NCAA Football

B/R Recruiting CFB 200: Top Defensive Ends of 2017 Class

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports' composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the 2017 class. Here we present the Top Defensive Ends.

College football coaches are focused more than ever on countering spread offensive efforts off the edge and disrupting high-octane aerial assaults. As a result, no position is more vital—and necessarily versatile—than defensive end.

Athletes who can chase down quarterbacks, cut off perimeter rushing lanes and provide occasional interior support are coveted on the recruiting trail. Scheme-diverse and dynamic in multiple levels of an attack, these defenders can find themselves with a hand in the dirt or roaming upright depending on the collegiate scheme they encounter.

Joey Bosa (Ohio State), DeForest Buckner (Oregon) and Shaq Lawson (Clemson) are among players who wreaked havoc across the defensive front in college football last fall, and each received a first-round NFL draft payday as a result. Though years away from achieving similar aspirations, members of the 2017 recruiting class are still commanding attention from collegiate scouts and industry analysts.

B/R's CFB Recruiting 200 series continues with a closer look at prospects who persistently present problems for opponents. We reviewed this cycle's premier playmakers at the position, assessing each based on a criteria of explosive strength, pass-rush prowess, run defense, handwork, motor and tackling ability. 

 

Player order and star ratings based on 247Sports' composite rankings through July 26. Unless otherwise noted, player stats are courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: 5 Biggest Remaining Needs in Vols' 2017 Class

Tennessee already has 23 commitments in its 2017 recruiting class and we're only at the end of July, but that doesn't mean there will be a lack of movement in some of the names on that list before national signing day.

Like always, players will move on and find greener pastures for themselves. Likewise, if the Volunteers take care of business on the football field this year, they'll upgrade a few of those guys in a haul that includes 20 3-star players and is the nation's 11th-ranked class.

It isn't that UT's class is lacking; that's far from the truth. With the epic group of in-state prospects hailing from the Volunteer State in this cycle, the Vols' class just doesn't look the way many predicted. Wideout Tee Higgins is going to Clemson, safety JaCoby Stevens' final four doesn't include UT and other top Tennessee talent is leaving, too.

But there are still a few jewels left from inside state borders, and the Vols are in the thick of the race for guys like offensive tackle Trey Smith and running back Ty Chandler.

There are a bunch of players UT would still make room for if they wanted to jump on board, but there are also some positions that have become needs for the Vols.

For instance, even though the Vols bolstered their depth with the late addition of Oklahoma high school running back Jeremy Lewis, who'll be eligible to play this year, they still need an elite runner in this class, especially if Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara go pro following the 2016 season.

Other needs abound, too, especially considering Tennessee will lose a slew of impact players after this season, including Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cameron Sutton, Corey Vereen, Dylan Wiesman and perhaps a bunch of underclassmen.

Let's take a look at the five biggest remaining needs for the Vols in the '17 class.

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Big Ten Football: Bold Predictions for 2016 Fall Camp

Resolution under center for Michigan, Corey Clement's return to form and a youth movement at Ohio State will highlight a busy fall camp season for the Big Ten conference.

The league has earned respect in recent years after Ohio State won the first-ever College Football Playoff in January 2015 and the league went 11-10 in postseason play over the last two seasons. But the Big Ten wants to take another step forward this year, and with a number of teams having the pieces for a potential playoff run, the fall camps leading into the season will be huge for the conference. 

Here are some bold predictions as the league braces for the 2016 season.

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Jerry Jeudy to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Dynamic playmakers have the ability to carry an offense on their own, making 4-star wide receiver Jerry Jeudy's commitment to Alabama on Thursday a huge win for the program.

Steve Wiltfong of 247 Sports reported Jeudy's pledge to attend Alabama.

Regarded as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Jeudy brings a stellar pedigree with him to the college game. He is ranked as the sixth-best wide receiver, the ninth-best player in the state of Florida and the 35th-best player overall by 247Sports' composite rankings. 

While not yet fully developed physically, Jeudy has the size and length to become one of college football's best outside weapons. He will need to add mass, currently weighing just 180 pounds, because defensive backs at this level will bully him around right now. 

Yet the upside is tremendous with Jeudy because of his 6'1" frame. He also has solid speed for his age, running a 4.65-second 40-yard dash, according to Scout.com. The Florida native has versatile athleticism that could lead to him playing multiple positions at the next level, per Scout.com:

Hands really jump out. Can adjust to the ball well and he really plucks the ball out of the air very well. One who can sneak up on corners with his speed, then close at the same time with that speed in coverage. Has great body control. Nice burst when he gets the ball and out of breaks. Covers a lot of ground quickly, but shifty at the same time. 

Jeudy also turned in one of the most impressive performances during the Opening earlier this month, with Barton Simmons of 247Sports calling him the most productive outside receiver of the entire event" and "a workhorse all weekend."

Even though Alabama head coach Nick Saban has a knack for being able to develop defensive players, he's always in search of playmakers on offense. He's had success with wideouts like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, so Jeudy should feel he's in good hands. 

