NCAA Football

Questions We'd Love to Ask Every Coach at Pac-12 Media Days

Pac -12 Media Days are nearly upon us and with the event comes the grand smell of college football along with many high hopes and dreams of successful 2014 campaigns...

Begin Slideshow

LSU Football Recruiting: 10 Best Tiger Recruits from BCS Era

Since the start of the BCS era in 1999, LSU has been a dominant recruiting program. The Tigers have signed several highly ranked classes, and many talented recruits have decided to call Baton Rouge home.

The 2014 class was not considered, since coaches knew during that recruiting cycle a college playoff system was coming and the BCS era was ending. However, whittling down this list to 10 recruits prior to last year's class was awfully difficult.

The Tigers signed a 5-star cornerback from Florida in 2008, while 2003 was the year a strong-armed quarterback came to Baton Rouge from Alabama. LSU also nabbed a dominant defensive lineman in 2001.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.All stats are from Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

Begin Slideshow

2014 ESPY Best Play: Winner, Acceptance Speech and Twitter Reaction

We can have an argument about whether Chris Davis' 109-yard field goal return against Alabama is the greatest play in Auburn football history. What's no longer a question is whether it was the single best play in sports of the last year.

Davis came away with the 2014 ESPY Award for Best Play on Wednesday, winning the fan vote after nearly a month-long process. The top overall seed in a 16-play bracket, Davis' return came out on top of a final four that included teammate Ricardo Lewis' Hail Mary touchdown against Georgia, Paula Creamer's 75-foot putt and Damian Lillard's playoff buzzer-beater against the Rockets.

Even though all four plays were impressive in their own right, Davis came in as a considerable favorite for good reason.

Sent back on a whim by Gus Malzahn, the Auburn cornerback caught Alabama kicker Adam Griffith's 56-yard field goal attempt with his back foot inches away from the out-of-bounds line. Davis proceeded to allude one tackle around the 20-yard line, another at midfield and go the rest of the way unimpeded as his special teams unit did a marvelous job of holding their blocks.

The touchdown snapped Alabama's 15-game winning streak, ended the Crimson Tide's run at a three-peat national championship run and vaulted Auburn into its rival's place. It also helped cap off one of the more remarkable one-year turnarounds in college football history, as Malzahn flipped the script on a 3-9 team and turned them into the national runner-up.

"He wanted to return punts. He made that very adamant with us," Malzahn told Jim Crepea of USA Today in May. "So I'm glad our coaches gave him an opportunity."

Davis' return tied the longest field goal return in college football history. Some, including Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, called it the single best ending in the history of sport. We're not going to judge the veracity of such claims, but it goes without saying there was a reason Davis' return was considered far and away the favorite.

The play that arguably came closest was also from the Tigers' magical season. Down 38-37 with 36 seconds remaining and facing a 4th-and-18, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall stepped up in the pocket and threw what could nicely be described as a wildly ill-advised pass. The ball, flung in the middle of three Georgia defenders, bounced into the hands of two colliding defensive backs, popped up into the air and then landed in the hands of Lewis, who just so happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Without that moment—rightly dubbed the Prayer at Jordan-Hare—Davis' touchdown wouldn't have had nearly as much meaning. Given how momentum sometimes works with college athletes, perhaps it wouldn't have happened at all.

That said, neither Auburn moment came in the playoffs. The same can't be said for Lillard and Creamer.

The Portland Trail Blazers' game-winner might have been the best single basketball play since Ray Allen's three in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. With 0.9 seconds on the clock, and only a catch-and-shoot opportunity awaiting, Lillard came flying off a screen, caught Nicolas Batum's pass in stride and hit a cold-blooded three as time expired.

Of course, it wasn't just the shot itself that was impressive. It was everything the shot represented. The Blazers, having taken a 2-0 series lead on the Rockets' home floor, were suddenly in danger of going back to Houston for a series-deciding Game 7. A Rockets win would have flipped the script of the entire series.

Instead, Lillard continued to cement his reputation as the game's best crunch-time scorer and the ascending Blazers advanced. 

We're using wordplay to include Creamer in the transition—her 75-foot eagle putt to win the HSBC Women's Champions came in a playoff, the golf equivalent of overtime—but it's nonetheless impressive. Her miracle putt went over ridges, up hills, down hills and made one big left swing to go right into the center of the cup.

In previous years, any number of these plays could have been voted the best. But when some are talking about yours in the same breath as the all-time great moments our parents grew up telling us about, that's something special. Davis won and deserved to. There was never a doubt. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down How Top 10 4-Star Recruits Can Earn Coveted 5th Star

There's been some changes and shuffling in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. New 5-star recruits have emerged, but several 4-star prospects just missed being awarded an extra star.

Don't worry, there's still enough time for each 4-star recruit to earn a fifth star. Some need to have big seasons this fall, while others just need to show they've improved in a weak area or two.

