NCAA Football

Auburn Recruiting: How J.B. Grimes Is Building Another Elite Offensive Line

When Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes started his collegiate coaching career, football players did not hold infamous hat-swapping signing day ceremonies, have YouTube highlight videos or post on Twitter.

But the 35-year veteran has not missed a beat in today's world of recruiting.

With their first two classes on the Plains, Grimes and the rest of the Auburn coaching staff went for quality over quantity on the offensive line. But in the span of three months, Auburn has already matched the number of offensive linemen from 2013 and 2014 for its class of 2015:

Grimes, who has coached at Arkansas, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State, has been key to this resurgence on the recruiting trail.

Shortly after former left tackle Greg Robinson declared for the NFL draft, Auburn became a factor for Braden Smith, who was the nation's No. 3 guard.

When Smith picked Auburn over Texas A&M and TCU on national signing day, head coach Gus Malzahn credited Grimes with helping get the Kansas native to sign with the Tigers.

"Coach Grimes did a great job of developing a great relationship in a short period of time," Malzahn said. "[Smith] came on a visit and just hit it off. Auburn is his type of place."

Although he only targets offensive linemen, Grimes is currently rated by 247Sports as the No. 22 recruiter in the SEC, which puts him No. 3 among offensive line coaches. The two coaches ahead of him, Texas A&M's B.J. Anderson and South Carolina's Shawn Elliott, have commitments from targets who play defense.

Following Kaleb Kim's commitment to Auburn in April, the program's third offensive line pickup in the span of six days, wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig took to Twitter to congratulate Kim's head recruiter:

While he has been coaching at the collegiate level since 1979, Grimes still conducts drills at practice with the enthusiasm and the passion of someone just breaking into the business.

He has also brought that energy over to recruiting, and it has paid dividends for Auburn's recent classes.

"I liked what Coach Grimes is doing and his intensity," Kim told 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr (subscription required). "He gets after it. He's intense. Face to face, he's the nicest guy, but on the field, it's all business...he'll get after you, and I like that."

Grimes demands that same type of energy from his offensive linemen. In Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense, the front five has to be in top physical shape to get from play to play and still control the line of scrimmage.

The revitalization of Auburn's line was not easy for Grimes or his new players, who were transitioning from a pro-style offense back to Malzahn's patented system.

"When I walked into that room a year ago, I didn’t know what I was going to get," Grimes said at a speaking engagement in May, per's Brandon Marcello. "I knew that there was some talent here, but I didn’t realize we had some kids here that wanted to win, that wanted to get better."

It took a few weeks into the season to hit their stride, but the offensive linemen definitely got better in 2013.

Robinson's rise from a relative unknown on the national scene to the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft might be the best illustration of Grimes' talent as an offensive line coach.

Standing at 6'5" and 320 pounds, Robinson—like several offensive line recruits under Auburn's previous regimes—had the physical gifts to be a general manager's dream draft pick.

After a year under the training of Grimes, he received the other tools he needed to succeed at the next level.

"J.B., he's as good as anyone I've ever seen or been around at just the fundamentals of his position," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "J.B. can get the most out of them, and that's what we all need to do."

Grimes estimates he has coached "somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 guys" who have either played in the NFL or at least received an invitation to a training camp, as per's Dan Greenspan.

His ability to turn young offensive linemen into complete pro prospects, even in the unorthodox no-huddle offense, is part of what makes Auburn appealing to new recruits.

"I liked Auburn more than Tennessee because it’s a better program with better coaches," Harrell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michael Carvell"Coach Grimes has experience into transforming average players into beasts, like Greg Robinson."

Another advantage Grimes and Auburn have in recruiting top offensive linemen is the opportunity for early playing time.

One of Auburn's greatest strengths for the 2014 season is its veteran offensive line, which features four returning starters after the early departure of Robinson.

However, after this season, nine of the 10 Tigers on the projected two-deep offensive line depth chart will be eligible for the NFL draft.

So while Auburn has already received commitments from four offensive linemen for the class of 2015, Grimes still has work to do on the recruiting trail.

Auburn is still in the hunt for Martez Ivey, the nation's No. 1 tackle. The 5-star from Apopka, Florida is teammates with Chandler Cox, a current Tigers commitment who is pushing to get his friend to join him on the Plains.

The Tigers are also heavily recruiting 4-star tackles Drew Richmond and Javon Patterson. Richmond said he is particularly impressed with Grimes' pedigree of developing linemen for the next level.

“He’s been around so long—there must be a reason he’s been around," Richmond told Niebuhr (subscription required). He’s been around so long, he’s the only coach I probably trust 100 percent to get me to the league."

