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10 Most NFL-Ready Players Who Aren't Eligible for 2017 Draft

The trend of underclassmen declaring for the 2017 NFL draft will continue, but college football gets to keep its elite sophomores for two more years.

Several talents are physically prepared—though not quite on Leonard Fournette's level from 2015—and productive enough that they'd potentially be a high-round selection after next season.

However, the players will stick around through the next two campaigns, collecting accolades and All-American honors while boosting their stocks for 2018.

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2017 NFL Draft: Early Sleepers to Watch This College Football Season

Early projections for the 2017 NFL draft started almost immediately following the completion of the 2016 version, and a solid list of first-round favorites already exists. 

However, many of the early favorite prospects inevitably will falter during the 2016 college football season, while others will rise up to take their spot. 

Entering the season, it's not only helpful to know who the top prospects are but also which prospects are candidates to elevate their statuses with strong performances.

The following slideshow features seven prospects who aren't quite consensus first- or second-round prospects just yet but have the potential to enter that conversation with a strong 2016 campaign.

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Highlights and Analysis from The Opening Seattle Regional

RENTON, Wash. — The Virginia Mason Athletic Center (VMAC), the Seattle Seahawks' headquarters and training facility, served as the final stop of The Opening's regional competitions for the 2016 cycle Saturday. Three athletes punched their tickets to The Opening finals by late Saturday afternoon.

Two 5-star athletes were impressive and earned The Opening invites, as offensive tackle Foster Sarell and defensive back DeAngelo Gibbs showed why they are considered elite athletes in the 2017 class. Hunter Bryant, a 4-star tight end, was the third invite and also became the first tight end to win the camp MVP honor for wide receivers and tight ends this year:

The VMAC, which sits on the Lake Washington shores, was more than an aesthetic view Saturday. It provided multiple storylines and gave a few athletes the opportunity to show their skills. Here are some of the highlights from Saturday's action.

 

OT Sarell shines, erases last year's memory

One of the biggest names of the Seattle regional roster was one of the area standouts and a top-five national player. And from start to finish, Foster Sarell didn't disappoint.

Sarell, who traveled roughly 30 miles from his home in Graham, Washington, gave an outstanding effort that not only earned him camp MVP honors but also a trip to The Opening. Sarell is the nation's No. 5 overall player and No. 2 offensive tackle in the 2017 class.

His performance also helped him erase last year's memories, as injuries prevented him from an opportunity to attend The Opening as one of the handful of underclassmen who qualified.

"Last year, I was at the Eugene [Oregon regional], and I hurt my knee before I could get to do one-on-ones," Sarell said. "That really hurt, because you grow up and watch these guys on TV and watch the videos. It was like a dream for me.

"Last year, I felt like I could have made it, but I was injured. I've been grinding for this moment. To finally make it is a blessing."

Sarell, at 6'6 ½" and 310 pounds, dominated in one-on-one competition and quickly established himself as the player to watch among offensive linemen. He currently has 16 reported offers, according to Scout.com.

 

Versatile DB Gibbs earns second trip to Oregon

For Loganville, Georgia, defensive back DeAngelo Gibbs, earning a second consecutive trip to The Opening was a priority. In order for that to happen, he knew he had to compete in a regional event.

Gibbs had scheduling conflicts and couldn't make either the Atlanta or Charlotte, North Carolina, events, and with Seattle as the final regional, it was either make the trip or be left out of the mix. Gibbs not only made the flight to the Pacific Northwest, but he also showed why he is a 5-star player.

Gibbs finished the camp with both an MVP award and an invite to The Opening. He was a shutdown defender and someone who showed himself early as the player to beat in the secondary.

And now, Gibbs—who can play cornerback, safety or wide receiver at the next level—said he's ready to show that last year's invite wasn't a fluke.

"This will be my second time at The Opening, so it's Round 2 for me," he said. "I know I just have to go hard, compete and ball out. I'll never get this chance again; it'll be cool for me."

Gibbs, who claims 51 offers, said he didn't mind making the trip to Seattle and was pumped about competing against some of the best receivers in the Pacific Northwest. His focus now is on being prepared in July, as he will make a return trip to the region to compete against some of the best athletes in high school football.

"You've got to be ready, or you'll get exposed," Gibbs said. "It's a fun experience. You just have to go prepared."

 

Washington RB commit celebrates birthday in style

While celebrating a birthday Saturday, Sumner, Washington, 3-star running back Connor Wedington didn't ask for much. The Washington commit, however, made sure he didn't leave the Seahawks training facility without earning his own birthday gifts.

Wedington's 17th birthday included a ratings MVP award, the title of "Fastest Man" and a ton of highlights in drills and one-on-one battles. His ratings score of 123.27 was fueled by a 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds, a 20-yard shuttle time of 4.04 seconds, a vertical jump of 37.2 inches and a power ball toss of 38.5 feet.

He then followed those performances by winning the "Fastest Man" race, which also included Albuquerque, New Mexico, wide receiver David Cormier and Beaverton, Oregon, running back Anthony Albright. Wedington won the 40-yard dash contest in 4.41 seconds.

"I've been training for this for a few weeks," Wedington said. "I was ready. I wanted to show out."

Wedington committed to Washington in February, choosing the Huskies over offers from Washington State and Idaho. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior.

 

Eight is enough for Wazzu QB commit Neville

Washington State quarterback commit Connor Neville has seen his share of Elite 11 competitions. For those counting, Saturday was the Wilsonville, Oregon, product's eighth camp in three years.

Saturday also happened to be the first time Neville won camp MVP honors—a milestone he didn't take for granted.

"I did my first camp as a freshman," Neville said. "I did two [camps] my freshman year, three my sophomore year and three this year. After eight Elite 11 camps, it feels good to finally be the MVP. All the hard work really has paid off."

Neville had a solid day, connecting on passes long and short and showing consistency with each drill. However, no quarterbacks were selected to the Elite 11 finals on Saturday, and Neville will wait to see if he'll receive one of two invitations remaining for the finals, which take next week in Los Angeles.

"I'm not sure if they will invite me or not," Neville said. "I have been to three [this year] and thought I did well in those, but I don't make the decision. They have more experience and know what they are doing. It would've felt nice earning it [Saturday], but I'll just see if I will get invited or not Monday.

 

Jussila focuses on tutelage instead of jersey

Offensive lineman Mason Jussila said he had to do a double take when he saw the number assigned to him for The Opening Seattle.

That number: 666.

"I asked if this was really my number," said Jussila, referring to the "number of the beast" associated with the devil in Biblical terms.

Jussila, a versatile offensive lineman who attends Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Oregon, said he had pushed the thoughts of his jersey number to the side in an effort to focus on competing at the highest level. Although he wasn't invited to The Opening, Jussila said the overall experience and tutelage from The Opening coaches were worth second.

"I've learned how I stack up against guys around the U.S. and what I need to do to be able to play at a higher level," said Jussila, who has interests from a few small colleges and is looking for his first offer.

 

RB Indelicato has social media buzzing

Alex Indelicato was one of 11 players added to The Opening Seattle as a late entry. Once the running back arrived, he delivered with every drill.

Indelicato was fun to watch throughout Saturday, and he finished the camp as the running backs MVP. One of his biggest highlights came during the popular "Cat & Mouse" drill pitting running backs against linebackers.

