NCAA Football

Swag Like Sherman, Game Like Peterson: Meet the No. 1 CB Saivion Smith

Saivion Smith is a 5-star cornerback, per 247Sports' composite rankings, who is committed to LSU. Smith is the No. 1 cornerback in the 2016 class, and he will join a long line of great defensive backs to play for the Tigers.

Watch as Bleacher Report sits down with Smith to discuss his future.

What sort of impact can Smith have at LSU? Check out the video and let us know! 

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5 Top-Performing Quarterback Recruits from 2015 Dallas Elite 11 Regional

ARLINGTON, Texas — Elite 11 head coach Trent Dilfer is a California guy, but he will always have respect and a soft spot for the Texas high school quarterback.

Sunday was proof why Dilfer speaks so highly of the athletes from the Lone Star State. Eighty quarterbacks were in attendance at the Elite 11 Dallas regional, and eight were chosen to compete in the "Pressure Chamber," the final passing drill to determine the event's MVP.

After watching all of the quarterbacks, Dilfer had a flashback of 2012, when six Texans were chosen to compete in the Elite 11 national competition.

"It's as good as the year of [DeVante] Kincade and [Davis] Webb and those guys," Dilfer said. "At the time back then in March, there weren't many stars or offers or commits. People didn't think they were as good, but they were. This group's just like that; this group's going to blow up.

"You fall in love with Texas kids every year. They don't just say, 'Yes, sir.' They try to fix it."

Dilfer called Sunday's group of quarterbacks "really good athletes who are passers first." When the Pressure Chamber ended, 3-star quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole stood the tallest. The son of former Texas A&M and NFL receiver Chris Cole, Sterling-Cole was named the event MVP and also earned an invitation to The Opening this summer in Oregon.

Here are five of the top quarterbacks from Sunday, with comments from Dilfer included.

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Ohio State Football: Week 1 Spring Practice Stock Report

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State took the field for its first pair of practices in this year's spring session last week, and unsurprisingly there was no lack of intrigue surrounding the defending national champion.

Between some of college football's biggest stars, a three-time national champion head coach and 14 returning starters from the first ever College Football Playoff winner, there may not be a team more capable of churning out consistent headlines this offseason than the Buckeyes.

Oh, and there's that quarterback controversy everybody seems to be talking about.

That was what took center stage in Ohio State's first two practices of the spring last week, as for the first time since last summer, Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett all found themselves in uniform for the Buckeyes.

All three are at varying points in their respective recoveries and have different availabilities for the spring, but the first week of practice did give us a preview of what we can expect in college football's most-talked-about quarterback competition.

 

QB Conundrum

If you haven't heard by now, head coach Urban Meyer has one of the most unique quarterback controversies in the history of college football on the horizon, with three qualified candidates with three very distinct resumes.

A quick rundown for those who may have missed out: Miller was the two-time Big Ten MVP heading into 2014 before a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder ended his senior season before it started. Barrett stepped up to lead the Buckeyes to the cusp of the playoffs, but a broken ankle cut his season short in the regular-season finale.

This opened the door for Jones to lead Ohio State to three consecutive postseason wins, including the national championship.

All three are back this spring, and for now, all three are expected to be back in the fall as well.

Yet despite the hype surrounding it, Jones insists nothing has made this spring any different from previous ones.

"It’s always been a competition to us. Ever since I stepped on campus, when Kenny [Guiton] was here, it’s always been a competition," Jones said. "[The media], it’s the first time you guys get to see all three of us get a chance to play, but it’s always been a competition."

Coming off the momentum of a national title run, Jones is the favorite to start for the Buckeyes in their season opener on Sept. 7, and it also doesn't hurt that he's currently the healthiest of the three signal-callers.

With redshirt freshman Stephen Collier as the only other quarterback at full strength right now, Jones has taken the majority of Ohio State's first-team reps thus far—something he hasn't been able to say about any other spring practice in his college career.

"Cardale is getting more reps than he's ever gotten,” Meyer said following the first spring practice of the year. "He's still almost a rookie—an older rookie that hasn't had a lot of reps."

As for Barrett, the redshirt sophomore appears to be ahead of schedule in his recovery, dropping back and throwing passes, although his mobility is still limited. The reigning College Football Performance Awards National Freshman of the Year, Barrett isn't putting a timetable for when he'll be back at full strength but anticipates he'll back back to full-go by the summer.

"I can't rush it. I'm not going to rush it," Barrett said. "I broke my leg, so I'm trying to get back as healthy as I can be so I can play the way I want to and be as healthy as I want to." 

As for Miller, he's the furthest behind of the three, as he's still unable to throw a football while continuing to recover from his injury. His refusal to talk to the media on Thursday left the impression that he still could be keeping his options open for a potential offseason transfer, but Barrett did his best to stop the speculation.

"I'm not Braxton, but being that I do talk to him like every day, I think we'd both be shocked if he was to leave," Barrett said. "I don't know. I think it's really ridiculous, honestly, but I don't know."

Regardless of how it shakes out, Meyer knows he has an unprecedented situation on his hands. Finding a quality quarterback won't be the hard part for the fourth-year Ohio State head coach—it's the benching of two others that he knows will cause stress.

"How's it going to play out? I don't know," Meyer said. "I've never been in this situation."

 

Freshmen Phenoms

Throughout their run to the national title, the 2014 Buckeyes received help from several redshirt freshmen, including Barrett, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, Jalin Marshall and Billy Price.

If the first week of spring practice is any indication, 2015 may follow the same script.

