NCAA Football

Florida Football: Is Dante Fowler the Next Jadeveon Clowney of College Football?

Last season, the entire football world marveled at the talent of Jadeveon Clowney. Few had ever seen anybody as big, strong and fast as the former South Carolina defensive end. He was like the LeBron James of college football—an insanely gifted athlete who had the best of everything rolled into one.

Some believe it’ll be another 10 years before anybody comes close to that skill set.

But Dante Fowler Jr., who is likely playing his last year at Florida, is a pretty good defensive end. He doesn’t have a play that was shown on SportsCenter every 42 seconds. He isn’t being covered the way Clowney was entering his junior season. And no, he certainly isn’t on any Heisman lists.

However, Fowler has the potential to be this year’s Clowney—an athletic freak who takes over college football and rapidly climbs to the top of NFL draft boards.

Let’s take a quick glance at the measurements for the sake of argument:

There's no question that Clowney is bigger and faster than Fowler. After all, we’re talking about possibly a once-in-a-generation talent with Clowney. That doesn’t mean Fowler can’t have the same impact on his team, though. Here are last year’s numbers, just to keep the argument going:

Sure, Clowney faced a ton of double-teams last season, and some people say he took plays off to save himself from injury for the next level. But at the end of the day, the numbers are what they are, and there’s no denying that Fowler had a similar impact, if not more of an impact, on his team last season. 

But it’s going to take more than numbers to do the job. After all, 29 players in the SEC finished with more sacks than Clowney last season.

That’s where we can look at the overall skill set of Fowler. We know he isn’t as fast or big as Clowney, but some of the top players in the world were considered too small and ended up proving critics wrong (Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Barry Sanders, etc.).

Fowler makes up for his smaller frame with a nonstop motor and old-school effort. He flies off the football, is very aggressive and uses his hands extremely well to break free.

Remind you of anybody?

While the two players share common traits, Fowler is actually much more versatile, as he can play defensive end or linebacker. South Carolina played Clowney at linebacker in certain packages, but Fowler is truly comfortable wherever you put him, while Clowney appears to be more of a traditional defensive end.

That makes Fowler even more effective, as defenses never quite know where he’s going to line up.

Fowler had a field day against Antonio Richardson in the video above. Keep in mind that Richardson is 6’6” and 336 pounds and was high on NFL draft boards at one point. The Florida defensive specialist dominated the big boy throughout the game and proved just how overwhelming he can be.

Imagine that effort and consistency for an entire season. Unfortunately for SEC quarterbacks, that's exactly what's expected.

Fowler cut back on the fast food and feels like he's in the best shape of his life, according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel. Of course, better shape equates to better play, which usually results in better numbers. Better numbers result in more coverage, and that usually builds a player's draft stock.

Oh, speaking of draft status, that doesn't seem to be a problem at the moment for Fowler.

ESPN Insider Todd McShay (subscription required) listed Fowler as a top-five pick in his first 2015 mock draft: "Fowler plays with an edge and a high-revving motor, and he has maintained his speed to this point in his career even while adding bulk. He has good explosiveness and closing burst, as well as violent hands. The Gators have played him all along the defensive line and at outside linebacker."

Now, imagine if he plays with a little more consistency and has a season anywhere close to the year Clowney had as a sophomore (13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.) We could be talking about the first overall pick in next year’s draft.

Clowney set the bar extremely high in three short seasons—a bar Fowler may never actually reach. But don’t be surprised if he’s the most talked-about defensive player in college football this season and if he racks up off-the-wall stats and makes a case for the top pick in the NFL draft.

That’s close enough to be Clowney-like.

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6 Most Obscure College Football Rules

It’s happened to us all. You’re watching a college football game and a game-changing play happens. You look to the officials for an explanation, and the result is flummoxing.

It happens. College football fans are known for their intensity and depth of knowledge, but they aren’t paid to know the voluminous NCAA rulebook. Officials are, which leads to some obscure rules being pulled out as explanations.

It happens every year, and it’ll happen again this fall. Here’s a look at some of the most obscure rules in the college football rule book, some of which will pop up again in the 2014 season—and some of which will not.