In an interview with Niebuhr (subscription required), 3-star center and The Opening invitee Darryl Williams points to Grimes' influence on his personal recruitment and the resurgence of the Tigers offensive line:

Coach Grimes is a great coach. The offensive line was the weakest link the season before and became the strong link...they’re saying I have a chance to come in and be a three-year or four-year starter. I like hearing that.


Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats taken from Recruiting information courtesy of

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Jashon Cornell to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star DE Prospect

Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Jashon Cornell accumulated an impressive 29 sacks, making him one of the most ferocious pass-rushers in the class of 2015. Now, he'll be chasing down quarterbacks for Ohio State after committing to the Buckeyes on Wednesday.

Josh Hemboldt of passed along word of the news:

Just moments before, 5-star linebacker Justin Hilliard committed to Ohio State, making this a banner morning for the Buckeyes, via Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

The defensive end from Cretin Derham Hall in Saint Paul, Minnesota, stands 6'4" and weighs 270 pounds, so he certainly already has the frame for the college game. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, he's a 4-star recruit and is the top prospect in the state of Minnesota, the No. 3 weak-side defensive end in the country and the nation's No. 37 recruit overall.

Along with his impressive 29 sacks the past two years, he's added 122 total tackles, an insane 46 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He was justifiably a first-team All-State selection and was named to the MaxPreps 2013 All-American First Team Defense.

USA Today High School Sports offered the following scouting report on Cornell:

Cornell is a big, physical presence in the trenches who could develop inside or outside depending on scheme and his continued growth. Shows very good penetration versus the run and solid burst upfield versus the pass. Plays the game with a physical edge and should be ready to contribute early.

Confidence also isn't an issue for Cornell. Before he had even committed to a school, he told Zach Gilliland of Prep Force: "I think I can make an instant impact. I’m becoming a better player for the future."

Ohio State will certainly hope he can live up to that claim.

What makes Cornell so interesting is his scheme versatility. There's no doubt he could play as a 4-3 defensive end, and he might even be quick enough to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker, though it remains to be seen how well he would fare if asked to drop back into coverage. In that role, he'd likely be told to pin back his ears and rush the quarterback, which is definitely the strong suit in his game.

But given his size, he could potentially play as a 3-4 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle if he continues to add both mass and strength to his frame. The Buckeyes will see if he can adjust well to soaking up blocks in such a scheme, but he'd likely provide a solid pass rush from the position if he continued to improve his leverage. 

There's far more to like about Cornell, that much is for sure. As he continues to grow and mature as a player, the ceiling appears to be the limit, and it wouldn't be shocking to see him make a major impact by his sophomore season. 

The Buckeyes certainly landed one heck of a recruit bringing him aboard.


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5-Stars Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard Prove Urban Meyer's Commitment to D

The future of Ohio State's defense took shape Wednesday morning when 5-star prospects Justin Hilliard and Jashon Cornell announced their verbal commitments to the Buckeyes.

It was a big moment for Urban Meyer, who showed once again that he's committed to building a championship-caliber defense. Despite being known for his spread offense and coaching quarterbacks such as Tim Tebow and Alex Smith, Meyer won two national championships at Florida behind the strength of ferocious defensive units.

The Buckeyes lacked that last year, which ultimately cost them a chance to play Florida State for a national title. Ohio State surrendered an average of 38.3 points and 539 yards of offense to its final three opponents (Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson).

Meyer is working hard to right that ship, which starts on the recruiting trail.


Elite Defenses Are Built with Elite Talent

Hilliard was an absolute must-get.

The Cincinnati, Ohio, product is the state's top recruit, and he chose the Buckeyes over offers from Alabama, Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan and more than three dozen other schools. 

He's hoping to give Ohio State's linebacker unit the same boost 5-star LB Raekwon McMillan did this past spring.

The linebacker play during Meyer's tenure has been shaky. In 2012, the Buckeyes had to convert fullback Zach Boren to middle linebacker midway through the season because of a lack of production. Last year, the unit was arguably Meyer's top concern, and that was with All-American Ryan Shazier in the fold.

Meyer has certainly addressed that concern, and Hilliard is the most recent proof of that.

In front of him, the Buckeyes will have one of the country's top pass-rushers coming off the edge.

Cornell is ranked the No. 5 weak-side defensive end, and his burst off the line shows why. He's excellent in pass-rushing situations and is just as good supporting the run.

Cornell's offer list was similar to Hilliard's, but the two dreamed of playing together in college, per a tweet from Cornell. That dream is now a reality for the Buckeyes.


Big-Time Prospects Have Big-Time Plans

Now that Hilliard and Cornell have committed, they're ready to make their presence felt at Ohio State.

Speaking to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors, Hilliard talked about his desire to build an elite class.

"I'm glad the process is ending because it's time for me to be a recruiter," Hilliard said. "I'm excited to go out and get a class together that will hopefully be a top-three class nationally."

