NCAA Football

Florida's Defense Can Keep the Gators in the SEC East Discussion

For the most part, Florida has been the punch line to a really sad joke over the last two seasons, as former head coach Will Muschamp struggled to keep the program relevant in the down SEC East.

Despite that, the Gators stayed in the division title conversation into November of last year after their surprising 38-20 upset of Georgia in the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."

For a team that struggled mightily offensively, managing just 367.6 yards per game (12th in the SEC) and 179.9 passing yards per game (12th in the SEC), being in the discussion in November was a minor miracle—and perhaps an indictment of the division.

Can that happen again?

Muschamp was shown the door, and new head coach Jim McElwain—an offensive-minded coach—brought in former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to run the defense.

Don't expect much of a change.

"There's a lot of similarity, a lot of same language, and I think that that's really important as we go," McElwain said at SEC media days earlier this month. "I just love his energy every day, and the way his teams have played, that speaks for itself."

Collins ran primarily a 4-3 at Mississippi State, where his situational defense was stellar. The Bulldogs led the conference last year in red-zone scoring defense (63.64 percent) and finished third in third-down defense (34.95 percent). 

He inherits a program that was more of a 3-4 multiple scheme under Muschamp and known for attacking the quarterback. Collins might implement more 4-3 looks than Muschamp did, but the goal will be the same.

In fact, it's going to be even more aggressive thanks to a trustworthy secondary led by All-American corner Vernon Hargreaves III, fellow corner Jalen Tabor, safety Keanu Neal and the rest of the talented group in the back end.

"It's going to give us a chance to do some stuff that's out of the ordinary for us," said defensive end Jonathan Bullard. "You know, take a few more shots. When you have guys behind you like Hargreaves, you're not really worried about it. All of our defensive backs there are really good, so it's important for our young guys to know exactly what they're doing. I'll probably take a few more shots."

With Bullard, Bryan Cox Jr., Taven Bryan, Jarrad Davis, Antonio Morrison, Alex Anzalone and a loaded front seven, the Gators will still bring the same aggressiveness that helped keep them in games even during the down times.

That will allow the offense a little more of a cushion adjusting to McElwain, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and perhaps new pro-style starting quarterback Will Grier—assuming he beats out dual-threat returning starter Treon Harris.

Sure, the offensive line will be an issue despite McElwain welcoming two new transfers who are eligible immediately, including two-time FCS All-American Mason Halter (Fordham). That, plus the transition to a new scheme and perhaps a new quarterback, will prevent the level of consistency needed to truly contend.

But with seven starters returning, the defense will at least give the Gators a shot.

"We're going to have to lean on [veterans] as we introduce some of these younger guys, and yet it's up to the offense to kind of take some of the heat off of them as well," McElwain said. "It goes hand in hand."

Plus, look around. It's not like other division foes are absent of holes. Defending division champ Missouri has no proven wide receivers and a defensive line that's very much a question mark, Georgia has a brand-new defensive line and an offense that is a big unknown behind running back Nick Chubb, and Tennessee's offensive line is experienced yet inconsistent.

Florida likely won't win the division, but the defense will at least keep the Gators in games and in the conversation.

The foundation of the Gators has been defense for the last half-decade. Even though McElwain's track record is as a successful offensive coach, the identity of the Gators will remain.

"As far as the defense taking a step back, that's not going to happen," Bullard said. "We're not going to allow that to happen."

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 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.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFB Recruiting 200: Top 11 Interior Linemen in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report recruiting analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports Composite Rankings and provided in-depth analysis. As the summer camp circuit comes to a close, Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Today, we present the top Interior Lineman. 

Other Positions

 

Unlike in basketball, center and guard are two of the least flashy positions on the gridiron.

Those who line up along the interior of the offensive line may not generate daily headlines.

Yet coaches across the country covet top interior offensive linemen because of the need to be stout up the middle.

The latest entry of Bleacher Report's CFB 200 series profiles the top underappreciated big uglies in the 2016 cycle and graded them on a 100-point scale in areas such as strength, pass-blocking, run-blocking and explosion.

How do the top interior offensive linemen in the 2016 cycle measure up?

 

All analysis provided by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani.