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5 Reasons SEC Football Will Dominate College Football Playoff Era

Out with the old, and in with the new. The 2014 season marks the inaugural four-team college football playoff system that will replace the BCS National Championship Game.

It's going to be a major change for everybody, but one thing that won't be altered is the Southeastern Conference's reign over the past decade.

Until Auburn's narrow, 34-31 loss to Florida State in January, the league had won seven consecutive BCS National Championships and nine of 16 since the system began in 1998. In 10 of those seasons, the SEC put a representative in the game.

The reasons for that dominance are many. But SEC commissioner Mike Slive told CBS Sports' Tony Barnhart, "no one will ever equal it." Because of the competition week-in and week-out, Slive said the league has an advantage:

"The BCS championship is a big game, obviously. But every week in our conference is such a struggle. To win a championship you have to be at your best every week and then find ways to win when you don't play your best. Once our teams get to this game, they know they can pretty much handle anything."

Here are the five biggest reasons why the SEC will rebound from the hiccup of Auburn's loss to Florida State and continue its run of dominance in the playoff era.

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Tennessee Football: Over, Under Stat Projections for Justin Worley in 2014

As the 2014 college football season approaches, Tennessee senior Justin Worley is in position to improve his play across the board and lead the team back to its first bowl game since 2010. 

Although he struggled at times during the first few games of the 2013 season, Worley was beginning to come into his own by midseason. The Georgia and South Carolina games proved that while he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, the former South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year performs well under pressure. 

Unfortunately, the momentum he was building was lost when he injured his thumb against the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in the eighth game of the season and was forced to the sidelines for the rest of the year. 

His stats through two-thirds of the 2013 season included a 55.6 percent completion rate, 1,239 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

For an SEC quarterback, it's fair to label those numbers as below average. However, Worley didn't have many experienced targets to throw to in 2013—a situation that should be remedied this season.

Although Worley is unlikely to emerge as a top quarterback in the SEC, he will undoubtedly show marked improvement in just about every category as the Volunteers' starting quarterback in 2014. 

Here are the over/under stat projections for Worley through Tennessee's gauntlet of a schedule this fall. 

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5 Burning Questions in 5-Star LB John Houston's Recruitment

John Houston is a 5-star linebacker from California with a great skill set. He's an athletic second-level defender who has a game that is based on speed and explosiveness.

At 6'3" and 211 pounds, Houston has solid instincts and ball-location skills to flash to the football versus running plays. He also is more than capable of flipping his hips and transitioning in space while out in coverage.

Many schools are in the mix for Houston, which is why he has a few burning questions regarding his recruitment.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

 

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2015 Committed Recruits Who Continue to Flirt with Other Schools

Often, a recruit makes a commitment and shuts down his recruitment. He's given his word to a coach that he'll be joining the program, so there's no need to continue dialogue with other schools.

However, some recruits continue flirting with other schools after pledging to a program. Looking across the landscape in the 2015 class, several committed prospects are still showing attention to other schools.

A 4-star defensive lineman and Alabama commitment still likes Georgia, while the Bulldogs are hoping a 5-star athlete's affection for Auburn doesn't result in him decommitting. Also, a 4-star running back who is earmarked for Florida Atlantic has several other schools in his ear.

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Georgia Football: Over, Under Stat Projections for Todd Gurley in 2014

It’s understood that Todd Gurley will come into the 2014 season as one of the best, if not the best running back in the country. He has proven the last two seasons that he can run off the edge, run between the tackles, block and catch the ball out of the backfield.

But how good will Gurley be in 2014? Will he have another monster season like he did in 2012, or will he take a minor step back and have only 1,000 yards rushing because of the players who are behind him?

The SEC's top running backs: 1 Todd Gurley, 2 T.J. Yeldon, 3 Mike Davis, 4. Derrick Henry. Full list: http://t.co/8WpaTywtMe

— Athlon Sports (@AthlonSports) June 26, 2014

Based on what he has done the last two seasons and where he is right now with his health, the over/under for his stat projections has to be set high. For yards, the over/under line should be set at 1,350. For rushes, 210 is a fair mark and touchdowns should be set at 15.

Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards on 222 carries and 17 touchdowns his freshman year. He played in every game that season and rushed for 100 yards in eight of the 14 games. Gurley also scored in 11 of the 14 games he played in that season. And there was only one time he only had less than 10 carries, and that was against Buffalo in the home opener where he rushed for 100 yards on eight carries.

2013 was a different story for Gurley. He suffered an ankle injury in the LSU game and could never fully recover. In fact, he did not play in three of the Bulldogs’ 13 games, and two of those games resulted in a loss. Gurley still finished with modest numbers, rushing for 989 yards on 165 carries and 10 touchdowns.

But he really came into his own as a receiver. Last year, Gurley finished with 37 receptions for 441 yards and six touchdowns. The six touchdowns he scored through the air led the team, and his receptions and yards placed him third behind Chris Conley and Michael Bennett.

So what would be the over/under on Gurley’s receiving stats? Based on what he’s done the last two seasons, it would have to be set at 30 receptions, 400 yards and five touchdowns.

But will Gurley be able to go over or under his projected stats? If he’s able to stay healthy, there is no reason he can’t go over. Remember, Gurley was on pace to have another 1,300-yard season last year, but he did not play in nearly four games and still rushed for almost 1,000 yards.

That being said, players like Keith Marshall, A.J. Turman, Brendan Douglas and possibly Nick Chubb and Sony Michel could get in on the action. Marshall will see his share of carries as well as Turman and Chubb. But when push comes to shove, Gurley is the No. 1 guy, and the Bulldogs are a better team when he is at full strength. And if he is able to have a monster season stat-wise, then the Bulldogs will be back in the Georgia Dome in December.

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Clemson Football: Freshmen Most Likely to Start This Season

With the way Clemson has been recruiting the past few years, it comes as no surprise that freshmen will compete for starting spots. Last year, the Tigers concluded with the No. 13-ranked recruiting class, according to ESPN.com.

While predicting that freshmen will have a chance to start comes as a bit of a stretch to some, there is a realistic opportunity for a handful of freshmen to be named starters for the Tigers.

 

Mackensie Alexander, CB (Redshirt Freshman)

Alexander is becoming one of the most talked-about young defenders in college football. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee recently mentioned him as a potential breakout star for 2014.

Clemson's depth chart heading into the summer lists Alexander as one of the starters at cornerback, showing how well he performed in the spring. Head coach Dabo Swinney said Alexander looked "tremendous" in a tweet from Orange and White back in March.

The talented cornerback is very likely to start and should be one of the top players in Clemson's secondary this season.

 

Dorian O'Daniel, LB (Redshirt Freshman)

The summer depth chart listed a four-way tie at the nickelback position between O'Daniel, T.J. Burrell, Travis Blanks and Korrin Wiggins, so O'Daniel is another guy who has a very good chance of starting.

Before the spring, I would have predicted that Blanks would have ran away with the job, but the four-way tie shows that Swinney isn't ready to exclude anyone just yet.

O'Daniel was one of the top linebackers in the 2013 class and is super athletic.

 

Deshaun Watson, QB (True Freshman)

Watson may have the talent to start, but experience is what will keep him on the sideline in year one. I still wanted to mention him because he will be the guy if Cole Stoudt struggles this season. He is listed as the backup and would be called upon if something happens to Stoudt.

Chances are very slim that Watson takes the job away from Stoudt in the summer just because of the experience factor, but anything could happen during the season. He is talented enough that I will include him as someone with a chance to start.

 

Tyrone Crowder, OG (Redshirt Freshman)

Crowder is another guy who was a big-time recruit, listed as the No. 5 offensive guard by ESPN.com in the 2013 recruiting class.

Going into the summer, he and senior Reid Webster are listed as backups for right guard Kalon Davis. Crowder is in a similar position as Watson with playing time.

While he may have the talent, Davis is a senior who has more experience. Davis has started eight games in his career, and seven of those came last season.