Indelicato, as the first participant for the running backs in the drill, made a juke that triggered immediate response from onlookers. He then managed to make a similar move in a one-on-one battle later on.

According to MaxPreps, Indelicato had nearly 1,600 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior for Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Washington. He is expected to play his senior year at Bothell High School in Bothell, Washington.

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Each Top 25 Team Is Hoping for Between Now and Fall Camp

Summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21, but for college football teams, summer is as good as here. Spring practices have wrapped up across the nation, and so have spring semester classes. It’s a time for college coaches to take a breather (well, a small one) and for players to continue polishing their skills for the regular season through “voluntary” workouts that are really anything but voluntary.

It's a time when players tend to fly under the radar—unless, of course, they wind up on a police blotter, which is any coach’s worst fear. Regardless, teams can accomplish plenty during this period. Here’s a look at what each Top 25 team is hoping for between now and the beginning of fall camp in early August. The Top 25 ranking is determined by a composite of preseason polls compiled by Bleacher Report.

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Power Ranking College Football's 10 Best QB Depth Charts for 2016

It's not enough to just have one good quarterback in college football. In order to ensure sustained success in the current season and beyond, teams need multiple capable passers who can step in at a moment's notice.

With the possibility of an injury always looming, teams can't afford to be thin at this critical position. Unlike most other spots on the field where players are rotated in to maintain freshness, the starting quarterback usually plays the entire game, and if something happens to that starter, the lack of qualified replacements can lead to disaster.

Having quality depth at QB, however, can lead a team in the other direction. Remember the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes? They lost three-year starter Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury before the season, but because they had properly groomed redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, the transition was nearly seamless. And when Barrett was hurt in the regular-season finale, third-stringer Cardale Jones stepped in and led OSU to the national title as if he'd been starting all along.

Which schools are in the best condition in terms of depth at quarterback? Here's our list of the 10 best QB depth charts in college football, based on experience, performance and pedigree. Having a rock-solid No. 1 helps, but not if there's no one else behind him.

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How Will Briles Firing Impact Recruitment of 4-Star Baylor QB Commit Kellen Mond

Hours after Baylor University announced intentions to terminate the contract of head football coach Art Briles, quarterback Kellen Mond was attempting to assess a messy situation.

"[I] won't know or do anything until I talk to my parents more in depth about the situation," he told Bleacher Report.

Mond, a blue-chip prospect who verbally committed to Baylor last June, is the top-rated player in a 2017 Bears recruiting class teetering on the brink of collapse. Briles, who brought the program to national prominence during an eight-season tenure in Waco, Texas, was removed from his position in the aftermath of continued investigations surrounding widespread sexual abuse allegations against players. 

Before Briles arrived in Waco, Baylor hadn't finished any season with a winning record since 1995. During the past five years, he led his Bears to 50 victories and placed top 15 in the Associated Press poll on four occasions. 

"I definitely committed there because of Art Briles," Mond said.

The 6'2 ½", 201-pound prospect aimed to eventually take his place in a line of quarterbacks who've enjoyed immense success under Briles' direction. Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty were both named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, while Griffin also earned the Heisman Trophy.

Jarrett Stidham, a prized 2015 prospect, displayed star potential as a true freshman last fall before suffering a season-ending injury. Mond, a rising senior at IMG Academy in Florida, also has the makings of a premier collegiate playmaker.

Before his transfer to IMG Academy last winter, he dominated at Reagan High School in San Antonio. Mond collected 2,889 total yards in 2015, per USA Today, tallying 33 touchdowns in the process.

Even before things crumbled at Baylor, he explored alternative collegiate options. Auburn and Ohio State each welcomed Mond to campus this spring.

Those programs now lead his commitment projections in 247Sports' crystal ball, with the Tigers carrying 50 percent of experts' predictions and the Buckeyes following behind with 38 percent. Auburn lost a commitment from 4-star dual-threat quarterback Lowell Narcisse earlier in the cycle, while Ohio State has been open about desires to add a second passer to a class that includes longtime pledge Danny Clark.

Texas A&M, fresh off losing grips on 5-star quarterback Tate Martell, could also make a move. The Aggies lost two former 5-star quarterbacks to transfers after last season and present a depth chart that could tempt Mond.

In the aftermath of Thursday's Baylor news, he teased Aggies fans with this tweet:

Mond remains committed to Baylor at this stage but circumstances are fluid to say the least. His father, Kevin, explained the upcoming game plan to Chuck Miketinac of Fox News San Antonio:

Mond is set to compete at Elite 11 national finals in Los Angeles next week and it would be somewhat surprising if he doesn't announce his intentions before competition commences June 3. If he opts to depart Baylor's class, Mond would join 4-star tight end Kedrick James, who decommitted shortly after Briles' dismissal.

Hezekiah Jones, a 4-star Texas receiver, is another heavily targeted recruit who could soon move on to another opportunity. His offer sheet features Notre Dame, Alabama, Oregon and several other universities. 

You can be certain remaining members of the Bears staff are doing their diligence to keep Mond on board. It's also fair to expect several other coaches across America are also keeping his phone busy. 

With the vast majority of top-tier 2017 quarterback recruits firmly committed to schools, Mond has quickly become one of America's most important prospects to monitor moving forward.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Penalties Further Hurt Reputation, but Rebels Will Stay Competitive

When you saw the alert come across your smartphone as you headed out to enjoy Memorial Day weekend, you probably already knew what your reaction would be to Ole Miss' response to the NCAA's notice of allegations.

Ole Miss is dirty.

The Rebels are cheating.

There's no way head coach Hugh Freeze is running a clean program.

If that was, indeed, your instant reaction to the news that the Rebels have self-imposed scholarship restrictions in football, suspensions in recruiting to two assistant coaches and a general three-year probation, please proceed to the comment section and take your victory lap.

The reputation of Ole Miss is tarnished by Friday's release, and that reputation will be hard to shake.

How is that different than yesterday, though?

How is that different than last year?

It already was tarnished, and the only thing that can polish it up is time.

When former left tackle Laremy Tunsil went through the most embarrassing draft night in recent memory, any sports fan who either was still on the fence or hadn't heard the intricacies of the case against the program suddenly became an expert and figured Ole Miss' silence on that specific instance was deadly.

What aren't deadly, though, are the actual penalties Ole Miss self-imposed.

As Chase Parham of RebelGrove.com noted on Twitter, the Rebels will dock themselves 11 scholarships over a four-year period as a result of the findings that include football, women's basketball and track and field.

Jeffrey Wright of RebelGrove.com put together a handy spreadsheet of the allegations, response and whether Ole Miss agrees with the NCAA's findings. 

As that spreadsheet notes, of those Level I violations pertaining to football, the school agrees with all except one from the Houston Nutt era, which was related to ACT fraud under former assistants Chris Vaughn and David Saunders. 

So out of the eight serious football-related allegations, the school felt it took proper action with its self-imposed punishment on the vast majority of them. The only one that might be questionable is related to former coaches from a previous regime. In this day and age of NCAA punishment, the individuals get hit harder than programs.

If you don't believe me, ask former Southern Miss and Tennessee head basketball coach Donnie Tyndall, who got a 10-year show cause earlier this year, according to USA Today.

Or ask Saunders, who received and eight-year show-cause as a result of the scandal according to Daniel Paulling of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Rarely do NCAA cases pit school versus the NCAA. More times than not—this case included based on how many allegations Ole Miss agrees with—it's the school working with the NCAA to come to a mutually agreed upon resolution.