When asking the veteran players which younger teammates stood out in the first week of practice, a couple of second-year players consistently came up.

The first was wide receiver Johnnie Dixon, who actually saw game action last year before tendinitis in his knee brought an end to his freshman season. He is now back at full strength for the spring after receiving a medical redshirt.

Senior Joshua Perry was the first to bring up Dixon when asked about players on the other side of the ball who had caught his eye, before adding fellow redshirt freshmen Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin to the mix.

Jones also mentioned Dixon when asked how the Buckeyes plan on replacing Devin Smith, who was the country's best deep-threat wide receiver a season ago.

"So far we’re just running around in shorts, but guys like Johnnie Dixon and Parris Campbell and Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith—four guys right there have that deep-ball threat," Jones said. "It’s just all about who’s giving us the best chance to replace Devin."

On the defensive side of the ball, the name that's been brought up the most is that of redshirt freshman Sam Hubbard, who arrived at Ohio State as a linebacker, moved to tight end and now finds himself on the defensive line.

At 6'5" and 244 pounds, the Cincinnati native has great size for his new position and apparently has been putting it to good use.

"He's got speed off the edge...a motor that doesn't stop," former Buckeyes right tackle Darryl Baldwin said of Hubbard following his pro day on Friday. "He's just got really the whole package."

 

Race for Right Tackle

Speaking of Baldwin, he's just one of four starters from last year's team whom Ohio State will attempt to replace on offense from last season, and the only one on the offensive line. 

Outside of quarterback, the Buckeyes' race at right tackle might be the most intriguing position battle on the roster, as it features an elder statesman and a rising second-year player.

Although he's flipped between the offensive and defensive lines throughout his career, Chase Farris has consistently been mentioned by Meyer as one of the players who's added depth to a formerly depleted offensive line. This could finally be the year when he's used as a starter, as the senior from Elyria, Ohio was with Ohio State's first team at right tackle last Tuesday.

“He had an amazing offseason," senior left tackle Taylor Decker said of Farris. "I’ve always loved the way he works. I’m a big fan of his. He’s one of my friends, so I’m really excited to see him get a shot at that spot. Because if he wins it, it will definitely be deserving."

But in order to remain Ohio State's starting right tackle, Farris will have to hold off perhaps the better long-term solution for Meyer in sophomore Jamarco Jones.

A former 4-star prospect, Jones served as the Buckeyes' backup right tackle a season ago but was never asked to play significant snaps. At 6'4" and 306 pounds, the Chicago native already has good size for his age and position, and may simply be the more talented of Meyer's two current options.

“He’ll show you flashes and you’ll be like, ‘Wow, this kid could be a really great player,'" Decker said of Jones. "Consistency is a big thing for him."

If Jones can find that consistency this spring, the right tackle battle will only heat up in Columbus this fall. For now, Farris remains the favorite, but that only counts for so much one week into spring practice.

 

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

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Arkansas Football: Complete 2015 Spring Practice Primer

One hot month, and suddenly Arkansas isn't the punchline to a depressing SEC West joke anymore.

After shutting out LSU and Ole Miss in November and holding Texas to a shanked pitching wedge worth of total offense (59 yards) in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, the Razorbacks are being mentioned in the discussion to win the SEC West.

Is that real, or is it just a product of a hot month to close the season?

The answer to that question starts getting answered on Monday, when third-year head coach Bret Bielema raises the curtain on Arkansas' spring practice.

 

What to Watch on Offense

When former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney moved on to take the same job at Pitt, it left Bielema in a bind to find a pro-style college coach, which are rapidly become the coaching equivalent of unicorns. The answer for Bielema was in the head coaching ranks, where former Central Michigan head coach Dan Enos left the program to take over as an assistant in the SEC.

How much will change? Not much, considering four offensive linemen and running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins—both of whom were 1,000-yard rushers a year ago—are back with the Hogs.

"We've always felt really strongly about having two major guys and one role player, and I think J-Will will take the lead on the role that he'll play his year," Bielema told Bleacher Report.

The biggest question is whether or not quarterback Brandon Allen can evolve into a difference-maker rather than simply a game manager. He managed games well last year, throwing 20 touchdowns and only five picks while playing through injuries late in the year, and returns leading wide receiver Keon Hatcher and weapon Hunter Henry at tight end.

What's more, Enos produced 3,000-yard passers in four of his last five seasons as Central Michigan's head coach. Bielema has had exactly one of those—Russell Wilson at Wisconsin in 2011 (3,175 yards)—during his entire head coaching career.

He's not going to come to Fayetteville and sling it all over the field, but he could swing the pendulum slightly toward a more open offense, which would open those holes for Williams and Collins even more on the ground.

If Allen becomes a weapon this spring, it will signal that the Hogs will truly be dangerous this fall.

 

What to Watch on Defense

The catalyst to Arkansas' late-season success last year was a defense that finished second in the SEC in rush defense (114.62 YPG) and one of the most physical front sevens in the SEC. 

The problem, though, is that linebacker Martrell Spaight, defensive end Trey Flowers and defensive tackle Darius Philon—three of the most important pieces of last season's puzzle—are all gone. 

Talented big men return up front, including defensive ends JaMichael Winston and Deatrich Wise, as well as defensive tackles Bijhon Jackson and Taiwan Johnson. But can they impact the pocket in the same way as last year's crew?

As Josh Bertaccini of KSQM 92.1 The Ticket in Fayetteville notes, it's all about the youth on defense:

If Arkansas can finish the season with less than five yards per play, watch out for the Hogs. A new offense with veteran pieces when combined with a stifling defense is a dangerous combination.