Crowder would have to blow Coach Swinney away during the summer practices to jump Davis, but with his talent, I still give him a chance.

 

Wayne Gallman, RB (Redshirt Freshman)

Depending on how Tyshon Dye's injury plays out this summer, he and Gallman could both have a shot at a starting position. Right now, the edge has to go to Gallman because of the two injuries Dye has faced in his time at Clemson.

Gallman, Zac Brooks or C.J. Davidson could be the potential No. 2 guy behind D.J. Howard.

Howard had a strong showing in the spring game with 59 yards, but Gallman led all rushers with 61 yards.

Howard, the senior, may be tough to jump because of his experience—he has played in 36 games for the Tigers in his career—but I give Gallman a very realistic chance of winning the starting job.

 

Any Freshman Wide Receiver

This section could not be narrowed down to one player. Trevion Thompson, Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester all will have a chance to compete for a starting job.

Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Mike Williams are the starters at wide receiver, with Priester, Scott and Kitt listed as the backups.

All but Thompson were early enrollees, so he will have some catching up to do this summer. I don't see any of those guys having a great chance to jump into the starting lineup, but with the possibility of injuries, one or more could have a shot.

 

Conclusion

Out of all the players mentioned, Alexander has the best chance at starting in the opener against Georgia. Gallman and O'Daniel have very realistic opportunities, but the other guys would have to play especially well to jump into the starting lineup.

There are more talented freshmen on Clemson's roster such as Richard Yeargin, Korie Rogers, Chris Register and Adrian Baker, but the depth on defense will make it tough for those young guys to jump in immediately.

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Miami Football: Recent Commits Proof 'Canes Are Trending Upward

News on the recruitment front slowed tremendously for the Miami Hurricanes. And tremendously was not a good thing.

Significant updates included a pair of relatively unknown players—3-star defensive end Jamie Gordinier and 2016 linebacker Michael Pinckney—committing to "The U." Solid pickups, sure, but not glamorous, program-changing players by any means.

Then, 2016 athlete Chauncey Gardner flipped from Miami to the University of Florida and 2015 offensive lineman Kevin Feder switched to Ohio State. Rather quickly, "Hey, at least the 'Canes are pulling someone" morphed into "Oh. There goes another."

But then Jack Allison happened.

Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe caught up with David Lake of 247Sports and asked if Allison was the program's quarterback of the future.

A simple verbal pledge from the 4-star unleashed a fury of momentum for Al Golden and his coaching staff. While the commitments may not have been directly connected, a handful of prospects then announced their collegiate intentions.

The following day, Shaquille Quarterman, who is 247Sports' No. 1 linebacker in the 2016 class, immediately became the key defensive recruit for the next cycle. Quarterman attends the same school, Oakleaf, that the Hurricanes entered to snag Darrion Owens during the 2013 cycle.

The 6'1", 237-pound linebacker told InsideTheU (subscription required), "I had been thinking about committing for a little while and Miami was always one of my favorite schools. It was easy to make them my choice."

Per Rivals' Matt Shodell (subscription required), Quarterman said his pledge is "very solid. I don't think any person should commit and decommit later. When I make a commitment I really want to stick with it."

Stranger things have happened, but Miami has been a long-time favorite and he wants to remain loyal. Quarterman is the type of player who becomes a cornerstone in a recruiting class—heavily pursued, commits early and never wavers.

In-state offensive tackle Geron Christian essentially replaced what Miami lost when Feder flipped. Dual-sport athlete Therell Gosier completed a Tuesday trifecta, giving the 'Canes four new commitments in just two days.

But it didn't stop there.

Linebacker Claude George visited the school and returned home before pledging to Miami, rounding out the five new commits in just three days. Last season, he racked up 51 tackles, including 15.5 for loss with 9.0 sacks, five pass breakups and one interception.

According to Nate Adelson of 247Sports (subscription required), George said, "I like where the program is headed and it just felt like the right place for me. We're going to have a great season and I'm proud to join the Hurricane family."

Plus, he attends JUCO powerhouse Hutchinson and plays alongside several highly ranked prospects. If Miami manage to grab another player from the school, such as defensive end Marquavius Lewis or D-tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter, George is even more valuable.