Ole Miss—and any program under investigation—isn't docking itself anything more or less than what it feels will stick in the eyes of the NCAA, and 11 scholarships over four years is nothing more than a minor speed bump for what has become a recruiting machine in Oxford.

Yes, the school did ask specifically for the Tunsil drama from draft night to be separate from this response and is investigating Tunsil's request for money from Ole Miss football employees to pay a $305 electric bill.

But as Wright's spreadsheet notes, Ole Miss either agrees or wants to change Level II to Level III violations for the six allegations related to Tunsil or his stepfather Lindsey Miller that included loaner cars, $2,253 worth of lodging, $800 from a booster and other impermissible benefits. Let's not forget Ole Miss already suspended and the NCAA already reinstated Tunsil for those.

So if you're predicting doom for the program based on what's to come, you think a $305 electric bill is going to bring down a program?

Really?

Now if there's more to it, Ole Miss should be hit hard based on principle. If it was funneling small expenses through employees of the football program, knowing that there are plenty of boosters—some of whom might have been the same ones mentioned in the initial notice of allegations—who will supply the same service without the liability to the program, then it should get hammered.

But there's no way that Ole Miss is that dumb.

Eleven scholarships over four years is manageable, likely as harsh as it will get and won't derail Ole Miss' program.

All it does is put a little more pressure on Freeze and his staff to make sure players they sign pan out and minimize the number of times they swing and miss.

If you think Ole Miss is dirty, that's fine.

Ole Miss itself admitted that Friday.

If you think this is going to send the program back to the cellar of the SEC West, you're mistaken.

All the self-imposed penalties do is limit the margin for error.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Baylor Had No Choice to Fire Art Briles, but Is It Enough to Spark Real Change?

Moments before the university announced the removal of one of the sport’s most successful football coaches in wake of a devastating sexual assault scandal, Art Briles deleted his Twitter account.

He didn’t say goodbye. One moment it was there, and the next it was not. The page that once housed all of the coach’s outer thoughts en route to this great program revival was replaced by a simple but somehow appropriate message: “@CoachArtBriles does not exist.”

For the foreseeable future, Briles will not exist.

The once-anointed offensive savant with the smooth, ear-comforting Texas drawl will vanish out of sight, and the wreckage left behind will be addressed and revisited for many years—perhaps even decades.

There will include an abundance of hours logged in court rooms, enormous settlements, NCAA involvement and, trumping any action or financial recourse, healing for the complainants whose voices were silenced.

The touchdowns and wins—even the shiny new stadium on the water, a product of Briles' incredible football acumen—will not suddenly disappear. They will remain a part of Baylor football, but they will each come with a cautionary tale of how it all came to be.

If the success of a program becomes bigger than the people and city it represents, this is what can happen.

If that doesn’t serve as a memorandum to those bearing witness to one of the most catastrophic and unprecedented moments in the history of amateur athletics, then what will?

Last fall, Baylor hired the law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP to conduct an investigation into the football program and the way certain procedures were handled—whether the school was doing its part to protect other members of the university.

Although the entirety of the investigation was not released, Baylor’s “Findings of Fact” produced some horrifying conclusions. It also showcased why one of the nation’s most coveted head coaches was let go without protest:

Baylor failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players. The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University. In certain instances, including reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, athletic and football personnel affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics. In those instances, football coaches or staff met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct. As result, no action was taken to support complainants, fairly and impartially evaluate the conduct under Title IX, address identified cultural concerns within the football program, or protect campus safety once aware of a potential pattern of sexual violence by multiple football players.

Technically, Briles hasn’t been fired yet. Per the Baylor release, he has been “suspended indefinitely with intent to terminate according to contractual procedures.” Read through the legalities attached, and one can surmise that a decision that once seemed difficult was made a formality.

One can only assume that more changes are imminent. They have to be.

Athletic director Ian McCaw was merely sanctioned for the time being. Former university president Ken Starr was transferred to a different role out of the public eye.

According to Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is in line to be the interim coach, and Kendall Briles (Art Briles’ son) is also on the staff at present. It is unknown whether the rest of the staff will stay together.

The lack of changes could be the product of complex legalities still unfolding behind the curtain. That can be the only reasonable explanation as to why more sweeping changes have yet to be announced or further details provided.

Things cannot simply stay the course—not with all that has been undone.

"Additional members of the Administration and Athletics program have also been dismissed,” per Baylor's release. “Neither the individuals nor the disciplinary actions will be publicly identified.”

The full Pepper Hamilton report, which has not been revealed, undoubtedly has names and specific transgressions regarding how the program lost its way. Without these, it is impossible to know what role members of the university played.

Perhaps Briles operated without knowledge that these moments ever took place. Perhaps he played a significant role in shielding these developments from the necessary university authorities.

Whether his direct involvement is eventually revealed, this was his program. These were people he hired and trusted. Ultimately, this falls on him.

His shocking departure will undoubtedly serve as a notice to all administrators and head coaches. Given his success and previous standing—seemingly beloved by all, blessed with a level of job security matched by few—the message that no individual is bigger than the school or any action could not have been more directly articulated.

In that regard, Baylor has sent a powerful message. It has sent shockwaves through a sport that has garnered the general reputation that winning trumps all.

When the NCAA eventually intervenes—a process that is still in its infancy—this message will only be further pronounced.

“Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students,” chair of the Baylor Board of Regents Richard Willis said in the release.

In some regard, Baylor has done this.

It fired its mighty, all-powerful football coach, perhaps the university’s most valuable revenue-driving asset. It did so without batting an eye, which is not something that should be glossed over.

And yet, there are still people in positions of power who will blend together the before and after—individuals who will stay on in similar or modified roles. Unless further accountability is addressed, how can Baylor fully distance itself from this situation?

It is unreasonable and unfair to assume that every member of the athletic department played a part in this downfall. But in keeping members of the administration on staff and providing little context as to why, Baylor has opened this critical portion up for interpretation.

How perception of the university ultimately evolves will depend a great deal on what happens next. This was a powerful first step in starting over, but it cannot be the only step taken.

What truly happens next—not in Waco, Texas, but for those watching it all unfold from an arm's length away—will be the most everlasting. While Baylor can do everything in its power to turn its own wrongdoings into an example, real change must come naturally.

It must come from coaches, athletic directors and administrators finally recognizing that enough is enough. That winning—while critically important—is only a small portion of what defines a program and university as successful.

 

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @KegsnEggs.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Announces Self-Imposed Penalties for Football, Women's Basketball Teams

The University of Mississippi self-imposed penalties on its football and women's basketball teams Friday in relation to an NCAA notice of allegations.

According to ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach, Ole Miss reduced "double-digit" scholarships in football and enacted a postseason ban against the women's basketball team.

Per Schlabach, the university also announced in a report "the termination of four coaches, including the only two involved head coaches still employed when the violations were discovered [and] the disassociation of every involved booster."

As Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports first reported in January, the school was charged with around 30 violations, although the notice of allegations wasn't officially released until Friday.

While names were redacted throughout the document, the receipt of improper benefits from Ole Miss football players was among the listed violations.

Prior to the NFL draft, former Ole Miss offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil's social media accounts were hacked, and an apparent conversation with assistant athletic director John Miller regarding rent money was posted on Instagram.

