NCAA Football

Ole Miss Spring Buzz: Quarterback Battle Emerging While Defense Remains Dominant

The Ole Miss Rebels competed in their spring game over the weekend, and some storylines have emerged. The quarterback battle is getting interesting, and the defense remains dominant while Hugh Freeze and his squad try to improve the run game. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee joined Stephen Nelson as they discussed all things Ole Miss and their current situation this spring. 

Who will emerge as the quarterback? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Urban Meyer, Ohio State Agree to New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Urban Meyer has posted a 38-3 record in three years as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, and he was rewarded on Monday with a lucrative contract extension.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported Monday that Meyer has signed a contract extension through 2020 that will pay him an average of $6.5 million over the next six seasons.

The NFL Network's Albert Breer reacted to the news:

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement, via Austin Ward of ESPN.com:

Urban Meyer has done an excellent job strengthening our culture of commitment to academics, career development and winning championships. Our young men continue to thrive under his leadership, whether on the playing field where they are national champions, through life skills pursuits like Real Life Wednesdays, internships and job fairs, and academically through program-wide efforts to monitor the progress of every student-athlete which has helped the team achieve its highest graduation success rate at 78 percent.

Additionally, he continues to develop his coaches and attract talented leaders when needed.

If the NFL ever becomes a temptation Meyer would succumb to, he'd be leaving behind a powerhouse program and a ton of money. After enduring a postseason ban in his first year at the helm, when OSU went undefeated, Meyer guided the Buckeyes to a 12-2 mark in 2013, but they lost in the Orange Bowl.

All Meyer did in his third year was overcome injuries to two highly productive starting quarterbacks, improve to 24-0 in the Big Ten and win the inaugural College Football Playoff for the national title.

It comes as little surprise that Ohio State wanted to reaffirm its faith in Meyer after conference success and a magnificent national championship run with such a young team.

The Buckeyes figure to be favorites to repeat as champions in 2015. They have three capable QBs set to battle it out for the starting job, along with a talented defense headlined by pass-rusher Joey Bosa and versatile linebacker Darron Lee.

Meyer's extension bodes well for how Ohio State will fare in the years to come. Recruits who are intrigued by the possibility of playing for Meyer can take comfort in the coach's long-term commitment on paper.

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Watch 6'5" 200-Pound 8th Grader's Jaw-Dropping, Megatron-Like Highlight Tape

There have been some dominant players at the high school level, but rarely do you see that dominance on the field in middle school.

Watch as Blake Hinson, Class of 2019, dominate the competition. 

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Miami Commit Throws Up 'The U' During Visit to Florida State

It's safe to say Al Blades Jr. won't be flipping his commitment from Miami.

During a visit to Florida State over the weekend, the 2018 defensive back recruit—and son of former Hurricane Al Blades—threw up "The U" sign while standing on the field at Doak Campbell Stadium.

After seeing the tweet, Florida State junior cornerback Jalen Ramsey gave Blades some props for keeping the rivalry alive.

Of course Ramsey had to send a little trash talk back as well:

[Twitter, h/t CBS Sports]

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Ohio State Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With baseball season in full swing, Ohio State football is rounding third base and heading home at spring practice. The Buckeyes will host their annual spring game this Saturday at Ohio Stadium, but even Urban Meyer knows there's only so much he'll be able to take away from it.

"Spring ball must not be very interesting," the Ohio State head coach said as he made note of a smaller-than-usual media contingent at his Monday press conference. "And I agree with you."

That doesn't mean this spring—or this Saturday, for that matter—won't wind up being valuable to the Buckeyes as they embark on their defense of the national title. Although plenty of experience returns from a year ago, Meyer is still breaking in some fresh faces and will use this Saturday as a way to gauge who he can count on.

"The thing that spring games give you at a place like Ohio State is a crowd," Meyer said. "A lot of times you'll see a player that comes out [on the practice field] when no one's around and plays well and then he goes out in front of a crowd and locks up. And that's real...I can't say it's going to be pleasant all the time, because you're going to have some young guys who aren't quite ready to play yet."

 

Spring Starters

With 14 combined starters returning on offense and defense from a season ago, the Buckeyes entered spring practice with only eight starting spots—quarterback aside—up for grabs. And while there's still time between now and the start of the season for circumstances to change, most of those vacancies appear to have been filled.