A 4-star receiver must show he has improved his speed, while a 4-star safety needs to display better ball production. Plus, a 4-star athlete can get a fifth star by continuing to add bulk to his frame.

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

Begin Slideshow

Clemson Football: 5 Backups Critical to Tigers' Success in 2014

The Clemson Tigers are just weeks away from the beginning of fall camp, and most of the starting positions are locked up. However, if the Tigers expect to win 10 games or more for the fourth season in a row, they'll need depth.

Clemson has recruited well over the past four years. That depth will be put to the test this fall as several younger players—specifically in the secondary—ascend into starting positions for the first time in their college careers. 

And there's always injuries. What happens if All-American defensive end Vic Beasley goes down?

The best teams in sports are the ones that survive when a star goes down. Those teams have backups ready to step in at a moment's notice and pick up right where their predecessor went down.

Remember Frank Reich? Reich is most famous for being the architect behind the biggest comebacks in both NFL and college football history. Reich was the backup quarterback for each of those teams.

What about Tom Brady? Arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history was an unknown backup when he stepped in for an injured Drew Bledsoe and never looked back. 

Not everyone who fills in for an injured starter will be a star, but it's those backups who come in and quietly perform well that help teams win championships.

Here are five backups who are critical to Clemson's success in 2014.

Begin Slideshow

High Praise of Leonard Fournette at Media Day Puts Added Pressure on Freshman RB

HOOVER, Alabama — Les Miles has outdone himself. 

Miles is crazy. It would take more words than a dictionary to describe all of Miles' mischievous activities. But for SEC media day, he shared updates of his daughter's softball tournament and his affinity for Derek Jeter's All-Star Game performance. 

Just Miles being Miles. 

Yet even Miles, arguably the most successful coach in LSU history, did the unthinkable when describing his talented freshman running back Leonard Fournette. 

But before getting to Miles' ridiculousness, check out this scenario. 

Imagine being compared to the greatest athlete of all time. Imagine being compared to the greatest athlete of all time by your coach. Imagine being compared to the greatest athlete of all time by your coach, who you have never played a game for. Imagine being compared to the greatest athlete of all time by the coach you have never played a game for in front of quote-hungry media members.

Welcome to Fournette's world, where this is now a reality.   

“He’s got speed, size and strength, he’s goal oriented and he expects more of himself,” Miles said per The Advocate. “Michael Jordan was not coached to be Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan expected himself to do something special. That’s the kind of player Leonard Fournette is."  

Really Miles? Michael Jordan? 

Fournette is undoubtedly the next great thing. But Miles did the unfathomable Fournette hype no favors at SEC media day in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Comparing any human to Michael Jordan is nonsensical. Jordan is a deity who can do no wrong in the eye of the public. Heck, King James cannot even stay within the same breath of "His Airness" without outrage.

Can Miles at least wait for Buga Nation to play a game?

LSU senior running back Terrence Magee made a more reasonable comparison: the Minnesota Vikings' Pro Bowl workhorse Adrian Peterson. 

"To be honest, I think he (Adrian Peterson) is the only guy that's playing running back right now that you can compare him to," said Magee. "He is fun to watch and mentor. And his work ethic is off the charts." 

Magee also said Fournette could be the best running back ever. 

Even Charlie Chaplain is impressed by how much Fournette has accomplished today without saying anything. 

Hypothetically, if Fournette averaged 150 yards per game, which is unlikely considering he will share carries with Magee and Kenny Hilliard, comparing any mortal human to Jordan is nefarious in American sports culture. Some would even call it blasphemous. 

Magee rushed for 626 yards last season and will likely start in the season opener against Wisconsin. Hilliard is a touchdown vulture, having accumulated 21 career touchdowns on only 212 carries in three seasons.

Fournette was the No. 1 recruit in the country for a reason. He is a damn strong football player, which probably would have been a better, and more familiar, way for Miles to describe him.  

But do not expect anyone to label Fournette as "Air Buga" anytime soon, or ever.  

 

*Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Media Days Buzz: Biggest Stories of Day 3

The third day of the 2014 SEC media days is in the books in Hoover, Alabama. Missouri, LSU, and Arkansas took center stage Wednesday as players and coaches fielded questions from the media.

Watch Bleacher Report SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee break down the biggest stories coming out of Day 3, including the controversy between Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema and Tigers coach Gary Pinkel regarding the 10-second rule and player safety.

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Are Willie Henry and Ondre Pipkins the Real Deal?

Willie Henry and Ondre Pipkins have yet to reach stardom, but they're most certainly two of the most important pieces to Michigan's defensive line.

Primed to pounce, Henry could very well be one of the best-kept secrets in the Big Ten. Really, the Wolverines probably aren't entirely sure about what he can do—it's not like he's an established mainstay.

