NCAA Football

Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt Talks Hutson Mason, New Defense and More

Just 18 short months ago, Georgia has posted back-to-back SEC East titles and was on the brink of winning the SEC Championship Game and securing a spot in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game versus Notre Dame.

One year later, the Bulldogs are coming off an injury-riddled 8-5 season that served as the swan song for record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray and another reminder that Georgia's talented, yet under-achieving defense needs help.

Redshirt senior Hutson Mason will step in for Murray in 2014 and find a wealth of talent to work with on the offense. Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was lured away from Florida State after Todd Grantham bolted for Louisville and found eight returning starters on defense, including the first- and-third leading tacklers in the SEC—Ramik Wilson (133) and Amarlo Herrera (112).

What will 2014 look like between the hedges? Georgia head coach Mark Richt went one-on-one with B/R to discuss the season.

 

Bleacher Report: You mentioned in your press conference after your spring game that quarterback Hutson Mason, who went 18-of-27 for 241 yards and a touchdown, actually looked better in the other scrimmages. Just how good can he be?

Mark Richt: Well, surrounded by outstanding teammates, I think he can be very good. He made a comment to somebody in the media that I was really impressed with. They were talking about following Murray and all the records he broke and all of that. Mason said, 'You know, I can't really break any records, but the one thing I can do is win a championship.'

He wasn't saying anything bad about Murray, he was just saying that his goal isn't to break records, it's to win a championship. I think that's his mindset. He has nothing else going through his mind other than doing what he can do to help the team win. That's pretty impressive.

 

B/R: In the spring game, he looked very much like Aaron Murray, especially on the back-shoulder fade. How much did Murray rub off on him?

MR: We train our quarterbacks to put the ball where our receiver has the best chance of winning. You have to gauge that by what you see, and if you see our guys two yards past the guy, obviously you try to lay it out. If our guy's inside, we're going to throw it inside. If our guy is on the outside and the DB has him cut off, we're going to throw the back-shoulder ball. We're constantly coaching and teaching that.

He has a really good feel for it as well. He's seen a lot of it with the games with Murray, but we've been doing it as a group for a long time.

 

B/R: How much will that veteran group of wide receivers help Mason, and what do you expect from Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley coming off of injuries?

MR: He has a veteran receiving corps and those guys really understand the system. They're good route-runners. They're strong ball-catchers. Mason's going to have some running backs who are just...tremendous. The O-line will do a very good job. And then, we believe that our defense and special teams are playing better than a year ago, so he's going to be surrounded by a lot of really good players I think he'll do a good job of handling that responsibility of getting the ball to the right guys in the right place.

 

B/R: You mentioned the running backs. No Heisman campaign for Todd Gurley this year, which is the way you've approached star players for a few years. Is he the best running back you've had at Georgia?

MR: You know, there's been some good ones. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. This guy, Gurley, he's a very special talent. If he's in great condition and he stays healthy, I just can't help but think he'll have a tremendous amount of production and be a very strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy. 

 

B/R: One of the guys you have coming in is true freshman Nick Chubb. I'm not sure if you saw the pictures of him from last week at the state of Georgia track championship, but he looks like a man right now. What are the chances of Chubb and fellow freshman Sony Michel playing this year?

MR: Oh yeah, I think there's a good chance. Anybody who can go out there and be productive for us, we want to get them in the game and find a way to help us win. We can't wait to see what they can do and give them the opportunity. I saw the picture of Chubb running and I tell you, he looks like a track guy. Giant...I'm not really sure what he looked like...but it was impressive.

 

B/R: Obviously your defense has been hit or miss these last few years, but now Jeremy Pruitt is stepping in. What were some of the things he did this spring that really changed, and what pieces of that puzzle are left to put together this fall?

MR: I won't talk so much about change as much as how he goes about his business. He's a very good teacher, and all of our defensive coaches—we have four new ones including Jeremy—they've all coached high school ball, and they've all coached on a national championship collegiate football team as well. They're very good teachers of fundamental football, and that's a big part of what's important to us as a defense. The hustle is very important as well, as well as trying to be very sound schematically.

The big thing is fundamentals and really playing hard.

 

B/R: Your linebackers may be the best in the country with the leading tackler and third-leading tackler in the SEC coming back. How has Pruitt's arrival impacted what they do, and what do you expect from your guys this year?

MR: Well, quite frankly, I'm not all that concerned if our guys lead the league in tackling, because that means they're playing a lot of defensive plays. If we move back in the pack, that probably means some good things for our defense in terms of getting off the field. 

I think those guys will come back with a lot of experience. Leonard Floyd obviously made an impact as a freshman for us. Jordan Jenkins, on the other side of him, a lot of times, has had his moments. Our linebacking corps in general, inside and out, we have a pretty good batch of guys who will hopefully lead us to a really stout D.

 

B/R: Shaq Wiggins transferred after spring, and you recently moved defensive back Brenden Langley to wide receiver. What's the story behind that move?

MR: He's very fast and athletic. We felt like he might be able to make a bigger impact for us at wide receiver than at defensive back.