Tunsil was suspended seven games for receiving improper benefits last season, and after the draft he admitted taking money from a coach, per Schlabach.

In its report, Ole Miss explained why it hadn't also banned its football team from the postseason:

"Although a postseason ban may be imposed in a Level I—Mitigated case, the University believes a ban is unnecessary here based upon applicable precedent and because the most serious allegations occurred years ago, involving staff and student‐athletes long‐since separated from the University," it read.

The Rebels are coming off a 10-3 season and have a legitimate chance to contend for a College Football Playoff spot with the return of quarterback Chad Kelly.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Former Top Recruits Who Will Finally Shine in 2016

While the Notre Dame football program has signed top-15 recruiting classes in each of the last four cycles, the time needed for prospects to develop varies greatly. 

In 2016, a handful of Irish who once earned significant recognition as prospects—meaning a 4-star rating or higher—will finally have a chance to occupy major roles.

Minimal playing time behind established starters, injury problems and a bit of slower-than-expected progress are among the factors that have delayed the following five talents.

Unless some sort of misfortune impedes the players once again, they'll be recognizable names by the end of 2016.

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Alabama's Receiving Corps Doesn't Want to Be Just Good, but Deadly

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was a conversation with reporters during which everyone else suddenly started looking at each other with a “Did he just say what I think he said?” look.

University of Alabama junior wide receiver ArDarius Stewart was talking about the offense for the 2016 season and if the Crimson Tide would have a different approach due to having so many receiving options.

He said: “It’s still going to be a balance, I believe, because we still have Bo [Scarbrough] and all those guys at running back. When we tie this all together, you’re going to see that it’s going to be a dangerous combination having the assassins on the outside and the guys who can run on the inside.”

Um, wait. Assassins?

“We’re the ones who come down when you need something clutch, we’re going down there [when we throw] the ball up, sacrificing our bodies, all that,” Stewart responded. “I consider the receivers assassins, and I tell them that all the time.” 

Normally it’s the defensive players who might get a nickname like that, and of course Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders was known as “The Assassin” for his brutal hits in the National Football League. But in terms of Alabama having the kind of playmakers that any mistake by a defender and he’s toast, Stewart does have a point.

The offense returns most of its key wide receivers and tight ends, the notable exceptions being Richard Mullaney, a graduate transfer last summer who is now trying to land a job in the NFL, and fan favorite Michael Nysewander.

Of the 17 players who had a reception last year, 11 are still on the roster (including Dakota Ball, who has moved back to the defensive line for his senior year). They made 72 percent of all the catches and 75 percent of the receiving yards in 2015.

There are two players coming off a 1,000-yard season and a tight end with 1,000 career yards, plus the two who were considered the starters coming out of training camp last year, Stewart and Robert Foster.

Stewart started all 15 games and made 63 catches for 700 yards and four touchdowns. Foster, who was expected to have a breakout year, ended up suffering a season-ending shoulder injury Week 3 against Ole Miss.

“He’s playing with a lot more confidence,” head coach Nick Saban said.

Instead, Calvin Ridley became just the second player in Crimson Tide history to have a 1,000-yard receiving season as a freshman, finishing with 89 catches for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns. The first, of course, was Amari Cooper, who is now lighting it up with the Raiders.

He ended up making 228 receptions for 3,463 yards and 31 touchdowns during his three seasons at Alabama, all school records by a wide margin. The previous marks were 194, (DJ Hall, 2004-07), 2,923 yards (Hall) and 18 touchdowns (Dennis Homan, 1965-67).

Meanwhile, Ridley’s yards were the seventh-most among players Saban’s coached at the collegiate level and the 10th 1,000-yard receiving season. 

“He wants to be better, just like everyone else,” Stewart said about Ridley, who didn’t make his first start until after Foster’s injury. He then had an eye-opening game at No. 8 Georgia, where he made five receptions for 120 yards, including touchdowns of 50 and 45 yards.

Perhaps that performance was a little assassin-like.

Additionally, Alabama is adding Gehrig Dieter this summer, a graduate transfer who led Bowling Green with 94 catches for 1,044 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Cam Sims had a good spring after being limited in 2015 when coming off knee surgery. Daylon Charlot is looking for more reps. Derek Kief scored a touchdown on A-Day…

However, he was the only one. This year’s scrimmage to wrap up spring practices was different from 2015 when Foster had 125 yards on six catches and Stewart tallied 118 yards on seven receptions and a touchdown to be named co-MVPs.

With the defense successfully applying pressure on a regular basis, the offense managed to reach the end zone just the one time and struggled to get into any sort of a rhythm. But the receivers also had made uncharacteristic mistakes while tying to catch passes from the rotating quarterbacks.

“We had some drops at receivers, from some very good players who don’t usually drop passes,” Saban said. “Obviously, we need to make more explosive plays on offense, but when you limit your offense and limit your defense, I’m not sure without a game plan how much that really happens.”

The surprise of A-Day was true freshman tight end Miller Forristall leading everyone with eight receptions for 53 yards while playing with the second-team offense. Thanks to a 33-yard catch, the game’s longest, Ridley topped the yardage with 54 on four receptions.

Yet even with the offense struggling that afternoon, when the play-calling was vanilla on both sides and JK Scott ended up punting 15 times, the big-play potential was still obvious.

Defenses trying to key on one player—or even one aspect of the field—and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin can simply go in another direction, like the way he dialed up tight end O.J. Howard in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. 

The tight end scored two touchdowns and racked up 208 receiving yards, setting both the championship game record and the Alabama record for a bowl/playoff game.

“We can do that almost like every other game,” Howard said “Just have guys, not even me having that many yards in one game, every guy could do that. That’s how we could be, and that’s how I think we’re going to be once we get everything going.” 

Of course, that’s making one big assumption, a quality starting quarterback emerges in the fall between Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell—although Alabama has an impressive track record of late in that regard (i.e. Blake Sims and Jake Coker).

Will he be someone who is primarily known for his efficiency, or will it be a quarterback who can effectively attack downfield without turning the ball over as well?

Time will tell with that part of the equation, but in the meantime, it’s already clear that position coach Billy Napier has something going on with this group, which might be the deepest on the 2016 Crimson Tide and already has a little swagger.

“Oh, we’re already great,” Stewart added about the receiving corps. “We’re just trying to compete to get better, build on what we have.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Georgia Apologizes for Ludacris Deal, Which Cost $65,000 and a Box of Condoms

The Georgia Bulldogs were so desperate to get an entertainment act for their spring football game they were willing to provide just about anything to the performer.

Seriously. Peanut butter and jelly? Absolutely. Wine? Sure thing. Toiletries? Got it. Condoms? No problem.

According to the contract (h/t CBS Sports), Georgia agreed to pay Ludacris $65,000 for a 15-minute performance on April 16. Of course, as with many performers, the rapper had some provisions he wanted on top of the money.

Here's part of the list of things the Bulldogs agreed to provide Ludacris with during his stay in Athens, per the contract: 

  • One loaf of whole grain bread, organic creamy peanut butter and organic grape or strawberry jelly.
  • One box of Fruit Roll-Ups.
  • One bottle of red wine.
  • One bottle of white wine.
  • Six Hanes large white T-shirts.
  • One Crest rechargeable toothbrush and Crest toothpaste.
  • One box of Trojan Magnum condoms.