However, while relatively untapped in terms of potential, the husky, 6'2", 297-pound redshirt sophomore is coming off an incredible spring—one which promises to catapult him to the top of coordinator Greg Mattison's depth chart.

There's no real reason why he shouldn't see waves of playing time this fall. 

At 6'3" and 313 pounds, Pipkins has the ideal size for a mean-streaked interior D-liner. Of course, there's a little more to go on with him—he was one of the top recruits of the 2012 class and was expected to develop into something (at least close to) special. 

Prior to meeting Minnesota in 2013, he appeared to be on his way up the ladder. But an unfortunate ACL tear further delayed progress. Now a junior, there isn't much time remaining for Pipkins, who will be an invaluable asset for the Wolverines if he can remain intact. 

 

Oh, Henry!

In 2012, Henry took a redshirt. In 2013, he tallied three tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks in 12 games. Those aren't dominant numbers, but the TFLs are promising. Once in the backfield, Henry's akin to a very wild animal, running loose in a small room full of delicate, extremely breakable things. 

Of course, this year's spring game was enough to erase what little doubt remained about the powerful and versatile lineman. Before the O-line knew it, they were facing their own end zone while trying to track down Henry—he burst through with ease and nearly intercepted the center-quarterback exchange. 

Instead, he just showed how much work his offensive teammates have to do before the season starts. That's all. 

Back in the spring, Henry, via MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner, said that he was pleased with his progress and suggested that the game is slowing down to a degree:

My confidence grew (last year as the year went on), the coaches saw something in me that they thought could help the team, that helped me confidence-wise, it helped me grow. I got used to what the speed of the Big Ten is like, there was a lot of competition.

(Right now), I'm just trying to get better.

Of course, it'll take a lot more than "confidence" to make an impact. But by most accounts, Henry's far from a flash in the pan. Spring was no fluke.

But is he the real deal? Yes and no.

In practices and in spurts? Absolutely. But that doesn't compare to making a key stop to help seal a victory over a bitter rival, nor does it compare to a momentum-shifting quarterback sack—both of which he's more than capable of doing. 

 

Ondre the Giant

In 2012, "Pee Wee" had seven tackles (two solo) and 0.5 sacks in 13 games. In 2013, he had seven tackles (one solo) and 0.5 sacks in the five games prior to his ACL tear versus the Gophers.

After a quick calculation, it would have been easy to project a 25-tackle, two-sack year for a healthy version of Pipkins, who should eclipse those numbers in 2014.

Realistically speaking, his "debut' is long overdue. But this year could be the one that he claims what's been perceived to be his rightful place on the D-line. By the sound of things back in October, he was on the doorstep of something meaningful, only for another stroke of bad luck to take its toll. 

Brady Hoke, who enters his fourth year as Michigan's head coach, said the following about the unfortunate circumstances, via NBC College Football Talk:

You hurt for Ondre, and I really do because I coach him and he’s in my meeting room every day. He was really starting to turn the corner on the field and become a productive football player for us. The good news is he’s young, he’s a great kid and he has a lot of great football ahead of him.

We will help him get through this.

He has all of the tools in the world; he just has to stay committed to rehabbing from his setback.

"He's coming right along according to schedule," Mattison said last week during an interview with Inside Michigan Footballper MLive.com's Brendan F. Quinn"He's working very hard at it and he wants to play."

In all likelihood, Pipkins will go head-to-head with Ryan Glasgow, a senior, and Bryan Mone, a true freshman, for most of the reps. Talent-wise, Mone can tangle with Pipkins. However, experience-wise, Pipkins has the advantage. 

And perhaps his hurdle-spiked path will further motivate him to show that he's indeed the "Pee Wee" that Michigan recruited three years ago. He's a "real deal" that remains in negotiation. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Media Days Schedule 2014: Previewing Thursday's Speaker Lineup

While fans anxiously await the start of the college football season, the SEC Media Days will at least give an indication that actual games are right around the corner.

The four-day event features press conferences from coaches and players from all 14 teams in the conference as they all explain how excited they really are for the upcoming season. None of the personnel are going to divulge too much information about their plans going forward, but you can still get a good sense of how everyone is feeling at this stage in the year.

After three days of interesting moments, the final set of interviews will take place Thursday with Georgia, Ole Miss, Alabama and Kentucky all having its time in the spotlight. Within these groups, there are a few players who will stand out from the crowd.

Here is a look at the full lineup for Day 4, along with the people we most want to see.

 

SEC Football Media Days Information

When: July 14-17

Where: Hyatt Regency Birmingham—The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama

Watch: ESPNU

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Top People to Watch

Todd Gurley, Georgia

There might not be a more realistic Heisman candidate out of the SEC than Todd Gurley. The Georgia running back is one of the most intimidating players in the country at 6'1", 232 pounds with as much strength as anyone in the country.