 

Freshman to Keep an Eye on

With the defensive line being the most important piece of the puzzle, the focus will be on true freshman early enrollee Hjalte Froholdt.

The 6'4", 282-pounder from Warren, Ohio, hails from Denmark and only was introduced five years ago according to Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani, playing both defensive line and tight end.

"We put on some way oversized equipment because their club didn't have anything else," Froholdt told Kirpalani. "We got taught the fundamentals because we had some great coaches. We pretty much were taught everything because it wasn't like you just play offensive line or defensive line. Over there, you play everything because you had to play where you were needed."

That athleticism will be a huge benefit for Froholdt, who could earn early playing time as a rotational defensive end and perhaps a role player in specific packages that feature multiple tackles lining up at end. 

 

Coach Bielema's Toughest Task

Staying in the proper gear.

Arkansas' close to the 2014 season dramatically shifted the trajectory of the program, despite the fact that Bielema still only has two SEC wins over his first two seasons and boasts a sub-.500 record overall as the head coach of the Hogs.

Just how quickly have things changed? Sporting News has Arkansas ranked fourth in the country in its way-too-early top 25.

Not the SEC West or the SEC. The country.

Hello, expectations.

Bielema's biggest issue is making sure that his players don't buy into the hype, stay on the same path that Bielema and his staff has had them on over the last two seasons and continue the rebuilding process of a program that was in turmoil just two seasons ago.

Before Arkansas hits overdrive and speeds toward the College Football Playoff, it needs to prove that it can contend with the SEC's big boys on a consistent basis. 

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

It’s safe to say that USC has emerged from its recent stretch of NCAA sanctions to regain its status as one of the nation’s premier recruiting powerhouses. 

Fresh off the heels of signing the nation’s No. 2 class in the 2015 cycle, Steve Sarkisian and his staff are busy laying the groundwork for success in the 2016 and 2017 classes.

Last week, the Trojans threw their hat in the ring with a handful of the nation’s top rising juniors.

In fact, four of the nation’s top 30 prospects in the 2017 class earned offers from USC.

The Trojans offered a pair of defensive line standouts in 5-star defensive end A.J. Epenesa and 4-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson.

Epenesa rates as the No. 2 player overall in the 2017 class, while Wilson—who also netted offers last week from Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee and UCLA—checks in at No. 13 overall.

Sarkisian also tendered 4-star quarterback Shawn Robinson, per Brian Perroni of 247Sports, and 4-star athlete Maleik Gray

Robinson is the nation’s top dual-threat passer in the 2017 class and the No. 15 player overall, while Gray—who was also offered by the Wolverines—rates as the nation’s top athlete.

It’s still early for 2017 recruits, but USC is clearly being aggressive in identifying the top targets in the country for the 2017 cycle.

Given the momentum within the program, expect elite out-of-state recruits such as this quartet to give the Trojans a strong look over the next few months.

 

Alabama Hits California for 2016

Nick Saban leaves no stone unturned in his effort to keep Alabama’s roster among the nation’s most talented outfits. 

Last week, he and his staff turned to the West Coast—specifically the state of California—to offer two of the nation’s top 100 prospects in the 2016 class.

Scout’s Brandon Huffman reports that the Tide offered 4-star offensive lineman Jonah Williams. The 6’5”, 272-pounder is the nation’s No. 9 offensive tackle prospect and the No. 73 player overall in the 2016 class.

Another Golden State standout who received an Alabama offer was 5-star wideout Tyler Vaughns. 

The 6’3”, 175-pounder—who is rated as the nation’s No. 2 pass-catcher—hauled in 83 passes for 1,578 yards as a junior.

Given the Tide’s recent history in attracting explosive receivers, the offer is likely one that Vaughns is bound to seriously consider.

 

FSU JUCO Commit Nets Trio of Impressive Offers 

Last week, Florida State landed a pledge from 4-star JUCO linebacker Tyree Horton

It appears the ‘Noles found a diamond in the rough before the rest of the nation, as Horton’s stock has seemingly exploded in the last couple of weeks. 

The 6’0”, 225-pounder picked up offers from Alabama, Oklahoma and TCU last week.

While Horton has given no indicators that he is wavering on his pledge to the ‘Noles, the new wave of interest is likely to keep FSU on its toes in its quest to keep his commitment.

 

Michigan Offers Pair of 2016 Georgia Skill Standouts 

Jim Harbaugh has been aggressive in handing out offers all over the country for the 2016 class.

Last week was another busy week for the Wolverines staff, as they were active in the Peach State in offering a pair of skill standouts from Georgia.

2016 4-star athlete Mecole Hardman and 3-star tight end Christian Roberson, per Steve Lorenz of Wolverine247, both netted offers from the Wolverines.

Hardman, who could play either receiver or corner at the next level, has a trio of SEC powers in Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn as schools standing out for him currently.

On the other hand, Roberson—who has picked up offers from Michigan State, Florida and Missouri since January—is still in the beginning stages of his recruitment.

Regardless, the Wolverines are making a concerted effort to target top athletes around the country, regardless of region.

 

Best of the Rest

Alabama is the newest offer for 2016 4-star offensive lineman Jean Delance—who decommitted from Oklahoma last week, per B/R’s Damon Sayles.

2016 4-star tight end Devin Asiasi picked up an offer from Auburn, according to Adam Gorney of Rivals

The Tigers joined Stanford in offering 2016 4-star safety Damar Hamlin.

Florida offered 2016 3-star running back Brandon Stephens.

2016 4-star quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was offered by Mississippi State.