Relatively speaking, paying $65,000 and making a quick trip to the store wasn't anything outrageous for Georgia to do to land an act. However, not everyone was a fan of some of the things the school provided the rapper. For that, the Bulldogs are sorry.

On Thursday, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity apologized to the athletic board of directors for the school's agreement with Ludacris, per Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald:

I do want to take this opportunity to apologize to our board for mistakes we made with certain aspects of the details of an entertainment agreement. Few things in my professional life have bothered me more than this situation. There are no reruns in life so we need to turn the page, learn from our mistakes and do everything we can to make sure errors of this nature do not reoccur.

[...]

We didn’t pay attention to details as much as we should have. That’s my responsibility, regardless of who signs it.

Some of the requests were standard for any artists. Certain foods and drinks are well within reason.

Condoms?

Not so much.

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What to Expect from 2016 SEC Football Spring Meetings

The SEC's heavy-hitters will meet at the Sandestin Hilton in Destin, Florida, next week from May 31-June 3, when head coaches, athletic directors and presidents convene for the annual spring meeting session.

The last few years of the event have been dominated by satellite camp talk, revenue distribution, the SEC Network and conference expansion.

One change from previous years is that, according to a release emailed by the conference, revenue distribution won't be announced at the conclusion of the four-day event, rather, it will be released after the conference's fiscal year in October. 

What will be the main storylines this year? Let's get you ready for the four-day event with a weekend primer.

 

Satellite, In My Eyes

Yes, the NCAA got it right when it reversed the ban on satellite camps and opened the floodgates for teams from every conference. 

No, it won't stay that way forever.

Michigan has 35 satellite camps set up in June, according to Clint Brewster of 247Sports.com. In case you need confirmation, yes, there are still only 30 days in the month of June.

Overkill?

Certainly. But it also seems like Michigan, among other schools that are going on the satellite camp World Tour, are taking advantage of this summer perhaps with the idea that things might not be this way forever.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey will likely step to the podium on Friday at the close of spring meetings and deliver a proposal that will shape the satellite-camp debate for years to come.

What will that be? It's fair to say that some camps are beneficial, especially to teams like Missouri and Arkansas that love to recruit Texas, and Kentucky, which loves to hit Ohio. 

Expect something along the lines of a specific window in June in which teams can send coaches to "guest-coach" at the camps of other schools, a specific number of camps that a Power Five school can have a presence during that window and guidelines on what kind of camps (high school, junior college, etc.) are allowed.

 

Spring Break Anthem

Speaking of Michigan, expect the SEC to follow the Pac-12's lead and keep spring break for relaxation.

As Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com noted earlier in the week, the Pac-12 already has started the push to stop trips like Michigan's week-long spring practice session that took place in March at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. 

The SEC will follow suit.

While Michigan's IMG trip gets lumped into the satellite-camp debate at times, these are two totally different issues. While also serving as a marketing ploy, camps do provide access for players to coaches and vice versa, which benefits everybody.

Michigan's trip to IMG had nothing to do with that and was all about making an impression at a high school football factory.

There are only so many of those high school powers in the country, and the window for college spring breaks is about five weeks. College football administrators can't let high school programs determine which colleges gain that recruiting advantage. 

Before Michigan fans sprint to the comment section and complain, I know the players enjoyed the trip to Bradenton and it isn't going to be what makes or breaks a national championship campaign. All high schools want as many colleges represented at satellite camps as possible, but those colleges won't go spend a week during spring practice with any other schools. 

Michigan's IMG trip was innovative, but the SEC will join the Pac-12 and make a point to prevent it from happening again. 

 

Improving Player Behavior

The SEC took extraordinary steps last year when it announced at spring meetings that it would invoke the "Jonathan Taylor rule," which prevents potential transfer players with a history of sexual violence, sexual assault and domestic violence from coming to the conference without a waiver.

It was limited only to transfer players at the time, and an expansion to high school prospects in addition to a policy geared toward current student-athletes seemed like the logical next step even before the Baylor scandal began to dominate headlines.

What steps can be made?

Preventing prospects with the same history from signing is a no-brainer, but implementing a system of checks and balances outside of current Title IX regulations that is not only effective in preventing these instances from happening, but preventing situations like what happened at Baylor for the last several years from happening within the conference. 

Those guidelines will further guide head coaches and administrators to take every allegation as seriously as can be and punish those two take measures to protect the program rather than alleged victims.  

 

Take The Long Road Home

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema hinted at an issue that could step to the forefront earlier this month on Sports Talk With Bo Mattingly, and expect that to start during the spring meeting session next week.

It's unrealistic that college football can follow the same blueprint as college basketball, which allows players to return to school after going through the combine as long as they don't hire an agent. 

Why?

The NFL combine takes place after national signing day, with the draft coming a full month after many spring practice sessions wrap up. That means college programs will already have signed a full class, started to sort out the depth chart for the upcoming season and should be at (or perhaps already over) the 85-player scholarship limit.

If players are then allowed to come back, there are far too many hoops for head coaches to jump through in order to get their teams ready for the season.

There is another solution, though.

What if schools paid for the players who submitted their names for NFL draft evaluation to participate in a dedicated underclassman combine that takes place the weekend after the College Football Playoff National Championship, which typically takes place on a Monday night in mid-January?

Push the decision date back to late January, let these players get real feedback from actual scouts who see them in person and decide on their futures a week or two prior to national signing day.

It can't account for players who are expecting to be drafted sitting at home waiting on that call that never comes, but it can at least give the players real, actionable information in a setting that includes the best underclassmen in the country. 

 

All Work And No Play

As BusinessInsider.com noted earlier this year, college football is essentially a full-time job in and of itself, with players devoting more than 40 hours per week to it on top of their commitments as students. 

Understanding that those players are being compensated in the form of a free education, housing, meals and athletic training, that's still a lot of time devoted to what technically is an "amateur" sport.

While there isn't a cut-and-dry way for the sport to tell its coaches to stop coaching and players to stop preparing—even in the offseason—expect athletic directors and coaches to offer several suggestions on how players can find a little more free time in their schedules to enjoy being college students.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Big Ten Q&A: Who's the B1G's Most Dominant Wide Receiver?

The dead period of the college football offseason is well upon us, but the Big Ten shouldn't stay quiet for long.

With the start of June less than a week away, teams across the conference—and now, country—are getting set to embark on their respective satellite camp tours, with Michigan's latest count of camps up to 36.

So before Jim Harbaugh starts touring the world—literally—let's get to our Big Ten Q&A. This week, we'll tackle—less literally—the conference's top returning wideout, the league's breakout player, predicting the Big Ten's leading rusher and Ohio State's confusing over/under.

As always, you can send me your questions each week on Twitter @BenAxelrod.

Let's get started.

 

This is a good question, considering the amount of talent the Big Ten lost to the NFL after the 2015 season.

Last year, you could've made the argument for Aaron Burbridge, Michael Thomas, Leonte Carroo, Braxton Miller or Alex Erickson as the conference's top wideout, depending on your criteria and/or definition of "dominance." This year, however, no one seems to stand out as that surefire All-Big Ten selection the way Thomas and Carroo did at this point in the 2015 preseason.

While their names may not garner the same attention, it is worth noting that two of the three Big Ten receivers to top 1,000 yards last season will be back on the field this fall, Penn State's Chris Godwin and Indiana's Simmie Cobbs Jr. If this question were about overall production from a wideout, Godwin would likely have been my answer after last season's 69-catch, 1,101-yard, five-touchdown season.