Hilliard is, of course, close with Cornell, which was instrumental in Ohio State's recruitment of the talented defensive end. According to Birmingham, Hilliard also has great relationships with 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat, 5-star running back Damien Harris and 4-star offensive tackle Matthew Burrell—three of Ohio State's top remaining targets. Landing them would set the Buckeyes up for another run at a top-five class.

Cornell is thinking long term. In an interview with Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer, he shared his vision for the Ohio State defense.

We have had the idea of having two great athletes – two elite players on defense – playing on the same team, and it'll be like the Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs combo. We have been thinking about that since my sophomore year.

I think we'd have a big impact on a defense. If we're playing on the same side, it would be a lock down – nobody would run to our side. There's no offense that would be able to play against us because we think we're beasts.

For Meyer, that sounds just fine.


All stats via All recruiting information per 247Sports.

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

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Dynamic Defensive Duo Justin Hilliard and Jashon Cornell Commit to Ohio State

Justin Hilliard and Jashon Cornell have both officially committed to play for the Ohio State Buckeyes. This is a monster duo that will immediately add strength to the Buckeye defense.

Gaining two huge commitments on the same day is a big win for the Ohio State coaching staff. How well do you think this pair will do at the next level?

Watch College Football Analyst Michael Felder break down these future Buckeyes.



Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital.

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Justin Hilliard to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 5-Star LB Prospect

Ohio State has landed an elite defensive prospect as 5-star linebacker Justin Hilliard has announced his commitment to the Buckeyes, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

A 6'2" and 230-pound force out of St. Xavier in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hilliard was one of the most sought-after recruits of the 2015 class as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the nation and No. 1 overall recruit from the state of Ohio, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Hilliard has the look of the next big thing at linebacker—and even hails from the same high school as Carolina's Luke Kuechly—so it would explain why has was recruited by the biggest programs in the nation, including Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan, to name a few.

He released his full top 10 at the end of March, sparking plenty of debate as to which school he would ultimately select:

Hilliard must be considered the crown jewel of Ohio State's recruiting class. There's not much he can't do on the field already, as he can act as a sideline-to-sideline enforcer, drop into coverage and pin his ears back and blitz in passing situations.

ESPN Insider's bottom line speaks for itself (subscription required):

Hilliard is the complete package at the linebacker position. He can fill inside, chase down plays to the sideline and rush the passer. Can still work on his coverage skills and flexibility in space but it's hard to find many physical flaws with this guy.

At this point, it's a simple matter of maturation for Hilliard, as his frame can clearly support the necessary 20-25 pounds of additional muscle required to excel at the next level and beyond.

He grades out highly in several skill categories. Ranging from scores of one to 10, 247Sports rates Hilliard as a nine in pursuit and an eight in athleticism, tackling, playing in space, reactive quickness and instincts. Those abilities paired with his physical traits make him a strong candidate to make a smooth transition to the college game.

Hilliard has all the makings of the next great linebacker because of his knowledge and feel for the game combined with his play-making ability. There's little doubt he'll be a difference maker for Ohio State sooner rather than later.


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Top 10 2015 Recruits to Watch in ESPN High School Football Kickoff

ESPN announced the lineup and schedule for its 2014 High School Football Kickoff event, which will take place between August 22-24 in various high school locations.

Of the 10 games that will be played and televised on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU, almost all feature at least one or two blue chip prospects. Nine of the 20 teams participating won a state championship in their respective class last season.

Included among those blue chip prospects are the top three overall players on the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2015 class. Four other participating players rank inside the national top 45.

Here is a quick preview of the 10 highest-rated prospects to keep an eye on during the ESPN Kickoff event. Crazy as it sounds, the games are less than two months away from actually taking place!


Note: Unless otherwise cited, all rankings via the 247Sports Composite.

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Why 4-Star Travis Waller Is Best QB Oregon Could Have Landed in Class of 2015

After misfires on 5-star prospect Kyler Murray and 4-star Blake Barnett, Oregon needed to come up big with its next quarterback prospect for the 2015 signing class.

The Ducks did just that, landing a commitment Tuesday from 4-star prospect Travis Waller.

Although Oregon's push for Waller came late—he received his official offer just 11 days ago—he's no contingency plan. His commitment was no mere consolation prize after the Ducks missed on Murray and Barnett, either.

Waller rose to the top of the Ducks' list along with Deondre Francois, a 4-star prospect from Orlando, Florida, being heavily recruited by Florida State and Auburn.

In landing Waller, Oregon plants a flag in the all-important Southern California recruiting scene, and at one of the region's powerhouse schools. Waller leads the offense at Anaheim's Servite High School, the No. 10-ranked team in MaxPreps' national Xcellent 25 poll.

Waller's commitment represents a major victory in the Pac-12 geographic footprint. 