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Georgia Football: 4 Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

Fall camp is a time for players to build chemistry as well as get in shape for the upcoming season. The Georgia Bulldogs should have both of those things already in place because the team looked in shape during spring practice, and with 11 starters returning, chemistry won’t be hard to build either.

However, with 11 returning starters also comes a new slate of players coming into the fold, which makes fall camp more exciting. The Bulldogs have a talented core of young players and veterans looking to gain playing time this season. And if the Bulldogs reach their goals for this season, it will be because of the players who are able to be productive in fall camp.

So here are four players who are sure to surprise when the Bulldogs hit the practice field in a couple weeks.

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UCLA Football: 5 Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

With fall camp starting up in the early portion of August, a look ahead to the UCLA football roster seems like the logical thing to do. 

There are five players with the potential to surprise during fall camp in San Bernardino. None of the five are currently projected to start. In fact, a few might not see the field much—if at all—in 2015. 

However, each has his individual talents to make an impact this coming season. This piece will analyze why the five athletes in question are sure to surprise for Jim Mora and the UCLA Bruins. 

 

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UCLA Football: 5 Players Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

With fall camp starting up in the early portion of August, a look ahead to the UCLA football roster seems like the logical thing to do. There are five players with the potential to surprise during fall camp in San Bernardino...

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The Search for Alabama's Mojo Continues, but Begins with the Defense

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though Mississippi State was ranked No. 1 at the time, when the Bulldogs visited Bryant-Denny Stadium last October, they initially didn’t do the things that had led to that top ranking.

MSU hesitated and was tentative, although part of that had to do with the way the Crimson Tide played. Alabama got a safety and then a field goal followed by two touchdowns en route to a 19-3 lead. The Bulldogs did play better in the second half but never got closer than the final score of 25-20.

“Being No. 1, being in a hostile environment (against) a team that’s used to being No. 1, in their place, it was a good experience,” MSU quarterback Dak Prescott said about the game which essentially settled the SEC West title. “We started out slow, couple of mistakes that put us behind and came back, rallied, and a (with) couple of more minutes who knows?”

While it was the first of three losses over its final four games, Mississippi State looks back on that afternoon thinking “what if?” instead of dwelling on the fact that it hasn’t beaten its rival since 2007. Arkansas went through something similar after its narrow 14-13 loss, and Ole Miss defeated Alabama to knock it from atop the polls.

Granted, the SEC West as a whole has gotten better the last couple of years, but the Crimson Tide lost something along the way as well.

"Guys aren't scared to play us anymore, it’s as simple as that," senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said at SEC media days. "Guys come in very happy, excited to play us.

"I used to see teams break down in the first half and just give up playing. We've got to get that back."

If it sounds like Alabama no longer has its mojo—or for non-fans of Austin Powers movies swagger, moxie or an intangible something that helps make you successful—to a certain extent it’s true.

After winning back-to-back national championships, it had the stunning Kick 6 at Auburn in 2013, and last year, Urban Meyer successfully convinced his players to ignore the Crimson Tide mystique during the inaugural playoffs. Ohio State stormed back from a 21-6 deficit to win 42-35 en route to the national title.

Since then you’ve heard everything from how the Crimson Tide didn’t respect facing a third-string quarterback in the Sugar Bowl to some of the players may have been distracted by the draft evaluations that arrived just before they faced the Buckeyes.

But relentless teams don’t have negative turnover ratios (minus-two).

Hungry teams don’t let up when they get significant leads.

Championship teams don’t get satisfied.

“When you win so much sometimes guys start to lose focus,” Ragland explained.

“A lot of guys talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. That’s when your teammates don’t really look up to you, if you’re not doing the things that you have to do.”

Alabama would like to be more physical on the offensive line and more imposing in the run game, but coming off a record-setting season under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, most of the Crimson Tide's soul-searching has to be done on the defensive side.

It used to take a Heisman Trophy winner to beat the Crimson Tide or a phenomenal team like LSU had in 2011. Not so much in 2014.

Alabama didn’t lead the SEC in scoring defense for the first time since 2008, and it had at least tied for first in total defense every season since 2007. Both streaks were league records, but the Crimson Tide finished third in both statistical categories.

