NCAA Football

Kenny Hill to Transfer to TCU: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Kenny Hill's days as a member of the Texas A&M Aggies are over, but the quarterback won't have to travel too far to suit up for his next team: the TCU Horned Frogs.

He confirmed he plans to enroll at the school next month, per Travis L. Brown of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Former Texas A&M and Southlake Carroll quarterback Kenny Hill will enroll at TCU on June 1 and join the football team, he told the Star-Telegram at a high school baseball playoff game Thursday.

"Two Mondays from now," Hill said, asked when he starts classes at TCU.

Hill also said he has been on campus already to watch spring practice and get a jump on learning the offense. It was expected that he wanted to transfer to TCU.

Hill started one year with the Aggies after sitting on the bench his freshman season. During his two years in College Station, Texas, Hill threw for 2,832 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also ran for 193 yards.

Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News didn't see the news as a big surprise:

Jeff Tarpley of GigEm247 reported back in January that Hill was transferring away from Texas A&M, with TCU mentioned as his next destination. Hill's father initially denied the report, but his son ultimately chose the Horned Frogs.

Hill will have to sit out a year before he can take the field, which probably works out best for both parties. Trevone Boykin is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, so barring injury, Hill wouldn't have been starting right away. Having him unavailable will also prevent any sort of quarterback controversy.

The timing also works out perfectly. Boykin is a senior, so after he has graduated, Hill will be ready to take over.

While Hill became a bit turnover-prone during his final games of the 2014 season, he's unquestionably a great addition to the Horned Frogs on the field. He's a multifaceted QB who fits perfectly into head coach Gary Patterson's offense. 

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Notre Dame Football: Potential Breakout Candidates in 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Significant in-season strides are often borne from summer suffering, and Notre Dame football will be counting on major improvements from many of its rising upperclassmen.

With those pivotal summer months upon us, let’s project some potential breakout candidates for the Irish in 2015. Obviously, there are different degrees of so-called breakout campaigns, based on past production and expected opportunity.

Let’s have a look.

  

The Headliners

For one reason or another, quarterback Malik Zaire, safety Max Redfield and running back/slot receiver C.J. Prosise are expected to take significant steps in 2015.

Zaire obviously has the offense to himself with Everett Golson departing for Florida State. It will be interesting to see, however, how Irish head coach Brian Kelly, associate head coach Mike Denbrock and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford utilize Zaire within the scope of the offense. How much more than a run-first game manager will they ask the first-year starter to be? That answer will go a long way in determining just how high Zaire can ascend in 2015.

The former 5-star prospect Redfield drew loads of praise for his spring development, and his third season in the program could be his coming-out party.

Prosise, meanwhile, was the spring darling, though his role was still undefined, per Kelly, following the Blue-Gold Game in mid-April.

 

Digging Deeper

Beyond some of the obvious and/or well-known possibilities, a slew of other rising upperclassmen seem poised to potentially take the next steps, as well.

On the offensive line, right guard Steve Elmer is set to begin his first full season at right guard. The Midland, Michigan, native has starting experience that dates back to his freshman season, when he logged four starts at right guard, filling in for Christian Lombard. But Elmer began the 2014 season at right tackle before shifting back to guard when the Irish reshuffled the deck three games into the year. With that added time at one spot and multiple months spent alongside center Nick Martin and new starter Mike McGlinchey at right tackle, Elmer could be ready to make a leap in his junior season.

On the other side of the ball, junior defensive lineman Isaac Rochell doesn’t draw nearly as many headlines as Sheldon Day. Even early enrollee Jerry Tillery overshadowed the rest of the line throughout the spring. But you could make the argument Rochell was one of Notre Dame’s most reliable starters in 2014, as the sophomore was one of only three defensive players to start every game. His 7.5 tackles for loss were second on the squad.

Plus, he can do things like this against eventual first-round picks.

After a stout sophomore season, what’s next for Rochell in year three?

Behind Rochell sits a deep linebacking corps, buoyed by a healthy Jarrett Grace and a recovering Joe Schmidt. But it’s second-year inside linebacker Nyles Morgan who could be primed to surge forward in 2015. The former high-profile recruit was forced into action after Schmidt’s ankle injury, and he ended up tallying 47 tackles down the stretch.

Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said during the spring that the coaching staff “feel[s] much better” with Morgan than it did last year.

“I never imagined going into training camp that he’d be playing last year,” VanGorder said in late March. “He just wasn’t ready. But he’s tough. It’s so important to him. He wanted to do right, but he had to suffer through that freshman year. There were some tough, tough times for him, and he stayed right with it. He looks a lot better here in the spring.”

Playing time still needs to be sorted out among the linebackers, but if Morgan’s mental grasp of the defense comes close to matching his physical acumen, he’ll be tough to keep off the field.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Keith Ford to Transfer to Texas A&M: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Former Oklahoma Sooners running back Keith Ford announced he'll be transferring to Texas A&M ahead of the 2015 college football season.

Ford revealed the news to GigEm247's Taylor Hamm:

I'm going to Aggieland. It feels great. When I went up there today you could really tell how much time they put into their player's futures. They care about you getting your degree as much as your success on the field. What really helped me come to my decision was when I sat down with Coach (Kevin) Sumlin. It didn't sound like it was rehearsed or anything. He was just talking to me man-to-man and laid out his expectations for me. He also wanted me to believe in him. After I heard all of that I was like, 'Yea, I'm coming here.' I can't wait to get up there.

Ford ran for 526 yards and six touchdowns in his two years with Oklahoma. Last week he made public his decision to transfer. His Sooners career ended on a somewhat low note after he was injured and suspended in 2014, not to mention he lost his starting job to Samaje Perine. 

Billy Liucci of TexAgs noted that Ford's imminent arrival will give Texas A&M more 5-star recruits than it had in the 10 years before Sumlin took over:

Earlier in the day, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote that the Aggies were the optimal fit for Ford, who will provide a great foil to fellow running back James White:

White is much more of a power runner than Ford and can lean on defenses and open up those running lanes for Ford. The duo can essentially create a "thunder and lightning" situation in the Aggie backfield.

What's more, Sumlin realized that his offense was way too unbalanced last year (514 passing plays to 421 running plays) and brought in new offensive line coach Dave Christensen to bring a more downhill attack to College Station.

Ford will have to sit out a year following the transfer, so the earliest he'll see the field in College Station is 2016. The Aggies shouldn't have many problems waiting that long with Tra Carson and Brandon Williams, who combined for 960 yards in 2014, coming back for next year.

