NCAA Football

Quiet Offseason Great News for Ohio State's Championship Repeat Hopes

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Officially, Ohio State's chase for a national title in 2013 came to an end with the Buckeyes' loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

But for all intents and purposes, Ohio State's championship quest two years ago was cursed before the calendar had even turned to August.

Even though the Buckeyes were coming off of a 12-0 debut season under the new direction of Urban Meyer and were preparing to face a regular-season schedule that they would prove to overmatch from a talent standpoint, Ohio State's immaturity that year had already caught up to it.

That much was evident when in the span of one July weekend, Meyer found himself suspending two star players—running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback Bradley Roby—as well as freshman tight end Marcus Baugh, in addition to dismissing offensive lineman Tim Gardner for off-the-field incidents.

And while both Hyde and Roby found their names cleared from a legal standpoint, the distractions each caused—including a three-game suspension for Hyde and an inconsistent junior season from Roby—followed the Buckeyes well into their 2013 campaign.

Meyer, of course, is no stranger to discipline-related issues, with the New York Times' Greg Bishop reporting that 31 players were arrested under his watch as the head coach at Florida from 2005-2010. But so far, aside from the occasional first pitch there and ESPYs appearance here, it's been a relatively quiet offseason for the Buckeyes in 2015, especially as far as the police blotter's concerned.

And for that, Meyer credits a "Power of the Unit" culture that's been established at Ohio State.

"If you're making decisions, if you have self-discipline and self-respect, you'll be fine. If you don't—which a lot of kids don't at this age—then there has to be a bigger purpose and there has to be something bigger than you and that's the unit," Meyer said. "Texts are always going out that where contact's made—whether it's contact on the football field or contact on High Street—where contact's made, make the right decision. And we train them for those decisions."

As Meyer mentioned, that's typically easier said than done, as evidenced by the steady stream of bad news that's emanated from Tallahassee and Florida State's apparent issues with player discipline in the past year, including twohigh-profile cases this offseason. But to their credit, the Buckeyes have managed to avoid the spotlight—at least for the wrong reasons—throughout this offseason, which is perhaps all the more impressive given their current spot atop the college football world.

Because between Cardale Jones' social media following, Ezekiel Elliott's status as one of the preseason Heisman Trophy front-runners, Joey Bosa's unique personality and the fascination surrounding Braxton Miller, there isn't a team in the country with a bigger collection of high-profile players than Ohio State.

Collectively, the Buckeyes have a larger target on their back and arguably more to lose than any other football team yet remain just a few weeks away from entering fall camp without any off-the-field incidents.

And perhaps the biggest reason for that is the hard lessons Ohio State learned just two years ago.

"We talk about it every day. This is the time of year where things can get out of hand," senior linebacker Joshua Perry said. "Coaches aren't around as much because they're taking vacations and there's a lot of free time because you're in one class and it's warm out, so everybody's out on campus. You really have to keep an eye on that. That's where it comes back to leadership."

That type of focus—perhaps more than anything—bodes well for the Buckeyes' shot at repeating as national champions, with linebacker Darron Lee taking to Twitter on Tuesday to officially turn the page on the 2014 campaign.

It's also indicative of the culture that Meyer has cultivated at Ohio State as he enters his fourth season in Columbus, which has grown by leaps and bounds since 2013's rough summer.

"It's incredible right now," Meyer said of the state of his program earlier this month. "You wish you could bottle it because it's a fight to stay there. Every school wants this culture."

It's that kind of culture that Meyer will continue to rely on, as the Buckeyes will be tested by an unprecedented quarterback competition in the coming months and all that comes along with being the defending national champions. Right now, no news is good news for Ohio State football, but with Big Ten media days kicking off in Chicago next week, it won't be long before the Buckeyes once again pop up in the headlines.

But for now, silence is more than golden when it comes to Ohio State's quest for a second straight national title.

As the Buckeyes learned the hard way two years ago, it may be essential.

 

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. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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2017 OL Jack Anderson Becomes 5-Star, Sets New Goal to Be 'Top 10 in the Nation'

Jack Anderson is just approaching his junior season, but he may already be the meanest dude in Texas high school football.

"I do my best to make sure people don't want to line up across from me," the 6'4 ½", 285-pound offensive lineman told Bleacher Report.

Anderson owns that persona when he steps onto the field, presenting a fearsome task for opponents.

"I play mean and physical. That style of play intimidates people and wears them down during a game. It's a style of play I'm proud of," he said.

It's a style of play that, when combined with his outstanding technique and impressive physical stature, earned Anderson 5-star status in 247Sports' composite rankings. He is one of only 29 prospects in the 2017 recruiting class to land on that list, which is established via average ratings from the industry's leading services.

Check another accomplishment off the list for Anderson.

"It feels great to finally earn it. Always been a goal of mine. ... Definitely the next step for me," he said.

Anderson became a rare early-invite competitor at The Opening this month. He joined more than 160 of the country's premier college football prospects at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, competing alongside a pack predominately filled with rising high school seniors.

"I've always been confident in my abilities, starting as a freshman in high school and getting the college attention early, but it's an honor to compete at The Opening as a younger player," Anderson said  "It was actually super surprising, but [Opening coach] Todd Huber told me he thought I was one of the top 20 offensive linemen in the nation."

Punching his ticket to the event was one thing. Meeting increased expectations there presented a whole new challenge.

"It's a big thing for any underclassman, especially in the trenches," Anderson said. "It teaches you mental and physical toughness because they don't take it easy in these drills. It's a man's game."