The next step for Saban will be developing a quarterback to maximize Jeudy's assets. The Crimson Tide have previously scored a commitment from dual-threat passer Tua Tagovailoa, so that duo coming in together allows them to build chemistry before taking Tuscaloosa by storm. 

Simmons' report from the Opening noted that Tagovailoa and Jeudy were working together during the event and they "seemed to vibe really well" together. 

Jeudy gives Saban another versatile playmaker on the outside to pair with Calvin Ridley who can help springboard the Crimson Tide's run-heavy offense into utilizing the passing game more frequently.

Recruiting classes are built as much on depth as they are star power, but unique talents like Jeudy can cover a lot of blind spots at other positions. 

College football has become a pass-heavy game, making dynamic athletes like Jeudy more valuable than ever. He will need time to develop his skills and his body to play at the collegiate level, but his breakout won't take long.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Devan Barrett to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Widely expected to become a Gator throughout his recruiting process, 4-star running back Devan Barrett stunned Florida fans on Thursday, committing instead to SEC adversary Auburn. 

In an announcement on Twitter, Barrett showed himself wearing a Tigers jersey and explained his decision:

Barrett, who is heading into his senior season at Tampa Catholic, is the 17th-ranked running back in the class of 2017, per 247Sports. He's No. 222 nationally and No. 35 in the state of Florida.

For most of his recruitment, Barrett was expected to attend Florida. At one point, 247Sports' crystal ball gave him a 100 percent chance of landing in Gainesville. South Carolina and Auburn were also among the early favorites. 

Listed at 6'1" and 190 pounds, Barrett busted out with a huge junior season. He rushed for 1,891 yards and 21 touchdowns and hauled in 15 receptions for 218 yards. Deceptive with his quick feet and upfield burst, Barrett makes most of his moves with his vision and home run skills.

"It's nothing really to it, if I see it, I'm just going to take it," Barrett said, per Anthony Brown of The Left Bench. "I don't really have power in me. With my elusiveness, speed and vision, I try to get in and out of there."

The next level will be a transition, mostly because Barrett needs to add weight. He's not going to dominate SEC play with his current body type. If Auburn is looking for him to play as a freshman, it'll probably be in a limited third-down role.

Luckily, Barrett is a bit of a late bloomer. He wasn't a full-time starter at running back until last season and may rocket up recruiting boards with a big senior season. As it stands, coach Gus Malzahn has another young talent to add to his stable and an early piece to his recruiting class in 2017.

Malzahn is the mastermind of a run-heavy, uptempo Tigers offense, which should be in good hands with improved quarterback play and a steady influx of ball-carriers like Barrett.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Stanford Cardinal 2016 College Football Betting Preview, Championship Odds

Stanford continues to win Pac-12 championships and cover spreads. Since Jim Harbaugh rejuvenated this program almost a decade ago, the Cardinal have been one of the best teams to wager on in college football. They did it again last year, going 10-4 against the spread at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark on their way to another Rose Bowl victory. Can they stay profitable again this year?

            

2015 Stanford record: 12-2 SU, 10-4 ATS

2016 regular-season wins over/under: 8.0

2016 odds to win Pac-12: +300 (bet $100 to win $300)

2016 odds to win national championship: +2000

                 

Last Year in Review

Stanford began last season ranked No. 21 but lost its opener at Northwestern to fall out of the Top 25. But the Cardinal woke up and won their next eight games in a row, knocking off ranked USC and UCLA teams along the way.

They suffered an upset loss at home to Oregon, but they beat Cal to clinch the North Division title. Stanford then broke Notre Dame's heart, beating the Irish on a long field goal on the last play of the game, before disposing of the Trojans in a rematch in the Pac-12 title game. Finally, the Cardinal exposed Iowa, flying out to a 35-0 halftime lead in what became a 45-16 Rose Bowl romp.

In four seasons under Harbaugh, Stanford went 28-22 ATS; in five seasons under David Shaw, the Cardinal are 41-25 ATS.

         

This Year in Preview

Stanford only returns 11 starters this season, although it only had 12 last year. Five starters are back on offense, which is led by the dangerous Christian McCaffrey (2,019 rushing yards last year, 645 receiving yards and 1,200 return yards). But the Cardinal have to replace four-year starter Kevin Hogan at quarterback and three cogs along the offensive line. Meanwhile, six starters return on defense.

The Cardinal averaged 37.8 points per game last year while allowing 22.6. Even with McCaffrey, they'll have trouble matching that first figure this year, but they could improve upon the second.

       

Stanford 2016 Schedule

Stanford better be ready quickly this season because, after opening with a home date against Kansas State, the Cardinal host USC and then visit UCLA and Washington back-to-back. A couple of weeks later, they step out of conference for a trip to Notre Dame and later play at Oregon and at Cal. That's six true road games against some of the top teams in the Pac-12 and the Fighting Irish.