Nobody doubted how good the passing game can be over the next few years. Speedy Noil and Kyle Allen will make sure that's the case. What was missing on the Aggies offense was a runner like Ford. Throw him in the mix and Texas A&M will be a fun team to watch in 2016 and 2017. 

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Ed Oliver to Houston: Cougars Land 5-Star DT Prospect

One of the top defensive players in the class of 2016 is off the board, as Ed Oliver committed to the Houston Cougars on Thursday, per Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle.

Oliver, who stands 6'2" and weighs 277 pounds, attends Westfield High School in Houston. He's considered a 5-star defensive tackle in the 247Sports' composite rankings and comes in as the No. 13 prospect in the country, the No. 5 recruit at his position and the No. 2 player in the state of Texas.

Oliver has been a force in the interior of Westfield's defensive line the past two seasons, accumulating 146 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, seven sacks and one fumble recovery.

His older brother, Marcus Oliver, committed as an offensive lineman to Houston in 2014.

Interior defensive linemen who can collapse the pocket and generate a pass rush are worth their weight in gold. Given his athleticism and scheme versatility, he appears like the type of player who will not only make an impact early on in his career but will do so in varying roles.

The Cougars just improved on the defensive side of the ball, in other words.


Recruit star ratings and information via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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Nebraska Football: Early Grades for the 2016 Recruiting Class

Nebraska football fans know that even though the 2015 season is still months away, important work is being done involving the 2016 recruiting class. New head coach Mike Riley and his staff are beating the bushes (and social media) looking for the next crop of talented players to don the scarlet and cream.

Currently, according to 247 Sports, Nebraska’s 2016 recruiting class is No. 33 nationally and No. 7 in the Big Ten. But with a total of just six commitments, there’s plenty of room for the class to grow.

Based on what we know now, here’s a snapshot of how Nebraska is looking for next year’s class.

 

Offense

Nebraska currently has five commitments on offense:

Name

Position

Height

Weight

Star

Composite

John Rairdon

OG

6’4”

260

4-star

.9651

Bryan Brokop

OT

6’5”

273

3-star

.8888

Jared Bubak

TE

6’4”

235

3-star

.8538

Terry Wilson

QB (DUAL)

6’2.5”

187

3-star

.8407

Patrick O’Brien

QB (PRO)

6’4”

225

3-star

.8456

There are two big takeaways from this list, even at this preliminary stage. The first is the commitment of Rairdon, who would be Riley’s highest-ranked recruit at Nebraska by 247Sports’ criteria. Landing the 4-star’s talent on the offensive line would be a big coup for Riley and a huge boost for Nebraska’s offense in the years to come.

The second fascinating takeaway is the commitment of dual-threat quarterback Wilson. For his own talents as a 3-star prospect alone, Wilson is a good get for Nebraska. But more interestingly, Wilson’s commitment means that Nebraska is still actively recruiting dual-threat quarterbacks. That was an open question with Riley given his pocket-passing, pro-style offense from Oregon State.

Then on Thursday, Nebraska secured a commitment from 3-star pro-style quarterback prospect O’Brien. Having both quarterbacks in the 2016 class, in addition to the five scholarship quarterbacks currently on the roster who would have eligibility in 2016, suggests that at some point there will be attrition at the position (perhaps sooner rather than later, as Nebraska is still three over the 85-scholarship limit for 2015).

Notable among the offers out for Nebraska is 4-star running back Devwah Whaley, who according to the Omaha World-Herald, has NU in his top 10, and junior college O-line prospect Malcolm Pridgeon, who according to the World-Herald stands at 6'8"(!) and weighs 303 pounds.

Grade: A

 

Defense

At present, Nebraska only has one defensive commitment:

Name

Position

Height

Weight

Star

Composite

William Johnson

OLB

6’3”

220

Three-star

.8617

The position is important, as Nebraska currently has only five scholarship linebackers outside the players signed in the 2015 class.

New defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s quarters defensive scheme relies on having three linebackers on the field most of the time, so Nebraska will have a great need for depth at linebacker going forward. Adding a junior-college transfer like Johnson should help Nebraska with ready-to-play talent next year.

Defensive tackle will also be an area of particular need for Nebraska in 2016, with Kevin Williams graduating and juniors Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins potentially leaving early for the NFL if they have a big 2015 campaign (Collins is included in the “others considered” category of the early 2016 first-round draft projection of ESPN’s Mel Kiper).

Of course, there’s plenty of time for Nebraska to grow its defensive haul for 2016. Linebacker/defensive end prospect Quayshon Alexander is widely expected to pick Nebraska, although Sam McKewon of the World-Herald reports that Alexander is “slowing down” his recruiting process.

Grade: C

 

Overall

It’s a little scary to see Nebraska rated No. 7 in the Big Ten and No. 33 overall for the 2016 class. Ending up there would be a frightening sign of things to come.

But there’s plenty to be encouraged about, between the decisiveness at quarterback and the early handling of a position of desperate need on defense.

It’s way too early to panic about results, and there’s enough good things happening to offer some comfort this early in the process.

Grade: A-

 

All measurables and prospect rankings are from 247 Sports.

This column first appeared at The Double Extra Point, which you can follow on Twitter at @DblExtraPoint.

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Predicting Which College Football Stars Will Lead Major Stat Categories in 2015

Our fascination with sports statistics is something that will likely never die, and if anything it has become more pronounced with the creation of advanced metrics. College football hasn't delved very deep into that pool just yet, as basic stats still hold the most weight.

And while leading the major statistical categories doesn't automatically correlate to future success as a professional (or even current success for college teams), we still keep a close eye on who throws, runs or catches for the most yards, who scores most often and who on defense is making the most tackles, sacks and interceptions.

Many of last year's FBS leaders in the top stat categories have either graduated or turned pro, so we'll have several new names atop those lists for 2015.

Here's our prediction for the most significant stat leaders, based on a review of top returning players and the amount of production expected from them this season.

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2017 4-Star Daquon Green Dishes on New Ohio State, SEC Offers

As one of the rising young talents emerging from the state of Florida, 2017 4-star wide receiver Daquon Green has created his share of highlights during his prep career.

If he has his way, however, he could one day report on highlights in the sports world instead of create them.

“Right now, I'd like to pursue journalism,” Green told Bleacher Report. “I'd like to be a sports analyst one day or even get into the business side of sports.”