Rashan Gary, the top overall 2016 prospect, impressed as a youngster last summer at The Opening. He returned this month to claim defensive line MVP honors and believes similar success could await Anderson.

"It's going to be huge for him to get two opportunities out here," Gary said in Beaverton. "It's something I was grateful for, and I definitely used it to my advantage. He could be one of the nation's best this time next year."

If Anderson does live up to that top billing, he can thank Gary for a few lessons.

"I got some reps against Rashan, and they were humbling experiences for sure," Anderson said. "He's the real deal. It wasn't easy, but those are opportunities that help you grow as a player."

LSU defensive tackle commit Caleb Roddy, another Opening attendee, already sees immense potential.

"Jack was getting after it, man. For being a younger guy in the group, he did great out there and stopped some of the big-time 2016 players," Roddy said. "He got [Alabama commit] Kendell Jones a couple times."

Anderson managed to earn respect from several elite peers, many of whom will take on large roles with college programs as early as next year.

"I definitely saw not to underestimate him," Roddy said. "Some of those younger players who have a lot of hype get exposed at big events. He definitely stepped up to the plate."

Tommy Kraemer, a 4-star offensive tackle pledged to Notre Dame, echoed those sentiments. 

"Jack is already a very good player, and I think he'll only continue to get better," Kraemer said. "It's pretty sweet for him to have an opportunity to come out to The Opening as a '17 guy and compete against the best in America. If he continues to work on his game, he's going to be really tough on defensive linemen for a long time."

So where will Anderson intimidate folks at the next level?

His list of scholarship offers features more than 40 universities though he aims to trim things down to "10-15" favorites in the near future. Anderson, set to visit Texas A&M on July 27, said it's "safe to say" the Aggies, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will make the cut.

Texas, TCU and Baylor are additional in-state teams attempting to remain in this race. Florida, Penn State, LSU, Georgia, UCLA, USC and Ole Miss each extended offers this spring.

For now, he's focused on sharpening his craft when it comes to footwork and pass protection. Those efforts should add up to another Opening invite next summer.

"This year at The Opening was about getting used to the process and learning from a lot of people," Anderson said. "Next year, it's all gas and no brakes. I expect to be the best lineman there."

Now that his fate as a 5-star is sealed, Anderson immediately decided to push the bar higher.

"Sounds like it's time to set some new goals," he said. "Hopefully, I can be top 10 in the nation soon."

 

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.

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Obstacles That Can Prevent Georgia from Winning the SEC East

In a vote that came as a shock to nobody, Georgia was picked to win the SEC East by the assembled members of the media at SEC media days earlier this month.

The Bulldogs have been in the mix in late November in each of the last four seasons, have an abundance of talent, a superstar in running back Nick Chubb and arguably have the best outside linebackers in the country.

There are plenty of roster holes, though.

Wide receiver is a big concern behind veteran Malcolm Mitchell, there are no returning starters along the defensive line and the quarterback position is still very much up in the air heading into fall camp.

What could prevent Georgia from matching expectations and playing in the Georgia Dome in early December for a shot at the SEC title?

 

Trouble in the Trenches

Let's get this out of the way right out of the gate—the defensive line prospects head coach Mark Richt lured to Athens in the most recent recruiting class is amazing. Guys like Trent Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter are awesome and will be stars, but are they really going to shine bright just a few months removed from prom against grown men on opposing offensive lines?

I'm not so sure.

Linebacker Jordan Jenkins complimented the way the newcomers have fit in with the experienced guys at SEC media days earlier this month.

"The young guys who are there now are eager to learn," he said. "They always ask for help and are coming in to get extra film time."

That's great, and it's certainly a step in the right direction. That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to translate to the fall, though.

There are veterans at the top of the depth chart now as well, including tackles Sterling Bailey and James DeLoach, and end Josh Dawson. Can the combination of veteran rotational experience and youthful exuberance be the right combination for the Bulldogs? 

Color me skeptical. If it doesn't work out, and Georgia's defense struggles in the trenches, it could be what prevents the Bulldogs from taking the East.

 

Passing Game Doesn't Evolve

The combination of an unsettled quarterback situation and a wide receiving corps that's incredibly inexperienced should terrify Georgia fans.

Sure, Brice Ramsey is talented, Greyson Lambert has plenty of experience and Faton Bauta has the dual-threat ability that can bring a new dimension to the Georgia offense. But all of them are still wild cards, and one has to step to the forefront in August.

This isn't like last year's offseason, when redshirt senior Hutson Mason was the unquestioned starter despite being a career backup and getting a two spot-starts for Aaron Murray in 2013. He had intimate knowledge of former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's system, a bona fide stud receiver in Chris Conley and uninterrupted first-team snaps for the entire offseason.

These quarterbacks have none of those things working in their favor. 

They have a potential star in Malcolm Mitchell who absolutely has to stay healthy, a solid slot option in Isaiah McKenzie who's relatively inexperienced and a bunch of unknowns outside. Couple that with a new offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheiemer, who installs his offense with NFL speed, and a three-man quarterback battle that includes a newcomer in Lambert who just got to campus in mid-July, and Georgia is almost guaranteed to go into the opener against Louisiana-Monroe with a ton of offensive questions.

Georgia isn't going to contend for the SEC East title playing "Nick Chubb left, Nick Chubb right" all season long, and the passing game is going to have to step up at key times to take some pressure off of the superstar tailback.