Phil Murphy of ESPN notes that he already has plenty of respect from opposing defenders:

Gurley has totaled 2,374 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons for the Bulldogs, an impressive feat considering he has split time in the backfield for much of his career. He also missed three games last season due to injury, which resulted in two losses and an overtime win for Georgia.

With Aaron Murray now playing in the NFL, Gurley becomes the most important player on the roster and, arguably, the conference. If Georgia wants to have any success this season, then it will have to come on the back of the North Carolina native, who should get at least 20 carries every single game.

Meanwhile, Gurley is also playing for his future as a potential first-round draft pick. Even his coach, Mark Richt, admitted that the running back is likely gone after this season, asking, "What are the chances of Gurley staying around a long time?" via Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

If he can post another big season, there is little doubt he will have a job on Sundays before long.

 

Bo Wallace, Ole Miss

The conference lost most of its big-name quarterbacks from last season, including Murray, A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Zach Mettenberger and others. Considering only five of the teams decided to bring a quarterback to media day, it is clear there is room for someone to step up and take over.

One of those quarterbacks in attendance is Bo Wallace, and he is already getting national recognition, as noted by John Davis of the Oxford Citizen:

Wallace has had two strong seasons for the Rebels, and his improvements have greatly helped the team as well. Although his touchdowns dropped from 22 in 2012 to 18 in 2013, he also had seven fewer interceptions to help Ole Miss go 8-5 last season.

The quarterback also showcased his dual-threat ability with 86 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Music City Bowl against Georgia Tech.

If he can step up and be a consistent performer, Ole Miss could be a legitimate contender in the SEC West. However, it will first be important to see his level of leadership on display in Hoover.

 

Nick Saban, Alabama 

Just having an opportunity to listen to Nick Saban should be a treat for any college football fan. Whether you love him or hate him, it is hard to argue against the Alabama coach's record.

After successful stops with Toledo, Michigan State and LSU, Saban has been almost unstoppable at Alabama, winning three of the last five national championships while accumulating a 79-15 record. Amazingly, six of those losses came in his first season, while the other nine were spread across the last six years.

Despite his success, though, he will still face a barrage of questions throughout the day. Most of which will concern his current team, including questions about the quarterback situation and bouncing back from a disappointing finish last season.

One thing he did put to bed was his future with Alabama despite potential interest from Texas. SEC Network's Paul Finebaum explained in his new book (via Bob Carlton of AL.com) that the Longhorns were willing to pay a whole lot to bring in the veteran coach:

Texas was dead serious about trying to money-whip Saban. Depending on whom you talk to -- Bama big hitters or Texas big hitters -- the Longhorns were prepared to give Saban somewhere between a $12 and $15 million signing bonus and a salary package worth $100 million (plus performances).

Someone might ask about this situation at the media day, but you can be certain everyone now believes that Saban is staying right where he is.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why We Won't See the College Football Playoff Expand Anytime Soon

HOOVER, Ala. — The College Football Playoff hasn't even begun, and people are already calling for it to expand.

That's not going to happen. Not anytime soon, anyway.

LSU head coach Les Miles took the opportunity to state his preference for the amount of teams allowed in the playoff during his trek through the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey on Wednesday.

"I think the playoff at some point will expand," he said. The playoff will be equally kind to the SEC [as the old BCS was]."

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, whose boss Jeff Long is the chairman of the selection committee, is happy where the playoff is but thinks it's more of a rough draft than the final destination.

"It's a good starting point," he said. "Rome wasn't built in a day and it takes a while to get to where you want to be."

Several other coaches have gone on record hoping for an expanded playoff format, including current Washington head coach Chris Petersen who lobbied for an eight-team playoff last year when he was the head coach at Boise State (via: CBSSports.com), and Washington State head coach Mike Leach, who wants it to be somewhere between 16 and 64 teams (via: 247Sports).

Florida head coach Will Muschamp is on the other side of the fence.

"I like the four-team playoff," he said. "As long as the keep the bowl system, I'm all for it. I don't want to get past four and get to eight or 16. I don't think that's great for college football."

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock took a spin around the Wynfrey on Wednesday, and did his best to put to rest any push to expand the playoff beyond four teams.

"Our goal with the BCS going into this was to maintain the best regular season in sports," Hancock said. "We've done that with the playoff. Four teams is not too many, and it's not too far. It goes just far enough."

The playoff contract is for 12 years, and there's no chance it will expand during that time.

Why?

The goal of the selection committee is to select the best four teams in the country, regardless of conference affiliation. If the conferences are going to sign off on an expanded playoff, they'd almost certainly demand automatic bids for their champions.

You shouldn't want that.

Hancock doesn't want that.