 

B/R: Is it safe to assume that, since some pieces are moving around to other positions and schools, that some of the pieces of the secondary are falling into place?

MR: Yeah, I think so, but we don't have anybody who's nailed down a spot in the defensive backfield right now, quite frankly. We're going to see what these new arrivals can do. We have four defensive backs coming in who we feel can compete right away and give us a chance to get better. 

Gosh, I tell you, I'll bet we don't know who's starting in the defensive backfield until maybe a week prior to the first game would be my guess. It will probably be pretty deep into camp.

 

B/R: You have the strictest substance abuse policy in the SEC, and your AD Greg McGarity told me a few months ago that he wants a uniform policy within the conference, but that it likely won't happen. Because of that, sometimes your program gets branded as a little lax on discipline. Does that bother you?

MR: We're comfortable with our policies here at Georgia. You know, we want our guys to know there's accountability when it comes to that. We want our guys to be healthy and we want our guys to do right. We're going to hold them accountable. Sometimes, in doing so, if you use playing time as a way to discipline, then it becomes a very public thing. Because of that, you may take a [perception] hit.

The bottom line is that we love our guys and we want them to do right. We're willing to discipline them with the thing that means the most to them, and that's their playing time. 

 

B/R: We're entering a new era this year with the four-team College Football Playoff. Is there anything that you're overly excited about regarding this new format, or anything that you're apprehensive about?

MR: I'm excited about it. I think it's going to bring a tremendous amount of excitement. With it being a four-team playoff, I don't think it will disrupt much of what's going on with the bowl system. There's a lot of good in the bowl system. I'd be concerned about going too deep in terms of number of teams in a playoff, but right now, four is tremendous and I think it will be highly successful.

 

B/R: Clearly your charity work is something that means a lot to you and you devote a lot of your time to. What does your future look like from a philanthropic standpoint and how busy does your offseason calendar get?

MR: Well, coaching is a mission. Coaching is a way to influence young people in a positive way. It helps people grow into becoming good husbands and fathers and leaders. It's a tremendous honor and opportunity, and I think we have a responsibility as coaches to make a difference in the lives of these guys. I can't really think of a better thing to do with my time with that.

We're not going anywhere this year, but we've been to Honduras on a few occasions and done some mission work there. One offseason I did a USO-type tour. Myself and a few other coaches went to Southeast Asia to visit troops and just let them know that we love them, appreciate them and we believe, as coaches, that they're the true heroes and not so much the athletes of our sport. They get the hero designation sometimes for doing something great on the field of play, but nothing like what our troops do for our country.

 

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


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Which Big Ten School Needs Ex-USC RB Ty Isaac the Most?

Where former USC running back Ty Isaac lands has yet to be determined, but he certainly has options. 

The former 4-star recruit left the Trojans after one season to move closer to his hometown of Joliet, Illinois, because of a family issue. Speaking to Mike Helfgot of the Chicago Tribune, Isaac said his mother's phone has been "blowing up" with messages from schools interested in him. 

With only Notre Dame all but officially out of the mix—the Irish are on USC's nonconference schedule every year—Isaac said he's looking at nearby Big Ten schools. 

"I wouldn’t say I have a top three, but I’m looking at Big Ten schools that are close to where I live," Isaac told Helfgot. 

Isaac, who rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, is waiting to hear back on a waiver that would grant him instant eligibility for the 2014 season. Regardless of whether he plays this year, which Big Ten schools could use Isaac the most? Below are some possibilities: 

 

Illinois

Of all the problems Illinois has, running back actually isn't one of them. Josh Ferguson returns after leading the team with 779 yards and seven touchdowns. Ferguson started slow, but he averaged well over five yards per carry in the final four games of the season. He's also a dangerous pass-catcher out of the backfield. 

Still, the Illini need weapons beyond Ferguson. Whether Isaac plays this year or next, he would be an upgrade for the backfield. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit is one of the more underappreciated minds in the game. With Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt at quarterback, Illinois could put together some nice pieces on offense. 

 

Michigan

Sophomore Derrick Green will slide into the feature-back role this season after picking up 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a freshman. Who complements him or otherwise completes a one-two punch in the Wolverines' backfield remains to be seen, though De'Veon Smith would probably assume that title. 

Per Helfgot, Michigan was in the mix for Isaac when he was coming out of high school, so heading to Ann Arbor could be a realistic option. Even if it's not as the feature back right away.  

 

Northwestern

Beyond Treyvon Green, Northwestern doesn't have a lot of size or experience at running back, and Green is going to be a senior this year. 

The Wildcats did sign a few running backs this past recruiting class, including 4-star athlete Justin Jackson. Still, Isaac would be a powerful back who would be a great change-of-pace in Northwestern's spread offense. 

 

Wisconsin

Melvin Gordon, the Big Ten's second-highest returning rusher, will be Wisconsin's No. 1 running back again this season.

