NCAA Football

4-Star Georgia Recruit Josh Imatorbhebhe Sets West Coast Spring Break Visit Tour

Premier Peach State prospect Josh Imatorbhebhe plans to expand his recruitment process next month. The 4-star wide receiver will spend spring break traveling through Pac -12 territory...

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Mississippi State Football: Complete 2015 Spring Practice Primer

Was Mississippi State's magical run to a 10-win season, the first No. 1 ranking in program history and its first Orange Bowl berth since 1941 a sign that the program has arrived, or simply a product of unique SEC West circumstances that allowed the Bulldogs to finish second behind Alabama in the division?

Head coach Dan Mullen began the quest to answer that question, when his Bulldogs opened spring practice on Tuesday in Starkville.

Star quarterback Dak Prescott is back to lead Mullen's potent offense that returns several stars, including wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson. Meanwhile, the defense must overcome massive roster attrition in the front seven.

What should you look for this spring in Starkville?

 

What to Watch on Offense

The battle to replace running back Josh Robinson will take center stage, as Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams will battle to be the primary tailback in Starkville. Shumpert (6'2", 218 lbs) and Holloway (5'8", 160 lbs) split second-team carries last year behind Robinson and could provide a thunder-and-lighting combo that can kick the offense into overdrive.

Keep an eye on Williams, though. 

The 6'1", 215-pound redshirt freshman is a true all-purpose back and could provide the total package that Robinson did a year ago.

"Aeris always has a great attitude. He’s going to go as hard as he can with whatever he is doing," Mullen said in quotes released by Mississippi State. "When you look at a guy Aeris, we want to get the pads on him. He’s a physical-type player so you’re not going to see much out of his game until the pads come on."

Outside, De'Runnya Wilson—better known as "Bear Force One"—leads a talented wide receiving corps that includes Fred Ross, Fred Brown, Joe Morrow and junior college transfer Donald Gray. 

Up front, though, is the real concern. 

Mississippi State lost three starters off of last season's offensive line, but it still could get tackle Damien Robinson back after the presumptive starter tore his ACL in fall camp last year and sat out the entire 2014 season. Mullen told Logan Lowery of InsideMSUSports.com that Robinson is still recovering, and the school is awaiting word on whether or not he will receive a sixth year of eligibility.

The loss of star center Dillon Day is a big concern, and all eyes up front will be on former guard Jamaal Clayborn in the middle of the offensive line.

"I think we experimented with that in bowl prep a little bit to give him some opportunities there and see if he was comfortable," Mullen said in quotes released by Mississippi State. "He’s worked all offseason snapping. I think that’s a starting point, but I think we also have to create some depth at that position."

If that offensive line can come together this spring, it will allow Prescott to get comfortable in the pocket. You saw what happens last year when the dual-threat star—who finished eighth in Heisman Trophy voting—gets comfortable.

 

What to Watch on Defense

The front seven is undergoing a massive overhaul, after five of the seven starters from last year's final two-deep moved on to the NFL.

Specifically, star defensive tackle Chris Jones has to step up and become the leader.

The former star recruit played more of a rotational role last year in the veteran defensive tackle rotation, but he has all the talent in the world. At 6'5", 308 pounds, he has the size to play a 0-techinque and line up over center, but he has the quickness to play out at a 9-technique if defensive coordinator Manny Diaz lets him (he won't).

Another big loss is at linebacker, where Benardrick McKinney jumped early for the NFL. Keep an eye on freshman Gerri Green, a 6'4", 240-pound redshirt freshman from Greenville, Mississippi, to step up this spring and make a push for playing time. 

Mullen knows that his roster is loaded with youngsters.

"I bet 40 percent of our team has never played in a game," he said in quotes emailed by Mississippi State. "That’s redshirt freshmen, true freshmen and a lot of guys just graduated early and got in here as mid-year enrollees. A lot of guys that have never played in the game, and this is, to me, their first time to absorb it."

At the back end, Mississippi State lost starting cornerback Jamerson Love, safety Jay Hughes and Kendrick Market is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered late last season. That is going to put a ton of pressure on some young players, including safeties Deontay Evans and Kivon Coman, as well as converted safety Jahmere Irvin-Sills.