College football doesn't want that, because it goes against the stated goal.

"The committee will select the best four teams, period, no strings attached," Hancock said.

If there's controversy, that's a good thing. That's the point, as Russ Mitchell of CFN and CampusInsiders.com notes.

All those who thought a CFP would kill controversy & thus hurt CFB...it's the opposite; creating even more debate

— Russ Mitchell (@RussMitchellCFB) July 16, 2014

Debate and controversy are two of the aspects of college football that make it great, and that won't and shouldn't change in the new postseason format. 

With 128 FBS teams and a 12-week regular season, subjectivity will never be achieved. It's a myth. It's fiction. Trying to tie something subjective like a conference title into something that is inherently objective defeats the purpose.

It is fitting a square peg in a round hole.

The moment granting access through automatic bids for conference champions takes precedent over rewarding excellence is the moment the sport has lost its way. Expanding the playoff would tip the scales and favor access over excellence.

Fans may want things to be neat and tidy, but this sport is messy by design.

That's what makes it great.

 

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

 


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4 Issues We Would Love Texas' Charlie Strong to Address at Big 12 Media Days

The Big 12 will host its annual football media days in Dallas next week, and a lot of eyes will be on first-year head coach Charlie Strong.

The Strong era will officially begin August 30 when the Longhorns take the field against North Texas.

But Texas' leader will take the podium Tuesday, July 22 at 1:00 p.m. ET, and he will face his conference opponents and the national media for the first time since taking the job.

A lot of questions surround Strong and the Texas Longhorns, but here is a look at four big issues that will likely be addressed at the Big 12 media days.

Begin Slideshow

12 College Football Fall Camp Battles We Can't Wait to See

Conference media days are upon us, marking the second-to-last major checkpoint before the start of the season. After this, there is fall practice and then there is real, live football.

Now that we have reached this part of the offseason, looking ahead to next year gets upgraded from being "way too early" to simply being "too early." Likewise, looking ahead to fall camp gets upgraded from being "too early" to being "the appropriate time."

So to celebrate this appropriateness, let's look ahead to the position battles we can't wait to see this fall. Now that all of the incoming freshmen—and not just the early enrollees—are participating, the competitions for playing time can get started in earnest.

A number of factors were taken into consideration for this list. It tried to focus on the nationally relevant teams with questions at a certain position. If that team is introducing a blue-chip newcomer to the ranks and allowing him to compete for the job—even better.

Also, we limited ourselves to five quarterback battles, even though there are plenty other good ones out there. Those battles were added based on how close they are (Notre Dame, for example, was left off since Everett Golson is a heavy favorite to start over Malik Zaire) and on how important they are to the national narrative (what happens at LSU will have a bigger impact than what happens at Ball State).

Perhaps at some point in the coming weeks we'll rank how excited we are for all of the FBS quarterback battles. Obviously, there are more than just these five worth keeping an eye on, and there is plenty of time before fall camp to thoroughly preview it.

But at least now we are close enough to start!

Begin Slideshow

Breaking Down 247Sports' Updated 2015 Recruiting Rankings

Members of the 2015 recruiting class are just weeks away from beginning their senior seasons on high school football fields across America. Many of the marquee prospects have stayed busy this summer by participating in high-profile camps and showcases, including The Opening, an annual congregation of the country's top college recruits that took place last week at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

These events provide analysts to dissect the skill set of athletes in a detailed manner since it's so difficult to hide deficiencies while competing against the best of your peers. Bleacher Report had an up-close view of all The Opening action, joined on the sideline by several well-respected recruiting services.

The collection of reporters at 247Sports quickly reassessed scouting reports for top-rated players, issuing new grades Wednesday based on evidence gathered this summer. Other websites have also updated their ratings, resulting in a revised edition of 247Sports' composite rankings.

This list is created courtesy of an algorithm that includes the assessment of several major media outlets, providing a comprehensive and multi-sourced look at the current class.

We reviewed the updated rankings, noting several impactful alterations. Here's a rundown of how the landscape has changed less than seven months shy of national signing day.

 

Josh Sweat Surges to Top Spot

Superb production, measurements and athleticism add up to create a special prospect in Josh Sweat, the nation's new No. 1 recruit. He tallied 94 tackles and 22 sacks in 2013, looking like the top defensive end on game film at Oscar Smith High School in Virginia.

The 6'4.5", 240-pound playmaker argubaly exceeded expectations at The Opening, running the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds and finishing second in national SPARQ finals. Comparisons to No. 1 NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney quickly grew from whispers to roars, and it goes far beyond their similar hair styles.

Sweat is elite in every sense of the word, displaying agility normally shown by wide receivers while he chases down quarterbacks and dismantles blocking schemes. Despite dealing with a slight hip ailment in Oregon, he managed to take on the nation's most dominant offensive linemen and routinely win battles.