Beyond that? Wisconsin could use some reinforcements. Corey Clement did some damage as a freshman with 547 yards and seven touchdowns. He looks like he will be the next between-the-tackles bruiser for the program. The Badgers also signed a couple of running backs for the 2014 class.

But there's plenty of room for Isaac to make an impact. 

 

Others: Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State. 

 

So, which team needs Isaac the most? From a sheer talent standpoint, it's hard to argue against Illinois. Put simply, this offense is in search of playmakers. Isaac would be a huge addition to that side of the ball. And with inexperienced wide receivers, look for Illinois to rely on its run game this season. 

The Illini have the luxury of four starters coming back along the offensive line. If Lunt secures the starting job at quarterback, Isaac would add more intrigue to the Illini's offense—if he's able to play right away.

If Isaac has to sit a year to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, he could be in a position to be Illinois' workhorse. Whether he would opt to do that for one season before departing for the NFL, or for another three, remains to be seen. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Darrin Kirkland Jr. to Michigan: Wolverines Land 4-Star LB Prospect

One of the top linebackers in the 2015 class has come off the board, as Darrin Kirkland Jr. has committed to Michigan. 

Kirkland announced the decision on Twitter on Sunday:

According to his 247Sports profile, Kirkland is a 4-star inside linebacker that measures in at 6'2", 228 pounds. He's ranked by the site's composite rankings as the No. 5 inside linebacker in the country, the No. 2 prospect in the state of Indiana and the No. 194 prospect in the entire country.

He was a force for Lawrence Central in 2013, finishing with 110 tackles and eight sacks. According to his 247Sports profile, he was named an Indiana Football Coaches Association Top50 All-State Selection, to the Indianapolis Super Team, the First Team MIC All-Conference and was an All-Marion County selection.

Not a bad collection of hardware. Here he is at an award dinner, as tweeted by his head coach at Lawrence:

Strength certainly shouldn't be a weakness for Kirkland. He tweeted out his bench press routine in early March and, well, it was impressive:

The one thing that really pops on tape when watching Kirkland is the burst he shows once he makes his read and identifies the play. He is very quick for a young man his size. He also does well to scrape off blocks and chase down plays horizontally or quickly fill in the interior gaps. 

Kirkland is athletic enough to drop into coverage without being a liability, and he's quite proficient at rushing the passer. He often came off the edge for Park Tudor in 2012 (he transferred to Lawrence Central this past season) and used his burst and leverage to get after the quarterback. 

Here's his tape from his sophomore season.

Kirkland looks like a player that could be very productive at the college level. He'll need to continue to grow as an inside linebacker, but he also has the skill set to be utilized as an outside linebacker if called upon to do so. 

As he continues to grow into his frame, he should only improve on the field too. His natural athleticism and ability to play more than one linebacker position should bode well for him as he continues his football career.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Penn State Football: 5 Former Blue-Chippers Who Will Finally Shine in 2014

In college football, there is no free agency. There are no trades between schools that drastically change rosters from year to year or even week to week.

Instead, the college game offers an evolution of sorts—a constant transition of high school athletes becoming ex-college football players and, hopefully, college graduates.

Each year at every school across the country, players move on, leaving room for new players to grow and blossom on the field. 

Recruiting is essentially the stockpiling of talent as insurance against this natural evolution.

While Allen Robinson and DaQuan Jones have moved on to the NFL, Penn State has been preparing each year by recruiting new athletes who will eventually fill those voids. 

Their time is now.

Which former high school standouts will shine in blue and white this fall? 

Let's take a look at five former blue-chip recruits who are primed for a breakout season in 2014.

 

All star ratings and position rankings are courtesy of 247Sports Composite ratings.

All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com

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Florida Gators Football: Summer Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class

As we enter the summer, college football recruiting is about to heat up more than ever. Kids are taking more visits, trimming their lists and some are even committing this early in the process.

Right now, the Florida Gators have seven early commitments, putting them in decent company. However, those recruits are really nothing compared to the truckload of uncommitted talent that’s out there just waiting to find the right school.

Florida will have its say with several quality players before it’s all said and done.

So, let’s take a look at the committed recruits and the possible players who may commit later on and see how Florida stacks up at each position at this very moment. 

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Arkansas Football: Who Is Replacing Former Razorbacks Taken in 2014 NFL Draft

Despite a very rough 2013 season for the Arkansas Razorbacks in head coach Bret Bielema's first year, the Hogs did very well in the 2014 NFL draft.

Overall, Arkansas had four players drafted in the seven rounds, which included kicker Zach Hocker, fullback Kiero Small, defensive end Chris Smith and center Travis Swanson. Considering the Hogs didn't win a single game in SEC play and finished 3-9, having four players taken in the draft was a win for the program.

However, as awesome as it is for these guys who got to hear their names called, it leaves Bielema and his staff with the task of replacing these starters without seeing a big drop-off in production.

Here, we'll go over who will replace each of the former Razorbacks now in the NFL.

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SEC Football: Every Team's Dream 2015 Recruit

In the SEC, it’s never too early to think about next year.

Winning championships is nice and all, but the true objective is to step into dynasty territory. To do that requires excellence not only on the field during the fall, but also throughout the year on the recruiting trail.