Judging by the swelling offer list for the 6’1”, 183-pounder from Tampa Bay Tech High School in Florida, his future on the gridiron appears to be a very bright one.

This week alone, Green—who is now up to 16 total offers—has picked up offers from the Georgia Bulldogs, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Tennessee Volunteers.

“Those [offers] are really big, especially Ohio State,” Green said. “I've been looking for that one, but I didn't expect it this soon. It was a big surprise for me.”

Green noted he expected the Bulldogs to come through with an offer based on his interactions with Bulldogs receivers coach Bryan McClendon.

“I was expecting that one,” Green said. “Because I had already met with Coach Mac going into my sophomore year, so I had an idea it was coming. But I like him. He's really cool. I enjoy talking with him.”

Both Tennessee and South Carolina offered Wednesday. Green said he is still learning about the Vols program but admitted he's building a good bond with Gamecocks assistant G.A. Mangus.

“I found out when I got out of practice,” Green said of the Gamecocks' offer. “I talked with Coach Mangus right after practice. I told him I'd like to take a visit up there sometime soon.”

Of his newest interests, the one that caught him most off guard was the offer from defending national champion Ohio State.

“Ohio State, they are the national champs,” Green said. “Just watching the NFL draft, they are a program that puts out talent. They obviously have great quarterbacks. It's just a really good school. They have been really good the last few years under coach [Urban] Meyer.”

After watching former prep teammate and former 5-star receiver Deon Cain, who signed with the Clemson Tigers in February, go through the process, Green has an idea of what is ahead as the interest continues to build.

While he figures a decision is a long ways out—perhaps after this season or even during his senior year—he has started to come up with a criteria to help him make that choice.

“First thing is education,” Green said. “Football-wise, I'm looking at the environment at each school and how I fit into the system. I'm looking at the schools that can put me in the best position to succeed. Outside of football, I just want to find a program that can prepare me for life after football.”

Green maintained he has no early leaders, and he is taking a wait-and-see approach as more schools continue to pursue him.

“I'm still wide open,” Green said. “I just want to wait and see what offers come in and then slow things down and try to find the best choice for me.”

 

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

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Alabama Football: Why QB Is Not Tide's Most Important Position for 2015

Alabama's quarterback battle remains one of the most talked about storylines of the college football offseason. The reasons why are fairly obvious: Said battle will extend into preseason camp and has been the subject of grad transfer rumors involving Braxton Miller and Everett Golson. Here's a question, though: Is it really that important who the Tide's starting quarterback is in Week 1?

If anything, Alabama's recent history under head coach Nick Saban has shown that defense is the pavement on which national championship runs are constructed. If the Tide want to get back to a national championship game in 2015-16, their defensive line is going to be position group that gets them there. 

Why? Because it's a group loaded with talent and depth and because it will be the first line of defense for all the talented run games Alabama will face this year. 

By Saban's own admission, “The defensive front is probably the strength," of the team, per Charlie Potter of 247Sports. And if you get a "probably" from Saban, that means he thinks highly of it. 

The quarterback position is fussed over certainly. There's good reason for that. No other position touches the ball on pretty much every play. 

However, it could be considered wasted breath. Having an experienced quarterback isn't a necessity to win a national championship. Since 2009, four of the six national championship-winning quarterbacks were first-year starters. A fifth, Ohio State's Cardale Jones, was the third-string quarterback to start the 2014 season. 

(And technically there's no guarantee Jones will start for the Buckeyes in '15.)

The starts alone don't tell the whole story, of course. Cam Newton and Jameis Winston were special players. Newton was one-and-done at Auburn. Similarly, if Winston was able to leave for the NFL after his redshirt season in 2013, he probably would have been a high draft pick. But the idea is that experience at the quarterback position isn't some sort of prerequisite to winning a national title over the past several years. 

Having a great D-line, on the other hand, is paramount. Even if overall defensive stats aren't superb—since football is now geared almost entirely toward offensive success, what defines a great defense has changed—controlling the line of scrimmage up front allows defenses to get creative elsewhere. 

Within Alabama's defense, the D-line's job is to be the immovable object. It has the players to do that. 

By now, the starting three—Jarran Reed, Jonathan Allen and A’Shawn Robinson—are household names. Even the backups—D.J. Pettway, Darren Lake and Dalvin Tomlinson—are good enough that there shouldn't be a huge drop-off, if any. 

But as Charlie Potter of 247Sports notes, Alabama's depth along the D-line goes even further than that: "But that’s only the two-deep defensive line. We haven’t mentioned younger players like Da’Shawn Hand, Josh Frazier and O.J. Smith, who put together strong springs. They would likely crack the two-deep at any other school in the country."

When you have the kind of depth Alabama does, injuries don't cripple productivity—not unless that unit is decimated by them. Rotating players means fresher bodies late in games and late in the season. Traditionally under Saban, when Alabama has been good up front, it's had a lot of success: 

Past trends aren't always an indication of future success, but Alabama's prior defensive stats could hold true for 2015. As Phil Steele tweeted recently, the Tide have the toughest schedule in the country:

Several of Alabama's upcoming opponents have star running backs and/or excellent run games: Wisconsin (Corey Clement), Georgia (Nick Chubb), Arkansas (Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins), Tennessee (Jalen Hurd), LSU (Leonard Fournette) and Auburn (Roc Thomas, Jovon Robinson).  

For many of those teams, if you stop the run, you stop the offense. 

That's good news, because if there's any question mark in Alabama's defense, it's the secondary. When you don't put up huge sack numbers (Alabama doesn't), that requires a lot of confidence in the secondary's ability to shut down receivers. 

If Alabama is going to make another run at a playoff spot and take home another national championship, the defensive line is the group that will be the rock on which others will lean.

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin deserves the benefit of the doubt that he can take the new-look offense and make it at least a serviceable group if not a formidable one. Whomever Alabama goes with at quarterback, the offense should be fine. 

But it's the defense that will take Alabama to the top of the college football mountain, and the D-line will be the ones leading the way.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Ohio State Football: Early Grades for 2016 Recruiting Class

We're still nine months from national signing day, but Ohio State's 2016 recruiting class is already shaping up as one of the best—if not the best—in the country.

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes' coaching staff have been very busy, securing 15 commitments from top prospects for their 2016 class. The group ranks second nationally behind that of Florida State, which holds a very slim edge over the Buckeyes in 247Sports' team rankings.

