NCAA Football

Florida Football: Winners and Losers from Gators' 2016 Spring

The quarterbacks have taken the final snaps, bringing 2016 spring practice to a close for the Florida Gators football team.

During recent weeks, the mini-competition under center dominated the attention paid to Jim McElwain's team, which is working to build off of a 10-4, SEC East-winning campaign.

In order to repeat as division champions, though, the Gators must improve an offense noticeably lacking playmakers—especially due to Antonio Callaway's suspension.

However, if Florida's defense matches expectations—as it did Friday night—the program will at least challenge for another East title while hoping the offense's production catches up.

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Luke Del Rio Makes Case to Be Florida's Starting QB in Spring Game

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — From journeyman to starting quarterback?

That is former Alabama and Oregon State quarterback Luke Del Rio's quest at Florida, and it looked like it was close to complete in the Orange & Blue Debut on Friday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The redshirt sophomore, who sat out last year after transferring from the Beavers, completed 10 of his 11 passes for 176 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Blue team's 44-6 win over Orange. That performance has given Del Rio an edge on the competition exiting spring practice.

"Today, he did a really good job of sliding in the pocket, taking his eyes where he needed to based on the pressure and...you know what...I thought he was pretty good," head coach Jim McElwain said after the game.

"I think so," he said when pressed on whether Del Rio had a lead.

Del Rio was praised by McElwain as the front-runner in the four-man quarterback race, which also includes Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby and true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, one week into spring practice and has held serve through 15 practices.

The majority of Del Rio's damage came in the first half, when he completed six of his seven passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, working primarily with the first-team offense against the second-team Gator defense. It didn't matter what defense Del Rio faced, his ability to go through progressions is what mattered most after he went through a lull in that department midway through spring.

"I was pressing a little bit, not letting the offense work for me," Del Rio said. "[The coaches] do a great job of installing the plays and putting guys open for us. I just have to let the offensive line do what they do, the wide receivers do what they do and go through progressions. It's easier that way. Just run the offense. It works."

His primary competitor for the job, Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby, put up an impressive stat line as well, completing eight of his 11 passes for 80 yards against a defense that consisted mostly of first-team Gators.

"I took what the defense gave me for the most part," Appleby said. "I just wanted to come out here and make each play work and control the things I can control."

Make no mistake, though, Appleby hung several deep balls (one of which drew a defensive pass interference that should have been offensive), looked hesitant in the pocket and took three sacks in the game in which quarterbacks weren't live. 

Meanwhile, Del Rio completed several tough passes on time and on the money, including a tough 10-yard out across the field to junior college transfer Dre Massey on 3rd-and-6 near midfield. He routinely hit his check downs when appropriate and had command of the offense from the moment the annual scrimmage kicked off.

Did he knock the socks off of the estimated 46,000 fans at "The Swamp" and people watching on SEC Network? It wasn't something that will vault him into Heisman Trophy contention, but it certainly was enough to calm the fears of a Gator Nation that has been bitten by bad quarterback play ever since Tim Tebow graduated following the 2009 season.

Del Rio was effective, which is a major step forward for a Florida offense that got progressively worse last year after former quarterback Will Grier was suspended in mid-October.

A 6'1", 213-pounder who's the son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, Luke Del Rio has been with the Gators since last summer and spent all offseason learning McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's system. 

"You can always be more comfortable, I'll put it that way," Del Rio said. "I'm confident in my ability to execute the plays, but it's a never-ending cycle of learning the playbook."

That clearly paid off on Friday.

What's more, this has been a rather uncomfortable spring for the Gator offense.

Star wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who caught 35 passes for 678 yards and four touchdowns last season, has been suspended and hasn't been working out with the team since January. Senior Ahmad Fulwood missed some time in the middle of spring. And it's not like Florida—a team that hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2002 (Taylor Jacobs)—is dripping with proven playmakers outside.

With comfort and confidence under center, it's a good first step for McElwain—now in his second season at the helm—to finally create stability for his offense.

Del Rio provides that comfort and confidence, and he has established himself as the unquestioned leader in the clubhouse at the turn of the offseason.

That hasn't changed his mindset, though.

"I approach [the summer] the same as when first practice started. It's a competition."

It doesn't appear Del Rio has any intentions of losing this one based on his spring game performance. 

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Brandon Bourbon, Former Kansas Football Player, Dies at Age 24

Former Kansas Jayhawks football player Brandon Bourbon, 24, was found dead Friday, according to WIBW's Chris Lilly

Citing the Maries County Sheriff, Fox 4's Megan Brilley reported that Bourbon's death was ruled a suicide. A missing-persons report was filed on April 2. 