The push for even heralded 5-star prospects to commit—and stick with their commitments—earlier means waiting until January is often far too late.

Landing a big commitment early can potentially pay tremendous dividends for the remainder of the recruiting class as well.

When the prospect carries enough clout and is solid enough in his pledge, he can become an extra recruiter—with no real regulations.

Today we take a look at each team in the SEC and determine who the “dream” prospect to land might be.

To do so, we weigh a number of considerations, including in-state rank, positional need, competition for the prospect and overall splash.

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4-Star QB Travis Waller on Alabama: 'They're Definitely High on My List'

Four-star quarterback Travis Waller attended Oakland's Elite 11 and Nike Football Training Camp this weekend, and in addition to shining on the field, Waller received some exciting news on Saturday morning.

The Alabama Crimson Tide extended him an offer, and it's one he's pretty thrilled about. 

“Oh it’s definitely a big offer; a powerhouse team like Alabama is really big," Waller said before Sunday's NFTC event. "[They run] a pro style offense, so that’s a plus for me. A lot of their quarterbacks tend to go to the NFL, and the NFL likes pro style offenses, so they’re definitely high on my list.”

Alabama is Waller's most recent offer, with California, Fresno State, Tennessee and Penn State also offering him in May, among other universities. 

The Servite High (Anaheim, California) quarterback got the call from the Crimson Tide around 7 a.m. on Saturday, and though it was an early wake-up call, it was a welcome surprise, he said. Among other things, Waller learned a bit about what Alabama's plan for him would be, should he commit there.

“I think they would redshirt me," he said. "But the year after that I could compete for a starting job.”

And it's not so far-fetched to think Waller could see playing time after just one season in college, as he already is shaping up to be one of the top quarterbacks in his class.

After Friday's Elite 11, Waller earned a coveted gold shirt, and with it, a place in the Elite 11 finals. He showed quick feet and a strong pocket presence and connected with nearly all of his wide receivers. He's incredibly athletic, and though he's still filling out his frame, he proved that he can sling the rock like some of the bigger quarterbacks present.

On Sunday, Waller put on a similar show, but this time his targets were often shrouded in coverage. It didn't seem to phase him, however, and he had one of the strongest showings of all the quarterbacks present. 

The dual-threat quarterback also got to show off a little bit of both facets of his game on Sunday, though he isn't too fond of that particular label.

“A lot of people consider me a dual-threat quarterback but I want to be known as a pocket passer that can run if he has to," Waller said. "I don’t really like the term ‘dual-threat’; it makes it seem like you’re just a running quarterback. I want to be known as a passing quarterback.”

Which is another reason why Alabama has such a strong appeal to the 6'3", 190-pound Waller. 

While AJ McCarron showed a little bit of mobility throughout his Crimson Tide career, Alabama didn't sink or swim by how well he used his legs. Rather, Bama relied on him to be an accurate, powerful passer, and he delivered

That said, McCarron took some shots this past offseason when he declared for the NFL draft, as many felt like the talent around him made the difference, not his quarterbacking. Waller doesn't see that as a reason to turn his attention away from the Tide. 

"AJ McCarron is a very good quarterback. I believe if I go there and make things happen, the NFL would notice," he said.

Waller plans to visit Alabama in late June or early July. 

He doesn't yet have a list of top schools, as he is still waiting on offers from programs such as Oregon and Ohio State. If and when those offers come, Waller will have a better sense of what his future college choices are looking like.

“Me and my mom are talking about it a lot but we will have to see how that plays out,” he said.

Now that Alabama has offered, it's possible that the Ducks and the Buckeyes will start courting him more aggressively, as competing with Alabama for top talent is anything but easy. 

There's no timetable yet on when he could make an announcement, so the summer will really start to heat up for Waller.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Summer Grades for 2015 Recruiting Class

Before hectic summer months officially begin for class of 2015 recruits, it's a perfect time to hand out positional grades for the Miami Hurricanes' current haul.

According to 247Sports, head coach Al Golden and his coaching staff have amassed the No. 12 unit in the nation, including the third-best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Miami's 11-man, offense-heavy group is highlighted by a pair of gifted in-state running backs, and the top defensive pledge is a legacy player.

Level of need, committed talent and how much a positional unit can be upgraded are main factors in deciding a given grade.

 

Quarterback

The newest commitment as of this writing, 4-star Dwayne Lawson is the lone quarterback in Miami's class. Lawson hails from the same school that produced defensive tackle Earl Moore, Tampa-area Hillsborough High.

As a junior in 2013, Lawson completed 52.5 percent of his passes for 2,120 yards, 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions. The 6'5" gunslinger also added 1,068 yards and nine scores on the ground.

The 'Canes are content with Lawson, but they'll save room for Torrance Gibson—however unlikely it may be to convince the local 5-star to stay home.

Grade: B

 

Running Back

Dexter Williams committing to Miami was a bit of a surprise, and his skill set in the backfield is on the verge of elite. With that being said, Williams is being contacted by the likes of Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame, and it won't be easy to keep his pledge.

