NCAA Football

Back to Football Just What Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines Need

Jim Harbaugh appeared relieved—not to mention a bit tired—during his first post-practice presser as Michigan’s head football coach. It’s been two months of media frenzy, exuberance from fans and national spotlights since he said "I do" on Dec. 30. The show’s now on the road.

While addressing the media Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh didn’t offer much in terms of quotable material, but here’s the gist of the Q&A session: Having the Wolverines start the process now, rather than later, can only benefit as they dive head-first into spring camp.

There won’t be any lag or transition for Harbaugh. He’s coached college ball before, and a stint with the San Francisco 49ers hasn’t altered or thrown off his approach in the slightest.

“Coaching is coaching,” he agreed.                                  

There won’t be any half-steps or second-guessing, either—Harbaugh clearly stated that he’s intent on finding the best player at each position, regardless of circumstance or situation. That careful calculation will manifest itself as a day-to-day evaluation.

“We’re still trying to figure out who the best players are right now—we’ve just had one practice so far,” he said.

Harbaugh’s take-charge attitude, which appears to be based more on performance than words at a press conference, is exactly what the Wolverines need to counter the previous seven years of mediocrity. He even went on to say that he wished he could “bottle the enthusiasm” from his team’s first spring workout—which symbolized a new beginning and true start of a “new year.”

“You feel like, when you start, you lay down a benchmark of where you are—it gives you a place to go forward from, a place to improve from and [an idea of] things to get better at,” he said.

 

Fresh Eyes

Harbaugh knows exactly what to look for during evaluation periods. The earlier he can identify talent, the better. For the most part, former coaches Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke lacked in that regard. They had their stars and standouts, but they never really appeared to have complete rosters from top to bottom.

Massive holes were common, and costly, for nearly every position group.

With that said, widespread development should be the norm under Harbaugh, who has an expert team of assistants and staffers to assist with the process. He expressed great faith in passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno—the pair is tasked with boosting one of the worst offenses, statistically, in Michigan history.

The Wolverines averaged a meager 20.9 points and 333 yards per game, ranking them at No. 13 and No. 14 in the Big Ten, respectively.

 

Fresh Attitude

Harbaugh isn’t a cheerleading coach. He will not lead in singing Josh Groban songs, and he certainly won’t take part in any “there, there” talk. That’s not to say he’s not compassionate, which is not the case. But it is to say that he’s all business, all of the time. His chiseled demeanor just isn’t cut for the soft stuff.

Michigan, more than ever, needs that. The program has plummeted within the past decade—it has fallen from being feared to being very much beatable by the little guys of college football. And don’t even get started on rivals; the Wolverines have to crawl before they can walk in that sense. Michigan State and Ohio State are clearly levels above them at this point, having firmly taken hold of the Big Ten.

The past is the past, and athletic director Jim Hackett laid “Michigan Man” to rest back in December. But that doesn’t mean Michigan can’t take comfort in knowing that it got its man, not just any man. The feelings of a return to prominence are real. No longer a dream, the days of powerful Wolverines football are once again in reach and entirely likely. 

Harbaugh knows what’s on the line, and his readiness to embrace the responsibility of truly rebuilding the program—starting with the foundation—is nothing short of ideal for a team that’s most recent big splash came while sharing the 1997 national championship with Nebraska, which was then a member of the Big Eight.

It’s been some time. But Harbaugh’s presence justifiably suggests that now is indeed the start of something special in Ann Arbor. He said so Tuesday, in essence, just without the thing about his presence being the catalyst for the rebirth.

 

Calm but Confident

Harbaugh isn’t making any promises right now, but the 2015 Wolverines should be in better shape than the 2014 version. Brady Pallante, a former defensive tackle, has been moved to fullback—that shows Harbaugh is willing to immediately flip the script. He doesn't care who did what under whom. Players will get reps where Harbaugh sees fit. 

He expressed excitement in a stern tone. Inside, he probably wanted to jump up and down. He loves the game, why wouldn’t he? But instead, he adopted a subtle tone and deflected questions, perhaps in an attempt to momentarily curb the anticipation and shift focus to growth.

There isn’t a starting quarterback right now. There is no depth chart—because like he said, it was one four-hour practice, the first in a series of efforts to retool the winningest program in college football history.

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. Stats courtesy of BigTen.org

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SEC QB Battles That Will Be Decided This Spring

Around the SEC, very few quarterback situations are set in stone. 

Mississippi State's Dak Prescott is entrenched atop the depth chart in Starkville, as is Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs on Rocky Top and Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk for the two-time defending SEC East champs.

Other programs, however, don't have that luxury.

Coaches will be searching for the next faces of their respective programs this spring, and many could be decided before 95-degree temperatures become the norm around the Southeast. Which battles will be decided this spring? Our picks, based on contenders, coaching and competition, are in this slideshow.