 

The Schedule Jumps Up and Bites the Bulldogs

Of all of the teams in the SEC East, Georgia got perhaps the worst draw of any team.

The Bulldogs draw Alabama out of the SEC West in addition to the traditional cross-division rivalry with Auburn. Those two teams were picked to finish first and second in the SEC West by the members of the media at media days, respectively, with the Tigers pegged as the overall conference champion.

On top of that, the Bulldogs have to travel to Knoxville to play Tennessee—which was picked second in the SEC East—the week after facing the Crimson Tide in Athens. SEC teams are 10-13 the week after playing Nick Saban's squad over the last four years, with three of those wins coming against out-of-conference competition.

Georgia will have to buck the trend on Rocky Top in what could turn out to be the de facto SEC East title game.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma Football: Why Big 12 Shouldn't Sleep on the Sooners

An 8-5 season that fell well short of College Football Playoff expectations may have tempered preseason outlooks for Oklahoma in 2015. In the media's preseason poll, the Sooners were projected to finish third in the Big 12 behind TCU and Baylor. 

It did not, however, temper center Ty Darlington's confidence.

"We knew we were capable of playing with any team in the nation last year," Darlington said at Big 12 media days. "But we didn't play to the best of our ability at times." 

That's a bold statement given the outcome, but is it necessarily a false one? 

Darlington pointed to some specifics, and sure enough, Oklahoma was much closer to a Big 12 championship in 2014 than its record would lead you to believe. The little things, he said, can be the difference in a win or a loss.

"Attention to detail is everything," Darlington said, adding that has been the top priority for the Sooners this offseason. "It's part of being a good teammate and holding yourself and others accountable."

Three of Oklahoma's five losses last year came by four points or fewer. Though one play does not determine the outcome of a game, Darlington was correct in noting that those three losses involved pivotal mistakes:

In a 37-33 loss to TCU: Tied at 31 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, quarterback Trevor Knight threw a pick-six. 

In a 31-30 loss to Kansas State: Michael Hunnicutt, one of the most reliable place-kickers in college football, missed a 19-yard field goal with just under four minutes to play. 

In a 38-35 overtime loss to Oklahoma State: Up a touchdown with under four minutes remaining in regulation, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops elected to rekick a punt after a running into the kicker penalty. Tyreek Hill took the punt 92 yards for a touchdown. 

The Sooners were thoroughly outclassed in their two other losses to Baylor and Clemson, but a few plays contributed to the difference between eight wins and 11. 

"We look at it also in some of those games, we're one play away," Stoops said, "maybe having a chance to have a couple more wins if you don't give up one play on defense or you don't have a turnover for a touchdown, you don't miss a field goal, you don't punt the ball one more time if you have a poor decision by a coach."

If Oklahoma finds that attention to detail, the rest of the Big 12 shouldn't sleep on the Sooners as a possible title contender. Talent isn't a problem. Several key players return on both sides of the ball, including leading receiver Sterling Shepard.

And as Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World tweeted, Oklahoma is well-represented on the media's preseason All-Big 12 team. In fact, the Sooners are right up there with Big 12 favorites Baylor and TCU:

So if talent wasn't the issue in '14, what was? It comes back to execution. 

"I think a lot of the stuff gets blamed on the coaches, but a lot of it should fall on us," said Shepard, an All-Big 12-caliber player who essentially became a nonfactor in the second half of the season because of a groin injury. "We're the ones out there playing. They [the coaches] gives us the game plan, and we have to go execute."

Darlington concurred. "You saw how being on the wrong side of the little details can lose you games," he said. "I don't think it was a character issue or lack of effort in practice; it's just that little things add up. A missed block or assignment here or there is what cost us."

There were other factors as well. It became clear Oklahoma's coaching staff needed adjusting, so Stoops let go of co-offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell while shaking up assignments elsewhere on offense and defense. In all, four new coaches were brought in. 

"He (Stoops) made those necessary (coaching) changes, and we're behind him on those," Shepard said. "Hopefully, they're for the best. I think they are." 

With a talented roster with a number of All-Big 12 selections and a revitalized coaching staff, Oklahoma seems to be in prime position to make a surprise conference championship run. But don't call 'em an underdog. That's not the title OU wants.  

"Are you kidding? No," Stoops told the Tulsa World's Eric Bailey. "Not one bit. We're not used to that."

No, the Sooners would much rather be called by another name: Big 12 champions. In their minds, they can compete with anyone. They just have to finish. 

"There's a pride factor, a feeling that we didn't finish like we needed to last year," Darlington said. "We didn't perform how we expected to regardless of what other people expected of us."

It's a small difference from the national narrative, but then again, it's all about the details anyway. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained at Big 12 media days unless noted otherwise. 

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Predicting the 2015 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year

The start of the 2015 season is just a few weeks away, so let's take a look at some end-of-year predictions. Who will be the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after the 2015 season?

Texas' newest freshman Malik Jefferson is looking to make a huge impact in 2015. Will he do it?

Check out Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down who should win the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

3 Reasons Why Alabama Commit Shyheim Carter Will Be a Star CB for Crimson Tide

According to 247Sports, Shyheim Carter is a 4-star cornerback who is committed to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives three reasons why Carter will be a star in Tuscaloosa.

How good can Carter be for Alabama? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

3 Reasons Why Michigan Commit Chris Evans Will Be a Star for the Wolverines

Chris Evans is a 4-star all-purpose back who is committed to the Michigan Wolverines, according to 247Sports.