Jordan Cronkrite was added to the class about a week after Williams, but the 4-star winding up at "The U" is a pretty safe bet. Per David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required), Cronkite is very strong in his commitment to Al Golden and Co.

There's certainly some room to add more players, but the 'Canes are off to a great start at running back.

Grade: A-

 

Wide Receiver and Tight End

One of the earliest commitments, wide receiver Emonee Spence has snagged 80 passes for 815 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Lake (subscription required) notes the 6'2" wideout is focusing on route running and attacking cornerbacks this offseason, trying to become a more aggressive receiver.

Tight end Bowman Archibald gave his pledge to Miami in March, and he is definitely the flier in the class. Archibald's numbers from his junior season (eight receptions, 134 yards, two touchdowns) are far from gaudy.

Miami will lose Clive Walford and Beau Sandland after the 2014 season, however, so adding Archibald addresses the impending depth issue.

Considering the Hurricanes are holding out for names such as Calvin Ridley, Devonaire Clarington, Deon Cain and Devante Peete, the lack of commitments is not a sign of worry just yet.

Grade: C-

 

Offensive Linemen

In 2014, Miami signed Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling and Nick Linder, easing the necessity on targeting offensive linemen during a skill-position-heavy class. Of course, it didn't stop the 'Canes from adding some more bulk.

A 6'9" tackle from Golden's home state of New Jersey, Kevin Feder was the first to announce his collegiate intentions. He will play as a junior at the earliest, so O-line coach Art Kehoe has plenty of time to refine Feder's technique.

Surprisingly enough for a 3-star in South Florida, Leeward Brown is considered one of the better prospects at his position in the talent-rich area. Given his 338-pound stature, Brown projects as a guard at the next level, which Miami will be needing in a couple of years.

Golden reached back into the Northeast and plucked 3-star tackle Hayden Mahoney, who committed during a visit to the campus in late March, from Pennsylvania.

Even if the Hurricanes do not bring in another lineman, given the current depth, the trio would be a respectable haul.

Grade: B

 

Defensive Linemen

Scott Patchan, whose father played at Miami in the mid-1980s, pledged to Golden on the same day as Williams. In 2013, the 3-star registered 56 tackles (24 for loss, 8.5 sacks) as a defensive end.

At 6'4" and 295 pounds, defensive tackle Ryan Fines has the frame to become a prototypical-sized interior lineman during his college years.

Though Quentez Johnson spent only 10 days before decommitting in early May, the 'Canes are not backing off the defensive tackle. Granted, The U has already dropped to No. 2 on his list, per Ryan Callahan of 247Sports (subscription required).

California 4-star Khalil McKenzie represents the top remaining target, but 4-star Joseph Wicker and 3-star Elijah Taylor are other priorities.

Like the offensive line, the Miami coaching staff did a great job with the 2014 haul, so more attention can be given elsewhere this year.

Grade: B-

 

Linebacker

Had Raphael Kirby, Alex Figueroa and Jermaine Grace not stepped up this spring, linebacker would be an extreme position of need in 2015. However, consequent to their collective emergence, the Hurricanes will not be forced to reach for linebackers in a thin talent pool.

The first commit for the current class by nearly six months, 3-star athlete Charles Perry is approaching one calendar year as a prospective Hurricane. Last season, Perry tallied 78 tackles, seven sacks and one interception that he returned for a touchdown.

Miami should be looking into grabbing a commitment from one more linebacker, and bringing in any of Sh'mar Kilby-Lane, Tevon Coney and Dominic Sheppard would be a solid boost to the position.

Grade: C+

 

Secondary

Currently, the Hurricanes do not hold any commitments from prospects who play in the secondary, but there is a collection of skilled defensive backs they are targeting.

Jaquan Johnson, Tim Irvin, Tyrek Cole and Shawn Burgess-Becker are just a handful of players to keep a close eye on throughout the summer workouts and camps.

Grade: Incomplete

 

Note: All recruit information courtesy of 247Sports. Star ratings reflect 247Sports Composite Rankings.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Football: Ranking the Top 25 Players Heading into 2014

Spring football is now in the rear-view mirror, and fans have set their sights on the opening of fall camp in early August.  In the meantime, we have a better idea about which teams and which players will rise to the top come the fall.

When it comes to ranking the 25 best players heading into any given season, it's important to remember that comparing a cornerback to a left tackle is a little like comparing a Ford pickup truck to a tomato; don't read too much into a player ranked at No. 20 and a different player at a different position ranked at No. 19.

When it comes to the best of the best the Big Ten will offer this season, however, we're pretty sure that the 25 players on this list will figure into the equation from Week 1 all the way through the College Football Playoff in January.

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Ohio State Football: 3 Former Blue-Chippers Who Will Finally Shine in 2014

Dorian Bell. Jaamal Berry. Duron Carter.

Those are just three of the many blue-chip prospects who came to Ohio State with high recruiting rankings and even higher expectations, only to flame out and never produce.