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Florida State Football Recruiting: What to Watch for at 'Noles' 2nd Junior Day

Florida State's first junior day was a success that resulted in a pair of 2016 commitments and another in the 2017 class, but this weekend, it's hoping to duplicate that feat as a host of top prospects make their way to Tallahassee for the 'Noles' second junior day.

According to Chris Nee of Noles247, 5-star receiver Nate Craig-Myers—who has pledged to Auburn—and 4-star defensive end and current 'Noles pledge Janarius Robinson—headline this weekend's group of visitors.

Jimbo Fisher and his staff will look to build on a 2016 class that currently rates as the nation's No. 3 class.

But what are the main storylines for fans to pay attention to with regard to the happenings in Tallahassee this weekend?

Let's take a look at a few of them here.

 

Noles Trying to Flip In-State 5-Star WR

Florida State has an impressive group of skill players already committed in 5-star quarterback Malik Henry, 4-star tight end Isaac Nauta and 4-star receiver Keith Gavin.

One player they would love to add to that group is Craig-Myers—who is the nation's top pass-catcher in the 2016 cycle.

While Craig-Myers is committed to the Tigers, the fact that FSU is getting him on campus early is huge for its chances of flipping the 6'2", 205-pounder.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, Craig-Myers admits that his process is still open at this point despite his early pledge.

"I like the way they get the ball around to the playmakers," Craig-Myers explained to Bartow on his thoughts about FSU. "Plus, it's just a family."

Gauging his thoughts on FSU post-visit and the strength of his commitment to Auburn will be interesting to monitor.

 

Henry Not Visiting?

One thing that could entice Craig-Myers to consider taking his talents to Tallahassee is the fact that FSU will have one of the nation's most gifted passers to get him the ball in Henry.

However, according to Josh Newberg of Noles247, both Henry and Nauta—teammates at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida—will not make it in for the junior day this weekend. 

Newberg reports that Henry does plan to make it to Tallahassee next weekend, but with other high-profile targets in attendance, not having the crown jewel of the 2016 class in attendance puts a bit of a damper on this weekend's festivities. 

Considering he has already scheduled plans to make it in next weekend, there's likely no reason to worry among Seminoles faithful about the strength of Henry's commitment. After all, Fisher's resume with top-tier quarterback recruits in recent years is as good as it gets. 

However, if he no-shows again next weekend, his recruitment could become a little more interesting. 

 

Top LB Target Visiting After Offer

Linebacker is one of FSU's biggest needs in the 2016 class, with the 'Noles looking to potentially bring in four players at the spot in this cycle, according to Newberg.

One player who recently earned an offer from Fisher is 4-star linebacker Jaquan Yulee.

The 6'2", 240-pound Virginia native is the nation's sixth-best inside linebacker prospect in the 2016 class.

Yulee fits the bill of what the 'Noles are looking for in the middle level of their defense. The fact that he would schedule a visit shortly after his offer—coming from as far away as he is—is a sign of the level of interest he has in Florida State.

 

Out-of-State 2017 Studs Checking out FSU

It's never too early to get a jump on the next class for recruiting powers such as Florida State, and Fisher and his staff will get a look at some big-time rising juniors who are visiting from out of state.

One player making his way to Tallahassee is 2017 4-star linebacker Markail Benton.

The 6'2", 214-pounder will be making his way to FSU accompanied by a pair of 2016 teammates in 4-star corner John Broussard and 3-star linebacker Jamal Couch, per Nee.

"I'm going to Florida State on Feb. 28 for their junior day," Benton told Bleacher Report about his thoughts on FSU at the Adidas Georgia Showcase earlier this month. "They are just smooth. They got good coaching. I just like the atmosphere."

Another pair of elite 4-star athletes who will be in attendance this weekend is Devon Hunter—who is a prep teammate of Yulee—and Georgia native Jamyest Williams.

FSU already has three commitments in its 2017 class, and it appears that the Seminoles are laying the groundwork to land another stellar class in the next cycle.

 

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

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How Urban Meyer Passed the Time When He Got Stuck at Sea

Urban Meyer has coached in three national title games.

Twice, he's seen his championship hopes washed down the drain in the last possible week.

Heck, his coaching career has even sent him to the hospital.

Suffice to say, it'd take a lot to rattle the Ohio State head coach. But when Meyer—along with 2,500 Buckeye fans—found himself stranded at sea on the annual Buckeye Cruise for Cancer this past week, the reigning national champion coach admitted to being a little scared.

"It was a harrowing experience. I was really worried we weren't going to survive," Meyer told 10TV's Dom Tiberi with a smile. "A couple of nice glasses of wine, and we made it."

Each winter, the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer sets sail for a five-day trip with the intent of raising money for the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund for Cancer Research. Loaded with ex-Buckeye players and fans alike, this year's cruise managed to raise $2 million, although it admittedly had an advantage over past cruises.