Likewise, remaining in the region helped Waller make his decision, he explained to 247Sports' Ryan Bartow.

"The players are family and they don’t treat anyone different. They play in the Pac-12 North and [it's] an hour flight from home so my mom can come to my games," he said.

Waller is a talented playmaker whose skill set could not be a more seamless fit for the Oregon style, in much the same manner as 2014 recruit Morgan Mahalak.  

With the duo in the fold, Oregon's quarterback future certainly looks bright. The line of succession is set up in such a way that when Marcus Mariota leaves for what is almost assuredly a first-round selection in the 2015 NFL draft, the Ducks coaching staff has options in the same mold.

Indeed, Waller's game is very much reminiscent of Oregon's current, Heisman Trophy-contending signal-caller. With prototypical quarterback size at 6'3", Waller stands tall and strong in the pocket.

But perhaps the most impressive facet of his game is his explosiveness out of the zone-read.

Waller's junior-year highlight reel opens appropriately enough: Waller sells the hand-off before slicing through the defense, finding the seams and turning on the jets to outpace the safeties for an 85-yard touchdown.

That's just a sample of the work Waller did in 2013 for Servite. Per MaxPreps, Waller rushed for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns to complement his 1,669 yards passing and 12 touchdowns.

He likely has another big year ahead of him, as Servite pursues the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section and state championships. By the time Waller actually gets to Oregon, hoisting hardware could be old hat for him.


Recruiting rankings and information culled from 247Sports composite scores unless otherwise noted.  

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Why 4-Star Travis Waller Is Best QB Oregon Could Have Landed in Class of 2015

After misfires on 5-star prospect Kyler Murray and 4-star Blake Barnett , Oregon needed to come up big with its next quarterback prospect for the 2015 signing class...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Every College Football Playoff Contender's Most Difficult 2014 Stretch

Now that the calendar has turned to July and the U.S. Men’s National Team’s World Cup run is over, it’s time to think about football. American football.

In less than two weeks, the SEC will kick the hype into high gear when it hosts its annual media days (expanded to a bloated four days this summer) in Hoover, Alabama, where every utterance, no matter how trivial, will be tweeted, blogged and expounded upon by the armada of reporters in attendance.

The rest of the SEC’s gridiron brethren will follow, building anticipation for the 2014 season’s opening weekend in late August. Eventually, football will actually arrive, and with it speculation about the first College Football Playoff. With the expanded four-team field, the hype will be bigger than ever this season, and schedules will be crucial.

We decided to take a look at the toughest stretch that every College Football Playoff contender faces: a period where their mettle will be tested like no other on the road to this season’s national title game at AT&T Stadium in north Texas.

The criteria, initially, is a top-10 preseason ranking: We used the top 10 from Bleacher Report’s most recent top 25 prediction. If your team isn’t included, don’t fret: It’s a long season. As previous years have shown, your group could very well be one of the teams making the most noise come January.

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A Timeline of College Football Conference Realignment over the BCS Era

How many programs do you think changed conferences in the BCS era?

Think about it: The BCS lasted from 1998 to 2013—that’s 16 seasons in an FBS that began the era with 112 members.

Would you guess 25, 30 or even 50?  Well, how about 78? 

That’s right, 78 programs moved conferences in the BCS era—some more than once—a tribute to the skyrocketing popularity of college football and the ever-increasing pot of money at the center of the sport.

Not only did almost 80 teams change leagues, 14 programs moved up from the FCS to the FBS level, three new conferences were formed and three leagues bit the dust.

Though additional realignment is on tap for the 2014 season—the first in the College Football Playoff era— take a look at the astonishing volume of change that occurred in the 16 years the BCS ruled the world.

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Florida Football: Why Andre Debose Will Be the Gators' X-Factor in 2014

If the Florida Gators are going to improve on last year’s efforts, somebody is bound to be the X-factor. One guy is going to come out of nowhere and provide a bigger impact than anybody expected.

That guy is likely to be wide receiver Andre Debose. Gosh, I feel like I’ve been saying that for the last decade. It wasn’t last season, or the year before, or the year before that. This will be the season one of the Gators' most highly recruited players finally lives up to his potential.

It just wouldn’t be the storybook ending that the sports world loves if it wasn’t.

While Debose has been a consistent special teams player and holds a school record with four touchdown returns, he has just 29 receptions, 543 yards and four receiving touchdowns in his career.

Debose has gone two of his three seasons with less than 100 receiving yards and zero touchdowns. That’s right, remove that 2011 season, and Debose has found the end zone as many times as you and myself.

But his sophomore season provides hope for this year, as Charlie Weis was calling the shots that season. While everybody has their own opinion on the coach who has been with five different teams since 2000, there’s no denying that he is a creative play-caller and knows how to put his players in position to succeed.

Florida had the fifth-best passing offense in the SEC in 2011, a mark that has gone downhill ever since he left.