Recruiting busts are common at every level of college football, and the Buckeyes are certainly no exception. Despite loads of potential and all the resources one would need, some players just never put things together at the collegiate level.

These three players—with varying levels of severity—are trying to avoid that fate.

 

Curtis Grant

Ohio State fans are anxious to see 5-star freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan in action this fall, but Curtis Grant—a former 5-star standout himself—is standing in his way.

Grant started the 2012 season as the starting middle linebacker before losing his job to converted fullback Zach Boren midway through the year. In 2013, he rebounded from that setback and had a solid season, but Urban Meyer was disappointed with the overall linebacker play.

With his senior season nearing, Grant knows he needs to hold off McMillan to keep his starting job, according to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch: "When a guy comes in like that, that talented, it makes you want to work on your craft more, and do the things you need to do to continue to get better.”

McMillan will certainly play, but Grant's too talented and experienced to take a back seat to a freshman.

 

Rod Smith

During his senior season of high school, Rod Smith was one of the most highly recruited running backs in the country.

Then a 6'3", 220-pound bulldozer, Smith rushed for 6,625 yards and 66 touchdowns during his high school career, making him the No. 3 running back in the country and the No. 44 player overall.

His time in Columbus hasn't been as productive. After redshirting his first year with the Buckeyes and playing sparingly over the last three seasons, Smith has been nothing more than a mop-up duty ball-carrier.

That should change this season. He and Ezekiel Elliott were battling for the starting running back spot this spring, but that was before his school work derailed the competition. Once the fall rolls around, though, he'll be back in Ohio State's running back rotation.

 

Doran Grant

As a 4-star prospect and the No. 3 cornerback in the country, Doran Grant had offers to play at school such as Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame and USC.

Grant, a graduate of LeBron James' former high school (St. Vincent-St. Mary) in Akron, Ohio, decided to stay close to home and chose the Buckeyes.

His career in Columbus hasn't been disappointing to date. Grant played as a special teamer in all 25 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons, including one start against Alabama-Birmingham in 2012. As a junior last season, he started opposite Bradley Roby at cornerback.

With Roby gone, it will be Grant's unit to lead in 2014. That's a role he's relishing, according to Marcus Hartman of Buckeye Sports: “I have high confidence in my room. I love what we're doing. As a group, we're getting tighter and tighter, and that's what I'm enjoying the most, especially seeing the guys getting better.”

As the lone returning starter in the secondary, the Buckeyes will need Grant to step up his game.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports.

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

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LSU Football Recruiting: 5 Former Blue-Chippers Who Will Finally Shine in 2014

LSU football will be experiencing a youth movement next season. Head coach Les Miles will be counting on his prized 2014 recruiting class to be productive. 

But despite the buzz surrounding the new blood, returning Tigers will be relied upon to carry the team. 

LSU brings in some of the best prep prospects in the country every season. Miles will be looking for a few of his blue-chip recruits from past classes to to take their game to the next level.

Here are few names to keep an eye out for next season.

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Michigan Football: Brady Hoke's 3 Biggest Challenges for Wolverines in 2014

Generally speaking, Michigan is a good football team with a few expected, and several unexpected, hurdles to clear before it can be viewed as a contender.

Luckily for the Wolverines, they have Devin Gardner, a somewhat experienced quarterback upon which to rely. A fellow senior, Jake Ryan, leads a deep linebacker corps that’s widely considered the strength of Greg Mattison’s defense. The secondary prompts optimism; and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has a few good running backs to tinker with on Saturdays.

However—there’s always a “however,” isn’t there?—all is not well in Ann Arbor. Yesterday, winning Big Ten titles and Rose Bowls was the priority and the norm. Today, coach Brady Hoke struggles to hold serve within his own league, let alone compete at a national level. 

Hoke's three-going-on-four-year tenure has been marred by gross underachievement, which really stings considering the fact that he's reeled in mega-hyped recruiting classes and further pushed the "this is Michigan" attitude. 

Since going 11-2 in 2011, he's compiled 8-5 and 7-6 seasons (1-2 in bowls). Challenges? More like epic journeys. There is more to fix than an offensive line; more than position-specific issues to solve. If anything, preparation and mentality are equally, if not more, important. 

 

Make Nussmeier Feel at Home

He's coming from a national title factory, so it's fair to assume that Nussmeier is used to having things his way. And why shouldn't he? For two years, he was obviously on his job. Tide running backs were dominant, their offensive line stout and quarterback confident. 

With any luck, he'll do the same with Michigan. Nussmeier has access to a sophomore pro-styler in Shane Morris, and he has a pair of waiting-to-be-unleashed sophomore running backs in Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith. Plus, there's probably a Justice Hayes or Drake Johnson waiting to pop up as a regular in the backfield, too.

Resources are plenty, and Nussmeier is a tactician—just ask Nick Saban, who in January said the following about Nussmeier to Michigan (via al.com's Andrew Gribble): 

I'm sure he will do a great job at the University of Michigan. He is a bright coach who works hard and brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to work each and every day. Our production and balance the last two years has been very good and he also brought a lot to the table in terms of coaching the quarterbacks.