Alabama may have won the Iron Bowl, but fans are still shaking their heads about the 55-44 score. Nick Marshall’s 456 passing yards and 505 total yards were both Auburn records. His top receiver, Sammie Coates, had 206 receiving yards.

So when Nick Saban says, "It's going to be a challenge for our team to re-establish the identity that we would like to play with," and “We gave up too many explosive plays on defense,” he means it—and everyone’s to blame.

However, for two years the players who have been getting pointed to the most have been the cornerbacks, especially the ones not named Cyrus Jones.

It’s the position where Alabama used to land a top recruit every year, but after Dee Milliner in 2010, it really didn’t again until Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey in 2014.

They now appear ready to step up, and with premier prospects Kendall Sheffield and Minkah Fitzpatrick behind them, Alabama may not just be on the verge of a renaissance at the position, but the defense as a whole. 

Any coach can tell you what kind of a difference solid cornerback play can make and how it can help create some swagger. But combine that with a front seven that has the potential to be outstanding, and Alabama could again be dominating...

...if players such as Ragland, Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, etc., want it bad enough.

“The leadership we have now this year, guys are talking more about finishing and having more respect on the field for our opponents,” Ragland said. “When we don’t have respect for our opponents that’s when teams sneak up and beat you.

“Anybody can get hit in the mouth at any time.”

So when Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen says that he wants another shot at Alabama and to “find a way to go win it, “ the Crimson Tide’s reaction should be simple—that it’ll do whatever it takes to make him eat those words.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Florida Football: Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for 2015

There are plenty of variables for the Florida Gators this season. The 2015 Gators will feature a new head coach in Jim McElwain, possibly a new quarterback in Will Grier and most importantly a talent-laden roster capable of competing in the SEC.

But a team with just as much talent managed only seven wins last season. How much improvement the Gators will show in year one under McElwain is one of the biggest questions in the SEC heading into the 2015 season.

The Gators' talent could rise to the occasion to make Florida an SEC power once again. On the other hand, McElwain could take his lumps in his first season as a head coach in the SEC. 

Here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Florida Gators in 2015.

 

Best Case

In the best-case scenario, McElwain brings the Gators' talented roster together to show impressive improvement in year one. 

Will Grier wins the quarterback battle over Treon Harris early in fall camp and is given plenty of time to establish continuity with the rest of the offense, especially junior receiver Demarcus Robinson and sixth-year tight end Jake McGee. 

As a redshirt freshman, Grier doesn't have game experience, but he certainly has the physical attributes and an accurate arm.

The biggest problem in Florida's offense under Will Muschamp was it was almost always one-dimensional. The Gators finished 12th in the conference in passing each of the last two years. Grier can help change that, and McElwain can bring him along slowly by putting him in situations to make simple reads and throws, much like he did with A.J. McCarron at Alabama in 2011. 

Despite returning only one starter from last season, the new offensive line is able to jell early on. Martez Ivey has a freshman season resembling that of Cameron Robinson or Laremy Tunsil. Also, FCS transfer Mason Halter adds much-needed depth at the Gators' thinnest position.

The presence of a passing threat and a capable offensive line open up running back Kelvin Taylor for a breakout 2015 season.  

On defense, the Gators don't miss a beat without Muschamp in control. Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor shut down opposing receivers, while Alex McCalister and CeCe Jefferson put the heat on quarterbacks. 

Joey Ivie and Caleb Brantley are able to plug holes in the running game as well. 

The Gators win tough home matchups against Tennessee and Ole Miss as well as on the road against Missouri to set up a matchup against Georgia that could decide the SEC East. 

Florida re-establishes itself as one of the top programs in the SEC, and the McElwain era starts off with a bang. 

Best-Case Record: 10-2 

 

Worst Case

McElwain's first season in Gainesville features more of the same from the past few years. 

Neither quarterback is able to take control of the starting job in fall camp, and the position battle spills over into the first few games of the season.

"I don't know how it is going to happen. I don't know how it is going to go down," Hargreaves said at SEC media days, per the Orlando Sentinel's Edgar Thompson. "I don't know if athleticism is going to happen or is Will being more of a quarterback gonna prevail? We'll find out."

The continued lack of an effective quarterback causes the Gators offense to remain as one-dimensional as it has been in the past. 