But to me, "dominance" means something different—a player capable of taking over a game on his own, usually by winding up in the end zone on multiple occasions. In that case, I'll go with Michigan's Jehu Chesson, who was arguably the conference's best—and most dominant—wideout in the second half of the 2015 season.

After getting off to a relatively slow start while Jake Rudock struggled to adjust to being Michigan's starting quarterback, Chesson came on strong at the end of his junior campaign, catching a total of 27 balls for 505 yards and six touchdowns in the Wolverines' final four games. That stretch included a 10-catch, 207-yard, four-touchdown performance in Michigan's too-close-for-comfort win over Indiana, which went a long way toward Chesson's being named a first-team All-Big Ten selection and Michigan's MVP at season's end.

At 6'3" and 200 pounds, Chesson is as equally capable of serving as a possession receiver as he is a deep threat. With Rudock having moved on to the NFL, the St. Louis native will once again have to adjust to playing alongside another quarterback in the Wolverines offense.

But if the end of last season is any indication, Michigan's new starter should be just fine, thanks in large part to the presence of one of the Big Ten's most dynamic wide receivers.

 

This is another tough one (side note: Good job this week, readers), considering that criteria on what constitutes a "breakout" player varies.

Is it a player who's played before but is about to take the next step toward becoming a star? Is it a first-year starter who bursts onto the scene? Is it an incoming freshman with hype he actually lives up to?

In my mind, the definition is less strict. To me, the breakout player of the year is a player who wasn't a star before and is by season's end, regardless of his prior playing experience or class.

Since this is my Q&A, we'll go with my definition, and in that case, my answer is Penn State's Garrett Sickels.

In a way, this answer is kind of a copout, since Carl Nassib was last year's breakout star in the Big Ten, and Sickels, a fellow Nittany Lions defensive end, would just be following in his footsteps by earning the same accolades. But Penn State coach James Franklin hasn't been shy in comparing Sickels to the new Cleveland Brown, at least as far as their respective career paths are concerned.

"You could make some arguments [that] he's at a similar point that Carl was last year, having gone back and studied the stats," Franklin said toward the end of the 2015 campaign. "He works, his motor—those are the things that have always kind of stood out about [Sickels]."

For what it's worth, Sickels finished with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss in 2015, while Nassib tallied just one sack and 3.5 tackles for a loss in his junior campaign before jumping to 15.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for a loss and All-American status in 2015.

Obviously, those are lofty expectations to meet, but it's a story we've seen play out before in State College.

Other breakout players to keep an eye on include Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard, Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot, Indiana running back Devine Redding, Wisconsin quarterback Bart Houston and Michigan State running back L.J. Scott. And in case only freshmen fit your own criteria, I like Michigan's Rashan Gary and Ohio State's Nick Bosa to make instant impacts in the coming year as well.

 

Answering your second question first: Not necessarily—but yeah, probably.

Only it might not be the Buckeye or Badger you'd necessarily expect who leads the Big Ten in rushing.

While it certainly wouldn't surprise me if Corey Clement bounced back from his nearly nonexistent 2015 and became the Big Ten's leading rusher, I think too many options in Wisconsin's backfield emerged in his absence and will vulture carries from the Badgers back, who rushed for 949 yards and nine touchdowns as Melvin Gordon III's backup in 2014.

Similarly, I'd expect Ohio State to rely on a true running-back-by-committee to replace Ezekiel Elliott, with Mike Weber, Bri'onte Dunn and Curtis Samuel each possessing the potential to be the Buckeyes' lead back by season's end.

One factor that won't change in Ohio State's offense, however, is how much Urban Meyer will rely on J.T. Barrett. That's right: I'm choosing a signal-caller to lead the Big Ten in rushing, even with talented running backs like Penn State's Saquon Barkley and Northwestern's Justin Jackson returning to the conference.

The rationale? Despite his limited role in the first half of the season, Barrett still finished with 682 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns in 2015, the highest totals in both categories of any quarterback in the Big Ten.

While Meyer has stated a desire to run a more balanced offense in 2016, I actually think that could work in Barrett's favor, as he could find himself the Buckeyes' most reliable running option.

It's somewhat of a long shot, but Meyer has shown a propensity for leaning on his QBs in the run game in the past. And based on what he did a year ago with not even a full season's worth of a work, Barrett certainly has the ability to lead the Big Ten in rushing in 2016, despite the position he plays.

 

Yeah, Ohio State over 8.5 wins would seem like easy money—if you can still get it. According to at least one Las Vegas patron, the number that the Golden Nugget Casino Sports Book (via Covers.com) initially posted as the Buckeyes over/under win total has already inched up to nine.

And for good reason. After all, in each of his first four seasons at Ohio State, Meyer has averaged 11.5 wins in the regular season and has never won fewer than 11 games.

But to a degree, I understand the oddsmakers' logic.

I just don't necessarily agree with it.

The Buckeyes do have a tough out-of-conference road test with Oklahoma and face Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State on the road, and Michigan is only seemingly getting better.

Still, 8.5 or even nine is such a relatively low bar for the Buckeyes that you're counting on them to lose four games in order to lose your money. And for an Urban Meyer team, that just doesn't happen often, especially given how well he's recruited in Columbus.

At this point, the over on Ohio State certainly makes sense to me. Then again, if my one trip to Las Vegas taught me anything, it's that there's no such thing as "easy money."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruit rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Ohio State Football Recruiting: Can OSU Raid Texas and Steal Its Top Talent?

Ohio State has taken a more national approach with its recruiting under Urban Meyer, and as the 2017 cycle nears the critical summer season, it's clear that the coaching staff is trying to raid the talent-rich state of Texas.

It started in early March when the Buckeyes secured a commitment from 4-star all-purpose back J.K. Dobbins—Texas' No. 6 prospect for the class of 2017. Dobbins had offers from all the in-state players—Baylor, Houston, TCU, Texas and Texas A&M—in addition to national brands such as Florida, Notre Dame, Stanford and USC.

One look at Dobbins' highlight reel makes it easy to understand all the attention he's receiving. Rated the No. 47 overall prospect and the third-best all-purpose back nationally, his blend of speed and vision make him an absolute nightmare to corral near the line of scrimmage.

"I can do more than just have speed," Dobbins said of his game, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "People think that's what I'm about. But I can run through the middle, through the trenches, and I can pass block, too. I am a three-down back. That's what most people would like to say."

Dobbins was the most recent member to join Ohio State's No. 1-rated class, but Meyer's efforts in Texas haven't stopped there. Ohio State is trying to add more top talent from The Lone Star State by poaching 5-star prospects Jeffrey Okudah and Baron Browning.

Both are elite prospects—Okudah is ranked the No. 2 Texas product and Browning the No. 3—and both would be huge boosts to the Ohio State defense. The chances of that happening received a huge boost over the weekend with the pair making the trip north to visit the Ohio State campus.

Okudah, who's rated the No. 1 safety in the 2017 class, has been high on Ohio State for months, and he's even gone as far as naming it the favorite in his recruitment. 

"The tradition at Ohio State. It's just a surreal atmosphere," Okudah told Rivals (h/t Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer). "The coaching staff, Coach (Urban) Meyer wins a lot of games. Coach (Greg) Schiano, a former (NFL and college) head coach, I know he can develop me and get me to the next level."