       

Betting on the Cardinal

Stanford is the favorite to win the Pac-12, yet it has an over/under of just eight wins. There's little value in those conference odds, and with some questions on offense but an improved defense, the under wager may be the play on the Cardinal this season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Stanford Cardinal 2016 College Football Betting Preview, Championship Odds

Stanford continues to win Pac -12 championships and cover spreads. Since Jim Harbaugh rejuvenated this program almost a decade ago, the Cardinal have been one of the best teams to wager on in college football...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

UCLA Bruins 2016 College Football Betting Preview, Championship Odds

The Bruins fell to five losses last year after back-to-back 10-win seasons. UCLA finished 5-8 against the spread and is just 10-16 ATS over the last two seasons at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. Led by one of the best quarterback prospects in the country this year, UCLA hopes to rebound and once again contend for a division title.

 

2015 UCLA record: 8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS

2016 regular-season wins over/under: 9.0

2016 odds to win Pac-12: +350

Odds to win national championship: +5000

 

Last Year in Review

The Bruins started 4-0 last year, with wins over BYU and Arizona, rising to No. 7 in the polls. But the injuries started piling up, especially on defense, and UCLA lost to Arizona State and Stanford.

The Bruins then won three in a row, but were upset at home by Washington State. A win at Utah got them to the season finale against USC with a chance to win the Pac-12 South, but they lost to their cross-town rivals at the Coliseum.

UCLA then embarrassed itself with a 37-29 defeat in the Foster Farms Bowls against a Nebraska team that shouldn't have even been playing in a bowl.

 

This Year in Preview

The Bruins return 13 starters for this season, three less than they had for last year. Just four starters return on offense, following the losses of last year's leading rusher, top two receivers and three along the offensive line.

But they do return quarterback Josh Rosen (60 percent completions, almost 3,700 yards as a freshman last year). And nine starters return on defense, including six of the back seven.

UCLA averaged almost 466 yards per game on offense last year, while allowing almost 402 YPG on defense. We're not sure if the Bruins can match that offensive production this season, but they should improve that number on defense.

 

UCLA 2016 Schedule

The Bruins begin this season with a visit to Texas A&M and will visit BYU two weeks later. From there, they only have to play four Pac-12 road games, all of which seem winnable, and get to face their three toughest conference games against Stanford, Utah and USC, all at the Rose Bowl.

They also avoid two of the top teams from the North, Oregon and Washington. If UCLA wins the games it should, it might only need a split with the Cardinal and Trojans to win the South.

 

Betting on the Bruins

UCLA possesses several of the ingredients needed to be successful for this season, but must play six true road games and several tough home games. There are at least six potential losses on that slate. That's why we're thinking the under on the Bruins' season wins total.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Bruins 2016 College Football Betting Preview, Championship Odds

The Bruins fell to five losses last year a fter back-to-back 10-win seasons. UCLA finished 5-8 against the spread and is just 10-16 ATS over the last two seasons at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Montaric Brown to Arkansas: Razorbacks Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

Montaric Brown announced Thursday that he's planning to play college football at Arkansas, providing a solid boost to the Razorbacks' 2017 recruiting class.

Brown carries a 4-star distinction and ranks as the No. 195 overall prospect in the 2017 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also rates as the No. 18 safety and the top incoming player from the state of Arkansas.

The Ashdown High School star has displayed an advanced understanding of how to read and react to a play from the safety position. He sports a terrific first step, smooth acceleration and good hands—all the telltale signs of a ball hawk.

Ashdown head coach Matt Richardson told Richard Davenport of WholeHogSports that Brown is most comfortable when making plays on the ball.

"The best thing he does is ball skills," Richardson said. "Because of his hips he can run with receivers."

While the other areas of his game—whether it's providing over-the-top support in pass coverage or dropping into the box to help against the run—aren't as polished, his upside is intriguing. Those other skills can be honed on the practice field. His natural instincts can't be taught.

Managing to keep Brown in Arkansas is a major victory for the Razorbacks. Beating out other high-profile programs like Alabama and Baylor in order to land a top in-state prospect makes quite a statement for head coach Bret Bielema and his staff.

The decision also makes a lot of sense for Brown.

Not only does he get to stay closer to home, but his path to playing time features fewer hurdles than it would have with a secondary-rich team like Alabama. And he still gets to go up against SEC competition.

It's hard to project exactly when Brown will make his way into the starting lineup. But this signing is more about his long-term upside anyway. Once he makes the necessary improvements, particularly in terms of run support, he should become a high-impact player for Arkansas.

             

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Teams with Best Chances to Crash College Football Playoff

Though favorites have emerged in preseason College Football Playoff projections, a currently underrated team will likely exceed expectations and claim a spot in the four-team tournament.

But which program will it be?

Teams inside the top 10 of Odds Shark's championship odds were not considered for the list. The excluded programs are Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Oklahoma, LSU, Baylor, Florida State, Notre Dame and Stanford.

Of the 118 remaining schools, we've identified five programs with the best rosters, schedules and conference outlooks that could chase Playoff glory in 2016.