"You have to be perfect against him," 5-star offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt said. "Otherwise you're done. It's definitely a big challenge."

Martez Ivey, the top-ranked offensive lineman in composite rankings, echoed those sentiments.

"Josh is just a freak," he said. "I think we split our matchups (at The Opening), and he forces you to bring your best. That's the only way you can keep up with a player like him."

The pass-rushing menace remains uncommitted and is likely to stay that way entering his senior campaign. Several teams appear to be in the hunt, including Ohio State, Georgia, Virginia Tech and Florida State.

 

A Pair of Passers Enter 5-Star Territory

Before The Opening began, 19 quarterbacks assembled in Oregon for the Elite 11 finals. The competition annually features phenomenal prospects, and past participants include Andrew Luck, Tim Tebow and Matthew Stafford.

Blake Barnett and Jarrett Stidham rose to the occasion early and often during Elite 11 action, carrying momentum into 7-on-7 showdowns at The Opening. As a result, both passers are newly anointed 5-stars.

Barnett, who hails from Santiago High School in Southern California, was named Elite 11 MVP and led his squad to the 7on-7 championship. We bumped him ahead of fellow Golden State 5-star Ricky Town in our post-Elite 11 ratings, and the composite rankings also reflect that jump.

The 6'4.5", 200-pound Alabama pledge picked apart defenses with precision and outstanding deep-ball touch. When you factor in his mobility (695 yards and 13 scores on the ground in 2013), Barnett is a rare quarterback.

"When a play breaks down and the pocket starts to close in, I can make things happen," he said in Oregon.

B/R's Michael Felder focused on his performance during video evaluations at The Opening:

Stidham, a Texas Tech commit, is equally impressive as an athlete. He transitioned from receiver to quarterback as a junior at Stephenville High School in Texas, dazzling with 3,400 total yards and 44 touchdowns.

The 6'3.5", 190-pound passer flashed elite accuracy and above-average velocity in Oregon. His footwork was extremely solid and suggests he's worked diligently at his craft since switching positions.

"I feel more comfortable right now than ever before," Stidham said after an Elite 11 session.

It showed, and he's now the top-ranked dual-threat passer in this class.

Stidham and Barnett join Town, Josh Rosen (California) and Kyler Murray (Texas) in the 5-star echelon.

 

Receivers Rise After Impressive Efforts

Barnett didn't do damage alone at The Opening. He had plenty of help from fellow Alabama commit Calvin Ridley, a Florida standout who secured his fifth star.

The 6'0", 170-pound Pompano Beach High School playmaker caught two touchdowns in the 7-on-7 title game and earned overall MVP honors during closing ceremonies in Oregon. He rapidly formed a rapport with his future quarterback in the process.

"We really found a rhythm together," Barnett said following a 7-on-7 victory. "He's such a talented receiver, and it's big that we have a chance to build some chemistry before we both arrive at Alabama."

Ridley also put on a show in one-on-one drills while competing against the county's best defensive backs. His one-handed catch during opening day action was a top highlight of the week.

He broke down the ridiculous reception during a discussion with Bleacher Report:

Ridley now ranks 16th overall in the 2015 class, nine spots ahead of New Orleans receiver Tyron Johnson. The latest standout Louisiana pass-catcher was smooth when breaking in and out of routes throughout The Opening and regularly slipped into space downfield.

Johnson, a 6'1", 191-pound prospect from Warren Easton High School, caught 87 passes for 1,433 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Texas Tech is currently the favorite for the 5-star's commitment, but Georgia, LSU and Oklahoma State are among teams that will challenge before signing day.

Florida product Deon Cain may be a quarterback at Tampa Bay Tech, but that didn't stop 247Sports from vaulting him to No. 1 nationally among receivers. That leap sends him to 45th overall in composite rankings, where he remains a 4-star prospect.

Cain was sensational in Oregon, appearing far more polished than many of his peers who've started at the position for multiple seasons. The scintillating athlete will move to receiver when he arrives at Clemson next year and could follow in the footsteps of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins toward stardom as a Tiger.

 

Defensive Tackles Maintain Dominance

What we saw at The Opening only confirmed our belief that this is the strongest crop of interior defensive linemen of the decade.

There are six 5-star defensive tackle recruits in 2015 composite rankings. That amount really stands out when you factor in the fact that only 13 players earned 5-star status at the position from 2010 through 2014.

Georgia tackle Trent Thompson, who held the No. 1 spot before Sweat, didn't attend The Opening but still sits at No. 2 nationally on the composite list. He could face a challenge atop positional rankings from new Tennessee commit Kahlil McKenzie (California), who is now the second-highest-rated overall player in 247Sports' rankings.