Right tackle Chase Farris, wide receiver Noah Brown, defensive end Tyquan Lewis, defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley will each leave spring football with significant edges in their respective races to replace the starting seniors from last season's championship squad. The other two openings come at tight end, where senior Nick Vannett is a lock to replace Jeff Heuerman, and wide receiver, which will be filled by a shift of personnel.

"A lot of guys get the mentality that, 'I'll go get the job in August,'" Meyer said. "A spot in August is already done and we're trying to go win a football game."

Of course the irony of that mentality is that the Buckeyes' most important position battle won't be settled until the start of fall camp at the earliest. With J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller still recovering from their respective injuries, neither will be able to fully compete with Cardale Jones for the starting quarterback job until the summer—although Barrett has already gotten somewhat of a head start.

"I don't know who our quarterback's going to be," Meyer admitted on Monday. "We're exactly where we need to be. At the end of spring practice we've gotten J.T. Barrett a billion reps, probably more than I thought we'd get him [coming off a fractured ankle]. Cardale didn't have a particularly great day today but he's had a good spring and we're getting him as many reps as we can. And Braxton's getting healthy."

Although Barrett may be ahead of schedule, he will not be participating in this Saturday's spring game. The only two scholarship signal-callers who will be on the field will be Jones and redshirt freshman Stephen Collier, with college football's biggest quarterback battle of the offseason yet to truly take form.

 

Dominant D-Line?

While the losses from last season's national title team are minimal, one unit that has been undergoing somewhat of an overhaul in Columbus this spring has been the Buckeyes defensive line. Gone are defensive tackle Michael Bennett, who is expected to be a second-to-third-round pick in the upcoming draft, and the combination of Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier, meaning that Ohio State will be replacing half of its starting defensive line this season.

The half that is returning for the Buckeyes, however, happens to be pretty good, with defensive end Joey Bosa and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington reclaiming their starting spots from a year ago. Neither of the 2016 NFL prospects has seen significant snaps this spring, having little left to prove to Meyer and defensive line coach Larry Johnson, but both have stated a desire to make the most out of this offseason.

"Not much physical reps, but me and Adolphus have been down working with [graduate assistant] Vince [Oghobaase] and Coach Johnson on bags, so we've definitely been getting our work this past week," Bosa said. "We've been doing a lot more contact, so we've definitely been getting back in the swing of it."

As for the openings, Schutt and Lewis will enter fall camp as the front-runners to replace Bennett and Lewis. A former 4-star prospect, Schutt has provided depth on the Buckeyes defensive line for each of the past three seasons but now appears ready to take hold of a starting spot.

As for Lewis, the redshirt sophomore has been one of the more pleasant surprises for Ohio State this spring, after only seeing limited action in 2014. As opposed to the platoon of Miller and Frazier, which was steady but not spectacular, the 6'4", 260-pounder offers a dynamic skill set that could especially shine with the amount of attention offensive lines are forced to pay to Bosa on the opposite side.

"He's doing an unbelievable job this spring, just out there killing it, going hard every day," Bosa said of Lewis. "I'm excited to have another end like that on the other side."

In addition to Schutt and Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes and Joel Hale have all been mentioned by coaches and teammates as defensive linemen who are having big springs for the Buckeyes. According to Meyer, the plan is to rotate 10 players on the unit, a goal that now appears attainable, as opposed to a year ago.

"Last year we didn't feel too comfortable with putting some backups in," Bosa admitted. "This year's a completely different feel. We have a bunch of guys ready to go."

 

Receivers Ready

Much like the Ohio State defensive line, the Buckeyes wide receiving corps will also feature a new look this fall. Gone are Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, starters for the better part of each of the past two seasons, replaced by a talented albeit inexperienced group that has only seen its reps increased with the absence of Michael Thomas, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery.

Brown, a 6'2", 222-pound sophomore by way of Sparta, New Jersey, has stood out as the best of the bunch thus far.

"Noah Brown has had as good of a spring as I could have wanted," Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. "He's dropped 25 pounds, and he's on a different level than he was in the fall. I'm really, really pleased with where he's at."

With the Buckeyes opting to showcase his ability as a run-blocker even a year ago, Brown appears to be a natural fit to replace Spencer, who was known for his do-it-all nature. As for replacing Smith, who led the nation in yards per catch with a 28.2 average, OSU has been experimenting with shifting H-Back Jalin Marshall from the slot to the outside, at least in the spring.