Chris Fickett of the Kansas City Star relayed a statement from University of Kansas head football coach David Beaty shortly after the news broke: 

JayhawksSlant provided comments from Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen:

Former Kansas and current Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney posted a message on Twitter honoring Bourbon: 

According to Kansas' official website, the former Jayhawks halfback from Potosi, Missouri, earned first-team Academic All-Big 12 honors in 2013. Bourbon later transferred to Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, prior to the 2015 season, per Lilly.

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Jim Harbaugh vs. the SEC: The Feud That's Changed College Football

If Jim Harbaugh was setting out to make a splash during his first year back on the college football scene, the Michigan Wolverines head coach can consider the past 15 months a mission accomplished.

But as far as Harbaugh's year-plus worth of battles with the Southeastern Conference is concerned, it's the SEC that appears to have won the war.

After a year's worth of discussion, debates and social media spats between Harbaugh and arguably the most powerful conference in college football, the NCAA ruled in the SEC's favor Friday that the satellite camps the Wolverines have benefited from since last offseason are now no longer legal.

In essence, Harbaugh will no longer be able to spend his offseasons hosting satellite camps, where college staffs serve as "guest instructors" at a smaller school's camp. For example, if the University of South Florida in Tampa invites Harbaugh and his staff to work at one of their camps—as they did last summer—the camp is then considered a "Michigan" satellite camp.

For both schools involved, it's a mutually beneficial process. Even with the Wolverines staff becoming the headlining attraction, USF saw a boost in the attendance at its offseason camp due to Harbaugh's notoriety. For Michigan, the practice gave its staff access and visibility to prospects in a region to which it otherwise would not have direct access.

But Harbaugh's offseason plans have now been altered, just as he was in the midst of plotting a sequel to last year's "Summer Swarm Tour," a blockbuster nine-day, seven-state tour of satellite camps that included stops in California, Texas, Alabama and Florida. The second-year Wolverines head coach wasn't even the first to take advantage of the loophole idea, as Penn State's James Franklin previously hosted satellite camps in Georgia and Florida in 2014.

And while the SEC was displeased with the practice then, it wasn't until Harbaugh's first swarm tour last summer that the conference began applying pressure, threatening to hold their own satellite camps if the Big Ten—and the rest of college football—wasn't banned from doing the same. The result is the NCAA's Friday ruling, which will not only affect the SEC, Harbaugh, the rest of the Big Ten and all of college football, but also high school prospects for the foreseeable future.

How did we get to a place where "The Harbaugh Rule" is being nicknamed for the coach who didn't even pioneer the practice? A lot of it has to do with just how successful the controversial coach has already become.

 

Turf Wars

Frank LaRosa has been coaching high school football in Florida for the past 11 years. The head coach since 2011 at East Bay High School in Gibsonton, located right outside of Tampa, LaRosa is well-versed in the talent the Sunshine State typically produces.

"The SEC's been living off of these great athletes for so long, and everybody wants a piece of them now," LaRosa told Bleacher Report. "There's so many of them in Florida. ... In Tampa Bay, just the level of athletes that we've seen and produced in 11 years has gotten better and better."

In his decade-long coaching career, LaRosa has become most accustomed to dealing with colleges from his own region, specifically the in-state schools of Florida, Florida State and Miami. It wasn't until a year ago that Michigan first appeared on his players' radars, thanks to Harbaugh's first Summer Swarm Tour, which included the aforementioned stop at USF, where LaRosa served as a counselor.

"When he did that last summer, that really spearheaded the whole thing," LaRosa said. "I've been coaching football in Florida for 11 years, and I've never heard a buzz about Michigan until last year. And now it seems like every kid is looking for a Michigan offer. It's crazy.

"It went from the Big Three and some of the other elite schools in the Power Five conferences—and you rarely heard Michigan—[to] all of a sudden, every kid's dying for that Michigan offer...Tre' McKitty, Jayvaughn Myers, Daquon Green. These are some of the biggest 2017 names coming out of this area, and they were like, 'Who the heck is Michigan?' and all of a sudden, got some love, worked with some of their coaches at the camp and were like, 'Oh, it's all about Michigan.'"

The Swarm Tour was the centerpiece of Harbaugh's first offseason in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh's highly touted 2016 class included multiple members who had attended stops on the circuit and may not have considered the Wolverines otherwise.

Unsurprisingly, the tour was not well-received by the SEC, which unlike the Big Ten, had a rule in place prohibiting its schools from hosting camps more than 50 miles from campus.

Alabama's Nick Saban called the practice "ridiculous," and Auburn's Gus Malzahn went on record opposing satellite camps as well. Harbaugh responded publicly, via Twitter, inviting every coach in the country to, in essence, hold his own satellite camp in Ann Arbor by co-hosting Michigan's own summer camp.