USC, Arizona State and UCLA all offered 2016 4-star athlete Melquise Stovall.

Oregon offered 2016 4-star athlete Brandon Burton. The Ducks also offered 2016 4-star linebacker Darrian Franklin.

The Ducks joined Stanford in offering 2016 3-star corner Troy Warner.

Scout’s Greg Biggins reports that Oregon State offered 2016 4-star defensive end Oluwole Betiku.

Stanford and Florida State offered 2016 4-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch.

2016 4-star athlete Ahmir Mitchell picked up an offer from Wisconsin.

Michigan and California are the newest offers for 2016 4-star receiver Jack Jones.

2016 4-star defensive tackle and current Baylor commitment Jordan Elliott picked up offers from Michigan and Florida State.

Penn State offered 2016 4-star safety Craig Watts.

2016 3-star running back Abdul Adams was offered by Iowa.

The Hawkeyes joined Louisville in offering 2016 running back Malik Staples.

Florida State offered 2016 4-star linebacker Dontavious Jackson.

Washington offered 2017 4-star athlete Thomas Graham, per Adam Gorney of Rivals.

Gorney reports that Michigan offered 2017 4-star teammates in athlete Greg Johnson and receiver Joseph Lewis. The Wolverines also offered offensive lineman Jake Moretti.

Miami offered 2017 4-star receiver Trevon Grimes.

Andrew Bone of Rivals reports that Clemson offered 2017 athlete Malcolm Askew.

The Tigers joined Florida in offering 2017 4-star corner Stanford Samuels III.

According to Adam Friedman of Rivals, Alabama and Auburn offered 2017 running back Khalan Laborn.

The Tide also offered fellow 2017 running back Cordarrian Richardson, per Barton Simmons of 247Sports.

 

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

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Florida Football: Complete 2015 Spring Practice Primer

The Jim McElwain era is already well underway, and the first-year head coach of the Florida Gators will finally hit the practice field on Monday, when he opens his first spring practice session in Gainesville.

There's plenty of work to do.

Will Muschamp was shown the door after two rather lackluster seasons, and McElwain—the former Colorado State head coach (2012-2014) and offensive coordinator at Alabama (2008-2011)—has a lot of work to do to get Florida back into SEC East contention.

Most notably, he must fix the offense. The Gators have finished 10th or worse in the SEC in total offense every year since 2010—Urban Meyer's last season as head coach. Can he do it?

The quest to turn the program around starts this spring. Let's get you ready for Florida spring practice with a complete spring primer.

 

What to Watch on Offense

The most visible position on the field is the one you need to watch this spring in Gainesville. 

The quarterback position has been a nuisance ever since Tim Tebow exhausted his eligibility following the 2009 season. Former starter Jeff Driskel transferred to Louisiana Tech this offseason, leaving sophomore dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris and redshirt freshman pro-style quarterback Will Grier as the primary contenders for the top spot on the depth chart.

Harris started the final seven games of 2014, but he attempted more than 15 passes in a game just twice. The old staff wasn't sold on Harris as a passer and opted with a more conservative, run-based offense. That's a stark contrast to the style that McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier employ, which is more of a traditional attack with a pro-style passer.

That bodes well for Grier, who was the second-ranked pro-style passer in the country in the class of 2014.

McElwain said in quotes emailed by Florida that he doesn't intend to name a starter this spring and that style isn't the most important factor in his decision.

"I think a guy who learns how to throw it to our colored jersey is probably the most important thing," he said. "Understands the importance of taking care of the football and affecting the people around him in a positive way is really what we're looking for."

If Grier can make a push and pull even with Harris exiting spring practice, it would allow the staff minimal change in their own philosophy and increase the chances of Grier earning the starting nod this fall.

The biggest question outside of the quarterback battle is up front, where Florida has just seven healthy offensive linemen on scholarship, according to Florida Today

What will McEwain do about the thin roster this spring up front.

"Cry," he said in quotes emailed by Florida. "It's been a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out how we're gonna practice from a standpoint of trying to make sure we don't lose some other groups because of the one group, and yet putting so much work on them sometimes you get caught up in that."

Simply put, Florida has to stay healthy everywhere, but particularly along the offensive line.

 

What to Watch on Defense

While there are some holes to fill—particularly "Buck" defensive end Dante Fowler—the primary job for McElwain and new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is to not mess things up. 

Florida has a solid foundation with superstar cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, safety Keanu Neal, linebackers Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis and defensive linemen Jon Bullard and Bryan Cox. But Morrison, Davis and Cox are out for the spring, which means more depth issues on the defensive side of the ball for McElwain to deal with.

That could be a blessing in disguise at linebacker, where highly touted yet underutilized players like Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian could earn valuable practice reps and build the depth any team looking to contend for a division title sorely needs.

Florida has to continue to develop all of its corners alongside Hargreaves, because they'll get plenty of action this fall, as teams will undoubtedly stay away from Hargreaves' side of the field. Can Jalen Tabor step up? Will somebody else emerge? Those questions begin to be answered this spring.

Collins is a tremendous defensive coordinator who employed more of a 4-3 defense while at Mississippi State, but he isn't necessarily married to the system. Florida is more geared toward a 3-4 hybrid system based on the personnel on the roster, so it will be interesting to see how Collins mixes and matches his pieces with his scheme this spring.

 

Freshman to Keep an Eye on

Without a doubt, it's Grier.

The Davidson, N.C. native is remarkably accurate and is athletic enough to not only buy time behind the line of scrimmage with his legs, but also downfield. He threw for 14,565 yards, 195 touchdowns and 27 picks in three years at Davidson Day, a Division II school that, as Langston Wertz Jr. of the Charlotte Observer noted during his senior season, doesn't exactly play the toughest competition in the state.