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives three reasons why Evans will be a star in Ann Arbor in the video above.

How good can Evans be for Michigan? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Trades We Wish Could Be Made in 2015

The MLB trade deadline is just about a week away as franchises prepare moves that could make or break their playoff pushes.

In the past year, both the NFL and the NBA were sent in respective frenzies with flurries of blockbuster trade activity. Basketball fans will definitely remember the zaniness of the last trade deadline, when one of the league's best insiders was astounded.

College football has plenty of aspects that make it extremely entertaining, but it doesn't have the hand-wringing drama of trades like the professional leagues. (It definitely has free-agent signings thanks to the wild world of recruiting and the rise of graduate transfers.)

As the long offseason continues to drag along toward the fall, let's look at some possible and completely hypothetical trades that would be great to see in college football.

First, here are some ground rules: Teams can't trade for scholarship slots, which would be like pro teams trading for draft picks. There must be an exchange of players for both sides. Also, the deals should be fairly even—we're not in the business of trade robbery here with this offseason exercise.

In the words of Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval, who did a similar piece last season, remember that "all trades are completely fabricated and shouldn't be attempted by anyone, ever."

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Arrests Ensue After Fans Brawl over Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry on a Boat

College football fanhood runs deep—really, really deep.

While riding the Jet Express in Michigan, a pair of couples were arrested after a brawl ensued following an argument over Michigan and Ohio State.

According to 13ABC Action News, “Witnesses say the rivalry argument turned physical between two couples with a woman pulling another woman’s hair and the two men throwing punches at each other.”

Here's one rider's account of the melee:

They were arguing, cursing at each other. As the argument went on, the Michigan fan's girlfriend stood up, pulled the hair of the Ohio State's fan's girlfriend … the wife, actually. He tried to defend his wife by shoving the Michigan fan's girlfriend. The Michigan fan stood up and tried to defend his girlfriend. And after that they mutually started to fist fight and swing on each other. It was crazy.

Madness. Jet Express owner Todd Blumensaadt didn’t seem all that shocked, though.

“It happens,” Blumensaadt said. “They get very passionate about their teams. ... We haul a lot of people, bring a lot of people together. This was like 1:42 a.m., so I'm guessing there may be a few drinks involved in this one.”

It’s hard to believe Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines’ new leader, isn’t at least somewhat proud of this.

[ABC, h/t Sporting News]

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Excuses, Distractions and the SEC's Loss of the Benefit of the Doubt

That sound you heard coming from Hoover, Alabama, and Bristol, Connecticut, this month isn't the SEC trumpet being blasted all over the college football world, it's the sound of its coaches saying "hey, look, don't forget about us!"

"Talkin' season," as South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier calls it, has turned into "complaining season" as we get closer to the start of fall camp.

At SEC media days earlier this month, Alabama's Nick Saban took to the podium and complained about the NFL's draft calendar, which returns draft grades to players prior to most major bowl games.

"We had six guys in this situation this past year and 11 the year before," he said. "So we're trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he's a first-round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick finds out he's not a first-round draft pick, and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game."

Is that an excuse? It certainly got portrayed as one nationally. The truth is that it can be part excuse, part complaint and part political stance at the same time. However you viewed Saban's comments, though, it's pretty silly to give players their draft grades prior to the College Football Playoff.

Fast-forward a week, and Auburn's Gus Malzahn is now the SEC's new "whiner."

While going through the ESPN car wash on Tuesday, Malzahn was asked about the success of other conferences in major bowls over the last two seasons. His answer, according to ESPN's Travis Haney and Brett McMurphy, was bizarre.

Not surprisingly, the comments have spurned a strong reaction from national media members.

The SEC simply can't have it both ways.

When the conference was ripping off seven straight national titles, the strength of the conference was one of the primary reasons that its best teams were "battle-tested" for those big games.

Now, suddenly, it's a liability? Come on.

On top of that, SEC coaches have suddenly become big-time proponents of expanding the playoff to eight teams. That's not the most shocking thing in the world considering they all get a little bump in salary for making the meaningful postseason.

All of these things, though, point to a bigger issue: The SEC has lost the benefit of the doubt nationally, its coaches know it and they don't like it.

Two straight bowl seasons without a single major bowl win has chipped away at the perception that SEC teams in the playoff mix are unquestionably worthy of not only a spot, but the top spot.

If the exact situation that presented itself last year came up this year, would Alabama be the unquestioned No. 1 seed? I'm not sure, especially with the resume Oregon posted prior to the playoff.

Instead of that SEC patch on a team's jersey carrying the weight, teams are more likely to be judged on their specific resumes now.

That means lingering issues like Alabama's secondary, Auburn's defense and other problems that have plagued teams that have made major noise on the national scene will be placed under even more of a microscope and could knock them down a peg or two.

SEC coaches are going to be labeled whiners based on their offseason comments, and that's fine. I'm not so sure they care all that much. 

What is important, though, is that it's clear from their comments that they know that the benefit of the doubt the conference once enjoyed is long gone.

That should make for an interesting Selection Sunday in year two of the College Football Playoff.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFB Recruiting 200: Top 200 Overall Recruits in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report 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. As the summer camp circuit comes to a close, Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Today, we present the Overall Top 200.

 

From big time playmakers to terrorizing defenders, the Class of 2016 is loaded with impressive talent on both sides of the ball. 