In Marshall's absence at H-Back, the Buckeyes have turned to Curtis Samuel, who spent his freshman season in 2015 backing up Ezekiel Elliott at running back. Samuel, however, has emerged as one of Ohio State's top playmakers this spring, and Meyer has vowed to get him on the field for 40-50 plays per game this fall.

"Curtis is really talented. Curtis could play a lot of different spots," Smith said. "He's been meeting in my room as we just try to saturate him at this position."

While it's currently a temporary setup, keeping Marshall on the outside could become permanent if Samuel proves to be the Buckeyes' best option at H-Back. What's promising is the number of options Ohio State appears to have, as despite its departures it appears to only be adding options.

"We had to go get more people that fit [our] type of system because we wanted to spread the field horizontally," Meyer said. "That's the Jalin Marshall-, Dontre Wilson-, Curtis Samuel-type player. We're still looking for more."

 

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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Ranking the Top 25 Juniors Heading into the 2015 College Football Season

In the hierarchy of college football classes, the juniors stand atop the mountain.

The junior class is where we usually find the next wave of NFL stars, and as a result, the best of the best from this group end up turning pro after the season. It's somewhat like the free-agent year for college players, as a strong performance can dictate what their future holds.

The future is now, though, for college football's top juniors, and the competition to be ranked among the 25 best in that class was fierce. We factored in past results, expected performance this fall and their overall impact on the game in how we've listed them, and the resumes of those who didn't crack the top 25 were almost as impressive as the ones of those who made the cut.

Check out our top 25 juniors heading into the 2015 season, and give us your thoughts in the comment section.

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Which SEC Team Can Dethrone Alabama with the Best Recruiting Class in 2016?

Alabama sits atop the college football recruiting world, having the best class in the country for five straight years. Could Bama's reign be challenged by someone in their own conference?

Stephen Nelson is joined by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani to discuss a possible SEC contender for the top recruiting class in 2016.

Who will have the No. 1 class in 2016? Check out the video and let us know!

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Which Notre Dame QB Needs a Bigger Spring, Everett Golson or Malik Zaire?

Here's what we know about Notre Dame's quarterback competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire: Barring an injury or some unforeseen circumstance, it will rage on into preseason camp. 

This Saturday's spring game on April 18th isn't going to change that, either. Spring games are essentially glorified scrimmages that the public sees. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, on the other hand, has been closely monitoring Golson and Zaire for weeks on end. He knows what they're capable of doing. 

That said, Golson has to be feeling the pressure to have the better spring. He has one more year of eligibility remaining and has been the subject of transfer rumors, namely to LSU, which he's denied on his Twitter account. 

Spring drills provide an opportunity to bounce back from disappointments and block out distractions. Whether you're talking about an early-enrollee freshman or a fifth-year senior, everyone for the most part starts with a new slate.

Even though Golson is a longtime starter, that's just what he needs. 

According to J.J. Stankevitz of CSNChicago.com, Golson has been battling hard with Zaire for the No. 1 spot. Golson could transfer at the end of spring and be eligible to play right away next year. However, his actions actually indicate he's working hard to be the best player he can be for Notre Dame, despite conjecture to the contrary. 

"If I sensed (Golson eyeing a transfer) at all, I would pull the plug on it myself because we’re wasting our time,” Kelly said via Stankevitz. "I’m not going to jeopardize our program, our staff, our livelihood, what we do, if somebody’s not bought in and 100 percent committed. So that’s the most honest answer I could give you from that standpoint."

For example: Golson hasn't spoken to the media in months and was scheduled to speak last week, according to The Associated Press. However, a school spokesperson said Golson opted not to instead: 

Notre Dame spokesman Michael Bertsch said Golson decided against talking with the media, saying he wants to focus on football and school. Bertsch said Golson is aware that some people will speculate about what his decision not to talk to the media means. When he receives his degree he is eligible to go to another school and play immediately.

Yes, people will take Golson's silence as a sign of his commitment—or lack thereof. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Millerhas also been quiet when it comes to media availability, which has only fueled similar transfer rumors over the past few months. 

But that doesn't mean those are the correct assumptions. 

The past two years have been filled with more downs than ups for Golson. He missed the entire 2013 season because of an academic issue and had ball-security issues last year. He was benched in the Irish's final regular-season game of '14 against USC, and Zaire got the start in the Music City Bowl against LSU. 

This is Golson's last chance to make an impact, to finish on a more positive note. If football and school are his biggest priorities as Kelly has indicated, then that's where he needs to put his focus. Kelly is willing to give him that, as he said via Stankevitz: 

He doesn’t want to talk about it, he doesn’t want to do media and stuff like that because he’s focused on his academics and graduating and I’m OK with that. I’m fine with that. He’s had his share of living in the bright lights of it.