B/R national lead writer Michael Felder agrees.

"The big question for me has been, and will be until proven otherwise, can Will Grier play at a high enough level consistently to be a successful SEC quarterback?" Felder said. "Obviously, he was a monster in high school, but the competition level left me wanting to see more. And, because he's not a physical specimen with a cannon for an arm or 4.3 speed, it is going to take proving he can make throws to the sideline and vertically to convince folks that he can lead the program."

The question with Grier is how good he really is.

McElwain is a brilliant offensive mind, and if Harris wins the job, he's certainly capable of tweaking his system to fit his quarterback. But Grier would provide a comfort zone for his head coach and offensive coordinator, which would ease the transition process for everybody involved in the program.

"A guy like Jeff Driskel, who was a specimen, didn't pan out," said Felder. "So this will be as much about McElwain's coaching as Grier's talent and ability to produce."

If the redshirt freshman can take the reins, it might elevate Florida to contender status in McElwain's first year as its head coach.

 

Coach McElwain's Toughest Task

Tempering expectations.

It's safe to say that, after two seasons of misery, Florida's fanbase is frustrated, angry and desperate. Despite the downswing, it extended its winning streak over up-and-coming Tennessee to 10 with a win last fall, and it followed that up a month later by throttling Georgia—which was on the periphery of the College Football Playoff discussion in November—38-20 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated.

There's a sense that Florida is "a quarterback away" from contending for the SEC East. That's true, to a point, but it also overlooks several key factors—specifically the absence of offensive line depth.

Florida could contend for the division, but it's going to have to hope a quarterback not only emerges, but becomes a star while playing behind an offensive line that comes of age in a hurry.

It's not the most unrealistic goal in the world, but it's still a lot to ask for McElwain in Year 1 in Gainesville. If the Gators can just be in the discussion for the division title in November and produce an offense that is no longer the punchline to a depressing joke, that would be a huge step forward for the program and signal a successful first year for the new regime.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: 5 Positions Where the Vols Are Stacked

The Tennessee football team will feature a much more talented roster in 2015 than it had a season ago, but youth and inexperience are prevalent throughout.

Even so, there are several positions where the Volunteers are loaded.

Extreme optimism abounds in Knoxville because of all the talent at skill positions as well as a defense that looks primed for some breakout playmakers on all three levels.

While the Vols won't look that way in spring due to myriad injuries depleting the roster, everybody is expected to be available once fall practice begins. For an example of how depth-challenged UT will be when spring drills start later this month, it will have just five scholarship defensive linemen healthy.

Head coach Butch Jones is probably another year away from having his roster where he'd like it from a depth of talent standpoint and the right amount of experience, but there are reasons to be excited about several positions.

If they can stay healthy and live up to expectations, there is a reason to believe that several of these units can help carry the team. Of course, with three freshman quarterbacks backing up Joshua Dobbs, the success of the offense hinges on keeping him upright.

Let's take a look at the areas where the Vols have depth, talent and experience.

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

It's only been two months since Ohio State beat Oregon to win the first-ever College Football Playoff, but the Buckeyes returned to the field last week to kick off spring practice.

The official start of the 2015 season may have taken Ohio State's focus off the recruiting trail for a bit, though, because for the second straight week, the Buckeyes only sent out one scholarship offer.

Two weeks ago, it was 2017 cornerback prospect Lamont Wade who was on the receiving end of Ohio State's interest. Last week, the Buckeyes looked even further down the road. 

Meyer and the Ohio State staff had only handed out three offers for the 2018 class. They identified their fourth '18 target last Thursday. 

 

Zamir White, Unranked Running Back (2018)

The recruiting rankings for the 2018 class aren't out yet, but when they're compiled, running back Zamir White should be one of the highest-ranked ball-carriers.

That's why Ohio State got involved in his recruitment so early.

The Buckeyes officially threw their hat in the ring for the soon-to-be sophomore out of Laurinburg, North Carolina, becoming the fifth major program to offer a scholarship. The other four came from Georgia, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Tennessee—and it shouldn't take long for that list to grow.

White's high school coach, Richard Bailey, has never seen one of his first-year players generate this much attention.

"I've never had a freshman get offers until now,'' Bailey said, according to The Fayetteville Observer. "Some of that is just indicative of the times. But I also understand why they're offering. He's [White] got the potential to be unbelievable.''

That potential flashed in a big way during his freshman season. According to MaxPreps.com, White rushed for 1,231 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2014, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. He has incredible vision, which allows him to navigate through first-level blocking seamlessly. He's also very strong, which makes him hard to bring down—and he loves to lower his shoulder and run through potential tacklers.

But the thing that stands out most about his game is his speed—an attribute that Meyer loves in his running backs.

"The first time he touched the ball, he went 60 yards against South View," Bailey said, via The Fayetteville Observer. "I thought, 'Wow! We might have something special here.'"

White is certainly special, and he would be a coup for the Buckeyes because he pairs that speed with an incredible aggressiveness. His game is similar to that of Ezekiel Elliott's, who just helped the Buckeyes run their way through the College Football Playoff.

The Buckeyes are loading up on running backs.

For the 2016 class, Meyer has already secured commitments from Kareem Walker (the nation's No. 1 ball-carrier) and George Hill (the No. 4 running back). Ohio State is expecting to add Demario McCall (the No. 3 running back) to that list as well. And in addition to White, the Buckeyes have an offer out to Ricky Slade, another 2018 running back prospect.