Originally scheduled to arrive back in Tampa, Florida, on Monday, fog caused the Royal Caribbean ship to stay at sea in the Gulf of Mexico for an additional 36 hours. Initially, the thought of not knowing when they would return may have seemed scary to some, but it didn't take long until the party picked back up.

Not that it ever really stopped.

"They kept telling us we'd leave at noon [on Monday] if the fog lifted and then at noon they said it hasn't moved, so we're waiting until 4 p.m.," second-year Ohio State student Marissa Schrolucke told Bleacher Report. "No one stopped partying. It literally felt like we were supposed to be there that extra day because everyone partied as much as all of the others."

The partying still went to a good cause, with Coors agreeing to continue donating money from beer sales on the cruise's unexpected extra days. Unlike the cruise's first five days, however, nothing was planned for its sixth and seventh. But that didn't stop organizers on the ship from improvising like a quarterback on the run.

"They created fun events," Schrolucke said. "The athletes sang karaoke and the band still played by the pool with the cheerleaders."

Schrolucke, who attended the cruise with about 30 people from the St. Mary's Tailgate For Cancer, noted former linebacker and current Buckeyes strength coach Anthony Schlegel was a fan favorite in karaoke. But it was the trio of offensive lineman and current Indianapolis Colt Jack Mewhort, fullback/linebacker Zach Boren and linebacker Matt Wilhelm who stole the show on Monday night.

Taking the stage in front of a packed house, the three Ohio State greats entertained with renditions of several pop music hits, most notably, Katy Perry's "Firework."

A number of notable Buckeye alums, including current NFL players James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk, Brian Hartline, John Simon and Ryan Shazier, later joined on stage for a rendition of the Ohio State alma mater, "Carmen, Ohio." Schrolucke said Tuesday was a little more laid back, as most people began to worry about their travel arrangements.

As for Meyer, the three-time national champion head coach tried to remain just another face in the crowd. But as usual, it was his wife, Shelley, who found herself front and center.

"Shelley came out and was dancing on the dance floor and participating during the day," Schrolucke said. "Urban just was the same as he always was—chilling and observing and mingling with his family and friends."

Urban Meyer's not a dancer. Who would've thought?

Finally arriving back in Tampa on Tuesday night, Meyer took a charter flight back to Columbus, while several cruise-goers found themselves stuck in Florida on Wednesday having missed their original flights. It'd be tough to argue they didn't get their bang for their buck, though, having raised a record-setting amount of money on the cruise, thanks to two days full of extra memories they didn't originally expect to enjoy.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Silas Nacita, Baylor RB, Speaks on Being Ruled Ineligible by NCAA

Baylor running back Silas Nacita is speaking out after the NCAA deemed him ineligible to play because he accepted a place to live from what he describes as a "close family friend."    

Nacita, who was once homeless, posted a message on social media about the decision saying his academic scholarships weren't enough to cover living expenses and a friend made the offer to help out. As a result, he won't be allowed to play football any longer:

The running back says he understands the role of the NCAA, but he didn't know that he was breaking any rules by accepting a place to stay. He also thanked everybody at Baylor for the opportunity to play, although his dream was cut short.  

John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald reported the school is expected to release a statement about the situation sometime Wednesday:

ESPN's Jake Trotter reacted to the news:

Nacita tallied 31 carries for a shade under 200 yards and three touchdowns for the Bears in 2014. While he only played a limited role, his average of 6.2 yards per attempt was best on the team for anybody with double-digit carries.

Back in December, Ken Rodriguez of Sports Illustrated chronicled the long and winding journey Nacita took to Baylor. That included a period when he was homeless and was forced to spend a night in a New Mexico ditch.

The deep dive into his background also featured comments from Bears head coach Art Briles, who raved about the now-ineligible running back.

"He's a baller," Briles said. "The legend of Silas is his personality, his grit, his unwavering belief in being positive every day. He's a borderline stud...Take the border out. He may be over that line."

It's unclear what type of effort Baylor or Nacita can make to challenge the decision. Nacita seems ready to accept it if there are no other avenues, while the school's stance is unclear pending its statement.

In the bigger picture, it's unfortunate a player would be forced to choose between playing college football and being without a place to stay. Nacita endured quite a road to get his chance on the field, but now it appears to have been cut short by what's likely to become another controversial NCAA decision.   

 

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In Defense of College Football Stars' Combine 'Failures'

Fresh off a record-breaking 24-sack season in 2002, Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs took his immense gifts to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine and stumbled out of the gate, both literally and figuratively.

Suggs’ slothful 4.8-ish 40-yard dash is what garnered the most attention, although he struggled in other arenas with watchful NFL eyes tuning in. His 33-inch vertical jump was fine but ordinary. His 19 bench-press repetitions of 225 were on the low end for someone of his size and at his position, especially for someone of his size and at his position.