 

Freshman to Keep an Eye on

Redshirt freshman Brandon Bryant.

The 5'11", 200-pounder from Tunica, Mississippi, is in a perfect position to make waves this spring considering the uncertainty that exists at safety on the roster. Bryant is good in coverage, has a nose for the football and isn't afraid to stick his nose in on run support.

What's more, with so many teams operating out of the nickel now, there's an even bigger chance that Bryant—and any other safety on the roster—will earn some playing time this spring.

 

Coach Mullen's Toughest Task

Managing expectations.

As many have noted, there's going to be a $4 million head coach in the SEC West who finishes last in the division in 2015. Will that be Mullen?

Last season's success was phenomenal, but with so much roster turnover, there's a decent chance that the Bulldogs take a massive step back from a record standpoint in 2015. That doesn't mean it's truly a massive step back, though.

The return of Prescott, Wilson and Mullen's ability to make an offense click regardless of personnel should keep the Bulldogs in plenty of games—even against the SEC West's big boys. That experience last year, though, played a big role in them winning most of those contests, and that doesn't exist on this year's squad. 

Mullen's crew may only take a minor step back in terms of overall talent and production, but a big one in the win-loss column. Mullen's ability to keep Mississippi State competitive will signal that it's still in the mix and has staying power, which would be a tremendous statement for the Mississippi State program.

 

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.

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. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Tennessee Football: How Injuries Will Impact Vols' Spring

Injuries infiltrated Tennessee's football program last season, nearly derailing the Vols' hopes of a late-season rally and bowl run.

They overcame them thanks to some spectacular individual performances (such as quarterback Joshua Dobbs' against Vanderbilt) and an opportunistic defense.

UT wound up with a convincing TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa that reverberated good vibrations for the program into the offseason.

But reality is going to bite the Vols again this spring in the form of injuries. Even though head coach Butch Jones has built a talented roster, the depth is still not where it needs to be, and that will be obvious when drills begin March 24.

While the good news is there are no expected long-term effects that could threaten anybody's season, Tennessee is going to be razor-thin:

  • Only five scholarship defensive linemen are going to be healthy and green-lighted, and leaders Derek Barnett, Curt Maggitt and Danny O'Brien are out.
  • There's just one running back available and cleared for contact with Jalen Hurd limited.
  • Several of the highly touted mid-term enrollees, such as defensive end Kyle Phillips, middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. and offensive tackle Chance Hall are unavailable or hobbled.

The April 25 Orange & White spring game won't be the same format as it usually is. Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free-Press' David Paschall it will be tweaked due to the injuries:

We do have to modify that, and I think that's symbolic in terms of where we still are as a program. We have a shortage of defensive linemen, running backs and wide receivers. The spring game will still be very entertaining. We'll still play football and scrimmage, but we'll also do more competitive one-on-one battles.

We did that a little bit last year, and our fans really enjoyed that. So we'll make it an event, but I think it will be more of a spring event than a spring game.

The fallout from missed practice time could affect the season even if the injuries won't. Here are some areas to watch:

 

Immediate Impacts

Last year, the mid-term enrollees who arrived in Knoxville early got a head start and produced on the field.

Hurd, Dillon Bates, Von Pearson, Daniel Helm, Ethan Wolf, Dimarya Mixon, Coleman Thomas, Jakob Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley were all January arrivals who played key roles on last year's squad.

While the Vols have several more who should do the same in 2015, two of the players talented enough to play major roles right away who won't participate in spring drills are Phillips and Kirkland.

The latter is a 6'2", 235-pound middle linebacker who has all the elite skills needed to step in and play at one of the positions on UT's roster that will be wide open. The Indianapolis-born linebacker tore a pectoral muscle in winter workouts.

Phillips, on the other hand, is an in-state star who wasn't being depended on to start with Barnett and Maggitt manning the ends, but he has the ability to provide quality depth. Shoulder surgery will be an obstacle he must overcome in order to do that.

Neither is expected to miss any game action. But will they be hampered by missing time, and will it affect their roles on the 2015 Vols? The injuries could hurt them and the team.