McKenzie is one of just two committed recruits in the 5-star bunch, joining Texas A&M pledge Daylon Mack (Texas). Thompson has yet to announce a decision, along with Rasheem Green (California), Shy Tuttle (North Carolina) and Daron Payne (Alabama).

Keep an eye on Hawaii native Breiden Fehoko, a 4-star prospect who was relentless in Oregon. The Texas Tech commit is now ranked No. 7 nationally among defensive tackles and collected 24 sacks in 2013.

"I came out here to prove myself as a top prospect, and I think I did that against some great linemen," Fehoko said on the final day of action in Oregon.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Issues We Would Love Wisconsin's Gary Andersen to Address at B1G Media Days

On July 28 and 29, the media circus moves to Chicago for the Big Ten Media Days.  After last season's 9-4 campaign in head coach Gary Andersen's first season at the helm, Andersen will look to build off of that as he begins implementing his own system and his own recruits get pushed into the fold.

Andersen has proved himself very earnest and open with the media, and let's hope that continues during media day as he fields questions about how he can continue the recent success of Badger football despite losing a number of players from last year's team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the five biggest issues Gary Andersen should address at the Big Ten media days.

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football: Cornerbacks Will Set the Tone for Irish's Defense in 2014

When freshly minted Notre Dame football defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder ushered in a new defense, much of the focus was on the alignment. Would the Irish switch to a 4-3? Would there still be remnants of the 3-4?

While those questions were and are certainly relevant, VanGorder has stressed the defense will be “multiple,” and Irish head coach Brian Kelly has always been quick to diminish the buzz surrounding a 4-3.

Rather, VanGorder has emphasized the importance of cornerback play in his aggressive, attacking defense.

And in 2014, it will be Notre Dame’s corners who set the tone for the defense.

One of the simplest overgeneralizations of former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s defense was that it was a bend-but-don’t-break structure. One could argue that Notre Dame, especially in its secondary, focused on keeping plays in front of it. The Irish defense allowed the fewest plays (34) of 20 or more yards to opponents in 2013, per CFBStats.com.

In turn, however, Notre Dame’s defense forced few turnovers. The Irish ranked tied for 103rd (of 125 teams) with just 17 turnovers forced—four fumbles recovered and 13 interceptions—according to CFBStats.com.

To be sure, turnovers aren’t the sole definitive measure of a defense’s aggressiveness and success. Pressure comes in different forms, as Kelly noted during the spring. But the Irish will look to ramp up the pressure, especially in the secondary.

“The new system that we’re under right now is just something that we want to challenge all routes,” defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks said during the spring. “We want to be on attack mode. And the whole philosophy is that we don’t want the offense to dictate how we play defense.”

That philosophy starts with the cornerbacks. Junior KeiVarae Russell returns for his third season starting on the perimeter, and the talented and loquacious corner could set the tone for the entire defense as well.

Behind Russell, the Irish have one of their most impressive collections of talent and depth in recent years. Cole Luke and Cody Riggs will likely compete for the other starting role. Matthias Farley can be a key piece used in sub-packages, and Devin Butler and Nick Watkins have the talent to crack the rotation.

Combining that sort of depth and ability with an attacking mindset should position the cornerbacks as the tone-setters of the defense.

“Everything that we do...we’re aggressive, we’re competing, we’re physical, and that whole mindset of challenge every route, challenge every route,” Cooks said. “So just being more aggressive when the ball is in the air, being more aggressive when you’re engaged in a blocker, being more aggressive flying through the ball.”

In theory, more aggressive cornerback play should have a trickle-down effect for the entire defense—more turnovers, more energy. And the cornerbacks could lift up the rest of the defense, which is inexperienced along the defensive line and facing injury questions at linebacker.

Instead of being a reactive, preventative group, Notre Dame’s cornerbacks can propel a new-look defense in 2014.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

RB Terrence Magee Says Frosh Leonard Fournette Could Be Greatest LSU RB Ever

LSU finally took the podium at SEC Media Days and senior running back Terrence Magee had some extremely high praise for freshman phenom running back Leonard Fournette.

Watch the video as Magee discusses Fournette's place in Tigers RB history.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOSDigital

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Football: Re-Evaluating FSU's Recruiting Class After 2014 Opening

The Florida State football program has just 13 verbal commitments for the 2015 class, according to 247Sports.

That may sound like a small number, especially for the defending national champions. But it's not when taking the large number of undeclared commits that are considering FSU—or those prospects that are leaning heavily toward FSU.

"There are several uncommitted prospects right now that are more committed to FSU than a few FSU commits," writes 247Sports analyst Josh Newberg (subscription required). "I'm talking about guys like Jacques PatrickTarvarus McFadden and Da'Vante Phillips."