It's clear what Meyer is aiming for. The Buckeyes have boasted one of college football's best rushing attacks since 2012, and he has no intention of letting that falter.

With three more years of high school remaining, White has plenty of time to improve his game and build on a frame that already measures at 6'1" and 180 pounds. 

And as he grows, so will his recruitment. 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

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

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Theo Howard to Oregon: Ducks Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Class of 2016 wide receiver Theo Howard announced Sunday that he will be playing his college football at the University of Oregon.     

The 4-star recruit, ranked as the 30th-best receiver in the country by 247Sports' composite rankings, took to Twitter to break the news of his huge decision:

Scout.com's Brandon Huffman believes the Ducks landed a marquee player in Howard, who hails from Westlake High School and Thousand Oaks, California:

Justin Hopkins of 247Sports highlights what Howard's commitment means for Oregon's 2016 crop of talent:

Listed at 6'0" and 170 pounds, Howard relies on his speed and athleticism in the open field to shine on the gridiron. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because those skills fit right in with what Oregon likes to do.

The Ducks' spread-style, uptempo offensive attack creates favorable matchups for skill players like Howard to make defenders miss in space, keep opponents on their heels and create explosive plays.

In addition to being a devastating force after the catch, Howard has a knack for high-pointing the ball and making acrobatic catches. His instincts when the ball is in the air and his long speed make Howard a viable deep threat.

With a bit more added strength in the weight room once he hits college, there's no telling what Howard's ceiling might be, but it seems quite high at the moment.   

Howard still has plenty of interested schools and a lot of time between now and when he actually embarks on his collegiate career in Eugene. While his mind could change, Oregon has to feel thrilled that it persuaded a playmaker like Howard to decide on the Ducks so early on.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Theo Howard to Oregon: Ducks Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Class of 2016 wide receiver Theo Howard announced Sunday that he will be playing his college football at the University of Oregon...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Yale RB Tyler Varga Balancing Ivy League Education with NFL Dreams

Going through the NFL draft process, from all-star games and workouts to meetings with teams, requires a busy schedule. Being a pre-med student, especially at an Ivy League university, does too.

Somehow, Yale running back Tyler Varga is doing both simultaneously.

A three-time All-Ivy League selection (first-team in 2012 and 2014, honorable mention in 2013) who participated in this year’s Senior Bowl and was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, Varga is well within the mix to be a Day 3 selection in this year’s draft. But pursuing his NFL dream has not stopped Varga from continuing his education at Yale, where he is on track to graduate with a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology this spring.

“It’s definitely challenging,” Varga said in an interview with Bleacher Report last week. “You go to the Senior Bowl, you go to the combine, you talk amongst these guys and 99 percent of them are done with school. They’re focused on training, focused on getting ready for the draft and their testing and all their pro days … I’m training hard, trying to get ready for all that but I’m at the same time trying to balance all this other stuff.”

That “other stuff” includes spending 10-15 hours per week in medical research labs and finishing up his senior thesis.

“I’m actually doing some insulin-based research: We’re investigating a gene in mice that plays a role in energy efficiency in the body, and hopefully that’ll have human application down the road and help us better understand Type II diabetes,” Varga said. “I’m doing some independent research on the shoulder actually as well, along with taking a couple classes just to tie up my degree.”

Prior to the Senior Bowl in January, Varga spent a week training at Athletic Edge Sports Performance Conditioning at Bradenton, Florida, and he has returned to Florida to train this month during Yale’s two-week spring recess.

For the rest of the semester, however, Varga has had to continue training at Yale. While most other NFL draft prospects have had the privilege of working out in posh facilities and warm weather, Yale does not even have an indoor football complex, which has forced Varga to micromanage his schedule during a cold, snowy winter in New Haven, Connecticut.

“There is an indoor bubble that we’ve been training at, I’ve been getting up at 5 a.m. in the morning to go and train some days during the week,” Varga said. “It’s a huge puzzle. It’s just a matter of fitting in all the workouts, all the speed training, all the field work and all that stuff into my schedule of classes and other stuff that I’ve got going on at Yale that isn’t as flexible.”

Juggling Yale academics and football, both now and during his collegiate career, has not left Varga much free time.

“If you want to have free time, you want to spend time with your friends, you better be pretty efficient with your schedule, and get your work when you need to get it done and not kind of lollygag around and wander on,” Varga said. “It’s definitely a challenge, definitely been something that I think will serve me well down the road.”

Varga was one of the first players recruited to New Haven by Tony Reno, who became Yale’s head coach in January of 2012. Reno said that Varga’s intangibles—specifically, his work ethic—stood out right away.

“He’s like a lot of guys we have that are very driven, very goal-oriented,” Reno told Bleacher Report. “He sets things out in front of himself and he sets them out with a logical way to accomplish his goals, and he goes and gets them.”

Despite his full plate, Varga has succeeded in all aspects. On the field, Varga ran for 2,985 yards and 31 touchdowns in his three-year Yale career.

In the classroom, Varga carries a 3.56 GPA, according to his bio on Yale’s athletics website.

Varga has even found time to give back to the Yale community. He served on the executive board for the Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive, which “organizes, promotes and conducts the largest bone-marrow drive in the nation each spring,” according to the National Football Foundation.

For his impressive work in each of those aspects, Yale’s Council of Masters honored him with the F. Wilder Bellamy Jr. Memorial Prize, which is given to students “who best exemplify the qualities for which the alumnus is remembered, including personal integrity, loyalty to friends and high-spiritedness in athletics, academics and social life,” according to Yale’s athletics website.