The 'Canes had not received a signature commit for a couple months, but Allison and Quarterman highlighted an outstanding recruiting week for Golden and his staff.

"[Miami coaches] want to compete for national championships again," the Oakleaf linebacker told InsideTheU. "They said 2016 will be the class that puts them over the top."

Of course, the pair of high-profile commitments doesn't mean Miami can sit back, relax and wait for a group of elite prospects to flock to Coral Gables. But the 'Canes are off to a fantastic start.

With an offensive standout like Allison and eventual defensive cornerstone in Quarterman on board, the Hurricanes are most definitely on an upward trend.

 

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

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The 25 Strongest College Football Positional Units Heading into 2014 Season

Some chains are only as strong as their weakest link, but others are only as weak as their strongest.

Every team that appears on this list, however, does not have to worry about that coming back to nip them in the bud.

In searching for the 25 strongest position groups in college football, a combination of talent and experience was considered. 

Alabama, for example, has had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country every cycle since 2011, per the 247Sports team rankings. Pedigree such as that was taken into account—heavily—but unless it was matched with at least a modicum of experience, it didn't win out.

As far as quarterback groupings are concerned, it was difficult to judge. Only one QB unit appears on the proper list, with one other joining it in the honorable mention section.

This was done largely for reasons of depth. Jameis Winston is one of the best players in the country, but who outside of Tallahassee, Florida, would trust Sean McGuire should Winston get hurt? The position groups that don't rely on only one player to be dominant were given slight preference, which explains the lack of QBs mentioned.

If you disagree with the decision to rank the list this way, that's fine. Both sides of the argument are valid; it just seemed to make more sense the way I did it. I am not necessarily saying this was the only way to do it.

Sound good? Great.

Sound off below in the comments, and let me know whom I missed.

 

Note: Unless otherwise cited, all recruiting information courtesy of the 247Sports composite rankings in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

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4-Star TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr. Announces His Top 5 Favorites

Tight end prospect Tyrone Wheatley Jr., son of the former star Michigan running back, trimmed his list from nearly 20 offers to five options—with the Wolverines among them—per Sam Webb of The Detroit News:

Wheatley could still follow in his father's footsteps to Ann Arbor, but Alabama, USC, UCLA and Miami also remain in the mix. The 4-star prospect is rated 10th nationally at tight end in 247Sports' composite rankings.

He eliminated a large collection of programs by focusing on five teams. Penn State, Syracuse, Florida State and Wisconsin are among those that didn't make the cut.

Wheatley, a 6'6", 260-pound standout at Canisius High School in New York, is rated the state's top 2015 prospect. He has a lot to live up to on the football field, given his father's successes.

Wheatley Sr. was the Big Ten rushing champion in 1992 at Michigan, earning conference Offensive Player of the Year honors. He capped off the dominant campaign with Rose Bowl MVP honors and went on to rush for nearly 5,000 yards in the NFL with the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders.

Now his son steps into the spotlight.

Michigan already holds a commitment from 4-star tight end Chris Clark, who is rated second at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings. The Wolverines would boast two impressive incoming weapons at tight end if Wheatley joins the class.

UCLA landed top-ranked tight end recruit Aliz'e Jones last November, so it's another choice that would come with serious competition within his own class. Alabama added 4-star tight end Hale Hentges last month, while Miami holds a pledge from 3-star in-state prospect Bowman Archibald at the position.

USC is still searching for a tight end in this recruiting cycle.

Wheatley caught 16 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns as a junior. He also lined up at defensive end, recording 41 tackles and two interceptions.

Michigan is projected to land him in 100 percent of expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

 

Recruit information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 Assistant Coaches Quietly Dominating College Football Recruiting Trail

Head college football coaches command constant attention as the faces of high-profile programs, handling the pressures of public relations while game-planning and recruiting all year. They can't do it alone, making the role of assistant coaches paramount on and off the field.