That's why the Buckeyes are the favorite to land his commitment, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball Predictions. 

Browning, on the other hand, is a different story as Ohio State just entered the fray in his recruitment. The standout linebacker has offers from all the major hitters in college football, highlighted by Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame and USC. But Texas, Baylor, TCU and Texas A&M are all getting serious consideration from the nation's No. 2 outside linebacker, and Ohio State is trying to throw its hat in the ring.

His visit to Ohio State last weekend was a home run, according to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors:

What stood out to me was 'real life Wednesdays.' You could tell they really care about the players and want you to succeed on and off the field. Urban Meyer, he's straight forward like everybody else on the staff. On the phone, we were joking around a lot, but in person, he was more direct and up front, but still able to joke.

If Meyer can somehow get Okudah and Browning to join Dobbins in his class, Ohio State's grip on the No. 1 spot might be unbreakable by national signing day. 

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Kedrick James, 4-Star TE, Decommits from Baylor Following Art Briles' Dismissal

Kedrick James, a 4-star tight end out of Waco, Texas, decommitted from the Baylor Bears on Thursday after the school announced it suspended Art Briles with the intent to terminate his status as the head football coach. 

The La Vega High School standout announced his decision on Twitter: 

James is the eighth-ranked tight end, 38th-ranked player in Texas and 248th-best player in the nation among 2017 recruits, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, so he should have plenty of interested suitors now that he's reopened his commitment.  

According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Crabtree, James said his "phone has blown up with texts from recruiters all over the country" since he distanced himself from the Bears. 

The Texas A&M Aggies appear to be in the driver's seat for the time being. Crabtree noted that James visited College Station in early April, while 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have the Aggies listed as a 60 percent favorite to land the 6'4 ½", 245-pound pass-catcher. 

Before he committed to Baylor, James fielded offers from 13 other schools, including the Arkansas Razorbacks, Michigan Wolverines, Miami Hurricanes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys and Texas Longhorns. 

In other words, it should only be a matter of time before James finds another collegiate powerhouse. 

 

Recruit rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com

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Every Power 5 College Football Team's Most Explosive Playmaker

Football is the ultimate team game, as regular contributions are necessary from a slew of players in order to achieve success. The best college football teams are ones who are talented and accomplished across the board, not just in one or two areas.

Yet on every team there's that one player who, if a spark is needed, has the ability to flip a switch and make a big play. These are generally on the offensive end, but such playmakers also exist on defense and on special teams. Several even stand out in multiple areas.

We've picked out who should be the top playmaker on every power conference team (as well as top independents BYU and Notre Dame) for the 2016 season. They may or may not be the best player on their team, but to a man they're all the type who can erupt for a big play at any moment.

Begin Slideshow

D'Andre Swift Announces Top 5: Breaking Down Each Contender for 5-Star RB

It's down to five for D'Andre Swift.

The 5-star Philadelphia running back trimmed his list of collegiate favorites in half Wednesday night, announcing a collection of primary contenders for his coveted commitment:

Swift, a rising senior at St. Joe's Prep, placed Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and Penn State in the mix as summer approaches. This development occurs just six weeks removed from his most recent recruiting update.

The scintillating 5'10", 204-pound prospect previously unveiled a top 10 on April 15. Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State and South Carolina didn't make the cut this time around. 

"It's getting a little bit later in my recruitment now, so I just need to narrow things down and start thinking about this decision," he told Bleacher Report earlier this month.

Based on recent conversations with Swift, none of the inclusions in his top five come as a surprise. He's expressed serious interest in each program and plans to utilize upcoming visits as an opportunity to further explore these options.

"I'm trying to get out this summer and see as many schools as I can," Swift said. 

Rated No. 1 nationally among all-purpose backs and No. 31 overall in composite rankings, this versatile offensive weapon landed on the college football recruiting radar as a freshman. His list of scholarship offers has since grown to include dozens of schools.

Swift's decision to place his focus on five universities signifies he may be ready for the final stretch of a lengthy process. He doesn't discount the possibility of using all five official visits before declaring a verbal commitment but also won't rule out the idea of an earlier decision.

"I want to hold it off, but if I feel as though if some place fits me perfectly, I would decide right then and there," Swift said.

Given the new dynamics in this recruitment, let's take a peek at where things stand with all five programs.

 

Alabama

Wednesday provided reaffirmation that running backs are drawn to Tuscaloosa. Despite the presence of No. 1 overall rusher Najee Harris in his 2017 recruiting class, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban saw his squad land on lists of favorites for both Swift and Cam Akers in a seven-hour span.

Akers spent his junior season committed to Alabama but backed off that pledge in March. He's still considering the Crimson Tide, along with Ohio State and alternative SEC suitors such as LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss.

If anyone thought Harris would scare off potential competition at the position, they haven't been paying attention to Alabama's offensive attack during the Saban era. A continuing rotation of college stars has included Heisman winners Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram, while Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy were each among the top running backs off the board in recent NFL drafts.

"I'm a competitor, so if I like the school, I'm going to come in and compete no matter who is there," Swift said. "I definitely do look at the depth chart, but I know nothing is going to be handed to me wherever I go."

Alabama isn't the favorite here but can't be counted out because of its exceptional track record in the offensive backfield and continued national title contention.

 

Clemson

Even with a commitment from top-ranked 2016 all-purpose back Tavien Feaster, the Tigers didn't hesitate to extend an offer to Swift last summer. From a schematics view, Clemson makes a lot of sense for Swift, as he's accustomed to operating in a fast-paced spread offense at the high school level.

His pass-catching abilities separate him from many top-tier 2017 running backs. Much like Feaster, he appears primed to emerge as a serious downfield passing option in college. Head coach Dabo Swinney has already hosted Swift on campus and will likely look to line up a return trip this summer.

 

Florida State

The Seminoles will likely hop aboard the Dalvin Cook train one last time in 2016, as most anticipate the former 5-star recruit is headed to the NFL with a strong and healthy junior campaign. This sets the stage for a major void to be filled at running back next year, with roster veterans and newcomers alike attempting to claim Cook's carry volume.

Expect Swift to create a legitimate case to earn touches as a true freshman, at least in an initial limited role. He told B/R that Tallahassee will "probably" be his next visit on the recruiting trail and incoming Florida State freshman tight end Naseir Upshur—a fellow Philadelphia product—is a close friend.

"We talk about going down to Florida State all the time," Swift said.

 

Georgia

The Bulldogs became a major contender for Swift following a pair of campus visits this spring. He made the journey to Athens twice within weeks, including a trip to head coach Kirby Smart's first Georgia spring game.

"Everybody in Athens loves Georgia football. It's easy to tell," Swift said. "You can't beat that atmosphere for a spring game."

The Bulldogs are in the mix for several standout rushers, but top-rated Georgia commit Richard LeCounte III specifically singled out Swift as an athlete he'd love to see join a class that currently rates No. 7 overall in composite rankings. Five of the past seven experts have picked Georgia in 247Sports' "crystal ball" predictions for Swift.

"Coach Smart is doing some great things with the program right now. I believe they're up-and-coming," he said.

 

Penn State

The Nittany Lions have been a mainstay in his recruitment, identifying him as an immediate concern as James Franklin's freshly assembled staff surveyed the in-state underclassman scene. Penn State picked up the first seven signing-day projections in his crystal ball, but just one has been placed in favor of the program since July 2015.