Certainly, there are a lot more factors for why the Gators struggle mightily on the offensive end, but a lot of these issues can be fixed with an innovative coach who can take advantage of the strengths of his team.

While Brent Pease clearly wasn’t that guy, current offensive coordinator Kurt Roper appears to be—you average more than 425 yards of offense with Duke athletes, you have something pretty special going on.

Besides Jamison Crowder, who caught 108 passes last season for Duke, Florida has better all-around players with better skill sets. The scary part is that Crowder plays a similar game to Debose. He's not the biggest player in the world, but he's extremely fast and a nightmare in space.

Maybe you folks forgot:

Debose can not only strike at a moment’s notice, but he can turn a short pass into a long play if the defense isn’t careful. In 2011, six of Debose’s 16 receptions produced 25 or more yards. That's one more than Solomon Patton, and he led the Gators last season with 44 receptions. 

Assuming he’s healthy from last season’s ACL injury, Debose can be the difference-maker on the offensive end that the Gators lacked a year ago.

Debose is one of the most experienced receivers on the roster, and you’d be wise to put your money on him being the fastest. He can stretch the field, draw the high safety’s attention on every play and help create for others. So, even when he isn’t making plays himself, he’s helping the offense.

Florida fans have waited years for Debose to have a breakout season. The time has finally come.

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UCLA Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Contribute This Season

The UCLA football team has the luxury of adding impact players from a talented 2014 recruiting class. Multiple members of the group should be able to come in right away and contribute to a team hopeful of winning the Pac-12. 

Many of the said prospects reside on the defensive side of the ball. While it's possible some could start, the likely scenario will involve the incoming recruits in a reserve role.  

Although not a freshman, UCLA adds an impact transfer in the form of Malcolm Bunche. Of the players listed in this piece, the former Miami offensive lineman has the best chance to start. 

Here's a look at the new roster additions most likely to contribute in 2014 for the UCLA Bruins.

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UCLA Football: Incoming Freshmen Most Likely to Contribute This Season

The UCLA football team has the luxury of adding impact players from a talented 2014 recruiting class. Multiple members of the group should be able to come in right away and contribute to a team hopeful of winning the Pac -12...

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Miami Football: Over, Under Stat Projections for Duke Johnson in 2014

The Miami Hurricanes have long anticipated star running back Duke Johnson's return to game action, and that day is less than two months away.

Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes the junior said he gained 15 more pounds of muscle this offseason to prepare for the physical toll of being a featured back.

With that in mind, let's set over-under lines for his 2014 campaign—not including a potential bowl game. Before we get too far, though, the following table provides a general idea of what numbers Duke compiled during his freshman and sophomore years at "The U."

Ready? Good. To the projections.


Rushing Yards: 1,488

Duke's rushing total of 1,488 yards was engineered this way: a modest 20 attempts per game at 6.2 yards per carry for 12 games—or 124 yards per outing.

He boasts a collegiate average of 6.6 yards throughout 284 career carries. Last season, Duke essentially played seven nights after missing three quarters against North Carolina and one at Florida State and reached 6.3 yards on 20.1 attempts.

Over the last two years, he registered 50-plus-yard runs against Boston College, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Duke, Florida Atlantic and UNC. It sounds—and is—fantastically cliche, but he really becomes a home-run threat each time he handles the football.

Long story short, the big plays add up. He averaged 115.0 yards in the eight official appearances as a sophomore, even tallying a hard-earned 97 against an elite FSU defense.

A lofty number like that is extremely reliant on the Miami offensive line, but the triumvirate of Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott forms a powerful left side.


Receiving Yards: 187

Questioning whether Duke manages to reach a target of 17-22 catches is not ridiculous, but the drop from 27 in 2012 to four last year is equally as baffling. For example, he could reach 187 yards by:

  • 17 receptions, 11.0 YPC
  • 22 receptions, 8.5 YPC

Offensive coordinator James Coley allowed Stephen Morris to live and die by the deep ball in 2013, but his second season at Miami should be markedly more contained.

And that's where Duke comes in. It's fair to anticipate a few more screen passes and checkdowns this season because of the delicate quarterback situation. A key to minimizing mistakes under center is quickly distributing the ball to the team's playmakers in various ways.

Granted, he has just 298 career receiving yards—not exactly a staggering number from the backfield. But Coley must utilize his superstar in this fashion, lest the 'Canes ignore adding a dangerous dimension to their offense.


Total Touchdowns: 10.5

You want a compelling argument for Duke eclipsing that mark? You want legitimate reasons the superstar cannot? You can have them both, of course!

As mentioned earlier, the junior is electrifying whenever his number is called, talented enough to slash through holes and outrun defenders to the end zone.