AJ (McCarron) had one of the best seasons and careers of any quarterback here, and that says a lot when you look at the history and tradition of that position at Alabama. We wish Doug and his family the best and appreciate all they did to help us be successful with the program at Alabama.

Sure, Saban took the high road and said all of the right things about his former OC. That much was expected. But for Saban to specifically mention McCarron's stardom bodes well for Nussmeier's reputation for developing quarterbacks. 

Athletically, McCarron isn't heads and shoulders above Gardner. Unless he's a total bust this fall, Gardner should show steady improvement and ultimately become the player he's meant to be. 

In order for a smooth transition to take place, Hoke has to make Nussmeier feel at ease and give him enough control—but not too much—over personnel decisions if there's any hope of real change on offense. From quarterback to running back, tackle to tackle and wideout to wideout, Nussmeier should have a majority vote when it comes to who takes the field. 

Finding a happy balance is always the trick, and a cohesive staff is a happy staff. 

 

Manage Jabrill Hype

It's happening. Peppers is really coming to Ann Arbor. Forget all of that Twitter monitoring and all of those sleepless nights and cast aside those bad memories of the decommitment rumors. He's Hoke's, and he's coming to The Big House in just a few months.

However, let him play before giving him the Heisman. But enjoy the ride; he's going to be a great one. Peppers, a consensus 5-star recruit and the No. 3-ranked prospect of 2014 by 247Sports, is of rare ilk. He's a different breed of athlete: part freak athlete, part natural and part entertainer. Put it this way: He's going to make it look real easy. 

On one hand, writers and analysts say to remain grounded and view the 6'1", 200-pound Paramus Catholic (N.J.) phenom through a cautious lens. If it's too good to be true, it usually is. But Peppers is different. He's Charles Woodson v. 2.0—and that's coming from the same people who say to keep it cool. 

Talk about mixed messages. How does Hoke manage all of this? Peppers isn't even on campus yet. This is going to be a wild, wild period in Wolverines football history. 

 

Handling Devin 

When focused, Gardner is the guy. He's earned the No. 1 position, and barring a catastrophic meltdown this fall, he'll probably finish his career as the starter. Spending the latter weeks of 2013 on crutches, Gardner's on the rebound from a surgery on his right foot. He's either repaired or worse than before, which seems almost impossible. 

In the case of Gardner, intent and passion are never in question. Often times, though, his mentality and ability to compartmentalize come under fire. Bu he's been able to make good on past mistakes. Take a look at how he curbed interceptions a year ago. He was on pace for 200, but turned in just 11 after throwing eight within his first 58 attempts (four games). 

Gold stars on an otherwise so-so report card, Gardner threw for 2,960 yards and completed 60 percent of his passes, a career high. Knowing when to roll with Gardner and when to set him aside isn't an exact science, but it's certainly not an undertaking for the faint of heart or indecisive crowd. 

Will that be Hoke's call, or will Nussmeier be given executive authority? Seeing how they handle their signal-caller should provide insight into the dynamic that will be Hoke and Nuss. 

 

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

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5 Reasons 5-Star QB Torrance Gibson Will Sign with Tennessee

Torrance Gibson is a 5-star quarterback from Florida who attends American Heritage High School. Although the dual-threat quarterback is raw, he has a ton of potential.

Gibson, who is 6'4" and 200 pounds, is a lefty who shows good arm strength and streaky accuracy. He sees over the rush well, and he has the mobility to elude rushers in the pocket. Gibson distributes the football impressively, plus he can be dangerous as a runner.

Among the Sunshine State native's top schools is Tennessee, per 247Sports. Here's a few reasons why the Volunteers will sign him next February. 

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5 Powerhouse Programs off to a Slow Start on 2015 Recruiting Trail

Although recruiting is a marathon and not a sprint, it's always great to get off to a good start. Jumping out of the gate with several quality commitments is never frowned upon.

However, several powerhouse programs appear to be off to slow starts. Usually among the nation's best recruiting schools, these programs are currently lacking their mojo.

A school in the Big Ten signed one of the nation's best classes in 2014, but it is not on the same type of pace this year. A powerhouse Big 12 program is on this list, while a pair of Pac-12 schools are also off to slow starts on the recruiting trail.

 

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Top Performers from Oakland Nike Football Training Camp

The Nike Football Training Camp events rolled into Oakland, California on Sunday. Many of the Bay Area's premier prospectsand even a few from out of stateparticipated in competitive drills at Chabot College.

Bleacher Report was in attendance to get a closer look at the action. Here's a look at several of the top playmakers who shined throughout the day.

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What You Need to Know About Top College Football Recruiting Camps This Summer

Just about every college football program has a few summer camps players can attend. College camps are great for recruits to receive instruction from college coaches, plus they can take a tour of a program's campus.

However, college football recruiting is an industry by itself. That means various recruiting sites and football companies put on their own camps recruits flock to. This summer, several recruiting camps figure to have the college football recruiting industry buzzing.