Stud high school recruits from Florida, Texas and California dominate the top overall rankings, but nearly every state is represented in 247Sports Composite Rankings, which compile ratings listed by the major media recruiting services. 

This list provides a glimpse of college football's future stars and how they've arrived at this point. Continue on for our review of the rankings, complete with individual grades and insight on each prospect.

Be sure to sound off in the comments below with your thoughts on overall rankings, scores and recruit projections.

 

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Texas Football: 7 Longhorns Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

The Texas Longhorns' offseason has gotten pretty boring lately.

Sure, we've had the quarterback battle and the coming of Malik Jefferson, but both of them have been teasers for the real thing.

The big event, other than actual football, is getting the nation's No. 9 recruiting class, per 247Sports—head coach Charlie Strong's first full one at Texas—on campus. So far, its members haven't disappointed, following in Jefferson's footsteps to give this program a new attitude moving forward.

Once fall camp hits, we'll finally get a sense of who's on board and who's content to let the next generation of talent take the reins.

As expected, guys like Johnathan Gray and the rest of the incumbents who were expected to lead this team have responded. That should hardly be a surprise.

But there are still guys, aside from Gray, Jefferson and the other stars of this team, who have been overlooked and deserve your respect. They'll prove that once they put on the pads.

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SEC Football: Biggest Question Left for Each Team to Answer

The 2015 college football season is quickly approaching with well under two months left until opening weekend. 

When fall camp begins in a few weeks, head coaches will work to fine-tune their teams, tie up loose ends and have their squad ready to go to start the season.

Most SEC schools will start the season against a Power Five opponent. Without a tuneup game to start the year, teams can't afford to have any details left to iron out when they head into their first games. 

So what are the biggest question marks in the SEC as another college football season looms right around the corner?

Here is a look at the questions each SEC team needs to answer for the 2015 season. 

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: What 4-Star LB Daniel Bituli Brings to Vols

Tennessee football coach Butch Jones began last week with some excitement created by snagging a legacy commitment, and then he ended it in style with an in-state pledge from 4-star linebacker Daniel Bituli.

The 6'4", 235-pound linebacker from Nashville Christian School announced his intentions to play for the Vols on Saturday morning via Twitter:

As the video above displays, Bituli is a versatile and athletic big-bodied linebacker who has the size and speed combination to play several different positions.

Though he is perhaps best suited to play middle linebacker in defensive coordinator John Jancek's multiple 4-3 scheme, he also has the lateral quickness to stay on the outside if needed, especially in the hybrid role occupied by senior Curt Maggitt.

It's also possible that Bituli could grow into a pass-rushing defensive end, though he appears to be a premiere prospect to compete for the Vols' middle linebacker of the future.

Bituli is the state's top-ranked player, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, and the 14th-ranked outside linebacker nationally. He's also one of the country's top 200 players and the second-highest rated player in the Vols' current class.

He had offers from Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Mississippi State, Louisville, Oklahoma and others.

UT currently has 13 commitments in a class that is ranked 18th nationally and may not grow much more. With the Vols planning on taking fewer than 20 commits, this class may not wind up highly ranked, but it's going to have plenty of star quality.

Jones was excited about landing the highly coveted prospect. Even though NCAA rules precluded him from mentioning Bituli by name, this Saturday tweet was a not-so-subtle reference to Bituli's pledge:

But rankings aren't the only reason why Bituli's pledge is important. Let's take a look at some things his pledge brings to the program.

 

Loaded for the Future

Bituli will team with fellow in-state prospect Tim Hart of Memphis University School to give the Vols a formidable duo that will probably round out the position for UT in this cycle.

At 6'1", 215 pounds, Hart doesn't have elite size or speed, but he's just a tackling machine with strong football instincts, intelligence and a quality skill set. Though he's only a 3-star prospect, schools such as LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Missouri wanted him.

The Vols ultimately won his verbal commitment, and though it's non-binding, neither he nor Bituli seems like he'll waver. Bituli, especially, seemed final in his college selection.

"This is it," he told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan of his Saturday commitment. Bituli went on to say he "wanted to be part of something special."

UT's linebacking corps certainly has the ability to be.

By the time Bituli arrives, Jalen Reeves-Maybin will be a senior leader and cornerstone of the defense. But the Vols are absolutely loaded on the second level for the next few years.

Sophomore Cortez McDowell and redshirt freshman Dillon Bates lead a group of talented linebackers that'll be the next group of potential studs.

Tons of buzz has circulated about the size, speed and photographic memory of freshman mid-term middle linebacker enrollee Darrin Kirkland, who is expected to compete for the Vols' spot in the center of their defense right away.

As if that wasn't enough excitement, the two new outside linebackers—Quart'e Sapp and Austin Smith—are potentially dynamic, athletic key pieces who play different positions.

Sapp will be a future factor on the weak side, where Reeves-Maybin roams, while Smith appears perfect for Maggitt's hybrid end/outside-linebacker role.

"There were more high-profile prospects than Sapp and Smith in Tennessee's acclaimed 2015 class, but aside from maybe [former star recruit defensive tackle] Kahlil McKenzie, I've not heard better things about any of them than I've heard about Sapp and Smith since they enrolled this summer," GoVols247's Wes Rucker told Bleacher Report. "We'll see what they can do in pads, but so far, so great."

Others such as Elliott Berry, Jakob Johnson and Gavin Bryant should provide quality depth, too.

There are already a pair of elite linebackers in the 2017 class whom the Vols are off to excellent starts with, including La Vergne, Tennessee, athlete Maleik Gray and Shelby, North Carolina, outside 'backer Justin Foster.