Now in the fall, he’s going to have to do what everybody else does in the fall and when it’s media time, he’s going to sit in front of you guys and answer questions. We’ll give him his space.

That makes sense. Kelly and Golson have worked together for a long time. At this point, Kelly should know what his quarterback needs and what will make him successful. Critics can wonder why a senior still hasn't found the right balance of on-the-field success, academic success and media success, but it doesn't always click the same way at the same time for everyone. 

What matters is that Golson is concentrating on the things that are important. If anything, that should tell you he's committed to turning things around at his current school. 

If Kelly was to announce a starter after the spring game, publicly or privately, it would make sense to fuel the Golson rumors. As long as it's an open competition that will carry on for another few months, it means Golson has a chance. It's not a guarantee, but it's not nothing, either. 

That's all Golson needs. And it doesn't sound like he cares one bit if anyone says anything to the contrary. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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SEC Players Who Have Surprised This Spring

Spring is a time for players to get better, and oftentimes, that means unknown or underrated players lay the groundwork for fall superstardom.

For others, it's a chance to hit the reset button after struggling in the hopes of turning things around.

Which players in the SEC have surprised this spring? Our picks, based on track record, depth chart movement and talent, are in this slideshow.

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4-Star Jarrett Guarantano Breaks Down Finalists Ohio State, Tennessee & Rutgers

Coveted quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is closing in on a collegiate decision with three programs in contention for his commitment. The 4-star passer will pick either Ohio State, Rutgers or Tennessee on Wednesday, April 15 during an announcement ceremony.

Guarantano, a junior at Bergen Catholic High School, received his first scholarship offer before high school. That list expanded to include more than 30 universities during the past three years.

"It will be kind of strange to put the recruiting process behind me after all this time, but it will also be a relief," Guarantano told Bleacher Report. "I can focus on football and becoming a better quarterback without some of the stress recruiting can create. It's going to be fun to just go out and play without thinking about all the other stuff."

There are unique reasons why each of his three finalists remain in the equation. Guarantano admits it's a difficult decision.

"All three schools really did a great job showing me love and made me feel like they want me to be a part of their program," he said. "It's a tough choice because they've each made me feel like family and I have a lot of respect for those coaches."

Guarantano spent time on all three campuses this year, developing and enhancing longstanding rapports with each program. 

"I have a strong relationship with these head coaches so it's going to be tough to tell two of them I'm not coming," he said. "Butch Jones coached my dad in college and has always made me feel welcome at Tennessee; Urban Meyer and I have become extremely close; Rutgers has always felt like home and Kyle Flood has made it seem even more like that during the past few months. Regardless of which school I pick, those two phone calls are going to be hard."

Guarantano, who also holds offers from Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma, LSU and Notre Dame, is rated sixth nationally among pro-style passers in 247Sports' composite rankings. He is second on that list when it comes to uncommitted prospects.

While some players leave things open-ended after commitment announcements, Guarantano aims to stick with his decision during the next nine months before arriving on campus next January.

"When I decide Wednesday, I think I'm just going to shut it down for a while," he said. "I don't think I'll take any unofficial visits this summer or even when the opportunity to take official visits comes around. I plan to enroll early, so my goal is to have everything pretty set when next season starts."

The 6'4", 200-pound playmaker, who tallied 1,227 total yards and 12 touchdowns in seven games last season, broke down each of his options during a recent conversation with Bleacher Report. 

 

Ohio State

Guarantano spent the early stages of spring break at Ohio State. His final assessment of the school took place last week, when the campus still seemed to be celebrating a title-game victory that occurred three months ago.

"It's still rocking in Columbus," he said. "I was hanging out with Cardale (Jones) and there were people jumping all over him, asking for autographs and taking pictures. The atmosphere is one-of-a-kind there, especially after winning a national championship. Being there in person just showed me how much a title can change the culture of a university."

Jones is one of three high-profile passers competing for first-string snaps at Ohio State, along with Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. The trio follows in line with other quarterbacks who've flourished in Meyer's offensive attack, including first-rounds NFL draft picks Alex Smith and Tim Tebow.

At least two of the Buckeyes quarterbacks are likely to make a leap to the NFL in 2016, but the depth chart is star-studded throughout. Ohio State welcomes freshmen Torrance Gibson and Joe Burrow to campus this year.