With around nine available scholarships remaining—a number that's largely dependent on how many non-senior Buckeyes opt for the NFL draft next winter—Ohio State still has plenty of talented targets left on its board.

But a majority of the work for this year's class is already done. Here are some early grades for the Buckeyes' 2016 recruiting efforts.

 

Offense

With nine players already committed to line up in Ed Warinner's offense, Ohio State is ensuring its ability to light up the scoreboard in the coming years.

A glance at the top of their board provides a glimpse into the Buckeyes' offensive identity.

Kareem WalkerDemario McCall and George Hill are Ohio State's three highest-rated recruits, and they all play running back for their respective high schools.

Walker, the Buckeyes' lone 5-star pledge, surprised everyone when he announced his commitment during Ohio State's national title victory over Oregon. During that game, Ezekiel Elliott was pounding his way to 246 yards and four touchdowns—serving as a shining example of how potent a good running back can be in Meyer's power-spread offense.

McCall and Hill, both of whom hail from the state of Ohio, are offensive threats who can line up in the backfield or split wide in the H-Back role.

Three talented linemen have signed up to block for that trio of ball-carriers. Michael Jordan, a 4-star offensive tackle out of Canton, Michigan, who spurned the home-state Wolverines in favor of the Buckeyes, leads a group that's anchored by bulldozing guards Tyler Gerald and Jack Wohlabaugh.

But if there's one glaring disappointment to Ohio State's 2016 recruiting, it's missing out on 4-star offensive tackles (and Ohio standouts) Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg.

Both were big Buckeyes targets who wound up committing to Brian Kelly and Notre Dame.

That's the worst of it, though. The Buckeyes got a big boost with yet another 4-star, dual-threat quarterback in Tristen Wallace. And with the pending departure of tight end Nick Vannett, Meyer secured depth when he earned the pledge of 4-star Jake Hausmann.

The Buckeyes are still targeting big-time offensive players—such as 5-star wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers—but the group they've already assembled is very impressive.

Grade: A

 

Defense

When signing day rolls around next February, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ohio State bring in seven defensive linemen.

Meyer is nearly halfway there already with verbal pledges from 4-star prospects Jonathon CooperTerrell Hall and Malik Barrow.

Cooper (ranked seventh at his position, 119th nationally) and Hall (eighth, 130th) are similarly rated players who will line up at weak-side defensive end for the Buckeyes. Both are aggressive pass-rushers who will add depth on the edge with the near-inevitable departure of Joey Bosa this winter.

Speaking of Bosa, his younger brother, Nick Bosa, happens to be a 5-star defensive end whom some believe will end up as a better player than Joey. "I can't say it because Joey will get mad, but the little brother might be better than Joey,” Cris Carter told reporters in January 2014. 

The 6'4", 265-pound strong-side defensive end out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is rated the No. 7 overall player in the country, and he's a unanimous pick to wind up at Ohio State, according to 247Sports' crystal ball.

The Buckeyes earned a surprising commitment from the appropriately named Tuf Borland, a 4-star linebacker from Bolingbrook, Illinois, on April 17. His commitment was big for Ohio State at the time, but it became even more important after 4-star linebacker Brendan Ferns eliminated the Buckeyes from his recruitment.

Like the linebacker unit, the Buckeyes only have one commitment for their secondary, but it's from a player they desperately wanted.

Kareem Felder is a 3-star cornerback from Baltimore who spent two-and-a-half months as a committed member of Virginia Tech's 2016 class. That didn't stop the Buckeyes from pursuing Felder, though, and they eventually convinced him to decommit from Frank Beamer and the Hokies to join the ranks in Columbus.

Felder is rated the No. 1,059 prospect in the country, but his offer list indicates that the recruiting services are undervaluing him in a big way.

In the last two months alone, Felder has received offers from Alabama, Clemson, Miami and Nebraska. However, the Buckeyes were the heavy favorites to land his commitment once they offered.

Meyer and Ohio State still have a long way to go before they finish their work on the defensive side, but they have a solid foundation to build on.

Grade: A

 

Special Teams

Over the last few years, Meyer has shown that he isn't afraid to use one of his treasured scholarships on a specialist. In 2015, there was 2-star long snapper Liam McCullough. The year before that, the Buckeyes signed 3-star kicker Sean Nuernberger.

For this year's recruiting cycle, that distinction belongs to Drue Chrisman.

Chrisman, a standout from La Salle High School in Cincinnati, is rated the nation's No. 1 punter for the class of 2016. He had offers from six major Division l schools before committing to the Buckeyes—a rarity for specialists—as BYU, Florida State, Indiana, Kentucky and UCLA were all vying for his verbal pledge.

KohlsKicking.com (h/t Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer) noted that Chrisman is "the most college-ready punter in his class."

Chrisman will have a year to learn the ropes and get comfortable in Columbus before taking over for current punter Cameron Johnston.

Grade: A+

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Auburn Football: Tigers' 2015 Offseason Checklist

Gus Malzahn told reporters in March that he had three goals for his Auburn Tigers during spring practice: to learn the playbook, develop trust and get their edge back.

By camp's end, the head coach said he was satisfied with the results.

"Overall, I was very pleased," Malzahn said, via AL.com's Brandon Marcello. "Our three goals that we went into spring with, we feel like we accomplished them all."

Now, with spring camp behind them, the Tigers head into the summer months with their eyes on August, when they return to the practice field and get ready for their tough 2015 schedule.

But the hard work can't stop with the practices. There's no doubt Malzahn and his staff have goals for the program this summer.

"Our coaches have a better understanding of what we have," Malzahn told Marcello. "Our players are extremely close, and they're trying to do what our coaches are asking them. I'm looking forward to the summer, but overall I think we're in a really good spot."

Here are a few of those goals for Auburn as the long offseason continues on the Plains.

 

Continue learning the playbook

Auburn can't quite continue its work toward getting its physical edge back this summer, but players can continue working on one of Malzahn's goals: learning the playbook.

With Will Muschamp taking over the defense, Auburn has a brand-new system that is quite different from the 4-2-5 look under former coordinator Ellis Johnson.

That means every defensive player, from the veterans down to the freshmen, will continue to learn Muschamp's playbook this summer.

And while Auburn ran an extremely "vanilla" offense at A-Day, don't expect to see the same old things from Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee this fall. The offensive personnel, especially the new starters, can't stop studying.