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College Football Playoff's Schedule Change Is Refreshing Moment of Common Sense

College football doesn't always make sense.

It's a sport built on traditions and rules that were established decades and even a century ago. College football, especially its leadership, can be stubborn about changing its ways.

So when news broke Thursday that the College Football Playoff would move future semifinals off New Year's Eve, it was a surprising bit of good judgment from a game that could always use more of it.

"We tried to do something special with New Year's Eve, even when it fell on a weekday," College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said in a release. "But after studying this to see if it worked, we think we can do better. These adjustments will allow more people to experience the games they enjoy so much."

In news first reported by George Schroeder of USA Today, Hancock announced future semifinal games will be played either on Saturdays or holidays, starting with the 2018-19 season.

That means there will be no more New Year's Eve playoff games—with one notable exception—after the 2017-18 season's semifinals:

The New Year's Eve exception, as Schroeder noted on Twitter, will come in 2021. December 31 of that year is the designated federal holiday, as New Year's Day will be on a Saturday.

The move should've been a no-brainer for the playoff. Last season's semifinals on New Year's Eve were a complete flop in terms of TV audience.

According to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, the first semifinal game (Clemson vs. Oklahoma) lost 45 percent of its viewership from 2015 (Florida State vs. Oregon). The second semifinal (Alabama vs. Michigan State) lost 34.4 percent from 2015 (Alabama vs. Ohio State). 

In total, the playoff lost more than 12 million viewers from 2014 to 2015. Those losses couldn't be blamed solely on the lack of drama in Clemson and Alabama's commanding victories.

The Clemson vs. Oklahoma semifinal was the closer game, yet it still had the worse ratings. Why? For starters, it kicked off at 4 p.m. ET on a non-holiday, when most of the country was still working.

Playing the semifinals on New Year's Eve, a day fans don't normally get off from work and a night dominated by non-football parties, never made sense. ESPN even lobbied to get the games moved to another night. The network saw the lower ratings coming.

But the CFP wanted to avoid any problems with major bowl games that didn't want to budge from New Year's Day—looking at you, Rose Bowl—and accommodate the playoff schedule. 

So the CFP decided it would play semifinals some years on New Year's Eve, making the grand claim that it was going to "change the paradigm" and create a new tradition on December 31.

That didn't happen. But the flop still didn't look like it was going to change anything. 

In the wake of TV rating news for the 2015 semifinals, Hancock told Fox Sports the playoff was "absolutely locked" into New Year's Eve. In March, he told Schroeder the committee had not discussed moving off of the dates.

A few months later, though, common sense has won out for college football and its fans.

"I heard, 'I have to work,' or 'I wanted to go to a New Year's Eve party,' or 'I was at a party but they wouldn't let me turn the sound on," Hancock told Schroeder on Thursday. "People love college football and they're very opinionated about it. They're happy to share their opinions. I enjoy hearing their opinions."

Hancock was honest in his comments Thursday about the playoff's failure on New Year's Eve. They were refreshing quotes from a college football leader who repeatedly said for over a year now that he and the committee were dead set on sticking with the idea.

The move off of New Year's Eve is an example of putting fans above a clever marketing ploy.

The playoff itself isn't going to make any more money off of these changes. It signed its $5.6 billion contract with ESPN back in 2012. The playoff had already made things clear it wasn't going to cater to ESPN by not changing for the 2015-16 season.

That pressure from ESPN might have increased over the last few months. As Timothy Burke of Deadspin wrote, "with that kind of money comes a very heavy negotiating hand."

But no matter if the move came because of ESPN, the fans or a little of both: The playoff's willingness to change is surprising in a good way. 

The College Football Playoff leadership did the sensible thing. It did it earlier than expected. It also admitted it messed up.

College football doesn't normally give you all of that at one time.

 

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

16 College Football Freshmen We Can't Wait to See in 2016 Fall Camp

The 2016 season gets into full swing five weeks from today, at which time hundreds of freshmen will make their collegiate debut. How much they play and in what role will likely depend on how they perform during preseason training camp.

Though many of the top freshmen got an early start on their careers by enrolling in January, thus getting to participate in spring practice, it's fall camp when progress is really measured. This goes for both the highly rated prospects and the less heralded ones, all of whom will try to stand out among the veterans to warrant getting a shot to start or at least play this season.

Five weeks from now, we'll know which of these freshmen have accomplished this goal, but until then, here are the 16 we're most looking forward to watching in training camp.

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CFB Playoff Announces Future Schedules for National Semifinals

The College Football Playoff announced it has decided against holding its national semifinals on New Year's Eve when it falls on a weekday, instead playing all semifinal games on Saturdays or holidays.

Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report passed along the dates for the upcoming semifinals:

Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, discussed the decision:

We had healthy discussions with a lot of people who love college football and we concluded that making these changes would be the right thing to do for our fans.

We tried to do something special with New Year's Eve, even when it fell on a weekday. But after studying this to see if it worked, we think we can do better. These adjustments will allow more people to experience the games they enjoy so much. For these four years, our previous call is reversed.