Even while he was a backup to Mike James, Duke still bolted his way to 10 rushing touchdowns. Add one score through the air, one on a screen pass with two kick returns, and he scored in nearly every non-defensive way possible.

On the other hand...

Dallas Crawford came in as a short-yardage bruiser last season, and that job figures to fall on Gus Edwards' broad shoulders this year. Plus, freshman Joe Yearby will "steal" a couple touchdowns from his fellow back. Remember, goal-line vulture Crawford tallied seven scores during 2013 games in which Duke was actively involved.

What's more, it is unlikely Duke returns many kicks, mostly due to the young, non-starting speedsters on the sideline. Additionally, why subject him to an unnecessary beating on a kick return? He'll take a handoff on the next play anyway.

The main factor is determining whether Duke will set up touchdowns for teammates or score them on his own.

So, what say you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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

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Michigan Football: Is Countess the Wolverine Under the Most Pressure for 2014?

Last week, Michigan unveiled its 2014 roster, and the first name listed ended months of speculation about the status of a hallowed number from the team’s storied past.

Defensive back Blake Countess is switching from No. 18 to the No. 2 jersey of Heisman Trophy winner and NFL great Charles Woodson.

The roster revelation ended conjecture that 5-star recruit Jabrill Peppers, who hopes to emulate Woodson’s career at Michigan, would don the No. 2 jersey. Peppers will wear No. 5 at Michigan, the jersey number he wore for his high school career—at least for now.

Countess, a redshirt junior, is a worthy recipient of Woodson’s jersey after having racked up impressive statistics during his Michigan career, including totaling 90 tackles (56 solo) over two full seasons. He emerged as a star last season with six interceptions that he returned for 169 yards, including a touchdown. His performance earned All-Big Ten first-team honors.

Last season’s performance came after he missed the entire 2012 season after being injured in the season opener versus Alabama.

The jersey switch will increase the spotlight on Countess.

While technically not a Michigan Legends jersey, No. 2 is an obvious candidate to join the pantheon of honored Wolverine greats.

Even without the official designation, the jersey holds a special place in Michigan history because of Woodson’s status as the most recent Wolverine to win the Heisman Trophy and the first defensive player to do so. He also bears the distinction of having a stellar NFL Hall of Fame-caliber career while still being an active professional player. Woodson’s NFL resume includes Super Bowl champion (XLV), eight-time Pro Bowl selection, seven-time All-Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2009) and being named to the 2000s All-Decade team.

Countess now steps into the shadow of Woodson’s celebrated collegiate and pro careers.

The only jersey that comes with similar baggage is Desmond Howard’s No. 21. Howard also won the Heisman Trophy and is a frequent presence around the Michigan football program in his current role as an ESPN college football analyst.

The other Legends jerseys are associated with players in the distant past, long before televised games became standard.

Countess will also need to contend with the expectations that precede Peppers’ collegiate career. Peppers has set a goal of eclipsing Woodson’s collegiate accomplishments. But, no matter how quickly he taps his potential, the No. 2 jersey won’t be available until Countess is done with it.

Countess’ task is to create his own legacy for his new jersey number while keeping fans from looking ahead to who might wear it next.


All season statistics from, the official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

Follow @PCallihan

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Recruits Tennessee Volunteers Must Land to Complete 2015 Class

With Tennessee coach Butch Jones' orange-hot three weeks on the recruiting trail, the Volunteers don't have many open spots remaining in their 2015 class.

Quarterback Quinten Dormady's June 9 pledge started a surge that led to seven total commits in the month. UT's "Orange Carpet Day" event kept the Vols hot, and they now have 18 commitments and rank seventh nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite.

UT secured a star running back prospect in Alvin Kamara, landed a couple of key defenders in Austin Smith and Quay Picou and lured in-state tight end commit Kyle Oliver at Orange Carpet Day festivities.

Local athlete Jocquez Bruce and Florida punter Tommy Townsend also committed to the Vols in June.

If UT signs a complete class of 25 players, that means seven spots remain.

Considering there is always attrition—come on, this is SEC recruiting!—and Jones is known for creativity with numbers (he signed 32 players last year), there could be another spot available.

So, here are eight players the Vols need to get to commit to close out the recruiting class.

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How Defensive Coaching Shake-Up Will Impact Michigan in 2014

Michigan's defensive coaching changes weren’t really of the major variety, but they could be enough to tilt the odds in its favor this fall. 

Perhaps the most notable swap, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke relinquished his control of the D-line, leaving Mark Smith as the sole mentor for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's front four. 

Hoke, who enters his fourth year as the man in charge in Ann Arbor, said the following in April about the change, via ESPN’s Brian Bennett:

Our first message to the players this offseason was to learn from going 7-6 [in 2013] on every front you can. That’s from how you prepared to how you came in the building every day. 