 

D-Line Development

Tennessee really struggled against the run at times during 2014. Most of that was because of the lack of beef along the interior—a need UT addressed with the additions of Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle.

But part of the reason was the lack of depth.

Now, entering 15 spring practice sessions where Jones said the Vols will have just five scholarship linemen available doesn't give Tennessee fans a warm-and-fuzzy feeling.

With Barnett, Maggitt and Phillips out and Corey Vereen limited, that's four of the team's top five defensive ends. Only LaTroy Lewis will be full-go from last year's rotation.

The depth issues will produce a huge opportunity for mid-term enrollee Andrew Butcher to prove he should earn meaningful reps right away.

On the inside, McKenzie won't arrive until this summer. But O'Brien's injury issues mean UT will be down one starter.

Tuttle, Mixon and Kendal Vickers have shots to work into the rotation on the inside. That's good for depth and the future, but considering some key players are missing from the lineup, the Vols will have to fix run-defense issues in the month prior to kickoff.

 

Passing-Game Rapport

This spring is a pivotal period in the development of Dobbs. Not only is he needed and expected to be more accurate throwing the ball this year, he also has a new offensive coordinator in Mike DeBord.

With the defense extremely limited by injuries, spring's primary focus for the Vols needs to be on the offense humming along at the same frequency—quarterback, receivers, running backs, linemen and coaching staff.

That's why it's frustrating that two of UT's upperclassman receivers, including the team's most talented target in Marquez North, will be limited following season-ending surgeries.

If Tennessee's passing game is going to shine, North needs to be involved. He has elite skills, and if he puts everything together, he's talented enough to play in the NFL as soon as next year.

Also, Jason Croom is a 6'5", 243-pound specimen who could be a force inside the 20-yard line. He needs to develop consistency, and in order to do that, he needs to be healthy.

There is still more than enough talent in that Tennessee receiving corps to provide an abundance of assistance in Dobbs' development.

So, the Vols junior signal-caller will have to take some major strides without two of his biggest weapons at full-strength and just integrate them once they're healthy.

It shouldn't be a major deal, but any time a new offensive coordinator is thrown into the mix, there's at least a moderate concern warranted about everybody being on the same page.

That's another reason why the DeBord hire was a good one.

 

Middle Linebacker Battle

As if losing Kirkland for the spring wasn't a big enough blow, Bates is going to be limited, too.

That's the two most athletic players in the five-man battle to be heir to the middle linebacker throne vacated by A.J. Johnson.

Kenny Bynum, Jakob Johnson and Gavin Bryant all will be healthy and ready to vie for the job this spring, and Bates should get some action, too, if he's able. But the real race now has to begin this fall when all parties are available.

It's not an ideal situation, but it's that way at many different positions for the Vols this year. Unfortunately for Jones and a UT team with high expectations, it's the climate of this spring.

 

All statistics gathered from UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted. All observations gathered firsthand.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Bret Bielema's Only Hurting Himself with Crusade Against Hurry-Up Offenses

I'll get this out of the way right out of the gate: I like Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.

A lot.

He's always willing to chat when asked, will always drop in a casual one-liner or two and doesn't operate in the boring land of coachspeak like so many of his college football colleagues.

I find him a genuinely nice person who is entertaining, engaging, interesting and refreshingly honest.

Sometimes, though, that last quality gets muddled in a quest to slow the game of college football under the disguise of player safety.

Bielema saddled back up on his high horse and railed against hurry-up offenses on Wednesday in the wake of the abrupt retirement of former San Francisco 49er and Wisconsin Badger (under Bielema) linebacker Chris Borland.

"We have to protect student-athletes to extremes we never thought of before," Bielema told Sporting News' Matt Hayes. "I just read a study that said players in the no-huddle, hurry-up offense play the equivalent of five more games than those that don’t. That’s an incredible number. Our awareness as a whole has to increase."

And, with that, the 10-second rule—which I predicted would pop back up this offseason—is right back in the center of the national discussion.

If Bielema is so concerned with the number of games, plays and how they relate to player safety, then why did he say this inside the radio/Internet room at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama in 2014?