On paper, he looked extraordinarily average. The performance, even at a time when the combine was a niche gathering highlighted by a select few, sent the scouting world into a frenzy.

Suggs ultimately “fell”—if you want to call it that—to the Baltimore Ravens at pick No. 10 in the 2003 NFL draft. He immediately contributed, winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Suggs has since won a Super Bowl, been named the NFL Defensive MVP, made six Pro Bowls and sacked quarterbacks more than 100 times.

The ordinary tester, as it turns out, was pretty good at this. Those who watched him torment Pac-10 defenses knew better than to abandon ship.

"Just look at me playing football,” Suggs told Jarrett Bell of USA Today after his combine. “I can play football."

Over the past decade-plus, others have been thrown into a similar scouting quandary following disappointing combine showings. Good football players have garnered negative reputations based off a string of tests that do little to tell us much about the player.

As a result, players with exceptional college resumes and game tape to match have seen their abilities called into question. The 2015 NFL Scouting Combine was no different. While some physical freaks showed up and performed like freaks—take former Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, for example—others came away with the opposite buzz.

There was Paul Dawson, TCU’s outstanding outside linebacker—a tackling cyborg—firing off a dismal 4.93 40, according to NFL.com. It was a time beat by all but four linebackers in Indianapolis. Like Suggs, he also struggled on the bench press, posting just 21 reps of 225 pounds.

Playing on a team that posted a tremendous resume to make the College Football Playoff, one could make the argument that Dawson was the team’s second-most important player behind only quarterback Trevone Boykin.

His 136 tackles were tops in the Big 12 and good for ninth nationally. He was also tied for ninth in the conference with six sacks. But those were just numbers, something that has worked against Dawson in recent days. His play—what you saw with your own eyes—is really is what jumped out. He was regularly exceptional.

Following his combine showing, Dawson took to Twitter to defend the only thing that matters in all of this madness: his ability to play football, which is something not nearly as defined.

I'm an awesome football player. The best/most productive linebacker in this draft. Not a track Star. #meetmeonthefield

— Paul Dawson Jr (@PjDawson47) February 22, 2015

Josh Robinson endured a similar combine gauntlet. The former Mississippi State running back—basically a human bowling ball equipped with a V8 engine—had similar struggles with his Indy testing.

After a tremendous season, the 5’8” Robinson could only muster up a 4.7 40 at 217 pounds, according to his NFL.com profile. Despite running for 1,200 yards and averaging more than 6.3 yards per carry in 2014, similar negative rumblings matriculated.

Robinson, the proud owner of perhaps the most ridiculous and physical run of this past season, showcased a wide range of physical capabilities in one chaotic play against Kentucky.

And yet, like Dawson, Robinson felt the need to defend his abilities on Twitter after his combine had ended.

40 was slow as hell but that game speed you will not catch.

— Josh Robinson (@Bowling34ball) February 22, 2015

There were others, too. The annual tradition of “failing” the combine is not limited to just a handful of players. As the exposure of the event has increased, so has the pressure to perform up to—or beyond—standards deemed suitable to play at the next level.

That’s not to say that physical measurements and times aren’t noteworthy. In a sport built on size, speed and strength, it would be unreasonable to completely set aside results based on the traits required to reach this level. But there are exceptions to this formula. There have to be. Mass multiplied by acceleration will tell you something about force and very little about the overall worth of a player.

Just ask Suggs, Vontaze Burfict, Joe Haden, Mark Ingram and the countless other players who have performed below expectations at the combine. These "failures" were chewed up, spit out and made a career out of what they do best: play football.

The true value of the meet-and-greet—at least for those in charge of dictating its value—is not in the numbers. It’s in the interviews and conversations that transpire behind the scenes; it’s the guts of this event that are not televised, at least not at the present time.

This in itself makes it unrealistic to deem any particular combine performance a success or a failure. Those not privy to these back-room conversations would be foolish to establish conclusions otherwise.

And then there’s the prospect of relying on numbers rather than the player, the things you already know. Compression shorts and vertical leaps do very little in terms of adding substance. They are fun to talk about and gawk over, although they are small pieces of a complex puzzle.

Paul Dawson isn’t just a linebacker with an athletic lineman’s 40; he’s a sure tackler with tremendous instincts, and yes, he probably shouldn’t be covering a team’s No. 1 wideout or a superbly athletic tight end. That hasn’t changed.

Josh Robinson isn’t Chris Johnson. His V8 engine is not a V12. But he is still a handful to bring down and he can also catch the football, something he did plenty of last season. That hasn’t changed.  

There are no guarantees either player will turn outstanding collegiate careers into NFL success, but to assume that these public workouts will somehow swing their career paths one way or another is shortsighted. Both have excelled in unique ways and have the game tape to prove it. That is the only thing we know as it pertains to their football worth.