That peace offering held little water with the SEC, which decided at its annual meetings last spring if Michigan and other Big Ten schools weren't banned from hosting satellite camps, anarchy would ensue as the SEC would soon follow in the practice. In other words, what had already essentially become a 24/7, 365-days-a-year recruiting calendar would soon include a nonstop offseason traveling circus of satellite camps featuring the sport's highest-profile coaches.

Other teams in the Big Ten had already followed suit, with Ohio State and Urban Meyer trying their hand at the practice by hosting a satellite camp on the campus of Florida Atlantic last June.

As Garin Patrick, the defensive line coach at prep powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, explained, the value in such practices comes in a school's ability to gain exposure in a state so used to being primarily recruited by its local schools.

"It's just so hard because all [the prospects] know is Miami, Florida and Florida State. And a lot of them come from tough upbringings where their families don't have the money to travel and go out of state," Patrick told Bleacher Report a few weeks before Friday's ruling. "There’s other kids, too, who want to get out and see stuff, and they're very open to it. I think it's good that [Harbaugh's] down here. He's pushing the envelope. Doing what he's doing, I think it's only going to make the Big Ten better."

This offseason, Meyer had already announced a satellite camp appearance in Georgia, while Penn State and Franklin were slated to co-host a camp at Old Dominion. Harbaugh, meanwhile, had been linked to four satellite stops this offseason, including stays in Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Georgia.

With the NCAA's ruling, however, those plans appear to be null and void. According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, the voting on the matter breaks down as one might expect:

 

The Harbaugh Effect

Although Franklin was holding satellite camps two years ago, it wasn't until this past January the SEC—and ACC—submitted proposals to the NCAA seeking the end of satellite camps.

"Why the big deal with Harbaugh?" asks B. David Ridpath, a sports administration professor at Ohio University and the co-editor of the Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics.

It's a fair question, one with an answer that may be rooted in multiple theories.

For one, Franklin wasn't hosting camps nearly as frequently as Harbaugh, nor was he finding the same level of success. Several players from Michigan's fifth-ranked 2016 class attended one of Harbaugh's 10 camps last offseason, including but not limited to 4-star prospects such as linebacker Devin Bush Jr., quarterback Brandon Peters and cornerback David Long, as well as 3-star safeties Josh Metellus and Devin Gil and running back Kingston Davis.

"Any coach I've ever worked with has always said, 'We've got to maximize the rules as much as we can," Ridpath said in early March. "Maybe Harbaugh's taken it to another level."

And then there's the reality of Harbaugh's fiery personality, which brought significantly more attention to the matter of satellite camps than Franklin's quieter approach did two years ago. Any time your canned response is, "In my America, you're allowed to cross state borders," as Harbaugh's has been for the past year, it's bound to create headlines.

It's also the type of attitude that's likely to appeal to the kind of athletes for which Division I schools have long looked.

"His personality is perfect for the 'Florida athlete,'" LaRosa said. "The Florida athlete's got that swagger, he's got that confidence. And even though they may come across as prima donnas, they have a blue-collar mentality. They're gonna be brash, but they're not going to back down from working or outworking other guys."

Perhaps allowing the low-key Franklin into its backyard, while not preferred, was at least tolerable for the SEC compared to the attitude and recruiting acumen Harbaugh possesses. If anything, Harbaugh's approach was a sign of how far recruiting in the Big Ten has come in just the past few years.

"Prior to Urban Meyer arriving in the Big Ten [in 2012], a lot of the recruiting was very basic. There was a feeling of some sort of gentlemen's agreement where, 'We are the Big Ten and this is the way that we recruit,'" Mike Farrell, the national recruiting director for Rivals.com, told Bleacher Report. "Harbaugh's taken another step."

 

What's Next?

While the battle over satellite camps appears to be over, the war between Harbaugh and the SEC over off-campus spring practices—like the one Michigan just held in Bradenton, Florida—is still alive or, at the very least, on life support.

At this point, however, another SEC victory in the war almost seems like a formality, if it wasn't already, given NCAA President Mark Emmert's comments on the matter while speaking to the University of South Carolina's board of trustees in February.

"There's a difference between not being prohibited and being OK," Emmert said of off-campus spring practices, per the State's Josh Kendall. "We are trying to find ways to dial back the demands on student-athletes, not ramp them up."

That falls in line with the SEC's primary argument against Michigan's spring setup, as outlined by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who said the off-campus practices create additional time demands by eliminating spring breaks. And while Harbaugh's public justification for heading to Florida is that doing so allows players to still enjoy a spring break-like atmosphere while wrapping up spring practice in time to be able to fully focus on semester exams at the end of April, the reality is both sides are arguing over the same thing: recruiting regulations.