The 2021 semifinals will be an exception, as they will fall on New Year's Eve. In that particular year, however, New Year's Eve falls on a Friday and will be recognized as a federally observed holiday.

This past year's semifinals on New Year's Eve didn't generate great numbers, which could have prompted the change, according to George Schroeder of USA Today:

TV ratings for the last year's semifinals, played on New Year's Eve (a Thursday) dropped 40% from the 2014 semifinals, which were played on New Year's Day.

Although factors might have included ho-hum games and lessened excitement in the event's second year, ESPN recently presented in-depth data to the Playoff's management committee showing the holiday time slot was a major factor in the ratings decline. ESPN is paying $7.3 billion over 12 years for the rights to the Playoff.

Hancock told Schroeder many fans weren't happy the games were played on New Year's Eve:

I heard, 'I have to work,' or 'I wanted to go to a New Year's Eve party,' or 'I was at a party but they wouldn't let me turn the sound on.' People love college football and they're very opinionated about it. They're happy to share their opinions. I enjoy hearing their opinions.

After the study, we just feel like this is in the best interest of fans. They want to experience these games, and we want them to. And these changes for four years will allow that to happen.

The new change could set up a fairly long wait time between the semifinals and title game, per Schroeder, and Hancock acknowledged that changing the date of the title game hasn't been considered but could be discussed in the future.

Ultimately, however, the College Football Playoff decided that holding last year's semifinals on New Year's Eve wasn't the right decision for the future.

"Saturdays or national holidays, it's the way to go," Hancock concluded.

    

You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

A significant position battle and an extensive group of first-year starters highlight what to watch during Notre Dame football's fall camp, which begins on Saturday, Aug. 6.

The Fighting Irish are expected to hang around the top 15 throughout the season, but they'll have a realistic chance at the national championship if each current unknown is overcome.

While most college football fans know about the quarterback situation, that competition isn't the only meaningful clash on the depth chart. After all, Notre Dame lost 12 players to the NFL.

Despite the turnover, Brian Kelly's squad cannot afford a slow start. Fortunately for the Irish, most of their biggest games are in South Bend.

       

DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire?

Is there a wrong choice between the quarterbacks? Probably not. Is there a better choice? Yes. Who is it? Good question.

Malik Zaire provided a lot of excitement in his two games last year, amassing 531 yards and four touchdowns prior to his season-ending injury. Then DeShone Kizer posted nine victories, 3,400 total yards and 31 scores.

Every program hopes to have an unquestioned starter by the end of spring practice, but those offseason workouts were mostly a time for Zaire to become comfortable again.

Fall camp, though, is where the competition will be won.

Reaching that decision won't be easy, and Tom Coyne of the Associated Press noted Kelly is prepared to follow a gut feeling.

"I think I'm going to have to make a judgment call," Kelly said. "... There will be a time when I'm going to have to say, 'That's our quarterback. Let's go with him. We're all in, and let's move forward.' They are both that good. I already know that."

        

Replacing the Receivers

Will Fuller was an elite deep threat, racking up 62 receptions, 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015-16. Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle combined to grab 79 passes for 948 yards and five scores. Corey Robinson added 16 catches for 200 yards.

They're all gone.

Torii Hunter Jr. should emerge as Notre Dame's primary target, and Kelly has massive expectations for the redshirt junior.

Equanimeous St. Brown and Corey Holmes are likely to accompany Hunter in the starting lineup, and C.J. Sanders, Miles Boykin and Kevin Stepherson should see regular snaps.

Robinson—who had one year of eligibility remaining but retired early for health reasons—is confident the young players will produce.

"Once they get comfortable out there and understand what they're doing, they're going to go out there and make plays like the playmakers they are," he said, per Mike Vorel of the South Bend Tribune.

Though the optimism isn't necessarily unfounded, Hunter is the only returning receiver with more than one career catch. Expecting greatness from this unit is wishful thinking, but with Hunter carrying the unit, the Irish should be in decent position.

        

Potential Defensive Struggles

Thanks to Kelly and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, the offense gets the benefit of the doubt. Not so much for the defense.

Perhaps the scheme is over-complicated, but it's not changing. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is back, and he's relying on a new middle linebacker—Nyles Morgan—to make the calls.

The Irish need to replace their biggest contributors, too. Jaylon Smith (114 total tackles), Sheldon Day (15.5 tackles for loss), Romeo Okwara (9.0 sacks) and KeiVarae Russell (60 stops and two interceptions) all departed for the NFL.

Consequently, the question is whether Notre Dame can field an improved defense despite losing so many principal pieces. It won't take long to discover the answer.

         

Will the Irish Protect Home Field?

Without a doubt, Notre Dame has issues. But the schedule offers the Irish an opportunity to hide their shortcomings.

Looking at the upcoming slate, most would agree Michigan State, Stanford, Miami and USC are the four toughest opponents. The first three each travel to Notre Dame Stadium before the end of October.