It’s not a perfect science. Not every player with a sluggish 40 will miraculously translate into Terrell Suggs. But more often than not, the games and snaps will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about a player’s football future.

Good football players have the tendency to stay good football players, even when the competition undergoes a significant upgrade. It’s amazing how that works.

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Jim Harbaugh, Media Love Affair Begins with Phenomenal Spring Practice Comments

Move over, Steve Spurrier and Art Briles. You'll have to share the "Most Quotable Coach" title for 2015. 

(Before going any further, apologies are in order to Briles: That joke was made too soon. But alas, it was too tempting to pass up.) 

New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's return to college football is fantastic for the sport for two reasons. First, it's generally believed Harbaugh will restore Michigan to the powerhouse it once was. As it turns out, though, Harbaugh also provides local and national media scribes alike with amazing sound bites. 

Harbaugh's unique social media presence has been well-documented. Now, college football media members are catching on to the fact that Harbaugh is good for a solid quote or two—or 10. 

With Michigan's spring practice starting on Wednesday, Harbaugh answered some questions from Steve Kornacki on MGoBlue.com

Q. Tomorrow’s the first day of practice. You’re going to have a whistle around your neck and a team to coach here for the first time at the place where you played. What are your thoughts and emotions?

A. It’s like Thanksgiving. It’s like New Year’s Day. It’s like a family reunion. And having it all rolled into one. Most people think of January 1st as the start of a new year. To people who espouse to Catholicism and Christianity, they might correlate that with the birth of Christ. Us in football, the start of spring practice and the first day of summer training camp are what you look at as the New Year with fireworks going off, it’s your birthday. It’s being born back into football, it’s a happening.

Q. So it’s the birth of a new team?

A. Yeah, it’s like coming out of the mother’s womb. You’re in a nice, warm, cozy environment — safe. And now you are out into the chaos and bright lights. It’s a happening. It’s all those things rolled into one.

Okay. Right on. 

This isn't the first time Harbaugh has said something that raised an eyebrow or two. On national signing day, Harbaugh essentially summed up his first class by saying "That's kind of the way the pickle squirted this year," per Fox Sports. 

Whether Harbaugh's analogies are, shall we say, off the wall doesn't matter. He's anti-coachspeak, and that's all media members really want. So naturally, they're eating up everything Harbaugh says. 

All of this attention is great for Harbaugh and Michigan, who have been on fire ever since getting free publicity from former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.  

Here's where things get interesting, though. Expressing one's personality and opinions as a sports figure can be a dangerous wire to tightrope. Guys like Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch get crushed in flaming-hot takes for not saying anything.

Yet there are a lot of fans and media alike who want athletes to express themselves—as long as it's what they want to hear. 

It's a Catch-22. 

Of course, Harbaugh's quotes aren't in the same category as political or social stances, but he has shown a willingness to open up and be himself. That's awesome, and the love affair from media members is in full swing because of it. 

But it also means there could be times when he rubs someone the wrong way. It may even be a warranted criticism. The bottom line, though, is that Harbaugh is one of the most interesting people in college football—and he talks. 

So just listen. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Breaking Down 4-Star CB Donte Vaughn's Top 4 Schools

Donte Vaughn is a player Tennessee would love to keep in-state. While it appears the 4-star cornerback will ultimately wear an SEC uniform, Volunteers fans are worried that he may go elsewhere.

Although the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions has Tennessee as a slight favorite (60 percent) over Ole Miss (40), the recruiting process is still in the infancy stages for Vaughn, who on Tuesday announced his current top four to David Johnson of 247Sports. Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn made the cut.

Tennessee, Auburn and Ole Miss have been at the top of his list since July of last year. Those three and LSU, which he recently visited for junior day, all have their positives—and all four could use a cornerback of Vaughn's caliber.

Vaughn, a 6'3," 190-pound cornerback, reached double-digit offers with the offer Saturday from LSU (Missouri's offer the same day gave him 11 total). He picked up the offer before he made it to Baton Rouge for junior day.

"That's big. That's a pretty big one," Vaughn told Justin Rowland of Rivals.com regarding the LSU offer. "I'm excited about it."

LSU likes to call itself "DBU" (Defensive Backs University), and the environment could fit a tall, rangy player like Vaughn, who is being recruited to LSU by defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Playing on the opposite side of 5-star Saivion Smith, the nation's top-ranked cornerback who committed to the Tigers on Monday, also could be a strong selling point.

Auburn feels it has a legitimate shot in the race, and picking up a commit like Vaughn would be huge. The Tigers already have 4-star athlete Stephen Davis Jr. committed as a safety, and together, the two could be the backbone of the secondary of the future for head coach Gus Malzahn.