With so many young, talented players and with all the quality prospects UT and position coach Tommy Thigpen are in the mix for, the position is in good shape for the next handful of seasons.

 

Stacking Vols In-State

Last week served as a microcosm to how Jones has rebuilt the Volunteers' roster over the course of his two-plus seasons in Knoxville.

Not only has he taken advantage of elite players with ties to UT as he continued with 2018 elite offensive lineman Cade Mayscommitment, but Jones also locks down state borders, as he proved with Bituli.

Bituli's commitment marks the third consecutive year that Jones has pulled the top-ranked player in the state, a feat that Derek Dooley pulled off just once.

The verbal pledge is huge not just because of how good a player Bituli is but also because it is symbolic of the success Tennessee's coaches have experienced in keeping the top prospects at home. That's an element that simply didn't exist under Dooley, who failed to establish and sustain recruiting relationships. Mark Nagi noted Dooley's dismal situation when it comes to successful in-state recruiting:

Jones said on the day he was hired to coach the Vols that his focus would be on keeping the best players home, and he's done it.

Last year, three of the top four prospects in the state (Kyle Phillips, Drew Richmond and Jack Jones) chose the Vols. In 2013, the first full recruiting class Jones signed, the top three and nine of the top 11 signed with UT.

With Bituli secured now, the Vols will turn their attention to the state's second-ranked player, Joejuan Williams. UT is also still very much in the mix for the next two players on that list—offensive tackle Bryce Mathews, who may be deciding very soon, and defensive lineman Emmit Gooden. Gooden was a one-time UT commit and still has Tennessee at the top of his list.

With No. 5 Ryan Johnson already a Volunter and with UT still trying to flip receiver Dillon Mitchell from Oregon, there is work to be done, but the Vols are looking strong in-state again.

Considering the 2017 class is expected to be one of the best crops of talent in the state's history and with the way Jones has snagged prospect after prospect from the Volunteer State, Vols fans should feel confident.

 

Time to Develop

Finally, with all that depth and talent already in place at UT, Bituli has time to marinate, go through a strength and conditioning program, pay his dues on the practice field and learn the scheme.

If he's good enough to come right in and battle Kirkland and Bates at middle linebacker, he'll get that opportunity. Otherwise, Bituli should have time to see where he can carve his niche.

Big, athletic players such as Bituli, who move the way he does laterally and who looks like he can hold 250 pounds relatively easily, don't come around very often. He may be a bit raw, and he hasn't really participated much in the camp circuit, but that doesn't take away his prospect ceiling.

His high school coach, Jeff Brothers, has nothing but praise for Bituli, and this is a man who coached Ole Miss offensive line commitment Alex Givens a year ago and sees Division I talent all the time: 

A network with quality talent evaluators, such as 247Sports, doesn't determine you are the state's top-ranked player without you being a top-shelf talent.

Bituli has the chance to be a really good player for a long time in Knoxville. Getting his commitment is good for perception, it's good for depth at a position that is loading up for the future and, most importantly, it's good because he has the chance to be a dynamic playmaker.

 

All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: 3 Buckeyes Primed for Breakout Seasons

The Ohio State Buckeyes have more star power on their roster than any other team in college football, but head coach Urban Meyer has a trio of players in Raekwon McMillan, Curtis Samuel and Tyquan Lewis who are ready to break out in 2015.

Fresh off their improbable run through the first College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes are set to enter the season as the top-ranked team. They'll have 15 starters back for their title defense—in addition to three championship-caliber signal-callers—and they're expected to dominate, as early lines out of Las Vegas have them as at least 14-point favorites over every opponent on their schedule, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.

But these three players have a great chance to break out and shine alongside Ohio State's bevy of superstars.

 

Raekwon McMillan, Middle Linebacker

The middle linebacker position was a big problem for Meyer when he took over at Ohio State. 

During his first year in Columbus in 2012, the Buckeyes had to convert fullback Zach Boren to defense midway through the season because of a lack of production from the position. In 2013, the linebacker unit developed into Meyer's biggest concern as the season wore on, and the group collapsed in season-ending losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

But 2014 was different, in part because of a simplified defensive scheme—but mainly because of improved depth. Darron Lee became the best-kept secret in college football, developing into a nightmare pass-rusher and an exceptional all-around defender.

But McMillan's presence was another big part of the turnaround. Sharing time with senior Curtis Grant, McMillan shined, totaling 54 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception that he returned 24 yards for a touchdown.

With McMillan taking over as the primary middle linebacker, those numbers could (and should) easily double. He has outstanding instincts and finds the ball effectively, and with Lee and Joshua Perry lining up on either side of him, he'll have plenty of opportunities to make plays.

How good can McMillan be in 2015? The true sophomore was named to the 2015 Butkus Award watch list before even making his first start for the Buckeyes.

 

Curtis Samuel, H-Back

It didn't take long for Samuel to show how dangerous he could be in Meyer's offense.

As a true freshman and early enrollee last year, Samuel flashed his playmaking ability during spring practice, just a few months into his collegiate career. In one of his first practices with the team, he ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run that caught Meyer's attention.

That helped him earn some time in the running back rotation last year, and by the end of the season, he was Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup. He ran for 383 yards and six touchdowns and added 95 receiving yards during his first season with the Buckeyes.

But with Elliott back and expected to carry the load at running back this fall, Meyer moved Samuel to the perimeter this spring in an effort to get his best playmakers on the field.