"I've just been putting in the work. It’s just been paying off. I study the film every day," running back Jovon Robinson told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer's Ryan Black. "I study my playbook when I can."

 

Plug in the true freshmen

Members of Auburn's 2015 recruiting class, which was ranked No. 9 in the country, are expected to play important roles for the team this fall.

Several of them, such as 4-star defensive back Tim Irvin, enrolled at Auburn in time to go through spring practice with the team. The rest are transitioning to campus in order to begin preparations for the 2015 season.

These summer months are an important time for the veterans on the team to start working with the young players and develop the chemistry they'll need.

"I know they're ready for (the freshmen) to get up there," 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart told AL.com's Wesley Sinor last week. "The D-tackles and ends, we're a group. We're one unit. The wheels shouldn't stop moving or slow down, it should be the same pace."

While these newcomers can't hit the practice field yet, they can hit the playbook and weight room with their new teammates. That time could go a long way toward Auburn's success this year.

 

Recruit, recruit and recruit

Perhaps the most visible thing Auburn can do this summer to build momentum for the future is recruit.

The Tigers are well behind their fellow recruiting powers in building their 2016 class, but the recent commitment of 4-star cornerback John Broussard could be the spark for a big summer.

One of the biggest times in Auburn's recruiting calendar comes next Saturday, May 30, when the program has its annual "Big Cat Weekend."

Auburn is expected to host many of their top targets for the 2016 and 2017 classes. According to 247Sports, the Tigers have seven different 5-stars as top targets in this class, including five top-20 players on the defensive side of the ball, so fans should expect to hear that several of them visited the Plains.

The staff will hope the momentum from Big Cat Weekend will continue into the next several months, when some top recruits will announce their commitments or make important visits.

 

Have a quiet summer

Perhaps the most important goal for Auburn in the eyes of its fans is for the team to have a low-profile summer on the Plains.

A recent transfer spree has thinned some positions on the depth chart, and the dismissal of former 5-star defensive end Elijah Daniel, who was charged with several felony counts of theft and burglary, hurt a line that struggled in 2014.

Last summer, Auburn was hit by the news of quarterback Nick Marshall's marijuana citation and season-long injuries for key underclassmen Alex Kozan and Carl Lawson.

During these next few months, the Tigers need to stay together, out of trouble and away from the injury list. Any more departures or injuries could derail the momentum Malzahn claims the team has built this spring.

Outside of some commitments or notable quotes from SEC media days in July, Auburn fans probably wouldn't mind if their team stayed out of the spotlight for a few months—at least until fall camp begins.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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100 Days from Kickoff: Biggest Storylines of the College Football Offseason

The college football season is roughly 100 days away, with tons of storylines emerging. From Braxton Miller's situation at Ohio State to Jim Harbaugh's evolving Twitter, there is no shortage of headlines being made.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer comb through some of the juicy storylines in the video above. 

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Rapid-Fire Predictions for Top 5 Uncommitted Recruits from Florida

The state of Florida has long produced some of the best recruits in college football. The tradition continues with this current crop of talented young players from the Sunshine State. 

Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani joined Adam Lefkoe as they went through each of the top five remaining uncommitted recruits from the state of Florida and predicted where they will land. 

Which schools will land these Florida players? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Top 2015 Candidates Capable of Ending the Running Back Heisman Drought

Considering the muse for the Heisman Trophy statue was a running back, you'd think the position would stand a better chance to win it each year. Instead, the award given to the nation's top overall player has become an unofficial Quarterback of the Year honor.

Could this be the year the tide turns back to the ball-carriers, who as recently as the 1970s and early 1980s dominated the podium at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City? Considering the talent at the position, it's very possible.

Running backs won the Heisman 12 straight times from 1972 to '83—including the only two-time winner, Ohio State's Archie Griffin—and they finished first and second in many years, sometimes also in third.

Then college football evolved and became more of a passing game, and from 1984 to 2014 a quarterback was awarded the Heisman 20 times. Alabama's Mark Ingram was the last running back to win the Heisman, in 2009, a year that happened to have a dearth of worthy QB candidates.

Since then, running backs have finished in the top three just three times, with the second-place finish by Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon in 2014 serving as the top result for the position. And he had less than half as many votes as winner Marcus Mariota, a quarterback.

There are quite a few notable passers who will be top Heisman candidates this year, but the running back crop is as deep as ever. Here's a look at the 10 best chances for the rusher to take back the trophy in 2015.

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Jim Harbaugh's Power at Michigan Evident in School's American Sniper Controversy

In college football, it's not rare for a coach to double as an ambassador for his school.

With all due respect to President Michael Drake and Gordon Gee before him, Urban Meyer has been Ohio State's best fundraiser since arriving in Columbus in 2011. And it's not a coincidence that Alabama's application and attendance rates have seen a dramatic increase with the Nick Saban-led resurgence of the Crimson Tide on the football field.

The reality is that a head coach's responsibilities extend far beyond preparing to coach for 60 minutes on Saturdays in the fall, especially at successful programs where so much of a school's image is linked to its football program.

But what about at a school that hasn't enjoyed national relevance—at least not in a positive way—for the better part of the last decade?

What about at a school like Michigan?

When a school goes through a coaching change—as Michigan did for the third time in eight years this past offseason—it's not uncommon for the new coach to be placed front and center in the school's P.R. plan, a symbol of optimism for its most visible pillar. But since arriving in Ann Arbor at the end of 2014, Jim Harbaugh has already done that and then some, cycling through the hats of coach, breadwinner, advocate and peacemaker in the matter of fewer than five months.

The new Wolverines head coach's involvement in the controversy at Michigan involving the film American Sniper is just the latest example of Harbaugh's unprecedented power at his alma mater.

Harbaugh's involvement with the blockbuster biographical about late United States Navy Seal Chris Kyle dates back to early April, when Michigan canceled a scheduled viewing of the movie amidst a student protest claiming the perpetuating of "negative and misleading stereotypes," per the Michigan Daily (h/t MLive.com). Never one to back down, Harbaugh took to his Twitter account to voice his support for the film and to let it be known that his players would be watching it anyways.

Harbaugh's tweet was posted at 9:38 p.m. on April 8 and clearly didn't go unnoticed. Just more than an hour later, Michigan's vice president for student life, E. Royster Harper, released a statement saying that it was a mistake to cancel the initial viewing of American Sniper and that it would go on as planned, per John Counts of MLive.com.

"The initial decision to cancel the movie was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the right of students to make their own choices in such matters," the statement read.