Vaughn is quite familiar with Ole Miss, as he's taken a few unofficial visits to Oxford. He's built solid relationships with defensive backs coach Jason Jones and tight ends coach Maurice Harris, his primary recruiter, and he's enjoyed the game atmospheres.

Ole Miss has a strong class in the making with two 5-star and five 4-star pledges. What the Rebels don't have, however, is a committed defensive back.

LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss are great options, but Tennessee can sell him on a couple of things. First, it's closest to home, and the Volunteers are looking to add another in-state pledge to join 4-star offensive tackle Ryan Johnson and 3-star athlete Dorian Banks in the class.

North Carolina 4-star cornerback Marquill Osborne also is committed, and Vaughn's pledge would give the Volunteers two solid athletes who are talented enough to find legitimate playing time early in their careers.

Although Vaughn has a top four, he told Johnson that he's interested in potential visits to Ohio State, Michigan, North Carolina and Florida in the coming months. Look for Vaughn to take his time with his decision. Wherever he ends up, look for him to be a contributor early.

 

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

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5 SEC Head Coaches Who Are Underpaid

It wasn't too long ago—1995, to be exact—when former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden became college football's first million-dollar head coach. 

Now 72 of the 121 head coaches at FBS public schools break the million-dollar mark annually, according to the USA Today coaching salary database, with others at private schools likely joining them. Every SEC head coach broke the $2 million mark in 2014 other than Vanderbilt's Derek Mason, whose salary wasn't reported.

Which coaches are great investments?

Our picks for the SEC's five most underpaid head coaches based on salary, wins and revenue are in this slideshow.

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10 Spring Football Exhibition Games We Wish We Could See in 2015

Let’s be honest: Spring football games are less than inspiring.

For college football coaches across the nation, their first job for next season is evaluating their returning players and any spring enrollees and seeing how the pieces fit together before true freshmen arrive for summer workouts.

Entertainment and real football? That’s secondary.

So while fans are excited—and understandably so—about spring football, remember that spring football games are too often defined by uneven play, unusual pre-set rules and divided rosters that often create action which is hard to watch.

This is largely because players are playing in combinations that haven’t been used all spring.

Oh, and did we mention that most of these games are televised, which only feeds into coaches’ paranoia over Week 1 opponents?

Changing this is simple: Let teams play spring exhibitions against fellow FBS programs. Teams could play home-and-home series against opponents they don’t normally face, sharing revenues down the middle. Everybody wins.

How could we make the most of it? Provide attractive matchups that fans really want to see. Here are 10 matchups we’d like to see this spring.

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Georgia Football: Chris Conley's Breakout Performance at Combine Was No Surprise

Former Georgia Bulldog wide receiver Chris Conley had himself quite a day at the NFL combine on Saturday. The four-year contributor was among the event's best performers in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump, and held his own in every event.

His athleticism surprised a lot of folks—apparently.

ESPN's Brett Edgerton called Conley a "combine sensation." 

Mike Mayock of NFL Network admitted to not knowing much about Conley but recognized that the young NFL hopeful was "putting on a show," according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Frank Schwab of Yahoo! said Conley spent the weekend "wrecking the field in just about every test" at the combine.

But was Conley's stellar performance really that unexpected?

In a word, no.

Conley's spot in one of the nation's most prolific offenses has been retroactively marginalized by the Bulldogs' emphasis on run/pass balance and a host of talented pass-catching targets. But Conley stood out at Georgia. And, he was a crucial component to the unit's success.

No Bulldog accounted for more receiving yards than Conley over the past four seasons, and his time in Athens overlapped with Marlon Brown, Orson Charles, Tavarres King, Arthur Lynch and Rantavious Wooten (all of whom got NFL looks).

Conley wasn't merely a part of Georgia's explosive passing attack. For the past few years, he was a staple of it.

And the manner in which Conley contributed made his big performance under the combine's bright lights even less surprising. Conley was at his best when Georgia was most in need of a highlight.

The big-play receiver registered 29 career catches on third or fourth down. All but two of those receptions resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. Even more impressive: He averaged more than 18 yards per catch on those 27 late-down conversions.

First downs and touchdowns were a regularity for Conley. In each of his four seasons, he created first downs or touchdowns at a higher rate than the prolific Georgia passing offense as a whole.

Conley made a name for himself as a strong, speedy, reliable wide receiver—even while breaking in a new quarterback as a senior. In fact, Conley's lone season without the SEC's all-time leading passer, Aaron Murray, was also his best. As a senior, he set career marks with 657 receiving yards and eight touchdowns despite hauling in just 36 receptions.

And Conley concluded his collegiate career with jaw-dropping efficiency. Each of his final 15 receptions resulted in either first-down yardage or points for the Bulldogs.

That doesn't happen by accident.

Conley left college with a proven history of destroying talented defenses with the same grace he demonstrated at the combine.