Offensive struggles under Franklin led many to question the staff's impact on former 5-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg, but running back Saquon Barkley provided a bright spot last season. The true freshman running back eclipsed 1,200 offensive yards, and there's reason to believe Swift would present an even more dynamic weapon out of the backfield.

Competing against four Southeastern programs for this commitment, Penn State holds a unique edge in terms of proximity. Swift's long-term familiarity with the staff and school atmosphere shouldn't be undervalued.

"They're still in the back of my head, and Penn State is always a fun place to visit," he said. "One of my best friends—[defensive back] John Reid—is up there, and he's doing really well, so that's exciting for me."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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4-Star Jimmy Jaggers Discusses Recruitment, Timeline and Bond with Top 2017 TEs

EL SOBRANTE, Calif. — A familiar scene at the recent Oakland Nike Opening Regional camp was seeing a few members of the tight end segment enjoying each other’s company in breaks between the action.

One player who seemed to be in the middle of the madness was 4-star tight end Jimmy Jaggers

The 6’5”, 237-pounder was just one of a handful of studs in a group that included 4-star Stanford pledge Colby Parkinson, 3-star Stanford pledge Tucker Fisk and 4-star Josh Falo among others.

Jaggers was clearly enjoying the moment with a segment that rarely garners the lion’s share of attention in these settings.

“It’s awesome. It’s fun being out here with all of these great guys and the tight ends. It’s fun to be in this atmosphere and compete with these guys,” Jaggers told Bleacher Report. “We always do our own thing as a tight end group. Most of the time, we’re off to the side by ourselves. It’s kind of fun being with the top guys who have the same ideas.”

Jaggers acquitted himself well in the camp and showed why he’s one of the nation’s top players at his position.

Now, the nation’s No. 6 tight end and the No. 235 player overall in the 2017 cycle is in the beginning stages of pairing down his list of 17 reported offers.

While he admits that he hasn’t spent much time on recruiting in the spring, he’s in the process of planning visits to see a few of the schools he’s interested in.

“I haven’t actually taken any recent visits, but I am trying to get my mom down with my stepdad to USC and UCLA in June,” Jaggers said. “Then, after the Rivals Five Star Challenge in Atlanta, we are going to go to check out the University of Florida and see if the South is an area I want to look into more. I might be able to visit Texas A&M and that’s really it. I’m just kind of looking toward narrowing it down as soon as I get a couple of those visits in.”

The Golden State pass-catcher also notes that he’s developed a strong bond with a few of the coaches at those programs.

“I keep in touch with all of them for the most part,” Jaggers noted of his communication with college coaches. “They hit me up on a regular basis. [tight ends] Coach [Greg] Nord at Florida hits me up just about every day. Then [tight end] Coach [John] Baxter and [head] Coach [Clay] Helton at USC, [tight ends] Coach Rip [Scherer] at UCLA and [tight ends] Coach [Jordan] Paopao at Washington are definitely doing a good job of recruiting me.”

One other thing Jaggers has done in the offseason is study a pair of tight ends who he looks up to.

“I love watching Rob Gronkowski play and the way he has fun with the game. Jake Butt at Michigan is someone I see myself as being similar to as far as size, speed and the way he runs his routes,” Jaggers said.

Jaggers notes that a decision could come as soon as July, although he could push it back if he isn’t ready to make a final determination.

Whatever lucky program lands him, it will get an added bonus of getting him on campus in January as he’s on track to become an early enrollee.

Jaggers, who reports a GPA of 4.2, also plans on majoring in business when he gets to college. Academics will be one component he factors in seriously, but there’s one overall theme that will take precedent in his decision-making process.

“All of these schools have great academics and great opportunities, so it’s just going to [come down to] who I’m most comfortable with.”

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Humanity Finally Scores a Victory over Football with Art Briles' Firing

Art Briles is a good ol' boy coach, deeply embedded in all levels of the religion of football in the state of Texas.

He built Baylor into one of the nation’s top programs and wooed boosters into huge amounts of money and a new stadium. That’s why it is so shocking that he was fired Thursday following an investigation into the acts of his football players terrorizing women on campus.

Not that it’s a surprise that football players acted that way. We keep hearing that same story all over the country again and again. And then we see the same coverup and excuses from some people while hearing the same outrage from others. Rinse and repeat. It’s disgusting.

But now Art Briles was fired. His power, his success did not save him. Here’s the thing:

Humanity just beat football.

Football always seems to find a way around the pain that it causes. Not this time. This time, football was sacked.

Someone took a hard action and so many next time won’t be the same.

And it’s going way overboard to say this, but I think that women on campuses around the country just became a little bit safer. I’m not going to pat Baylor on the back here. It did the right thing—you could argue the only thing—but it has loads of problems. It covered things up. It pretended. It loved its football more than it loved the safety of its women.

Yes, it finally go around to firing Briles and to demoting President Ken Starr, but that took too long.

I’m not sure whether Baylor was shamed into firing Briles, but it’s a good bet that the big money there wanted Briles to stay. Maybe Baylor came down with a severe case of conscience? Whatever the means, whatever happened, it gave enough weight to the side of the equation that always loses to football.

You can’t celebrate justice over monstrous acts because the monstrous acts were still committed. Some of those acts at Baylor have led to convictions and some just to allegations.

Baylor had an independent body, the lawfirm of Pepper Hamilton, conduct an investigation, and people will parse the results of that for a while now. And even early on, some of the findings are damning.

What did Briles know? How much did he cover up when he heard reports of football players assaulting women? How much detail can a football coach really know about every single player on a football team? It’s hard enough to know what your own kid is doing all the time.

But that’s really the point. Enabling doesn’t have to be that direct.

It is a culture. If you look to the University of Texas, you’ll see that football coach Charlie Strong has set the tone, defined the culture of good behavior and treating women right. He has found a way to meld caring for young men with a hard line on their behavior. That doesn’t mean monstrous things won’t happen there, but it means that a leader is leading.

That is the demand. Maybe Thursday’s actions just made it the new standard.

The required standard.

Baylor football tried to self-police. (You can’t see my snicker as I write that). It’s another way of saying cover up. Football on so many campuses is a fiefdom, so why wouldn’t the coaches think they should be the police?

Football has just become too important to too many people. Too much money and adulation. But every time another player is accused of hurting a woman, someone says that same thing, while certain others find a way to blame the woman or cast suspicion on her.

It shouldn’t be this hard to treat other people well, to treat them decently and with respect. Call me a sucker, but I still believe that sports and coaching can instill values when done right. It is about developing bodies and minds, increasing confidence, which should lead to treating people well and not feeling an entitlement and the ability to overpower other people’s bodies.

Coaching and education are bigger than reaching the College Football Playoff.

You wouldn’t think it would take this long for a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas to do the right thing. Ultimately, real religion won out over fake religion. 

Well, hell, if you’ve been paying any attention to football, then yes, you would. Ten years ago, my alma mater, Colorado, had a horrific scandal involving, what else, sexual assault, and the coach was fired. But not right away. Not until a year later and following a 70-3 loss to Texas. A strong conscience can usually beat losing football.

But Baylor is one of the best programs in the country. It was, anyway. It will now start a serious decline.

That’s actually a good thing when priorities are put in order. Maybe the culture of the whole sport is starting to turn.

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him at@gregcouch.

 

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