"On both sides, the time-demands issue is very self-serving," Ridpath said. "Harbaugh found a loophole and he's maximizing it, and of course, when you have a loophole, you're going to have people try to exploit it as much as possible."

Although the NCAA is yet to rule on the matter, Farrell concurred that the Wolverines' first spring practice session in Florida would likely be their last.

"I think it gets shut down before next spring. Especially with Meyer and [Michigan State's Mark] Dantonio both saying they'd be interested in doing it," Farrell said. "I think the NCAA will take a look at that and say, 'OK, if they're gonna do it, that's three schools. There's gonna be other schools that wanna do it, and this could turn into a traveling circus.' I think the NCAA will shut it down, which would be the smart thing to do, because it opens a can of worms that I don’t think the NCAA wants to deal with."

As of Friday, the NCAA seems intent on keeping any Pandora's box shut that it can, which is why satellite camps have come to an end, effective immediately. In the end, the SEC got what it wanted: less access for the teams up north to the more talented crop of players who reside down south.

But while he may have wound up the loser in all of this, Harbaugh walks away from his war with the SEC having gained plenty as well.

Aside from the first—and apparently only—Summer Swarm Tour paving the way toward such a talented 2016 class, Harbaugh's spat with the SEC created a buzz around his program it didn't possess when he took over his alma mater following a 5-7 season in 2014. This offseason alone, Harbaugh has engaged in Twitter battles with Georgia's Kirby Smart, Tennessee's Butch Jones and even Sankey himself over the debate of spring practices, making him a mainstay in the headlines during a typically dead period in the college football news cycle.

"He's an extremely creative person," Farrell said. "He knows how to rattle some cages and stay in the media focus, which is always helpful for recruiting and for your program."

Michigan's recent recruiting run won't die along with the end of satellite camps or even the likely demise of off-campus spring practices. But Harbaugh now will have to find a new way to keep his name in the headlines as college football's most prominent offseason feud appears to have come to its end.

The result? A new rule that will benefit the SEC and a year's worth of publicity for a program and head coach in need of just that.

Maybe everybody won.

 

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

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Florida Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

The Florida Gators are back on the field for the 2016 Orange & Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

SEC Network is broadcasting the scrimmage. Bleacher Report is providing scoring updates, analysis and top performers.

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SEC Football: Biggest Threats to Dethrone Alabama in 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though the University of Alabama would go on to win the national championship, the moment wasn’t lost on Nick Saban.

It was December 5, Alabama had just knocked off Florida in the SEC Championship Game, 29-15, and the head coach was pausing to try to put it into perspective. His team had to win nine straight games just to get to Atlanta despite playing one of the toughest schedules in college football. 

“I don't think anybody really thought after the Ole Miss game this team would wind up here,” he said. “To be honest with you, I had some questions in my mind as to whether we'd wind up here.

“They responded every time in some very difficult places to play.”

Alabama didn’t just win the SEC title that day, it became the conference’s first repeat champion since Tennessee in 1997-98. Not even Saban’s 2011-12 national champions pulled that off.

It led to Steve Spurrier famously quipping during the 2012 edition of SEC media days: “It’s easier to win the national championship than the SEC, ask Nick Saban.”

The now-retired “Head Ball Coach” did have a point. Alabama was fresh off winning the national crown without having played for the league title. After losing to LSU in overtime during the regular season, it finally got a shot at a rematch in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans and won convincingly, 21-0.

Meanwhile, the last repeat winners in the other major conferences are (* indicates co-champion):

  • Big Ten: Wisconsin 2010-12.
  • ACC: Florida State 2012-14.
  • Big-12: Baylor 2013*-14
  • Pac-12: Stanford 2012-13

Bret Bielema was the head coach of the Badgers—which, like the Florida State Seminoles, actually won their league title three straight years (2010 the first)—but he hasn’t come close yet to matching that at Arkansas. In three seasons, his teams are 18-20 overall, 7-17 in league play. 

Last year, Alabama faced nine teams that were ranked in the Associated Press Poll when they played, the most of any national champion (previously held by LSU in 2007 with eight but had only one opponent in the top five), and 12 teams that were ranked at some point of the season.

Moreover, it had to play the top three teams in the SEC East en route to the conference crown.

“Our league is a tough league, and we beat each other up,” Saban said.

Consequently, any list of teams that could dethrone Alabama from atop the SEC could easily include Arkansas, Auburn and Florida, but here are the strongest challengers heading into the 2016 season:

 

1. LSU

A lot of people will make the mistake of overlooking the Tigers, thinking the problems in the passing game are nothing new and Les Miles won’t be able to fix them enough to beat Alabama. However, it’s not like Miles or offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have never had a successful passing game before. 

After LSU’s passing game ranked No. 105 in the nation last season, the question isn’t if it’ll be better but how much. Considering the talent level of wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, it may be a lot, but just a little bump would be problematic for defenses that already have to deal with running back Leonard Fournette.