Whether the university's decision to change course was based on Harbaugh's tweet or recommendation is unknown, but it's hard to imagine it wasn't taken into consideration. Here was the school's most recognizable public employee disagreeing with a controversial choice, taking a pro-freedom-of-speech, anti-censorship stance on a polarizing subject.

If a coach like Meyer or Saban would have been able to use the same sort of pull at their respective schools is beside the point. The reality is that neither would have likely even tried or taken interest in the non-football matter.

And Harbaugh's on-campus involvement didn't stop there.

Although the former San Francisco 49ers head coach didn't owe it to anyone to explain his tweet—or even tweet in the first place—Harbaugh opted to take the discussion a step further. On Wednesday, MLive.com's Brendan F. Quinn reported that Harbaugh, along with Harper and interim U-M athletic director Jim Hackett, met with a small group of Muslim students for what was described as "a good discussion."

Before you write off Harbaugh seeing both sides of the story as a P.R. stunt, Reason.com reports that the media was barred from attending the event.

Whether you agree or disagree with Harbaugh's stance on the movie is irrelevant, at least from a big-picture perspective. Here was the school's football coach, not only exercising his power to influence a university decision, but also taking the time to play peacemaker more than a month later for what was clearly a touchy topic on the Michigan campus.

All this, while Harbaugh is yet to even coach his first game for the Maize and Blue.

It's no secret that Harbaugh's reach in Ann Arbor has already extended to well beyond the football field, whether it be a rise in merchandise sales or visibility for the school. In April, former Wolverines linebacker and president of the Letterwinners M Club, Bob Stites, told Bleacher Report that even area real estate developers have seen an uptick in business since Harbaugh came back to town.

"It is amazing what an impact he's made," Stites said. "I talked to some people who worked at the M Den [bookstore], and they were definitely selling more items for it. Even around town, real estate developers and real estate people are saying condos are selling a little bit faster, and they think think there's a 'Harbaugh effect.' It's definitely taken over the area as far as the optimistic attitude of having a new coach here."

As Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez showed before Harbaugh, the goodwill that comes along with being Michigan's new head coach will only take you so far. But neither Hoke nor Rodriguez managed to make as much of an impact as early in their Wolverines tenures as Harbaugh has, as he continues to go above and beyond what's expected of him as a public figure at the school.

Whether his ability to act outside the constraints of even the most successful head coaches in college football will work to his benefit or detriment in the long run remains to be seen. But through his first four-plus months on the job, this much is clear: In Ann Arbor, Harbaugh is already more than just a football coach.

 

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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Is Alabama's 2015 Schedule the Toughest of the Nick Saban Era?

For all of the praise and accolades heaped on Alabama and Nick Saban during their tear through college football together—and it is all much deserved—they still have only gone undefeated, perfect, through an entire football season once.

There have been several years where the Crimson Tide have clearly been the best team in the country, but only once could they do it without sustaining a loss.

It’s a testament not only to the grueling road of the SEC but also to his teams’ resiliency to fight back and regroup.

If Alabama fans are looking for a year for their team to run the gantlet for the first time since 2009, though, this might not be that year.

The Crimson Tide have plenty of holes, yes, but even if those get filled, they face what is shaping up to be their toughest slate since the start of the Saban era.

College football guru Phil Steele is already projecting Alabama to have the toughest road in the country this year:

Elsewhere, FBSSchedules.com, using the NCAA’s purely win-loss record method for calculating strength of schedule, put Washington No. 1 with Alabama at No. 4. Bleacher Report’s Greg Wallace thought the Crimson Tide’s 2015 slate to be the toughest in the nation.

Of course, none of this will be able to be determined objectively until the end of the season, when we have a better feel for the overall strength of certain teams.

Still, 2015 is shaping up to be the toughest during Saban’s tenure.

For starters, it’s hard to imagine a time when Alabama’s division was this formidable, top to bottom.

At the top, both Auburn should be much improved, with Jeremy Johnson taking over at quarterback and Will Muschamp coming in to run the defense. LSU is loaded as usual but needs to sort out its quarterback issue, which was still able to take Alabama down to the wire last season.

It’s hard to see the Mississippi schools maintaining their momentum from last season, but there shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off. Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze have proved that they can be dangerous coaches.

Arkansas is a sexy surprise team pick, and for good reason. The Razorbacks shut out Ole Miss and LSU late in the season and thumped Texas in their bowl game. Head coach Bret Bielema’s installation of his suffocating style on both sides of the ball is finally coming together.

The perceived “worst” team in the league, Texas A&M, will have another year of experience under a 5-star quarterback with a nasty receiving corp, and it just brought in one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, John Chavis.

And gone are the days of Alabama’s weak Eastern division schedule.

This may be the best Tennessee team Alabama has had to face, though that isn’t saying much. And it draws Georgia as its rotational opponent.

Wisconsin serves as the Power Five opener, hardly a cakewalk either.

Alabama can’t look away from home field much for relief, either. It draws Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn for its road games. None of those four can be considered sure things by any stretch of the imagination.

If you’re looking for a year where Alabama may have had a tougher schedule, there’s a good argument to be made for 2010.

That year, the Crimson Tide drew Florida and South Carolina from the East, the latter handing Alabama its first loss of the year.

But what made that year especially tough was the placement. It faced six straight SEC teams who were coming off of a bye week and essentially had two weeks to prepare.

Still, the West wasn’t nearly as strong back then, and Alabama had more relief in getting Florida and Auburn at home.

This year, Alabama’s East rotation shows no mercy, and the West is as good as it’s ever been. Combine that with the grueling road schedule, and the Crimson Tide’s road to an undefeated season and national championship looks as tough as ever.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Meet 'Competitive but Humble' Najee Harris, Alabama Commit and 2017 No. 1 RB

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — On film, Antioch, California's Najee Harris is worth every compliment given. Every cut, every juke, every spin move, every accelerated action...there's no arguing he's a legit, 5-star talent.

As the nation's top-ranked running back of the 2017 class, Harris looks the part in person, as well, measuring in at 6'1" and 216 pounds at The Opening Oakland regional last Sunday. With every move, he impressed the general public and put smiles on the faces of his regular followers.

There's no surprise as to why a handful of schools drooled over what he does on the football field, a battle that Alabama has managed to win. Harris committed to Nick Saban and his staff on April 18.