"The days of Curtis Samuel playing 10 plays are over," Meyer said, according to Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. "It's our job to get him on the field for 40 or 50 plays."

That effort will put Samuel in more of a hybrid role, so he'll be able to make plays out of the backfield, running the ball, and down the field in the passing game. And when his athleticism and playmaking ability combine with Meyer's creativeness on offense, it could mean big things for the sophomore.

 

Tyquan Lewis, Weak-Side Defensive End

Joey Bosa is getting a ton of attention this offseason—and deservedly so. The strong-side defensive end was phenomenal during his sophomore season, ranking fifth nationally in total sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (21).

But that attention could be the main cause for optimism with Lewis, the Buckeyes' emerging weak-side defensive end.

That position wasn't as strong for Ohio State last season after it lost rising junior Noah Spence to a season-long suspension. Seniors Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier filled in admirably, but neither packed the punch that Spence brought to the other side of the line as a complement to Bosa.

But Lewis has the potential to provide that punch this fall.

After playing sparingly as a reserve last season, Lewis was one of the lone bright spots in spring practice. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson chimed in, per Tim Moody of the Lantern:

Tyquan is having a great spring, really great spring. ... It’s clicked in his mind, the kind of player he has to be. He’s playing much faster than he played last year. And I think he understands the defensive concept much more than he did last year. But he’s had a really outstanding spring.

Will that outstanding spring translate to a breakout fall?

With Bosa demanding so much attention on the other side, and with Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt forming a formidable interior, Lewis will have all the opportunities in the world to thrive this season.

 

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

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Laquon Treadwell's Comeback Not Just Inspiring but Reinvigorating Ole Miss

You hear words like “heartbreak,” “inspiration” and “comeback” used with Ole Miss junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, but none of them seem to be entirely fitting or worthy.

Perhaps that’s because the way he sustained a horrific injury, on national television with a high-profile game on the line, or that it had such a wide-reaching impact. Regardless, Treadwell remains on pace to be back in the starting lineup when Ole Miss opens the season against Tennessee-Martin on Sept. 5.

“He’s killing it,” junior tight end Evan Engram said. “He’s come a long way from his injury, strength-wise, confidence-wise. He’s back to being that leader—I mean he’s never left as being a leader—but he’s running around getting guys right, teaching the young guys.

“It’s good to see him back, and he’s having fun.”

Although Ole Miss players won’t officially report to training camp until early August, Treadwell pushed himself through the spring and remained busy over the summer in hopes of not just returning but coming back a better player.

Teammates say he’s lost a little weight, is jumping higher and may be even more explosive. Granted, there can be some hesitation when he’s going through drills opposite defenders, which is normal for any player coming off a serious injury, but even his coaches can’t stop raving about his progress.

“I'm anxious to get pads on him and see how he responds when the ball's a little high and in traffic,” Hugh Freeze said.

Of course, the last time Treadwell was in uniform was Nov. 1. Although Ole Miss was coming off a 10-7 loss at LSU, it was still ranked fourth in the playoff standings and hosting No. 3 Auburn. At minimum the winner would control its own destiny, and the stadium atmosphere matched the intensity from what was at stake.

Down 35-31, the Rebels’ season was hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter. The offense had just lost a fumble inside the Auburn 10, while the defense was in the process of giving up a then-season high in points and yards (507).

Only one minute, 38 seconds remained on the clock when the Rebels snapped the ball facing 3rd-and-3 at the Auburn 20. With three wide receivers lined up to the left, the call was a play-action, catch-and-run screen pass to Treadwell, who stepped back and caught it at about the 23. With a burst he eluded two would-be tacklers and quickly closed in on the goal line.

With Auburn attacking, the only player who had a chance to stop him was Kris Frost, who had started the play on the other side of the field. Because Treadwell already had a step on him, the linebacker had to try and pull him down from behind.

The force of the tackle caused Treadwell to swing back the arm carrying the ball, which had yet to cross the goal line, but in the process Frost landed on the speedster's planted left leg, resulting in a fracture and dislocated ankle.

“Extremely unfortunate,” Frost said. “It was one of those freak accident plays that just kind of happens when playing this rough sport that we play.”

Although initially ruled a go-ahead touchdown, replay confirmed that it was actually a fumble, with Auburn’s Cassanova McKinzy recovering in the end zone. For Ole Miss, whose fans had been poised to celebrate another dramatic win, it didn’t just suck the joy out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium but the season too.

“The way it ended, it hurt,” senior safety Mike Hilton said. “We all thought he scored at first. He didn’t, and the way he got hurt it really brought our energy down.”

Things just weren’t the same after that, even in practice, and coupled with some other key injuries, Ole Miss struggled down the stretch. It meandered through a 48-0 victory against Presbyterian and the subsequent bye week, only to make six turnovers during a crushing 30-0 loss at Arkansas.

Ole Miss closed out the regular season with a 31-17 victory against rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl but was pounded by a hungry TCU team in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, 42-3.

“For it to happen like it did, adversity is certainly a teaching tool, but that next week, I don't know—I tried everything in the world, but I didn't sense that we could rebound from it,” Freeze said.

Only now can the players fully see that Treadwell’s injury was really a mortal wound for the 2014 season.

“It took a lot out of us,” senior linebacker C.J. Johnson said. “To lose any player like that would hurt, but to lose Laquon, that was something that was tough for us to bounce back from.”