As a sophomore, he burned Nebraska (the fourth-best passing defense in the country) for 136 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

In 2013, Conley hauled in five passes for 112 yards and a touchdown against a highly rated LSU game. In that same contest, Tigers standout and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr. caught six passes for 118 yards and no touchdowns.

He torched Arkansas for 128 yards in the absence of star running back Todd Gurley as a senior and later ran past a vaunted Louisville pass defense for 80 yards and a score on just four catches.

Contrary to overriding sentiment, Conley has been showing explosive athleticism for four years.

Sure, the 4.35 time in the 40-yard dash was surprising, and setting a record on the vertical jump is never the expectation. But the "out of nowhere" narrative is a false one.

Chris Conley was a superbly productive player at Georgia. He was structured, disciplined and talented. The outside world may just now be seeing this, but Bulldog fans have known for years.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats relating to first downs and touchdowns compiled from ESPN.com game recaps. All other stats courtesy of sports-reference.com/cfb.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: Realistic Expectations for Mark Richt in 2015

The 2015 signing class is set and spring practice is right around the corner. This only means the regular season is not far away, and the Georgia Bulldogs will come into the season with the expectation to win—and win big.

With a young and talented group returning, head coach Mark Richt knows his team is capable of doing some big things in 2015.

But can the Bulldogs really take the next step? Can Richt finally get the monkey off his back and get his first national title?

Here are some realistic expectations for Richt in 2015.

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Michael Felder's Top 5 QB Killers in the 2016 Class

The 2016 class is loaded with pass-rushers who will make opposing quarterbacks nervous. These are the guys you don't want to line up against.

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder lists his favorite defensive linemen from the 2016 class.

Who is the best defensive lineman in the 2016 class?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will 5-Star RB Kareem Walker Become the Face of Ohio State's 2016 Class?

It was halftime of Ohio State's demolition of Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship when Kareem Walker—a 5-star standout and 2016's No. 1 running back—announced his surprising commitment to Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.

Now, with Ohio State's recruiting efforts taking shape, it appears that Walker is emerging as the leader of the Buckeyes' 2016 class.

That's a major role for any recruiting class, but it's particularly important at Ohio State. Coming off their national title victory, the Buckeyes are taking aim at Alabama's stronghold atop the recruiting mountain.

To do that, they need someone to step up. Last year, when Ohio State's '15 class got off to a slow start, 5-star linebacker Justin Hilliard changed everything when he committed and became the voice for Meyer on the front line.

Walker, who's rated as the nation's No. 7 prospect overall, looks primed to take the reins in a similar fashion. Last week, he shared on Twitter that he reached out to most of the members in Ohio State's '16 class. 

This development—and, in fact, his commitment to Ohio State—seemed so unlikely a few months ago.

Back in November, Walker told Alex Gleitman of 247Sports that he planned to take his time during the recruiting process and announce his decision on national signing day in February 2016. 

“I’m going to make a decision on national signing day,” Walker said, according to Gleitman. “All of the juniors, Class of 2016, on my team, we made a pact that none of us were going to commit until national signing day, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

What changed during the ensuing two months? Why did Walker pull the trigger and give his verbal pledge so early?

For Walker, there has always been a comfort level with Ohio State. He's been to the campus numerous times and is frequently visited by the Buckeyes' coaching staff.

He had built a strong relationship with former running backs coach Stan Drayton, who recently left Ohio State to take the same position with the Chicago Bears. But the Buckeyes replaced Drayton by hiring Tony Alford from Notre Dame, a coach whom Walker was already familiar and comfortable with.

But above all, Walker sees himself thriving in Ohio State's offense, which has been fueled by standout running backs Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott over the last three seasons.

“I think I fit their offense well and they like to run the ball,” Walker said, via Gleitman.

As Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors pointed out, Walker hasn't just touched base with the current members of Ohio State's class. The star running back has also reached out to Nate Craig-Meyers, the nation's No. 1 wide receiver and current Auburn commit, and Jarrett Guarantano, the Buckeyes' top quarterback target.

There are still 11 months to go before national signing day, but Ohio State has already sealed the nation's top running back. Fittingly, if Walker does emerge as the leader of the group, he may help Meyer and the Buckeyes sign the No. 1 recruiting class.

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFB Future 100: Top 10 Linebackers in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Sanjay Kirpalani, Tyler Donohue and Damon Sayles have graded the top 100 players in the 247Sports composite ratings and provided in-depth analysis. Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Today, we present the Top Linebackers.

Other Positions 

 

There's a theme with linebackers in the 2016 class: bigger, stronger, faster.

One look at the top linebacker recruits of 2016, and it's evident that the smaller, bowling ball-shaped linebackers will be taking a back seat to the broad, tall, athletic prospects. The nation's top-ranked outside linebacker, Keion Joyner, is 6'3", 200 pounds and built more like a wide receiver than a linebacker.