 

2. Tennessee

The Volunteers will be a popular pick to win the SEC East after winning their last six games of 2015, and the four losses were by a total of 17 points—including two to eventual playoff teams (Alabama and Oklahoma).

The team returns nearly every starter, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who has to do a better job of completing passes downfield to help out the running back. Nevertheless, it might be a make-or-break season for head coach Butch Jones, who desperately needs to draw attention away from the program’s off-field issues.

 

3. Ole Miss

The natural reaction is to have Ole Miss higher on this list, as it defeated the Crimson Tide in both 2014 and 2015 and will be home for this year’s meeting on Sept. 17. Last season, the Rebels caught Alabama before it had an established starting quarterback and might have that advantage again.

Chad Kelly is widely considered to be the league’s best quarterback. However, even with better depth, the Rebels have a lot of big names to replace on both sides of the ball and all five offensive line starters from the Sugar Bowl. The season opener against Florida State in Orlando will be telling.

 

4. Georgia

The Bulldogs are coming off a 10-win season but have a new coaching staff, running back Nick Chubb is a question mark following knee surgery, there’s a quarterback battle and the defensive front seven has to be almost completely revamped.

That’s a lot for any team to overcome, even for the ones that don’t have a first-time head coach. We’ll learn a lot about Georgia’s potential during a three-game stretch beginning Sept. 24, when it visits Ole Miss, hosts Tennessee and then travels to South Carolina.

 

5. Texas A&M

If you’re looking for a sleeper pick in the SEC, it’s A&M. It has a new offensive coordinator in Noel Mazzone, and Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight, the only active quarterback not named Kelly to beat Alabama, will lead it.

A&M’s defense was so bad two years ago that it went from being ranked No. 102 in the nation (455.4 yards per game) to No. 51 last season (380.0). Expect it to take another step forward under the direction of defensive coordinator John Chavis.

  

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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NCAA Bans Football Satellite Camps: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The NCAA banned football satellite camps, effective immediately, in accordance with Friday's ruling by the Division I Council. 

According to Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer, FBS football programs are now required to hold camps at their own facilities:

Tate Martell, a 5-star Texas A&M quarterback commit, per 247Sports, reacted negatively to the news on Twitter:

Satellite camps rose to prominence last summer due largely to Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh. His practices came under fire, however, particularly from SEC and ACC coaches who were not permitted by their conferences to hold camps farther than 50 miles from campus, per ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman.

When asked about the camps in June 2015, Harbaugh made his beliefs quite clear, according to George Schroeder of USA Today: "In my America, you're allowed to cross the state borders. That's the America I know."

While some argued that the satellite camps provided an unfair recruiting advantage, Alabama head coach Nick Saban was among those who questioned if they made a significant difference, per John Talty of AL.com:

I'm really not even thinking that it has that much value. What would be a more interesting question for you to research—and I can't answer this—the teams that have done them, what value does it serve? How many players did they get? They had some players commit to them and some of those players decommitted, and I know they even wanted to drop some of those players when they found out they could get better players.

Brett McMurphy of ESPN reported, per a source, that the ACC, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, MWC and Sun Belt all voted against satellite camps, while the Big 10, AAC, Conference USA and MAC all voted in favor.

While Harbaugh wasn't the only coach to conduct satellite camps, he was undoubtedly the face of the operation due to his outspokenness on the matter.

The divisive coach has yet to comment on the NCAA's decision, but he'll have no choice other than to abide by it despite his beliefs.

Even though the elimination of satellite camps takes a tool out of Michigan's repertoire, there is still a lot for Wolverines fans to be excited about, as Harbaugh led the team to a 10-3 record last season with a roster that was mostly devoid of his own recruits.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Notre Dame vs. Texas' Week 1 Game Rescheduled from Saturday to Sunday Night

Many college football fans are eagerly anticipating Notre Dame's regular-season opener at Texas because the contest will showcase the winner of the Fighting Irish's quarterback competition.

But we must wait one day longer than anticipated.

Notre Dame announced the clash—which was scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3—will be played on Sunday night. Kickoff time and broadcast details are to be announced for the now-Sept. 4 tilt.

"A game of the magnitude of Notre Dame-Texas, played on the opening weekend of the college football season, deserves a special place on the Labor Day sports calendar," Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said, per the release.

ESPN's Matt Fortuna provided statements from Texas athletic director Mike Perrin and head coach Charlie Strong.

Special timing for games on Labor Day weekend has become commonplace, especially when the NFL regular season doesn't start until the following week.

However, the Monday night game has typically served as the headliner. In 2014, Miami battled Louisville. Last season, Virginia Tech hosted Ohio State. This year, Ole Miss and Florida State will square off on a neutral site.