Plus, the Irish are 21-3 at home since the beginning of the 2012 season. Even if they drop one contest, a 7-1 record heading into November should have the program in excellent shape to navigate a final month jammed with games away from South Bend.

Granted, Notre Dame takes on a reloading Navy crew and rebuilding Army squad at neutral sites. After that, the Irish wrap up their home schedule against Virginia Tech.

If Kelly's team protects its home field, the regular-season finale at USC should hold College Football Playoff implications.

       

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Is Double-Digit 5-Star Commits a Legit Possibility for Ohio State?

Back in December 2013, high school freshman Danny Clark set things off for Ohio State's 2017 class

Little did the 3-star, pro-style quarterback realize then that he would jump-start the nation's premier class as we inch closer to national signing day in February.

It's a signing day that head coach Urban Meyer, his coaching staff and fans worldwide are anticipating to have high expectations. The class currently has 16 commitments, the latest being 4-star talents in defensive end Chase Young and cornerback Amir Riep last week.

Of those 16 pledges, three are 5-star prospects in offensive linemen Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis and cornerback Shaun Wade. The bad news for other teams: That 5-star trio could be joined by a few more 5-star players by February.

Can you imagine the Buckeyes with double-digit 5-star prospects? Nothing is a gimme in recruiting...but there's a strong possibility that it could happen.

Let's do the math. Myers, Davis and Wade are three 5-star commits. Among the 5-star targets considering the Buckeyes are wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, running back Cam Akers, linebacker Baron Browning and cornerbacks Jeffrey Okudah and Darnay Holmes.

It's very hit-and-miss that Ohio State will land all five of these athletes, but to say it's impossible is blatant ignorance—particularly with the outstanding closing ability Meyer possesses as a recruiter. Okudah talked to Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani about why the Buckeyes are one of his leaders as he gets closer to making a verbal commitment.

"[It's] just the relationships they have formed with the people around me," Okudah said. "That helps a lot because it makes the decision more comfortable with the people around me. That's really key in my recruiting."

Let's say Meyer lands this half-dozen of uncommitted targets. That would give the Buckeyes a total of eight 5-star commits. Add to the mix that young quarterback Tate Martell and running back J.K. Dobbins are high 4-star Ohio State commits who could be a few big regular-season plays away from earning that fifth star. They also could earn their stripes at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.

If that happens, along with the aforementioned, that would put Ohio State's 5-star count at 10. And this doesn't count the potential rise in the upcoming months of high 4-star targets like offensive tackle Trey Smith, defensive tackle Jay Tufele and wide receivers and Trevon Grimes and Tyjon Lindsey. And Martell told Bleacher Report at The Opening that another 5-star, wide receiver Joseph Lewis, would be a personal target of his.

"I feel like I've gravitated toward Tyjon and Trevon a lot," Martell told Bleacher Report while at The Opening. "I think we're in a good position to land both of them, but we'll see how it turns out.

"Hopefully we'll try to go after Joseph. He's such a good receiver. ... He's a baller, and obviously, I'd love to play with him at Ohio State. He's someone you would much rather play with than play against."

Few classes can say they ended a recruiting cycle with more 5-stars than 3- or 4-stars. This could be Ohio State's year.

Best-case scenario, the Buckeyes could have their best recruiting class ever even if it misses on two or three of these top-ranked athletes. But to see them in contention for them all has to be a scary sight for competitors.

Not so scary for those rooting for the scarlet and gray.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points: Why Alabama's Defense Could Be Even Better in 2016

Alabama used its stout defense—which gave up just 276.3 yards per game and 4.3 yards per play—to roll all the way to the national title a year ago.

That defense was paced by its fast and physical front seven led by defensive end Jonathan Allen, pass-rush specialist Tim Williams and a front seven that was deeper and more versatile than any in the country.

"You need a lot of depth, you need a lot of athletic guys that can make plays in space, can rush the passer," head coach Nick Saban said at SEC media days. "And when you play some of the power teams in our conference, you need some bigger, more physical guys to stand in there. We kind of had all of those parts. I'm not sure we have all those parts this year, but certainly we're working to try to develop them."

It won't take long to develop them during fall camp. Once that's accomplished, this defense will be even better than last year's crew.

Up front, there are some key losses, including A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway. But have you seen this roster?

Allen is back to anchor one end, and Da'Shawn Hand is a former 5-star prospect who has had plenty of time to learn from the best over the last two seasons. Meanwhile, at 307 pounds, the ultra-athletic Dalvin Tomlinson can handle the responsibilities of being the nose guard in Saban's 3-4 scheme, but also slide outside to end when the defense needs a little more thunder up front. 

It shouldn't take too long for Saban and first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to develop that much-needed depth. Da'Ron Payne only notched 13 tackles a year ago, but he is pressing for the starting nose guard spot this summer and already received the designation of a "freak" from Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, thanks to a 4.93-second 40-yard dash, 600-pound squat and 500-pound bench.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams tied for 13th in the nation in sacks with 10.5, essentially as a third-down pass-rushing specialist. Now he'll be on the field for the other two downs, which is something that will keep opposing offensive coordinators and offensive line coaches up at night. He'll be back in more of a full-time role, as will other key contributors at linebacker like Rashaan Evans, Reuben Foster and Ryan Anderson—all of whom filled specific roles a year ago.