A pair of exceptional recruiting camps will take place at the same time and at the same location, while another great recruiting camp will be held in Baltimore. Underclassmen in the class of 2016 will also get a chance to shine this summer in Jacksonville.

 

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Georgia Football: Mark Richt's Biggest Challenges for the Bulldogs in 2014

Every coach will have challenges they will go through each season. But the great coaches know how to battle through them and come out on top.

Mark Richt has seen his share of challenges since taking the UGA job in 2001. And he’s still standing tall and has won a lot of games along the way.

This year will be no different, as he will have his share of challenges in order to win the SEC East.

But what are the biggest challenges that will determine the Bulldogs' 2014 season?

Here’s a look at five challenges that Richt will have to overcome in order to get back on top of the SEC.

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Tennessee's Butch Jones: 'We're Still Years Away from Being Where We Need to Be'

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — From the way he rushes restlessly around practice to the meticulous mapping out of every offseason day, it's obvious Tennessee football coach Butch Jones doesn't like to wait.

Unfortunately for him and the rest of the Vol Nation, long-dormant football programs aren't rebuilt overnight. 

The second-year top Volunteer has a plan with a purpose and the promise of prominence. But from behind the desk of his posh Anderson Training Center office, he told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview last week that the blueprint's fruition will require the one resource that runs narrower than a Rocky Top mountain stream:

Patience.

"I know we live in an instant-gratification society—I'm as impatient as anybody," Jones said. "But we're a work in progress. We're going to be the youngest team in the country playing a top-five schedule in the country, and that's why it's important to focus on the task at hand and the process.

"We're still years away from being where we need to be. We're at the infant stages of all this. You know, you don’t just fix a number of years in one or two years. You just don't do it. You're dealing with building a culture; you’re dealing with building an environment. It takes time. It's gonna get done. The only variable is time. That's why we have to be patient."

It isn't Jones' style to make excuses or point fingers at the Derek Dooley regime. But that doesn't change the fact that he inherited a near-impossible situation when he took over in December 2012.

Not only did Jones have to repair burned bridges with local high school players and coaches, he is still having to overcome huge roster deficiencies. 

Aside from UT's obvious talent gulf last year, the Vols now must face a dearth of experience over the next two seasons. They will rely on freshmen on the lines of scrimmage because of Dooley's recruiting misses, including an entire '12 class inexplicably devoid of a single offensive lineman.

Twenty-one players from the 2011-12 recruiting classes left the program prior to the completion of their eligibility.

Essentially, that means UT is down an entire recruiting class. 

While the positive side of that roster-flip means Jones was able to bring in 32 prospects in a talent-rich 2014 class ranked seventh nationally by 247Sports, the negative is there are few upperclassman on the roster.

Tennessee will have just 12 scholarship seniors in 2014. Thirty of the 59 healthy scholarship players who participated in spring drills were doing so for the first time as collegians.

Numbers like that aren't conducive to playing a schedule that consists of Utah State, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Alabama and Missouri.

"I thought as a coaching staff and support staff, we did a great job of preparing for this past year's recruiting class," Jones said. "The ability to bring in 30-plus players will be an infusion of talent, competition, depth, but we need to keep doing that.

"We had to be extremely careful this past year in trying to fix all our ills, all our deficiencies in one recruiting class. We're not going to be able to do that. It takes time to develop that. The only way you can address that is develop your current players and keep recruiting. We have needs across the board at every single position in this (2015) class still."

Jones won't use any of these facts as excuses for losing. He spoke of changing a defeatist culture by "earning the right to win," which is done through a daily commitment by every individual on the team.

The players have to work hard, and Jones is putting in long hours to further close the gap between the program's current state and where it needs to get to compete for championships.

It is a long process. But the path to getting there can only be found between the lines of the entries in his three-ring daily planner. 

Call a recruit here, host an unofficial visitor there. Review progress on player workouts. Take advantage of the coach-player film room time now mandated by the NCAA. Peek at some practice film. Call another recruit.

Details. Details. Details. 

Jones preaches it to his players, then he puts it into practice in his own daily routine.

It's the only way an impatient coach can fill the interim between what has to happen now and what he is convinced will happen in the future—winning, and lots of it.

"We're not going to cut any corners," Jones said. "Short-term fixes only pan out for one or two years. We're going to do this thing right. We're not just add-water, ready-made, stick-it-in-the-microwave.

"We’re going through a building process, but I see monumental strides taking place each and every day. This is a special place. There is only one Tennessee. I'm as excited and encouraged as I've ever been, and that ball of momentum is getting bigger and bigger and bigger."

 

Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Brad on Twitter here: 

@Brad_Shepard

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NC State's New Alternate Helmets Have Wolf Eyes

These are really cool. 

N.C. State has released a trailer themed "Pack in Black" revealing the Wolfpack's new alternate football helmets. 

Perhaps the best part about this fresh gear is the wolf's face on the back. Now that is how you make a helmet stand out. 

[NC State, h/t College Spun]

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