FSU's 2015 class is strong in the defensive backfield. The Seminoles have verbal commitments from 5-star safety Derwin James, 4-star safety Calvin Brewton, 4-star corner Tyrek Cole and 3-star safety A.J. Westbrook. Head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff are also pursuing McFadden, a 5-star corner who is strongly leaning toward FSU in the 247Sports crystal ball.

The Seminoles will start a pair of junior corners in P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby in 2014. Both will be eligible for the NFL draft in 2015, so FSU is planning ahead and stocking up on defensive backs.

"Florida State has done a tremendous job building depth in the secondary, and that continues with commitments from Derwin James, Tyrek Cole and Calvin Brewton," Bleacher Report recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue said. "Any college coach would be happy with that group, and things could get better with Tarvarus McFadden."

Let's take a look at FSU's recruiting class at mid-July, which could also get a boost in the next few days, as Fisher and the staff hold an on-campus camp Wednesday through Friday:

FSU's top targets

The discussion of top targets should begin with defensive end Josh Sweat, who is the top player on Donohue's board. Sweat is 6'4'', 240 pounds and has the speed and athleticism to excel as a pass rusher.

"Like every team in the country, Florida State would love to land Josh Sweat," Donohue said. "Virginia Tech still appears to be in good position as an in-state option, while Georgia and Ohio State helped their chances with recent visits. He’s played his recruitment pretty close to the vest."

FSU has loaded up on tailbacks under Fisher, but he's been able to keep them all happy by spreading the carries. The Seminoles will lose just Karlos Williams after the 2014 season, so they will have Mario Pender, Ryan Green and Dalvin Cook going into 2015.

So FSU is looking at Patrick and Ray-Ray McCloud, both of whom participated at The Opening, as well as Johnny Frasier.

"Jaques Patrick and Ray-Ray McCloud both looked extremely smooth as receivers," Donohue said. "McCloud actually worked primarily at receiver, which is where several teams would prefer him to play. I don't think there’s any doubt that Patrick is a top-five rusher in this class."

FSU took two quarterbacks in the 2012 class (Jameis Winston and Sean Maguire), and it looks like Fisher could have two again in 2015. The Seminoles have a verbal commitment from De'Andre Johnson but are also pursuing Deondre Francois.

Francois, who has moved from Orlando and will now be coached by former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke at the Bradenton (Florida) IMG Academy, was impressive at The Opening.

"Francois flashed arguably the strongest arm during Elite 11 competition," Donohue said. "He fired darts early and often, but his accuracy seemed to erode at times. As a passer, Francois may have a higher ceiling than any QB in this class."

While FSU's coaches are all active recruiters, James has been persuasive, too. James told Donohue he's focused on two prospects.

"Derwin James told me he was mainly focused on recruiting McCloud and defensive end Byron Cowart, who looked college-ready throughout The Opening," Donohue said. "Cowart would be an instant-impact pass-rusher for Florida State, but Auburn, Oregon and Florida provide serious competition."

FSU commits

Newberg told Bleacher Report after The Opening that James "simply plays at a higher level than everyone else." Donohue agreed, saying that James "validated his status as the nation's top ranked safety."

"He told me that he views himself as a balanced defensive back who can cover the run and pass at an elite level," Donohue said. "While we didn’t see much run coverage at The Opening, he clearly has the burst and tenacity to attack near the line of scrimmage. He was instinctual in downfield defense, rarely tested by opposing quarterbacks."

Johnson also displayed improved mechanics, Donohue said.

"He flashed more consistent mechanics than what showed up on his junior game tape," Donohue said. "There are still some concerns about his touch beyond intermediate passes, but the talent is there. He moves well in the pocket and puts above-average velocity on throws."

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2014 Stat Predictions for Top 20 SEC Football Stars

SEC football media days mean the season is right around the corner.

Well, as much as mid-July can represent games approaching, anyway.

One of the great things about SEC football is that known commodities return even when numerous stars depart—players like Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Tre Mason and Jarvis Landry.

Now we attempt to predict the season statistics for many of the SEC’s potential stars of 2014.

We have already projected stats for each of the SEC’s new starting quarterbacks, so they won’t be included here.

Instead, we will focus mostly on stars—projected or established—who should make the biggest impact on the league in 2014.

Begin Slideshow

Oregon Football: 4 Backups Critical to Ducks' Success in 2014

Of the elements that make the Oregon Ducks contenders for the College Football Playoff in 2014, depth is among the most significant.

Oregon enters the new season stocked with enough talent on both sides of the ball for head coach Mark Helfrich to turn to his reserves without missing a beat.

Some Ducks on the second string of the depth chart will play significant roles in the team's pursuit of a fourth conference championship since 2009. 

Begin Slideshow

Oregon Football: 4 Backups Critical to Ducks' Success in 2014

Of the elements that make the Oregon Ducks contenders for the College Football Playoff in 2014, depth is among the most significant...

Begin Slideshow

Pages