The front seven will be fine, and the secondary took tremendous strides last year thanks to the work of safety Eddie Jackson (six interceptions) and rising sophomores Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

But it has a chance to get even better. 

The Crimson Tide still struggled giving up big passing plays in 2016. They played more games than other schools in the conference, but finished 13th in the SEC in opponent passing plays of 20 or more yards with 50—10 more than 12th place Ole Miss, according to cfbstats.com.

The core of that secondary should be better with time and familiarity gained this offseason, and the injection of talent that it received from some younger players—including true freshmen early enrollees.

"A lot of the young guys have caught my eye, especially [freshman defensive back] Shyheim Carter," said Jackson. "We have him at 'Star' and also at corner. That's one guy who came in with the right mindset, ready to learn and he takes coaching very well."

The front seven is in full-on reload mode, while the secondary will actually be more consistent with Jackson leading, the experience that Humphrey and Fitzpatrick gained last year and youngsters pushing veterans for playing time.

    

Chubb Back?

While most of the eyes in Athens this August will be fixed on the quarterback battle that's raging between senior Greyson Lambert, junior Brice Ramsey and true freshman early enrollee Jacob Eason, those eyes might veer to the backfield from time to time just to see who's back there.

No. 27 might be back there sooner rather than later.

Junior Nick Chubb, who suffered a devastating knee injury on Georgia's first offensive play of the Tennessee game last October, appears to be close to a full-go prior to fall camp. Meanwhile, fellow tailback Sony Michel seems to be further away from returning from a wrist injury suffered during Independence Day weekend.

"Sony is rehabbing hard, trying to get back out there," head coach Kirby Smart said, according to Jake Rowe of 247Sports. "He’s limited probably more than Nick right now, where Nick is doing everything he can do.

"[Nick] is back to his normal self when it comes to running, cutting, exercising, but he hasn’t put the pads on," Smart continued. "He hasn’t taken a hit. He hasn’t taken that knee brace off yet. So there’s a lot of hurdles when it comes to that for Nick gaining confidence."

Chubb has a month to gain that confidence, which is something that Georgia will need in its season opener versus North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

Georgia is a mystery on both sides of the ball. The questions at running back only add to questions surrounding the quarterback and wide receiving corps, and the defensive line is woefully thin with Trent Thompson and John Atkins being the only two players that Smart can truly trust up front.

The Tar Heels led the nation with 7.28 yards per play a year ago, and finished ninth in scoring offense at 40.7 points per game. Yeah, quarterback Mitch Trubisky is relatively unproven. But the core of last year's group is back, including wide receiver Ryan Switzer and running back Elijah Hood.

This team can force Georgia to play point-a-minute football, and having Chubb available to work the clock and keep the Tar Heel offense on the sideline is the best path to victory for Georgia.

      

Withheld Until Further Review

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze got some bad news this week, and it had nothing to do with the NCAA investigation.

True freshman Charles Wiley, a former 4-star prospect in the 2016 class, was arrested on a domestic violence charge, according to Daniel Paulling of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Legend Fultz, a 21-year-old female, was also arrested for the same charge at the time of the incident, according to the report. 

"We are aware of the situation and recognize the proper authorities are responsible for the matter," Freeze said, according to Paulling. "Charles is being withheld from all team activities while the process moves forward. We take incidents like this very seriously and will make decisions once the course of action is complete."

From a football perspective, it won't mean much to Ole Miss if Wiley is held out for some, or even all, of the 2016 season. A fast-twitch pass-rushing specialist, Wiley is blocked on the depth chart by junior Marquis Haynes, who has notched 17.5 sacks during his first two seasons in Oxford. 

Off the field, Freeze avoided the firestorm Mississippi State created when it announced in June that true freshman defensive end Jeffery Simmons—whose case was resolved this week after a no-contest plea, according to Joel Coleman of the Starkville Daily News—would be allowed to enroll and participate in football activities prior to serving a one-game suspension. 

Domestic violence is not something to take lightly, and it's clear that Ole Miss recognized that in this instance by withholding Wiley until further notice. 

    

Strength vs. Weakness

When I ranked the SEC's offensive lines earlier in the offseason, one thing stood out to me more than anything else—this is the SEC's biggest weakness in 2016 as a conference.

LSU got penned in at the top spot, but has to slide some folks around to replace both tackles. Tennessee has four starters returning, but hasn't been as consistent as it needs to be. Auburn was pegged at No. 3, but is also moving pieces around to replace both tackles.

This is a major, major problem within the conference, because the unquestioned strength on the other side of the ball is the depth and versatility of the conference's defensive lines.