Sunday has usually lacked a nationally-relevant matchup, considering the outings recently included Purdue-Marshall (2015) as well as Baylor-SMU and Tennessee-Utah State (2014).

Not so this year.

The 2016 meeting will be the 12th in series history. Notre Dame currently holds a 9-2 series lead, including a five-game winning streak that began in 1971.

Last season, Malik Zaire threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns, helping head coach Brian Kelly's team hammer the Longhorns 38-3. DeShone Kizer was merely an afterthought at the time, but Zaire's campaign ended due to a broken right ankle the next week.

Zaire and Kizer will continue vying for the No. 1 spot throughout the spring and summer. Coach Kelly might not even make a decision on the starter before the Irish invade Austin.

The winner of the competition—or, perhaps, the first one in the rotation to go under center—will be the focal point of the prime-time game.

Once the meeting is over, Notre Dame's players and students who made the trip must return to South Bend for class on Monday.

Granted, the process of changing flights and hotel reservations is probably worth the hassle for Fighting Irish supporters.

And we already know the athletic departments will have increased exposure and benefit on the bottom line—assuredly the primary reason Notre Dame vs. Texas is switching to a Sunday night game.

Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Big Ten Football Q&A: Who's the B1G's Dark-Horse National Title Contender?

Michigan's spring game has come and gone, Northwestern and Minnesota will each play their annual exhibitions this weekend and before you know it, we'll officially be in the longest—and least eventful—portion of the college football offseason: summer conditioning.

So while college football is still in the news—at least as much as it can be during spring practice—let's enjoy it with another edition of Big Ten Q&A. This week we'll tackle the conference's national championship dark horse, the best Big Ten sleeper pick in the upcoming NFL draft, the league's most overrated and underrated teams and whether one Big Ten team was more talented than a certain NFL roster was a year ago?

As always, you can send your questions to me each week on Twitter @BenAxelrod.

Let's get started.

 

Outside of the Buckeyes and Wolverines, I actually do think there is one other Big Ten team capable of making a national title run in 2016.

But after the way Iowa closed its 2015 campaign, the reality is that I have no idea what to make of the Hawkeyes' prospects in the coming year.

Starting with the negative, Iowa's 45-16 loss to Stanford in January's Rose Bowl left plenty of doubt about the program being on the same level as college football's elite while simultaneously lending credence to the theory that the Hawkeyes' 12-0 regular-season record was more of a matter of happenstance than sustainable progress in the program.

If Iowa looked so overmatched on the national stage, how could it be counted on in a playoff scenario where it would not only be forced to face a team as talented as Stanford, but also one as dominant as Alabama or Clemson?

At the same time, however, the Hawkeyes have a lot working in their favor in 2016.

Most notably, Iowa will return 72 percent of its production on both offense and defense from 2015, according to SBNation's Bill Connelly. That's good for the third-most returning production in all the Big Ten in 2016 and the most of any team in the league to possess a winning record a year ago.

Quarterback C.J. Beathard will be back in Iowa City, as will Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Desmond King. Perhaps most importantly, Wisconsin, arguably Iowa's biggest threat in the Big Ten West, faces a schedule so tough in the coming year that it's tough to imagine the Badgers being in the hunt for the division crown by year's end.

Conversely, the Hawkeyes' schedule is much more manageable, with matchups with Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska all coming inside the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium. If Iowa can survive that and pull off what would likely be an upset in the conference title game over the representative from the superior Big Ten East, the Hawkeyes could find themselves in the College Football Playoff after missing out on football's final four by just one game a year ago.

From there, anything could happen. But after last season's Rose Bowl, I'm not necessarily holding my breath on an Iowa national title run in 2016.

 

Here are a few mid-late-round Big Ten prospects to keep an eye on:

 

Carl Nassib, Penn State

It's rare that a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year with 15.5 sacks in his senior season would fly under the radar. But given his status as a former walk-on and questions as to whether or not he was even the best defensive lineman on the Nittany Lions roster last season, that's exactly where Carl Nassib finds himself at the moment.

While he's currently projected by CBSSports.com as a second- or third-rounder, you can't teach 6'7", 277 pounds. You also don't tally 15.5 sacks by accident—so don't be surprised if Nassib makes an instant impact in his college career.

 

Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State

After a largely inconsistent career in East Lansing, Aaron Burbridge saved his best for last, catching 85 balls for 1,258 yards and seven touchdowns in his senior season. Still, questions about his lack of consistency and injury history haunt him, as he's currently projected as a third-fourth round pick by CBSSports.com.

A former 4-star prospect, Burbridge has the talent and, as last season showed, is more than capable of making an impact when he's on the field. If he can manage to continue to do just that, an NFL team could find itself with a first-round talent in one of the middle rounds.