It's the athleticism of the new linebacker crop that will make it one to watch, and Bleacher Report will give credit where credit is due via its CFB Future 100 series.

Outside linebackers are scored using the metrics of tackling (25 points), explosive strength (20), run defense (15), pass coverage (15) and football IQ (25). Inside linebackers are scored using the metrics of tackling (35 points), pass rush (15), run defense (30) and pass coverage (20).

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Tennessee Football: Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practices

When the Tennessee football team heads into spring practice in about a month, several players will have major opportunities to earn their coaches' trust.

Some are mid-term enrollees with the chance to get a leg up on their classmates. Others stand to be the recipient of extended looks thanks to injuries elsewhere at their positions. Then there are some who have been role players throughout their careers with potential to prove they're more.

UT head coach Butch Jones told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview last week that injuries to Derek Barnett, Danny O'Brien, Kyle Phillips and Darrin Kirkland Jr. are a blow this spring.

"We have a number of individuals who are out for spring football, so their development is set back," Jones said. "The fortunate thing is we'll have them available and they'll be ready in August, but their development's going to be set back. That's just where we are still in depth.

"Right now, our spring football is going to be one of many, many challenges."

From those setbacks blossoms the right set of circumstances for others to step up. That's exactly the atmosphere Tennessee will try to perpetuate this spring.

Let's take a look at some players who can advance their careers by breaking out this spring.

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Michigan Football: Who Is the Underdog in Wolverines QB Battle?

Listening to Jim Harbaugh’s banter after Michigan’s first practice you might be fooled into believing that he doesn't have a definite time table for ranking his seven quarterbacks.

But with early enrollee Alex Malzone already taking snaps this spring and two more quarterbacks arriving for fall camp (Zach Gentry and transfer John O’Korn) the clock is ticking for quarterbacks recruited by Brady Hoke to prove their worth.

“Every day there will be an evaluation process on every player, in every drill,” said Harbaugh. “That is ongoing, that’s always.”

Harbaugh dodged a question about how many quarterbacks would be too many to coach but Russell Bellomy won’t be the only transfer after competition shakes out.

Shane Morris brings the most baggage but also has the most experience having put in a decent performance during Michigan’s last bowl game. Morris was poised to challenge Devin Gardner last season until a nightmare outing in the Big Ten opener ended his season.

But the underdog is 6’6” Wilton Speight who was an early enrollee last spring. He was held out even as poor quarterback play sunk Michigan’s season and ended Brady Hoke’s tenure in Ann Arbor.

If Speight couldn't get playing time last season after Morris’ concussion and Gardner’s excessive turnovers, it doesn’t bode well for him cracking the lineup under Harbaugh.

But even with Michigan’s next starting quarterback on the horizon, Speight is excited by the opportunity for a fresh start under the new staff.

When questioned about the looming quarterback battle—the position that will surely dictate the success or failure of his first season—Harbaugh projected a sense of detachment.

“Right now we’re throwing the balls out there and letting them compete.”

Harbaugh said that most of his offensive staff would take part in evaluating the quarterbacks throughout the spring. But he will have the final word on who starts next season. Harbaugh has shown a knack for selecting signal callers who fit his offense even when the choice goes against conventional wisdom.

Now it’s just up to one of his seven quarterbacks to make a big impression before his handpicked quarterback recruits show up for fall camp.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

Follow
@PCallihan

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: 5 Under-the-Radar Hurricanes to Watch During Spring Practice

Spring practice represents more than the beginning of on-field preparation for the next season; it allows under-the-radar players to rise from the depths of the roster.

The Miami Hurricanes have a handful of athletes who, while they won't necessarily lift themselves into starting positions, can stake a claim to a notable role.

Previous playing time is the main factor in determining the list, which is organized by position beginning with the offensive side of the ball.

Though younger contributors usually best fit the category of "under-the-radar" players, the Canes have a couple of upperclassmen to keep an eye on, too.

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UCLA Football: 5 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practice

Spring practice provides a wonderful opportunity for players on the UCLA football team to potentially rise up and make a name for themselves. 

Jim Mora's team does return the vast majority of its starters from a season ago. As a result, there likely won't be many open starting spots on the roster. However, the team does need to continue to build depth. As is the case with any sport, competition breeds excellence. 

This piece will take a look at five players with the most to gain during the spring practice period. Two of these highlighted athletes are first-year players within the program. Two more are redshirt freshmen looking to catapult up the depth chart. 

Finally, a fifth is an established star on the team. While this individual doesn't necessarily need to gain anything from a playing standpoint, other aspects of his game need to evolve. 

 

 

 

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UCLA Football: 5 Players with the Most to Gain in Spring Practice

Spring practice provides a wonderful opportunity for players on the UCLA football team to potentially rise up and make a name for themselves. Jim Mora's team does return the vast majority of its starters from a season ago...

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