If the four-team playoff is a "good starting point," then those two extra games—and potentially more extra games in an expanded playoff structure—are safety hazards, right?

Bielema can't have his cake and eat it too.

In the midst of the first "10-second-rule" hubbub, Dave Bartoo of CFBMatrix.com posted a fascinating study last year that suggests player weight in tight spaces creates a far greater injury risk than the number of plays run.

In that study, Bartoo found that the 20 fastest teams in college football in 2012 averaged 83.12 plays per game and lost 143 starts due to injury. The 20 slowest teams ran 65.85 plays per game and lost 151 starts due to injury.

Guess which team became synonymous with one of the biggest offensive lines in the country last season?

Arkansas, at 320.8 pounds per player. That, incidentally, would have been the third-largest in the NFL as of early September 2014, according to LubbockOnline.com.

I believe that Bielema truly cares about player safety, feels for Borland and wants to make the game safer not just for the good of this generation, but for generations to come. For that, he should be applauded.

Until he comes up with more proof other than "more plays equals more injury risk," he's not really arguing against hurry-up, no-huddle offenses, advocating player safety or championing the "10-second rule," which would prevent offenses from snapping the ball within 10 seconds of the previous play ending.

All he's doing is arguing against the sport of football—a sport in which he makes his living.

Whether you call this a contact sport, a collision sport or give the game of football any other moniker out there, players put themselves in danger every time they buckle up the chin strap. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't be tweaked to make players safer.

It should, and everybody—including coaches who employ hurry-up, no-huddle offenses—agree.

"Is there documented medical evidence that supports this rule change that tempo offenses are putting players at a higher degree of risk than others? If there is, then show it to us," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach last year. "Where is it? They're going to have to show us some evidence."

Simply saying "more football is a danger" when there's no other specific evidence to prove it won't cut it, especially when there is a statistical analysis that states that player size in space matters more than the quantity of plays.

Bielema likely believes that fast-paced offenses put players at a greater injury risk, and that's why this crusade continues.

It's only making him look foolish, though, because what he's really doing is biting the hand that feeds him—the sport of football.

 

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.

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. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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10 Teams That Could Ruin Contenders' 2016 College Football Playoff Hopes

Entering the second season of the College Football Playoff, we still don't know a lot about how the system will work. One of the most important things we do know is to get selected, teams not only must win most all their games, but they must play (and run through) a hard schedule. TCU and Baylor learned that the hard way, and if they plan on competing for national titles, then they must beef up their non-conference schedules.

The teams with the best chance of making the College Football Playoff, before the season starts, should run through the hard schedules they play. If teams have hard schedules, then the voters are more forgiving on a loss; three of the four teams in last season's College Football Playoff lost a game, but they had enough wins over strong opponents to make up for it.

If the top teams in college football were to lose a game (or two) this season, then which teams are most likely to defeat them? That's what I've predicted for today.

To rank the teams, I used the same composite that Brian Leigh of B/R used for his pre-spring practice record predictions. The larger sample size than just the B/R Top 25 allows for a more accurate prediction of which teams will indeed be considered the best in the nation prior to the season.

I strongly considered the rankings of the teams, the rankings of the teams they're playing and the amount of times they're playing highly ranked teams when deciding which teams to select for the list. I also didn't include any teams that would be considered contenders, so no teams ranked better than No. 19 made the list. 

With that, here are the teams with the best chance of beating teams with the best chance of making the 2016 College Football Playoff. 

  

 

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Notre Dame Football: What to Expect at the Start of Spring Ball

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Wednesday marks the start of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish's football’s spring practice, a time when imaginations and expectations often run in uncontrolled directions.

It’s reasonable to be optimistic with a clean slate and time to improve. So as practice begins early Wednesday morning for the Irish, what should be expected?

No, we don’t know who the better quarterback will be, and we won’t know based on one two-hour practice session.

Still, the importance of spring ball isn’t to be understated.

“These next seven weeks now we begin to do a lot more of the building of 2015's football team,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said.

Here’s what to expect.