“He’s got an infectious personality,” Reno said of Varga. “He’s positive in all situations and I think he’s one of those guys who’s able to really deal with any challenge that comes his way.”

Reno also noted that Varga has “been a member of [the Yale football team]’s leadership council since the moment he walked on campus.”

“He’s a vocal leader. He sets a great example,” Reno said. “Tyler’s a team-first guy as well. I mean, you could have asked Tyler I think at any point in the season how many touchdowns he scored and how many yards he had, and he wouldn’t have had any idea.”

All of those qualities should enhance Varga’s appeal to NFL teams, at least among those who are confident his skills can translate to the next level.

 

From the Ivy League and from North of the Border

Getting a Division I football scholarship was not easy for Varga, in part because the Swedish-born tailback grew up in Canada.

At Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ontario, Varga was a four-time team MVP who played five positions and scored more than 100 touchdowns. Still, Varga noted that it was tough to get noticed, despite those accolades, because he played his high school football north of the border.

“Being a Canadian player … I think that’s given me a different type of perspective to the game,” Varga said. “If you want to go to college and play football as a Canadian player, it’s getting better now but you really, really have to stand out. You really have to make a big splash, you have to make waves so that people notice you.”

Before transferring to Yale in 2012, Varga played his first year of college football at the University of Western Ontario, where he won the Peter Gorman Trophy as Canada’s national freshman football player of the year.

Now, Varga finds himself in a similar position to where he was in high school. In spite of his three years of excellence at Yale, Varga’s production could be discounted by some NFL teams, on the basis that he played against lower-level competition in the Ivy League than prospects who are coming out of Football Bowl Subdivision schools.

Since 2000, there have only been 16 players drafted from the Ivy League, and only four from Yale. None of those players were top-100 draft picks, and only eight of those players—just one of the four from Yale—were selected before the seventh round.

Varga, personally, rebuffs the notion that his Ivy League competition was substandard. He believes that hailing from the Ivy League will be an advantage, not a disadvantage, in his transition to the NFL.

“Being an Ivy League student-athlete, I think that makes you even more draftable if you have the physical attributes and you showed you can play the game,” Varga said. “It trains you to be able to handle a lot of stress, a lot of stuff coming at you at once. There’s definitely not a lowered expectation for the athletes at Yale—and I’m sure all the other Ivy Leagues are the same—so you got to really learn how to balance.”

When Varga had a chance to play against prospects from the big schools in the Senior Bowl, he felt that “the level of play was not that much different” from that which he faced in the Ivy League.

“There was maybe a little bit of a difference in competition, but not as much as everyone claims there is,” Varga said. “I mean we’ve got some great players in the Ivy League as well. We got great competition there as well.”

Varga certainly didn’t look to be in over his head at the Senior Bowl. To the contrary, Varga ran for 13-yard and seven-yard touchdowns, executed a lead block on a four-yard touchdown run by teammate David Cobb and also caught three passes for 39 yards.

 

Raised to Be an Athlete

Beyond the game itself, another highlight of Varga’s Senior Bowl week came at the weigh-in, where the 5’10”, 227-pound running back’s chiseled physique drew oohs and aahs from the crowd of NFL scouts and media members in attendance.

Walking across a stage in his underwear to have his musculature evaluated might have been a new experience for Varga, but it was certainly not an experience unfamiliar to his family. 

Varga’s parents, John Varga and Hannele Sundberg, were both competitive bodybuilders.

Growing up as the son of competitive athletes—Hannele actually still competes in alpine skiing, and she finished second in her age group of the slalom at the Winter World Masters Games this February—played a “huge role” in Varga achieving his own success in sports.

“They got me into sports at a young age … I was in gymnastics when I was less than a year old,” Varga said. “Sports has been a huge part of my life, thanks to them, since I’ve been little.”

Seeing what his parents endured in their own athletic endeavors helped ingrain an attention to detail in Varga that he said has served him well.

“Just being able to take a small chunk of that, of the bodybuilding world, and being able to bring that to like another sport, like football, I think has really helped me out,” Varga said. “Because you look at bodybuilding, you eat like one tablespoon too much salt or something like that, and you could screw up like two months worth of training. I think being able to be that detail-oriented in preparing for what I do on the football field gives me an advantage, so I credit my parents for passing all that down to me.”

Simply being born into a family of athletes helped put Varga on track to become a professional athlete.

“Genetic factor, definitely, I think helped me out a little bit,” Varga acknowledged.

In spite of that, Varga admitted that playing in the NFL seemed like a long shot when he was a child growing up in Canada.

“The NFL’s always been kind of a dream of mine since I’ve been a little kid,” Varga said. “Did I see myself playing in the NFL? I don’t think, if you take out the dream factor, probably not. I think it really became a reality probably midway through college … That hasn’t changed my work ethic whatsoever, it’s been there all along, but just that has kind of come up on the road map.”

Now less than two months away from the 2015 NFL draft, Varga is on the verge of making that dream a reality. But there are still obstacles that remain in Varga’s path to prove that he can be a successful NFL player.

 

Where Does Varga Fit on an NFL Offense?

A tailback throughout his career at Yale, Varga also has experienced playing quarterback and returning kickoffs. Some evaluators, however, believe that Varga’s future in the NFL will require a transition to the fullback position.

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft Lead Writer, ranked Varga as the No. 4 fullback and No. 260 overall player on his post-combine big board. NFLDraftScout.com ranks him more favorably, at No. 169 overall, but likewise considers him to be a fullback, and the No. 2 prospect in this year’s draft class at that position.

