it, Spavital said.

  • Sunday, August 17, 2014
    Seminoles top AP preseason poll
    By The Sports Xchange

    Defending national champion Florida State is on top of the Associated Press preseason poll, which was released Sunday.

    • The Seminoles, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, start the season No. 1 for the sixth time overall and first since 1999 when they were first all season long.

      Florida State received 57 of 60 first-place votes. No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Oklahoma each got one first-place vote.

      Ohio State rounded out the top five.

      Auburn, which lost the national title game to Florida State, starts off the season at No. 6.

      A selection committee will choose four teams at the end of the regular season to play the first College Football Playoff to determine the national champion.