Assistants who can effectively motivate players while securing commitments from high school prospects consistently climb the coaching ladder toward national notoriety and a bigger payday. Here's a look at eight coaches—esteemed veterans and relative newcomers alike—who've excelled on the recruiting trail during the 2015 cycle.

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Texas A&M Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Start This Season

The Texas A&M football team is going to need some freshmen to come in and help out immediately in 2014. Luckily for Aggie fans, head coach Kevin Sumlin has signed a number of freshmen who will be capable of becoming major players for the Aggies this season. 

Sumlin has earned a reputation for not caring about time spent in the program and playing the best player at the position. He started two true freshmen in 2012, and five true freshmen started games in 2013. 

The Aggies had 14 total true freshmen play in 2013. Most of those freshmen are back with a year of experience under their belt and will form the nucleus of the 2014 team as sophomores. 

The 2014 freshmen are going to help fill in the gaps on the 2014 squad. This is a look at the true freshmen who will start for the Aggies in 2014. 

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USC Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Start This Season

Take a roster thinned by NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions and early departures to the NFL, add the Pac-12's top-ranked recruiting class, and the result is an opportunity for newcomers to make an immediate impact. 

Such is the equation for USC, which has a talented crop of reinforcements coming at the most opportune time. 

 

OL Toa Lobendahn 

Early enrollment gave 4-star offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn a chance to dive right in, and the La Habra, California, product made the most of it. 

"There’s a big learning curve that I had to go over," Lobendahn told Michael Lev of the Orange County Register. "Without it, I'd be really behind in the fall."

Lobendahn worked his way into the offensive line's first string by the end of spring practices. 

Head coach Steve Sarkisian was forced to do some reshuffling along the line in part because Aundrey Walker was recuperating from the ankle injury he suffered last November against UCLA. 

When the Trojans are at full strength, Lobendahn faces competition to remain in that starting spot. But his strong spring puts him in position to crack the front five's first string. 

 

OL Damien Mama

Among Lobendahn's competition come preseason camp is fellow freshman Damien Mama. The ballyhooed 4-star guard from Southern California prep powerhouse St. John Bosco will spend one season with the Trojans before embarking on a two-year Mormon mission, but that one season could be a big one for the biggest member of the offensive line. 

Mama checks in at 6'4", 370 pounds, per 247Sports, and he effectively uses his size to pave holes in the run game. Given the talent USC has at running back, Mama's services could prove quite useful. 

 

ATH Adoree' Jackson 

One of two 5-star commits in USC's 2014 class, Adoree' Jackson should have ample opportunity to prove his lofty billing. 

There's a lighthearted internal struggle playing out at Heritage Hall about which coach gets to work with the supremely talented Jackson.

"As soon as he walks in the door I'm going to, like, grab him and pull him in my office," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox told Rahshaun Haylock of FoxSports.com

Wilcox wanting Jackson for his secondary is understandable. As a defensive back for Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, California, Jackson intercepted 17 passes in three seasons, per Maxpreps.com

But as a wide receiver, Jackson hauled in seven touchdowns in 2013 and five in 2012. USC has had good fortune with past Serra High wideouts—the names Robert Woods and Marqise Lee might ring a bell.

Add his explosive speed as a returner, and it's likely Jackson will make a splash in all three phases.

 

ATH John "JuJu" Smith

Like Jackson, John "JuJu" Smith is a 5-star recruit. Also like Jackson, Smith is a dynamic playmaker capable of having an impact on both sides of the ball.

Smith shined as a safety and wide receiver for Long Beach Poly in Southern California and could see action at both positions in his debut season at USC. 

With Su'a Cravens and Leon McQuay III holding down the safety spots, Smith's most likely to make the starting lineup on the offensive end. The Trojans need playmakers to complement Nelson Agholor in the receiving game, and the versatile Smith is a candidate. 

 

Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports.com composite scores. 

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USC Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Start This Season

Take a roster thinned by NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions and early departures to the NFL, add the Pac -12's top-ranked recruiting class , and the result is an opportunity for newcomers to make an immediate impact...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

How Important Are Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to Georgia Really?

With so much quarterback turnover in the SEC, it's fair to say that the running backs are going to drive the bus in 2014.