We already talked about Alabama's defensive front earlier in this article. Texas A&M boasts Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall and Daylon Mack. Florida's as fierce as they come with studs like Caleb Brantley and Bryan Cox leading the way. Auburn will trot out Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, along with the deepest rotation Gus Malzahn has had on the Plains. Tennessee will line up Derek Barnett, Kahlil McKenzie and Corey Vereen, and get a boost from the presence of new coordinator Bob Shoop. Arkansas has one of the best ends you've never heard of in Deatrich Wise, Jr.

Uh oh.

Because of this massive disparity between offensive and defensive lines, the SEC runs the risk of cannibalizing itself even more than it has in the past—when it has sent a one-loss team to either the College Football Playoff or BCS Championship Game every year for the last five years.

It will also put more pressure on offensive coordinators to recognize team deficiencies, game-plan around them and get creative not only prior to games, but during those 60 minutes between the white lines.

      

Quick Outs

  • LSU defensive lineman Lewis Neal is already a successful football player and day trader. Now, according to Ross Dellenger of the Advocate, he's also the co-owner of Hair Factory. What's more, he's helping out a community. Hair Factory is giving free haircuts to first responders and military members. "I just wanted to do something positive for the community, just give back and show our appreciation," Neal said, according to Dellenger. "We want to have some positive things going around. There’s so much negativity going around. You need some positive things going viral."
  • Florida released a hype video that is sure to get you going.
  • Mississippi State's players pulled off a 17-person pool alley-oop at head coach Dan Mullen's pool party (yes, the last player made the dunk). That has nothing to do with the football season, but it's still awesome.

   

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

B/R Recruiting CFB 200: Top Defensive Backs of 2017 Class

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2017. Here we present the Top Defensive Backs.

The evolution of spread offenses designed to stretch defenses vertically and horizontally places an all-time-high value on versatility in the defensive backfield across college football. Strong secondary play creates pass-rush opportunities and greatly increases turnover opportunities that can alter the complexion of a contest.

Cornerbacks and safeties alike are challenged to defend an expansive array of opponents, from receivers and tight ends built like basketball forwards to diminutive and slippery speedsters. They're also called upon to prevent explosive gains on the ground by supplying run support in the box and along perimeter terrain.

Led by coveted 5-star Jeffrey Okudah—who serves as a prime example of a diverse defender—this group of prospects accounts for more than 20 percent of the entire B/R CFB Recruiting 200 series.

Our latest positional foray focuses on these safeties and cornerbacks, each assessed based on a criteria of pass coverage, run support, tackling skills, speed and ball skills.

 

Player order and star ratings based on 247Sports' composite rankings through July 26. Unless otherwise noted, player stats are courtesy of 247Sports.

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Marcell Ateman Injury: Updates on Oklahoma State WR's Foot and Return

Oklahoma State wide receiver Marcell Ateman will not be able to start the 2016 college football season on the field with the Cowboys in his senior year.

Continue for updates.

Ateman Could Miss at Least One Month Wednesday, July 27

On Wednesday, John Helsley of the Oklahoman reported Ateman is not expected to return until October after he "recently" underwent surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot.

Per Helsley, Ateman suffered the injury during non-contact drills this summer. The school waits for a definite return date, wide receivers coach Kasey Dunn disclosed:

I don’t know where that’s going to be. I’m hoping as soon as possible. He’s had a great summer. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I think he’ll be back probably sooner than later.

I’m bummed though, because it’s a little bit of a setback for him. His play was going up, up, up.

The 6'4", 210-pound receiver is coming off a big junior year with Oklahoma State in 2015. He finished third on the team with 45 receptions for 766 yards and scored a career-high five touchdowns. 

He racked up 100-plus yards in two games, including a 132-yard, one-touchdown effort against Iowa State on Nov. 14, via the Big 12:

Ateman played his best football down the stretch too, recording 20 of his 45 catches in the team's final four games.

It had him poised for an even larger season in 2016, as he made the Biletnikoff Award's preseason national watch list, via Cowboy Football

But with Ateman now shelved, James Washington could face even more pressure; he led Oklahoma State with 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.

Helsley noted that senior Jhajuan Seales could step in for Ateman as an outside threat despite catching just 18 catches in both his sophomore and junior season after a 39-reception freshman year.

Chris Lacy is also an option, but the 6'3" receiver has just 12 career catches in two seasons.

One of them will have to replace Ateman, as Oklahoma State is slated to face Baylor and Texas in Weeks 4 and 5 possibly without one of its top receivers. If the offense isn't clicking by then, Ateman could return to a team without any Big 12 title hopes. 

   

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.      

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Returning College Football Starters in Danger of Losing Their Jobs in 2016

Becoming a starter in college football is no easy task, and retaining that role in the next season is often just as challenging.

In 2016, several returning players might lose their starting jobs. Whether they performed poorly, an injured teammate is once again healthy or a star freshman has arrived, a lineup change could happen during the upcoming campaign—maybe even in fall camp.

The players who experience a demotion will be disappointed, and rightfully so. Instead of holding key responsibilities on the field, these one-time starters will be cheering from the sideline.

But their motivation will be clear: to win the position back.

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