 

Nick Vannett, Ohio State

Ohio State's use of its tight ends—or lack thereof—has been a long-running joke in Columbus, and Nick Vannett's production over the course of his college career shows why. Despite his apparent talent, the 6'6", 260-pounder only caught 55 balls for 535 yards and six touchdowns over the course of his four seasons with the Buckeyes.

As a result of his lack of production, Vannett's draft stock has slid, with CBSSports.com currently projecting him to be a third-round pick. But according to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, he's comparable to at least one former first-rounder, which could make him another potential steal in the upcoming draft.

 

Starting with the overrated, I'm going to go with Wisconsin, although as a whole I really like the Badgers roster and the direction of their program. Despite his disappointing junior campaign, I believe Corey Clement will achieve star status in 2015 and that Bart Houston should fill in seamlessly for Joe Stave at quarterback.

That schedule, however, is too much to ignore.

Even aside from a season opener against LSU, I can't imagine a Big Ten team ever having a tougher start to conference play than Wisconsin has in 2016. Not only are the Badgers' three cross-divisional games this season against the three best teams in the Big Ten East (Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State) but Wisconsin starts its Big Ten slate with those three games, in order.

After that, it doesn't get much easier, with a trip to Iowa City to face the defending Big Ten West champion, Iowa, on October 22. As talented as Wisconsin is, a 2-6 start to the season isn't out of the realm of possibility.

As far as underrated goes, I've already made the case for Nebraska as the potential Big Ten West champ, so let me give you another team from the division to keep an eye on: Minnesota.

Despite last season's 5-7 regular season record, I still like the direction the Golden Gophers are heading, as last year's disappointing results can largely be blamed on the mess that came with former head coach Jerry Kill being forced to step down due to health reasons midseason. As Kill's former defensive coordinator, new Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys can allow the Gophers to maintain continuity while still putting his own updated stamp on the program.

With quarterback Mitch Leidner back for his third season as a starter, Minnesota should have a shot at contending for the division crown this season. In total, the Big Ten West should be a lot better than most people think—even with the Badgers' brutal schedule.

 

This question was written in jest—I think—and in reference to how often Cleveland Browns fans clamor for their favorite team to pick players from nearby Ohio State.

But given that the Buckeyes could have as many as seven players picked in the first round later this month, there's actually something to explore here.

As early as the Browns preseason last summer, it struck me just how little talent their roster possessed compared to the defending national champion (Ohio State) I was in the midst of covering. It seems that every year it gets asked whether or not a college team could beat an NFL team and each time the answer is a resounding "no."

But as far as whose roster I'd rather have moving forward, I could certainly make a compelling case for the Buckeyes.

Just look at it from a position-by-position breakdown as far as Ohio State's draft-eligible players are concerned:

Would you rather have Robert Griffin III or Cardale Jones? I could argue that's a wash.

Isaiah Crowell or Ezekiel Elliott? I'm definitely taking Elliott.

Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel or Mike Thomas, Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall? Give me the Buckeyes.

Gary Barnidge or Nick Vannett? I'd stick with Barnidge.

Joe Thomas or Taylor Decker? Given age and Decker's status as a likely first-round pick, I'd take him.

Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger and Danny Shelton or Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington and Darron Lee? I'd take the Ohio State players.

Joe Haden, Tramon Williams and Justin Gilbert or Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell? I'd give the Browns the edge, but it's closer than you'd think.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if the Browns were to flip rosters with the Buckeyes, they actually might be in better shape moving forward than they are now.

Now I guess the real question is whether that says more about the rosters in Cleveland or Columbus at the moment.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Starting Quarterbacks Most Likely to Lose Their Jobs Before End of 2016

Spring football is a time for competition. Fifteen practices and no games to prepare for give college football coaches a chance to push players who they aren’t happy with or give younger players an opportunity to win a starting role. The quarterback position is not immune from this phenomenon.

Each spring, programs across America hold quarterback competitions for a variety of reasons—a former starter returning from injury, an ineffective starter, the graduation of the previous starter o the separation of two similar players. This spring is no different.

A number of intriguing, high-profile competitions are taking place, and some are certain to shuffle the starting quarterback ranks while ruffling some feathers. Here’s a look at 10 starting quarterbacks who are most likely to lose their jobs by the end of the 2016 season, if not well before.

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Early 2016 Win-Loss Record Projections for Every SEC Football Team

It's never too early to make predictions, and you'd better believe around water coolers and chat rooms across the Southeast that folks are talking about how their favorite SEC football teams are going to fare once September rolls around.

So, why can't we go ahead and make our way-too-early predictions?

Everybody wants to know whether Alabama can repeat as the national champion. Which Florida will show up in '16—the one that started so hot or the one that couldn't muster any points as the season progressed?