But after chatting with Harris for a few minutes, it's not his game that impresses you the most. And that means a lot, considering he rushed for nearly 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Get to know the athlete off the field, and recognize that his persona is the opposite of the dominant force California football opponents hated to see each weekend.

"He's really shy, kind of quiet," said John Lucido, who has been at Antioch High School for 18 years, including a six-year run as head coach. "Once you get to know him, he opens up, and you see that he's a great kid. He's very smart, very intelligent.

"Most importantly, whatever he needs to do to help the team, he's all for it. He's definitely team first."

Harris' performance on the field makes the casual fan cheer for him. His selfless attitude makes him likable by all. Ask him to describe the person he sees in the mirror, and it's easy to see why everybody at Antioch—and everyone at Alabama—is excited about him.

"I see a competitive guy," he said. "Competitive but humble. I'm always excited. I guess I'd say he's a team player, a guy who's not all about himself."

Harris is ranked as the No. 15 overall player in the 2017 class. He's one of a handful of 5-star players, but when he's asked about his rating, he's quick to consider changing the subject. To him, stars aren't the most important thing.

"Honestly, it's really all just politics to me," he said. "All the 5-star stuff, I don't really care about all that. I don't look back and say, 'I'm the No. 1 running back. I should be able to do this or do that.' I just want to go out, play and win.

"I don't care if I'm the No. 1, No. 20 or No. 100 running back in the country. I'd still be the same person."

Lucido has watched Harris since before his high school days, and athletically, there are few—if any—who rival the potential Harris has at Antioch. Harris possesses great size, tons of explosiveness and an uncanny ability to make defenders miss on the football field. Additionally, he's a workhorse in practices and in the weight room.

Lucido also is a fan of Harris' overall character and how his work ethic permeates around the locker room. He makes his teammates better, and he makes that a priority.

"It doesn't matter who it is, freshmen or seniors," Lucido said. "He's a sophomore himself, and you sometimes forget that. He's just one of those kids who coaches other kids up. I'm glad he does that, because all the kids look up to him."

Harris put on a show at The Opening Oakland, earning running back MVP honors and an invite to The Opening finals in Beaverton, Oregon, in July. The invite is a noteworthy feat, considering he'll be one of only a few underclassmen invited.

Physically, he fits the mold of the big running back Alabama traditionally likes. Harris was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the weekend of April 17 for Alabama's annual A-Day scrimmage. He left for California as the Crimson Tide's first pledge of the 2017 class.

Outside linebackers coach Tosh Lupoi and running backs coach Burton Burns recruited Harris. Lupoi has several years of West Coast ties as a Northern California native and a former assistant coach at Cal and Washington. Burns is a coach who worked with two backs last year who just missed 1,000 rushing yards for the season in Derrick Henry (990 yards, 11 touchdowns) and T.J. Yeldon (979, 11).

"It wasn't the records or the championships," Harris said of choosing Alabama. "It was just the feeling I had when I got there. I really liked the coaches and everything there. I just thought I fit."

Harris said he's built a solid relationship with both Burns and Lupoi, but he added that he hasn't completely closed the door on his recruiting process. Georgia, Oregon and USC are three schools that he said he's kept an eye on. Additionally, Harris picked up an offer from Notre Dame on Wednesday.

Harris said he'll weigh all recruiting options in due time. For now, he's using the spring and upcoming summer to get better for Antioch—news that his coach loved to hear. Lucido said he's hoping to expand Harris' abilities on the field to showcase not only his running but also his blocking and pass-catching skills for his junior year.

"You see him training all the time, and you see him getting bigger, stronger and faster," Lucido said. "The sky's the limit for him. With a guy like that, you never want to wear him out, but you've got to use him as a big weapon. I think he'll have a great year."

And with every yard gained and every touchdown scored, look for more of the same from Harris—a positive thing on and off the field.

"He's not the guy who's focused on the small stuff," Lucido said. "He's just ready to work. That's just the kind of kid he is."

To which Harris added: "I'm going to be the same dude every day." 

 

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

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LSU Football: Are Tigers True SEC Contenders in 2015?

LSU won the 2011 SEC title with an emphatic 42-10 win over Georgia and advanced to the BCS National Championship Game to take on Alabama.

At the time, it was par for the course for LSU—a program that had routinely found itself in the SEC and national title races late in November.

Since that ill-fated night in New Orleans with Alabama, though, the Tigers have not won the West and are generally out of the national title talk once the leaves change color.

Last year, when the Tigers finished 8-5, and 4-4 in the SEC, marked the first time the program has been .500 or worse inside the conference since 2008 and only the second time this century.

Despite many of the same issues from last year lingering, including an uncertain quarterback situation and an inconsistent pass rush, LSU is getting some preseason love this spring.

CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd has LSU ranked 13th in his preseason Top 25. The Tigers chime in at No. 14 in SportingNews.com's early rankings. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy both have the Tigers playing in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, which is one step down in the bowl pecking order from the "New Year's Six."

Sounds like LSU is expected to contend again.

That might be easier written this spring than done this fall, though.

Save for Zach Mettenberger's senior season in 2013, the quarterback position at LSU has been a constant headache for head coach Les Miles ever since Matt Flynn led the program to the 2007 title. 

While Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris put up quality stat lines overall during the spring game, each did the most damage against a second-team defense that looked lost all afternoon. Against the first team (white team), the duo combined to complete nine of 16 passes for just 64 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception (Harris) and took five sacks, and the longest completion for each was just 13 yards, according to stats released by LSU.

That's concerning, because a stagnant passing game and indecisiveness in the pocket were two of the biggest problems in the passing game in 2014.

Defensively, the transition to new coordinator Kevin Steele looked smooth for the first-teamers in the spring game, but the depth wasn't even in the same zip code. Time after time, wide receivers got loose and tackles were missed, as the offense feasted on the "twos."

Just because LSU isn't there yet, does it mean that it won't be this fall?

Of course not, but while many of LSU's biggest offseason questions remain, its division rivals have taken steps forward.

Texas A&M lured former Tiger defensive coordinator John Chavis to College Station, and he has made an instant impact at his new gig—particularly with defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.

"Those two guys probably have gotten the biggest impact of John being here," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Without a doubt, Daeshon and Myles have big smiles on their faces because they like to rush the passer."

Over at Auburn, Jeremy Johnson cemented himself as the starting quarterback this spring. Running back "Roc" Thomas—who had been known as a player who goes East-West too much—looked much more like a downhill runner in the spring game. The defense, while still depleted a bit by injuries, still managed to get pressure under first-year coordinator Will Muschamp.