Nowhere will that be more prevalent than in Athens, Georgia, where junior Todd Gurley is back at 100 percent and ready to pick up where he left off before an ankle injury suffered in late September hampered his campaign. Despite that, he managed to rush for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 37 passes for 441 yards and six more scores.

Behind him, fellow junior Keith Marshall is back from an ACL tear and will provide a solid backup and changeup option for head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Marshall has rushed for 1,005 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two seasons. 

Richt implied that this could be the last year between the hedges for one or both of his top running backs, according to Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

What are the chances of Gurley staying around a long time? You know, (and) Keith Marshall for that matter? You know, if you only have three running backs on campus, and you take two out of there … That’s not enough. The kids know that.

If that's the case, Georgia has a nice insurance policy in the form of 5-stars Nick Chubb and Sony Michel

"One of the most impressive aspects of Georgia's 2014 Top 10 signing class was the ability to reel in two 247Sports Composite 5-star running backs without having to sell them on starting as a freshman," said Kipp Adams, national recruiting insider for 247Sports.com.

But what if they do have to play as freshmen?

Both current star running backs in Athens are coming off injury, and Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman are slated to be the primary backups entering fall camp. In one short season, the running back spot at Georgia has gone from razor-thin to incredibly deep, creating a "rich man's problem" for Richt.

Chubb made Internet waves earlier this offseason when pictures of him running and jumping at the Georgia state track championships surfaced on the Internet.

I was asked if #UGA RB Nick Chubb might be a bit stiff. No, he's not. Here he is showing that 40-inch vertical. pic.twitter.com/kgnlgbbncd

— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) May 13, 2014

Here is a another shot of incoming #UGA RB Nick Chubb. Opposing linebackers be warned.... pic.twitter.com/tp05lHgIP0

— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) May 13, 2014

While that made him an instant Internet phenomenon, he has the skills to back up the hype on the football field. At 5'11", 216 pounds, Chubb has similar all-around athleticism as Gurley, complete with the track background and the body style to take the punishment between the tackles.

"As impressive as Chubb's measurables are, the true question will be whether he can break longer runs and get separation in the SEC," Adams said. "If he can, the comparisons to Gurley will be justified."

Just how close is he to becoming an all-around back?

The last piece of the puzzle for most freshmen running backs is the ability to pick up the blitz. While Chubb doesn't have a ton of experience in that department, the few glimpses scouts have seen of him in pass protection have been positive.

"What could get him on the field early is his potential in picking up the blitz in pass protection," Adams said. "This is an area that, although he does not have extensive experience in from the offense he ran in high school, he really shined in at the Atlanta NFTC last spring."

What Chubb is to Gurley, Michel is to Marshall. At 5'11", 205 pounds, Michel is the more elusive back in Georgia's 2014 class, and the Fort Lauderdale product has superstar written all over him.

"Michel is strong enough to get the tough yards inside, explosive enough to turn a sweep into a big gain, and elusive enough to get extra yards at the second level," Adams said. "With Chubb getting a lot of publicity for his physical prowess, it must be noted that Michel has very few, if any, weaknesses to his game."

The future is bright in Athens at the running back position whenever Gurley and Marshall decide to move on. And if the newcomers are pressed into action earlier than expected, they can handle the load.

Is either capable of replicating what Gurley can do? Of course not. 

But Georgia's offense is predicated on establishing the run and working off play action, and the freshmen duo is capable of presenting a threat.

If they are pressed into action, more pressure would be thrust upon redshirt senior first-year starting quarterback Hutson Mason. He worked as Aaron Murray's understudy for the first four years of his Bulldog career, and he is stepping into a situation this year where, with the loads of weapons around him, all he needs to do is be a caretaker for Georgia to be successful.

Another injury-plagued year from the Georgia backfield would force him to be more of a difference-maker; but it's not a stretch to think he's capable of doing just that with wide receivers Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett lining up outside.

The current Georgia backfield is loaded with talent and potential, and Chubb and Michel should be able to transform that potential to production whenever they're asked to shoulder the load.

Even if that's this year.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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