 

Battles

Kelly is now in his sixth season in South Bend, and he already knows this spring will be different.

“This is the first time since I’ve been here where I feel like I can go into practice and I can bang around,” he said.

Oklahoma drills? Sure.

Tackling drills? Of course.

What would seem to be staples of a high-level football program have been delicacies in Kelly’s years. Oftentimes the Irish have had to work to reach the 85-scholarship limit. This year, it’s the other way around.

“It feels like for me that we've got the depth necessary to go and play football,” Kelly said. “I always felt like I'm tiptoeing around this roster in the spring because we're afraid over here or afraid over here.

“We can go play, really target some of the younger players in certain areas, let them get in there and get after it.”

There will be competition. Certainly, the highest-profile position battle is at quarterback, where Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are and will continue competing for snaps.

But healthy battles should litter the practice field, as Notre Dame has been able to continually land high-end recruiting classes and restock the depth chart. The focus, for now, is less on the starter and backup designation and more on overall depth and competition.

A few particular areas to keep an eye on, however, are left guard and linebacker. Kelly said redshirt freshman linemen and former blue-chip recruits Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars will compete for the left guard job, a two-man battle after the departure of possible fifth-year candidate Matt Hegarty.

At least seven linebackers will top the two-deep in the spring, and Kelly said it’s “a good problem to have,” pointing to the depth at middle linebacker, in particular. Defensive MVP Joe Schmidt is returning from injury, as is Jarrett Grace, who last played in October 2013 before suffering a broken leg.

Sophomore Nyles Morgan returns as well, while “Sam” linebackers James Onwualu and Greer Martini offer versatility. Early enrollee Te’von Coney backs up returning star Jaylon Smith at the weak-side spot.

“I think we offer more opportunities and a lot more flexibility in terms of whether we're three-down, four-down, whether we're nickeling out at the Sam,” Kelly said of the linebacker position. “One of them is not going off the field, and that is Jaylon Smith. That's a certainty. The rest of the guys are competing, and I think it's a pretty good situation.”

 

Position Shifts

There aren’t any major position shifts at this point, but the Irish do continue to tinker with their roster, especially as they wait for next year’s crop of freshmen to arrive this summer.

Fifth-year candidate Chase Hounshell has switched from the defensive line to tight end and swapped out No. 50 for No. 18.

“Chase knocked down my door, wouldn't leave me alone, just kept coming back and saying, ‘Coach, I want to be part of this team. I have something to offer,’” Kelly said of Hounshell’s pitch.

Kelly said he told Hounshell, who has battled injuries throughout his career, Notre Dame didn’t have a place for him on the defensive line but would give him a chance as a physical, blocking tight end.

“Nothing has been decided,” Kelly said. “He's willing to go through spring and give it a shot, and we'll see where it goes from there. He's been a great teammate, great in the locker room. The guys really enjoy having him. We like his team‑first mentality, so we're going to give him a chance to earn a roster spot playing tight end.”

Senior C.J. Prosise’s position is a more important, yet still minor, shift to pay attention to. The slot receiver is cross training at running back, Kelly said, and has been in the running back meetings and will “get quite a bit of work at running back.” The 220-pounder excelled as a runner at times in 2014, most notably in the Music City Bowl victory over LSU.

It’s worth noting Notre Dame has just two scholarship running backs on the spring roster in juniors Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.

 

Progress

Again, caution is an operative word for the spring. All-Americans aren’t named in March.

But expect to see progress from the Irish after the first seven weeks of the spring semester were spent on the sheer physical aspects—strength and conditioning. These next seven weeks, Kelly explained, are more geared toward skill development, leadership and mental components.

A glimpse of practice should allow us to make some tentative guesses on who has progressed the most physically.

In terms of injuries, Kelly said sophomore safety Drue Tranquill (torn ACL) is a “nut” and would be practicing full contact if Notre Dame didn’t have a training staff. Expect Tranquill to do some lateral activities and maybe progress toward some drill work, Kelly said.

Grace is a wild card for the Irish. Before missing the final seven games in 2013, the middle linebacker was tied for the team lead with 40 tackles.

The fun begins Wednesday.

 

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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