Guarantano won't shy away from a crowded competition.

"The success of quarterbacks under Urban Meyer is incredible, so I'm not surprised about the amount of talent at the position there," he said. "If I went to Ohio State, there would be about three or four other very good quarterbacks on the team. You have to compete in college no matter where you go, and it's just a matter of finding out where you want to have that competition."

He credits Meyer for spearheading a championship run that ended with his third-string quarterback playing the starring role. Guarantano referred to him as "one of the all-time greats" among coaches at any level.

"The amount knowledge he has is ridiculous," he said. "You can tell he's learned so much about football and life from his time at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. It was a great pickup for Ohio State when they hired him and I knew he would be successful there because of his background of leading teams and training big-time quarterbacks."

Now Guarantano could be next in line to join that esteemed list.

"They've been telling me that 'the best go to the best', so if I'm confident in my abilities there's a chance for me to play early at the highest level of college football," Guarantano said.

 

Rutgers

Rutgers has always had an edge in proximity, located within a short car ride from his home and high school. The Scarlet Knights extended an offer to Guarantano during the summer after his eighth-grade year, becoming the first program to formally join an eventual nationwide pursuit.

His father, James Guarantano, is a member of the Rutgers Hall of Fame and finished his college career as the program's all-time receptions leader. Despite that strong connection to the school and countless campus visits, head coach Kyle Flood found his team on the outside looking in last season when it came to this recruitment.

"I'm going to be honest, looking back at September and October they weren't even a thought because they had kind of backed off a little bit since they knew how close I already was to the program," Guarantano said. "They gave me some space then, but ever since it's been totally different. I've had a chance to really learn how great the program is and all about its history. That put them back in my mind as a contender."

Gary Nova, a four-year starter who wrapped up his career at Rutgers in 2014, is the team's all-time leader in touchdown passes. He and Mike Teel (2005-2008) are the most successful passers since the program's stature elevated under former head coach Greg Schiano, though both players went through their ups and downs without claiming an outright conference championship.

Consistency at quarterback is an essential part of Rutgers' aim to climb the ranks as a Big Ten newcomer. Guarantano feels he would fit the bill and could earn an opportunity to lead the program past new challenges toward new heights.

"The chance to be one of the first to do something always gets you excited," he said. "We're talking about the chance to bring back the first Big Ten championship to Jersey or even chase after the first national championship. That's something I've always thought about with Rutgers. It isn't just the opportunity to follow my dad's path and become another Guarantano who played there; it's the chance to become a legend forever. That would be something special."

You get the sense that Rutgers is tugging at Guarantano's heartstrings more than Tennessee and Ohio State. It remains to be seen whether that's enough to land the top in-state target.

"Rutgers is a place I've always loved and it's been a big part of my life," Guarantano said. "That coaching staff has made me feel like family more than anyone else in the country. Rutgers will forever be a great place in my heart."

 

Tennessee

 The Volunteers hosted Guarantano on campus in late March. He left with an extremely positive impression of the program and those who support it.

"I had a chance to become more familiar with the campus and Knoxville. What really stood out was the atmosphere," he said. "I don't think there's a fanbase that cares more about their football team than at the University of Tennessee. I've never seen anything like it."

Despite a longstanding commitment from 4-star North Carolina quarterback Austin Kendall, the team remained in hot pursuit of Guarantano throughout his junior year. Kendall decommitted last month and has since pledged to Oklahoma, leaving things wide open at the position in Tennessee's 2016 class

Head coach Butch Jones was a Rutgers graduate assistant when Guarantano's father played for the Scarlet Knights. The Volunteers leader has used impressive recruiting hauls and improved play on the field to help get things back on track in Knoxville.

Many view the program as a candidate to make significant strides in the SEC East this season. Guarantano could see himself being part of a potential program rebound.

"It's kind of crazy how Coach Jones came in there and really changed the game with these recruiting classes," he said. "'Brick-by-brick' is a great philosophy because they are building something special there with talented players and I think that will continue. Coach Jones does a great job selling that vision to recruits like me and makes it feel like he'll be a second dad for the next four years, taking care of you on and off the field."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Who Will Be College Football's Breakout Freshmen in 2015?

Last year, we had some incredible performances from freshmen, especially at the running back position. This year is chock-full of incoming freshmen who could make a huge difference. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate which freshmen will break out this season. 

Who will be the best freshman in 2015? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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