What will Georgia look like without Mark Richt on the sideline during the Kirby Smart regime? Can Barry Odom return Missouri to its SEC East-leading form of 2013 and '14 after Gary Pinkel's final season in Columbia was disastrous?

The other Columbia didn't fare too well either in Steve Spurrier's finale. Is Will Muschamp the answer?

Tennessee (again) has tons of hype surrounding it, and Ole Miss looks like a full-fledged yearly contender under coach Hugh Freeze, but the Rebels still need to get to Atlanta for the first time in order for us to take them seriously.

With a top-tier nonconference slate, the league will try to prove its dominance once again after a strong bowl showing in 2015. There is a ton of quarterback and coaching turnover, but the SEC appears primed to flex its talent superiority again.

Let's take a look at what could be in store for every program once spring practice, summer workouts and fall camp give way to real football.

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Ohio State Football: Can Mike Weber Emerge as the Buckeyes' Featured RB?

Ohio State has fielded one of the most devastatingly productive rushing attacks in the country since 2012—the year Urban Meyer took over as head coach—and much of that success is tied directly to the Buckeyes' featured running back.

From 2012-13, that role belonged to Carlos Hyde, who rumbled his way to 2,689 total yards and 35 touchdowns.

Over the last two seasons, it was Ezekiel Elliott who led the charge, and he put together historically great numbers with 4,125 total yards and 41 touchdowns from 2014-15.

With Elliott making an early jump to the NFL, Meyer and the Buckeyes have a lot of questions in their backfield.

Mike Weber is trying to emerge as the answer.

The 5'10", 215-pound bulldozer was rated as a high 4-star prospect for the class of 2015, and he became one of the crown jewels of last year's Ohio State recruiting haul when he chose Meyer over Jim Harbaugh and the home-state Michigan Wolverines.

It didn't take Weber long to show his talent.

In fall camp last year, Weber shot up the depth chart despite being part of the program for a couple of months. He flexed his muscle in one of Ohio State's fall scrimmages, saying he ran the ball 15 times for nearly 200 yards with "a few touchdowns," according to Dave Biddle of 247Sports.

Everything was lining up for him to become Elliott's primary backup and get some playing time in his first season in Columbus.

He was the second true freshman to lose his black stripe, joining offensive tackle Isaiah Prince as an official member of the team, and he factored in as a nice change-of-pace back to the lightning-fast Elliott.

But Weber suffered a torn meniscus that required surgery before the start of the season, an injury that was expected to cost him three to four weeks, per Eleven Warriors' Eric Seger. But that, paired with Elliott's ability to carry the load, led to a redshirt and a season on the sideline for the talented running back.

That setback gave Weber the opportunity to sit back and learn from one of the most productive running backs in school history, and after Ohio State's 44-28 thrashing of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, he talked about his lost year and expectations for 2016, according to Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com:

I started off really good. I kind of caught on to the college speed of the game really quick and was basically running the ball really good. The injury slowed me down a little bit. It kind of set me back this whole year and maybe pushed me toward a redshirt.

But if I had to do it again, I'd be a redshirt because I learned from Zeke and the guys in front of me. I just sat back and watched those guys. I am just going to let it all loose next year.

Now that he's fully healthy, he's vying to become the next great running back under Meyer at Ohio State. But he's in the thick of a heated position battle with senior Bri'onte Dunn, a career backup who's not taking what is likely his last opportunity for a starting position lightly.

With spring practice winding down, neither Weber nor Dunn have surged ahead to become the clear starter, and questions about whether Ohio State should implement a two-headed running back attack have surfaced.

"Will we get to that point? I don't know," Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford said, according to Seger. "I guess the question you're asking is if we'll do it by committee? I don't have that answer right now."

Alford expanded more on what each running back brings to the offense.

"Mike’s probably a little more of a slasher," Alford said, via Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone. "He slides off of things a little better than Bri’onte. Bri’onte is more of a downhill, just a plugger. They both can do the jobs that we need them to do in this offense."

If Weber proves to be more of a home run hitter, he'd be the better fit for a featured role in an offense that's replacing eight starters from last year's team.

And if recent history is any indication, Weber could be in for some huge numbers in 2016 and beyond.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 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

Biggest Recruiting Visits Planned for Spring Football Games

Spring games present an opportunity for college football coaching staffs to gauge roster strengths and weaknesses well in advance of the season. These events are also key in recruiting efforts, as prospects across the country join fans in the bleachers for an early look at 2016 squads. 

Several premier high school playmakers will be on the move during upcoming weekends, and their on-campus experiences could prove pivotal when decisions are finalized on national signing day. Here's a look at 10 coveted recruits expected to attend spring games.

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