If the team that drafts Varga or signs him as an undrafted free agent expects him to make that transition, Reno believes that Varga will have to spend time “honing the skills that are required to be a fullback in the NFL,” but ultimately expects his pupil to succeed.

“In my opinion, what makes him so much of a commodity is that he can do both [playing running back or fullback] well,” Reno said. “I think his ability to adapt to different systems—it might be multiple positions—would be something that fits in well for him.”

While Varga feels as though he is most prepared to play as a tailback, he said he is more than willing to make the transition to fullback if asked to do so.

“I’m used to handling the ball a lot, so I’m definitely comfortable in that role. But to be honest with you, I think the position that would make me the happiest is the one that would allow me to help the team in the biggest way,” Varga said. “I went to the Senior Bowl as a fullback, obviously I have some things to learn but I feel like I’m athletic enough to do both.”

Viewed as a running back, Varga might face questions about his athleticism and explosiveness, but a projected position change brings about its own set of questions, including the idea that Varga, as noted by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, is “small for a fullback.”

That suggestion is one that Varga takes exception to.

“The truth is, I never was a fullback, I was asked to play fullback and I more than gladly accepted the challenge and accepted that role at the Senior Bowl, because I just wanted the opportunity to play football,” Varga said. “But then people say ‘oh, well he’s undersized,’ as a fullback … I’ve been a tailback my whole career.

“Obviously if I’m going to play fullback, I’m totally capable of putting on weight if I need to,” Varga added. “Even despite the fact that they say I was undersized, I still think I held my own against much bigger opponents, 240-pound, 250-pound linebackers.”

One aspect that Varga does feel he needs to work on is that he can be “a little bit overaggressive sometimes.”

“You probably ask how you can be over-physical in football, well, there’s some things in football that require a little bit more of a passive approach,” Varga said. “Something like pass protection, instead of trying to go knock a head off or trying to knock the guy out, you got to sit back a little bit more. Sometimes I do get a little overaggressive in that type of a situation, and I need to learn how to tone that back a little bit more, and use my hands a little bit more, in some of those situations where you just use body positioning.”

With the exception of the bench press, in which he posted 23 repetitions of 225 pounds, Varga was unable to work out at the NFL Scouting Combine due to a bone spur in his ankle. He says he will be ready to go, however, for his pro day on March 31.

The pro day could be an opportunity for Varga to prove he is athletic enough to continue playing running back, and/or that he has learned the nuances of playing the fullback position. That said, Varga said he is not putting any more pressure on himself to perform at the pro day just because he was unable to work out at the combine.

“I’m just going to go in there and do my best,” Varga said. “There’s lots on the line, but you just got to go out there and run fast, jump high, be athletic. I think it’s a good opportunity to showcase my ability.”

After the pro day, Varga will have one month to wait—though he certainly won’t sit around idling—before finding out whether he will be selected in this year’s draft, which will be held April 30-May 2 in Chicago.

Getting drafted, Varga said, would be “a dream come true.”

“Whatever team I go to, it would be something that’s really cool,” Varga said. “I know it would mean a lot to my school, it would mean a lot to my family, it would mean a lot to my hometown, my high school, everybody who’s been supporting me and watching me growing up.

“Rest assured that if I do get picked up, if I do get drafted, that I’m going to pour everything I’ve got into this opportunity and make the most of it,” Varga added.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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BYU Football: Ranking the Cougars' Top Recruiting Targets for 2016

Spring ball has just picked up for BYU, and the Cougars are completely focused on the upcoming season. Although next year's national signing day is nearly 11 months away, it's never too early to look at the incoming recruiting class.

BYU has already received commitments from five 2016 recruits, and surely more will follow. But the biggest challenge for the Cougs will be landing some of the high-star guys they are going after.

Here are a few of the top targets in BYU's 2016 class.

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

3. Alec Simpson 

  • Position: Inside Linebacker
  • School: Palisades HS (Pacific Palisades, CA)
  • Rating: 3-star
  • Offers: Nevada

BYU started showing interest in Simpson after his sophomore season, but he has not yet been offered a scholarship. Simpson received his lone offer from Nevada, but he has garnered interest from Louisville, Ohio State, Oregon, Cal and Washington State, among others.

In Bronco Mendenhall's 3-4 system, Simpson could flourish as a solid middle linebacker. Keep an eye out for his decision in the coming months.

 

2. Troy Warner 

  • Position: Cornerback
  • School: Mission Hills HS (San Marcos, CA)
  • Rating: 3-star
  • Offers: Arizona, Boston College, BYU, Cal, Notre Dame, Utah, San Jose State, Stanford, UCLA, Utah

Troy Warner is arguably the best defensive back that BYU has offered in the 2016 class. As the little brother of current Cougar linebacker Fred Warner, Troy is familiar with the program and could be a huge steal.

BYU was the first team to offer Warner and is one of the front-runners at this point. With the impressive list of schools going after Warner, it won't be easy to get him to Provo.

 

1. Garett Bolles 

  • Position: Offensive Tackle
  • School: Snow College (Ephraim, UT)
  • Rating: 4-star
  • Offers: Alabama, Auburn, Arizona State, BYU, Florida State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah

As undoubtedly the top commit of BYU's 2016 class, Bolles' stock will only increase during the upcoming months. He has already received offers from SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC schools, and it will be tough for BYU to hang on to him.

Bolles emerged as an elite JUCO lineman last fall at Snow and is a returned LDS missionary. As the No. 3 junior college recruit in the nation, it would be huge for the Cougs land him.

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