But with Treadwell back, optimism has returned to Oxford, and he’s become one of those rare players who just about everyone in the SEC can’t help but root for. Even Frost, who reached out to Treadwell the day after the injury, made a point to watch the Ole Miss spring game and enjoyed seeing the wide receiver run around on the sideline.

He might not like it so much in a couple of months.

“We feel like we’re refreshed,” Johnson said.

“I think we’re going to do something special,” Hilton said.

 

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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UCLA Football: Bruins' Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

There are four big position battles facing Jim Mora and the UCLA football team as fall camp approaches. 

Fortunately for Mora, the vast majority of the roster returns, with experience littered throughout the roster. 

With said, there are a few areas of concern—particularly at one position in which the former starter set multiple school records before leaving for the NFL. 

This piece will analyze the biggest position battles heading into fall camp for the Bruins.

 

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UCLA Football: Bruins' Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

There are four big position battles facing Jim Mora and the UCLA football team as fall camp approaches. Fortunately for Mora, the vast majority of the roster returns, with experience littered throughout the roster...

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Texas Football: Longhorns Need 2015 QB to Just Be Game Manager

DALLAS — Texas head coach Charlie Strong didn't want to talk about what his quarterbacks, Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, needed to do in 2015. He wanted to talk about everyone else. 

When you consider what Strong is looking for in a quarterback in Year 2, his reasoning makes sense. 

"A lot is made about the quarterback position, and it should be," Strong told Bleacher Report during Day 2 of Big 12 media days. "When it plays well, it gets a lot of praise.  When it plays bad, it gets a lot of criticism."

And, boy, oh boy, did Swoopes get a lot of criticism in 2014. 

Some of it was warranted. Swoopes was inconsistent, to say the least, throwing 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. For every good game, there were another two or three bad ones. In the Texas Bowl against Arkansas, Swoopes had just 57 yards passing.

But to put the Longhorns' offensive struggles on Swoopes alone would be unfair, especially considering he was thrust into the starting job perhaps before he was ready. Injuries and dismissals took an especially hard toll on the offensive line. Strong said as much in a March interview with Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports. 

"I don't care if you had Teddy Bridgewater standing back there last year, people wouldn't have thought he was very good either," Strong told Feldman

Senior running back Johnathan Gray agreed. 

"Last year, the O-line was young. They didn't know what they were supposed to do," said Gray. "We just weren't clicking together. 

"Now they're jelling, helping me and Tyrone read the defenses."

So think of Gray's point this way: In 2015, it's not so much what Swoopes (or Heard) needs to do; it's what everyone else needs to do—what they can do.

"Every quarterback I've ever been around, there's been really good players around them," Strong said. "I could just go back to the University of Florida, and I think about Tim Tebow. You had Percy Harvin lined up, Aaron Hernandez lined up, you had Riley Cooper outside. You had (Chris) Rainey behind, you had two first‑rounders on the offensive line. 

"Everybody's got to do their part."

Strong promised a move to a more wide-open offense this year. If that offense can get more production out of Gray, who is finally healthy and up to 215 pounds after an Achilles injury ended his 2013 season, a new-look wide receiver unit and the O-line, it will take a ton of pressure off the quarterback. Specifically, Strong praised Daje Johnson, a longtime program guy who has potential but hasn't quite lived up to it. Help from those types of players would be a huge step in the right direction. 

Perhaps, then, less will actually be more for the starting signal-caller. Swoopes or Heard, who are still in a quarterback battle, won't feel like they have to do everything. The "game manager" title can be viewed as an indictment, but in this instance, it would be a welcome change. 

"My goals for this year is help my teammates get better first," Gray said. "My responsibility is to be an option. I need to make sure I'm good in the run and the pass. I need to open up things for Tyrone so he doesn't have to think as much." 

Swoopes wasn't at media days, but if he was, he probably would have agreed that he was thinking too much last year and not letting the game come to him. Not that he had many options, of course. Texas' run game averaged fewer than four yards per attempt, meaning there was little respect for it. That allowed defenses to make the passing game a living hell for the sophomore. 

If Texas can improve in the trenches, there won't be any more excuses for the quarterback not to play well enough to move the chains. 

"It's all about them managing the offense, putting us in position where we can move the football, but not turning the ball over and having dumb plays or dumb mistakes," Strong said. 

Decision making is an emphasis for all positions, but especially at the quarterback spot. Gray said Heard has been making better decisions this offseason. Instead of taking off to run after going through his first read, Heard is going through his progressions more and pushing Swoopes. That's made both players better. 

The potential is there. The scheme has changed. The challenge has been accepted. Now, all that's left to do is to execute. And that's not just a check list for the quarterbacks. It's on everyone. 

"It's a great offense for us," Gray said. "The sky's the limit."

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Ranking the College Football Players Most Likely to Score 20 Touchdowns

The college football landscape in 2015 will feature an array of dynamic athletes. 

Many of these talents have the ability to produce at high levels. Of course, a top determiner when it comes to production is the number of touchdowns one can accrue.

This piece will analyze the players most likely to score 20 touchdowns this upcoming year. 

A few factors contribute to ranking—and appearance—on this list. For example, the returning situation at quarterback and wide receiver will likely determine the number of touches one may receive. Of course, the success enjoyed in past years by the player will also be taken into account. 

Aside from one player on this list (who is more of a mobile option), quarterbacks will not be included. 

 

Honorable mentions: Shock Linwood, Derrick Henry, Paul Perkins

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