It’s the same thing with us as coaches. We talked a lot about us doing a better job with the fundamentals of playing the game and holding everybody to those expectations. And I think you always have to check yourself before you go anywhere else with it.

In February, Hoke addressed the same topic through a prepared statement, via’s Nick Baumgardner:

Everyone on the staff and the kids are really excited about these changes. Greg [Mattison] and I met and felt this was the best for everyone, including him and his ability to coach a position group and run a defense from the middle.

When you look at Mark's [Smith] experience on the defensive line, then being able to split the secondary, where you have five positions and 20-plus guys, and with the way offense and passing has changed in college football, I think it balances our staff on that side of the ball.

Before this goes any further, it’s worth mentioning that Team 134’s defense wasn’t in need of an entire overhaul, just a few minor tweaks; and in all likelihood, the adjustments on Hoke’s end were to maximize Mattison’s personnel, which finished 2013 as the No. 13-ranked total defense, per


Curt Mallory (Safeties)

Formerly the coach of the entire secondary, Mallory now heads the safeties, which means that he’ll have the duty of grooming incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers. But then again, guiding the 5-star phenom will be the job of everyone—he’s capable of playing several positions on both sides of the ball.

But forget Peppers for a second, because before welcoming the high-flying kid from Jersey, Mallory already had a solid set to work with: Jarrod Wilson (6’2”, 202; Jr.), Dymonte Thomas (6’2”, 191; So.), Delano Hill (6’0”, 205; So) and several others.

In 2013, the defensive backs were either on-point or off-kilter, evidenced by its No. 7 ranking among Big Ten passing defenses (230 yards). In fact, 23 of 28 touchdowns surrendered by the Wolverines were through the air. But 15 of 17 picks were by corners and safeties. 


Roy Manning (Cornerbacks)

In 2013, Manning, a former Michigan letterman (2001-04), coached the outside linebackers. This year, though, he’ll be asked to dictate to the corners, who are led by two of the top cover men in the nation, Blake Countess (5’10”, 183; RS Jr.), and Raymon Taylor (5’10”, 182; Sr.), a physical, sure tackler.

This shift is interesting, to say the least. Now that he’s taking on the far-reaching members of the secondary, Manning’s stepping into relatively new territory. However, due to coaching stops in Cincinnati and Northern Illinois, the former linebacker has gained experience coaching on both sides of the ball. The fact that he’s moving to a new position shouldn’t be an issue.

Manning, who played four years in the NFL, adapts to new surroundings, which is something he discussed during a recent radio interview with WTKA-AM Ann Arbor (via Baumgardner of MLive):

Coaching is creating change, that's what coaching is. One of the most important things, I was honest and up front with those guys. It was 'I'm going into a new position, I won't have all the answers (right now), I won't say everything the way maybe they were used to in the past,' but I told them it was a growing process.

I just kept stressing 'I'm going to hammer you guys, be on you guys and be demanding.' The corner position is so much about mindset. That's why my personality marries with the position well, I think. It's literally 'game on' every single play. You can't take a play off. You can't be lackadaisical.


Greg Mattison (Linebackers)

Mattison has been orchestrating college defenses for more than 15 years—he also spent two years with the Baltimore Ravens. His professional pedigree is a major advantage in terms of recruiting, and it certainly helps with the college guys—they want to get to the NFL, so having a guy with NFL experience to teach them how to get there serves as a great motivator.

Back in early June at Sound Mind Sound Body in Detroit, Mattison couldn’t resist praising his defensive line. But he also mentioned that the linebackers were coming along nicely, waiting to show off their skills this fall. Among those mentioned were Joe Bolden, who “had the best spring of any player,” according to Mattison, who’s entering his fourth year as DC.

As one of the catalysts, Bolden, a 6’3”, 225-pound junior, will be counted on to raise his level of play while Jake Ryan, who was moved to the middle, eases his way back to comfort in the wake of an ACL injury suffered in spring ball 2013. With Mattison so excited about Bolden, it’s fair to assume that the rest of the position group is eager to take the field and show that it can excel with its senior leader.

However, rest assured that Ryan will return to his old, dominant self this season and accentuate a rock-solid corps that includes the likes of James Ross (6’1”, 225; Jr.), Ben Gedeon (6’3”, 236; So.) and, among a few others, Desmond Morgan (6’1”, 225; Sr.).

Mattison's a defensive genius. Having him hover over the linebackers isn't a good thing, it's a great thing. 

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

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What Missing on 4-Star QB Travis Waller Means for Notre Dame

Notre Dame didn't need to worry about landing a 2015 quarterback for a lengthy stretch of this recruiting cycle. Now, nearly four weeks after 4-star recruit Blake Barnett broke his pledge to the Fighting Irish, the search for his replacement continues with more questions than answers.