Alabama? All the Tide did was find two stud wide receivers in ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster.

Arkansas? Quarterback Brandon Allen looked much more like a difference-maker than the game manager he's been in the past. If that holds over to the fall, look out for that offense.

LSU has the talent to contend. Miles and his crew have finished inside the top six in 247Sports' team recruiting rankings in each of the last three seasons. But the combination of the inability to blend a dual-threat quarterback with a pro-style scheme and the transition to the new defense has created a rocky path to Atlanta for the Tigers.

At this point, I'll have to see it before I believe it.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Is the Big Ten the SEC'S Biggest Threat on 2016 Recruiting Trail?

The SEC may no longer monopolize national championship trophies, but the conference continues to reign supreme in the recruiting spectrum.

Led by Alabama's unreal five-year streak atop national signing day rankings, SEC squads annually fill up the top tier of incoming freshman classes. Among the top seven 2016 recruiting hauls so far, more than half—Georgia, Ole Miss, LSU and Kentucky—currently belong to SEC programs in 247Sports' composite rankings.

The conference claimed seven straight national titles between 2007-2013 and still carries distinction as the most formidable collection of programs in college football. Still, we're always looking for a rival conference on the rise that could challenge for a spot atop the mountain. 

The 2015 championship matchup was the first that didn't feature at least one SEC team in nine years. The game's winner—Ohio State—headlines a conference that seems to be on the upswing on and off the field.

Big Ten football failed to produce a national championship competitor during the final six seasons of the BCS era but captured glory in inaugural College Football Playoff action when the Buckeyes beat Oregon.

The conference scored another victory weeks before the title game when Jim Harbaugh came to Michigan following a four-year NFL stint that featured three conference championship appearances and a Super Bowl trip. With Urban Meyer and Harbaugh on board—and immediately placed against each other in one of sports' greatest rivalries—the Big Ten features two of America's most well-known coaches.

Last year, the conference welcomed Maryland and Rutgers, and it tapped into a new market. The additions opened the door for new marketing and recruiting possibilities in a Mid-Atlantic region that includes Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City.

Though some viewed the arrival of Rutgers and Maryland with skepticism, both programs proved they're more than just new doormats.

The Scarlet Knights defeated Michigan, won eight games and topped an ACC opponent in bowl action. The Terrapins won at Penn State, claimed seven victories and faced Stanford in the postseason.

Maryland is one of five Big Ten teams rated among the top 30 teams in composite 2016 class rankings after beating out Florida and Notre Dame for 4-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins earlier this month. The Terps sit at No. 21 on the list, with Ohio State (No. 2), Michigan State (No. 9), Penn State (No. 15) and Minnesota (No. 28) joining them. 

Michigan, which finally began to gain momentum with the junior class this spring, is ranked 32nd as summer approaches. 

Among non-SEC conferences, the ACC and Pac-12 also have five teams inside the top 30. Like the Big Ten, both feature two top-10 classes.

The way things are trending, it's easy to anticipate increased momentum for Big Ten recruiting efforts that could push the conference past others.

Ohio State, the reigning champ, is primed for another strong season and could produce a historic amount of NFL talent in next year's draft. The Buckeyes will challenge to dethrone Alabama atop recruiting rankings in February and already lead the 2017 cycle with two 5-star and four 4-star recruits on board.

Michigan State has developed a reputation as a program that maximizes midlevel high school talent, but the roster is steadily improving, and head coach Mark Dantonio may soon have more to work with than ever. The Spartans are perhaps the hottest team on the recruiting trail right now, with 10 commitments since April 22. 

Penn State wasn't expected to resurface on the national landscape again for perhaps a decade after unprecedented post-Joe Paterno sanctions. Instead, head coach James Franklin has full scholarship capabilities at his disposal and looks likely to secure a second straight top-15 class.

And then there's Michigan, the program that ultimately holds the key to Big Ten ascension. The SEC may stand alone as recruiting king for years to come, but any chance for the Big Ten to at least challenge that superiority hinges on things working out during a new era in Ann Arbor.

Harbaugh is arguably the hottest name these days when you speak with recruits, to the point that one blue-chip prospect called him "the LeBron James of coaching" when speaking with MLive.com. There's a lot of intrigue swirling around the new regime and a sense many players are taking a wait-and-see approach with the Wolverines this season.

Dismal seasons during stretches under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke have taken some of the luster away from Michigan. Harbaugh, with his big personality and well-documented football pedigree, could quickly restore much of that shine with a strong start at his alma mater.

Meanwhile, new coaching staffs at Nebraska and Wisconsin can also be expected to steadily climb up the recruiting ladder. 

Searching for a conference to push aside the SEC outright probably isn't wise considering its stranglehold in talent-saturated states like Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. However, when surveying the scene for a potential "next-in-line" conference, the Big Ten stands out as top contender.

Regional expansion, coaching clout and a perennial title contender like Ohio State leave little doubt the Big Ten is in better shape than its been in quite some time. Expect this development to resonate during bowl season and, eventually, on national signing day.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports. 

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Who Will Be the Georgia Bulldogs' Secret Weapon in 2015?

The Georgia Bulldogs have experienced certain levels of success over the past decade, always hanging around in the competitive SEC. Who on the offensive side of the ball could be the team's secret weapon in 2015 and potentially get Georgia over the hump?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee joined Stephen Nelson to discuss which offensive player on the Bulldogs can explode onto the scene next season. 

How will the Bulldogs fare in 2015? Check out the video and let us know! 

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College Football Teams That Could Use New Uniforms

Uniforms are a major part to the, ahem, fabric of today's college football. There are entire websites, like Paul Lukas' excellent Uni Watch and Chris Creamer's SportsLogos.net, dedicated to tracking uniform changes and creating concepts for teams in college football and every other major sport in the world.

Programs big and small have found in the last couple of decades that updating their uniforms can generate a huge amount of buzz from players, fans, alumni and the all-important demographic—potential recruits.

Some teams have modernized their uniforms with great success. Some have made eye-opening updates that just didn't work—thanks for getting rid of the dog-face helmets, UConn!

But there are a handful of schools in college football that need a new look, either because they have stuck to the classics for far too long or because they made a move that needs to be fixed immediately.

Here are, in no particular order, eight schools that could use new uniforms. Let us know what you think about these suggestions, or submit your own ideas in the comments below.

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