The team emerged as a finalist for another Southern California quarterback, but Anaheim standout Travis Waller chose Oregon over Notre Dame on Tuesday morning. Ironically, he fills a spot in Eugene that many thought Barnett was going to take when he initially decommitted.

Waller is a Duck, Barnett is headed to Alabama and Brian Kelly must turn elsewhere.

Jarrett Stidham, a Texas Tech pledge who received a Notre Dame offer in June on the same day as Waller, hasn't publicly given any indication he's wavering in his commitment to the Red Raiders.

The 4-star dual-threat passer was no doubt thrilled by the attention, but if he's reciprocating any interest from South Bend, it's been in silent fashion. Stidham, who threw for 2,613 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2013, will remain on the team's radar but other options must be explored at this point.

Skipping a quarterback in this class is included on the list of possibilities, as current Notre Dame passers Everett Golson, Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer have 10 total years of eligibility between them.

There isn't an immediate need for someone who can take the first snap of 2015. Still, is Kelly willing to sit on the sidelines while other powerhouse programs capitalize on an above-average crop of quarterbacks?

That scenario seems unlikely, leading to two options.

Notre Dame can extend new offers to uncommitted prospects like it did with Waller. Or the Irish can attempt to poach pledges from other teams, as in the case of Stidham.

Deondre Francois could still be a candidate in the uncommitted column. The 6'1", 195-pound Florida gunslinger features as powerful a throwing arm as you'll find in this class.

He remains more raw than other top-tier contemporaries, including Stidham and Barnett, but you can argue Francois has more potential as a passer than Waller. His skill set also includes mobility, though he won't sprint past secondaries like the new Oregon commit.

Francois, who recently transferred from Olympia High School (Orlando) to IMG Academy (Bradenton), is now under the tutelage of former Florida State star Chris Weinke. The Heisman Trophy winner is head coach at IMG and may be grooming the Seminoles' next quarterback.

Florida State, Auburn and Oregon were identified as the top three in his recruitment last month. The Ducks are now likely out of the picture with Waller on board, leaving two teams in the mix.

Francois has been targeting a late July announcement, but nothing is certain at this stage. It may not be too late for Notre Dame to change the narrative, and he plans to visit each of his finalists before making a decision.

If he is willing to travel to Oregon, wouldn't Indiana be in his range?

There have been mixed reports about whether or not Francois has received a formal offer, but he would require some serious convincing based on recent comments.

“Notre Dame kind of came in the picture last and it’s not happening with Notre Dame,” Francois told Amy Campbell of (h/t South Bend Tribune). “I don’t even have a relationship with the coaches.”

Fast-rising sleeper Sam Darnold may also warrant a closer look from Kelly's staff. He missed most of his junior campaign with a broken foot, but he has shown enough skills at camps to warrant nationwide attention and a spot in the Elite 11 finals this month.

Offers from Tennessee, Duke and, most recently, USC arrived in June. The 6'4", 208-pound California product can pick up big chunks of yardage as a runner and will have a chance to prove his stock as a premier college prospect with a full senior season of work.

Notre Dame may not be able to wait and see how he produces this fall. Judging by Darnold's recent avalanche of interest, the Irish would have a lot of ground to make up by then.

If Kelly opts to go the route of flipping a committed recruit, keep an eye on Brandon Wimbush (Penn State), Sheriron Jones (Florida) and Tyler Queen (Auburn). As Notre Dame fans can attest, quarterback decommitments can happen even when they aren't anticipated.

Notre Dame netted Barnett more than seven months ago. Considering how much can change during that span, perhaps it's important to note we're still seven months away from national signing day.

The search continues in South Bend, for now.


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

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Texas A&M Football: 5 Toughest Players Aggies Will Face in 2014

The Texas A&M football team will face the typical gauntlet of tough teams that make up an SEC schedule in 2014. They will also face a number of the top individual players at their position in the country. 

The Aggies experienced tremendous struggles on defense in 2013. They played a lot of freshmen and could not physically match up with a lot of teams. 

The Aggies will be a year older on defense in 2014 and will be a more physically mature group. Whether or not that translates into success on the field remains to be seen. 

There are individual football players that the Aggies will face in 2014 who are not a good matchup for the defense on paper. This is a look at some of the toughest players the Aggies will have to try to stop in 2014. 

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The Opening 2014: Power Ranking Every 7-on-7 Team

A big part of The Opening is the seven-on-seven portion of the event. All recruits are assigned to teams, where the skill-position players compete in a highly competitive seven-on-seven tournament.

Quarterbacks will not be drafted by teams until July 7, but all non-quarterback skill-position prospects have already been named to rosters. Looking at the squads, each of them has a wealth of strengths. However, some weaknesses may be exposed.

There's a team with an excellent trio of receivers, while another has an outstanding secondary. Plus, there are a few X-factors.

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