A depleted passing attack allows SEC defenses to load the box against Taylor, Adam Lane and Jordan Scarlett in the running game. The constant pressure from seven or eight defenders overwhelms the inexperienced offensive line. 

The deficiencies up front keep McElwain from fully implementing his offense in his first year, and the Gators remain one of the worst offensive teams in the SEC. 

The defense talent is still strong but does experience a drop-off with new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins running the show instead of Muschamp.

Florida can't find an answer to replace Dante Fowler Jr.'s pass-rushing abilities, and as a result the defensive front can't put much pressure on quarterbacks, leaving the veteran secondary stuck to cover receivers too long in passing situations. 

After ranking fifth in the conference in total defense last season, the Gators drop a couple of spots to the middle of the pack. 

The Gators get SEC wins against Vanderbilt and Kentucky but end up needing a victory over South Carolina or Florida State for a sixth win to reach a bowl game. 

Meanwhile, questions arise over whether McElwain was the right hire. 

Worst-Case Record: 5-7 

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2015: Predicting Amway Coaches' Top 25 Poll

As if college football coaches don't already have enough to do in preparation for the 2015 season, nearly half of those in the FBS ranks also must determine who will be ranked in the Amway Coaches' Poll preseason Top 25.

All told, 62 coaches will vote in this year's weekly rankings, which no longer have a bearing on the national title race as they did during the BCS era but nevertheless still provide something to debate about each week. That starts with the preseason poll, which like most before-the-season lists and rankings is based as much on how things went last year as it is on what is expected this fall.

Since we don't know which coaches are voting this year—that gets released along with the initial poll—we can only speculate as to what their thinking will be in how they rank teams at the start of the 2015 season. We've already projected what we think the Associated Press preseason Top 25 will look like, and now it's the coaches' turn to have their rankings predicted.

Please take note: This isn't how Bleacher Report would rank the teams heading into 2015—we'll have our own preseason poll come out just before the season begins—but rather how we expect those who are on the Amway panel will vote. With that in mind, take a look at our projections, and then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Ranking the Top QBs Texas Defense Will Face in 2015

Texas' defense has a shiny new toy in freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson. The former No. 1 player in the state of Texas, according to 247Sports, figures to play a major role in the Longhorns defense in 2015. In all, the Longhorns could have several young players take the field on defense. 

While that means the future is promising for that side of the ball, it also means there could be some growing pains out of the gate. Specifically, which quarterbacks will be the toughest for Texas' new-look defense to control? We attempt to find some answers in the following slides. 

Quarterbacks still in heated or otherwise-wide-open quarterback battles are given less consideration. Rankings were based on past production (so experience is a valuable metric), ability and accolades. 

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Is It Time for Notre Dame to Fully Join a Football Conference?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A week after SEC football media days in Alabama, the ACC held its Football Kickoff in North Carolina. While the Nick Sabans and Jimbo Fishers of college football held court with the media, Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly was finishing up at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament.

Kelly eschewed the microphone for a 9-iron while Notre Dame readies for the 2015 season as, of course, an independent.

But Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel caused a stir Monday with his comments, via ESPN’s Brett McMurphy:

Pinkel later clarified his comments. “I think all independents should join a conference, as a general rule,” Pinkel said, via ESPN’s Heather Dinich. “I didn’t say Notre Dame in particular—everybody. You don’t have independents in the NFL. Leagues are leagues. I just think it’s difficult to assess a team that’s not in a league. It’s nothing against Notre Dame, it’s just my opinion.”

So is it time for Notre Dame to fully join a football conference, beyond its limited agreement with the ACC?

In short, no.

When laying out Notre Dame’s 2014, ’15 and ’16 schedules in Dec. 2013, Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick broke down his scheduling goals. Notre Dame’s first objective is to maintain a 6-5-1 scheduling model, in which the Irish host six true home games, five road games and one home game played away from South Bend, Indiana.

“Our independence uniquely assists us in that regard,” Swarbrick said at the time. “As conferences go to nine-game schedules, in the years in which you have five away games, if you’re a conference member, it’s much harder to maintain the unbalanced schedule. This, of course, is the convention of the industry.”

Swarbrick also stressed a desire to “control the calendar”—targeting Saturday games rather than increasingly prevalent matchups on Thursday or Friday—preserve Notre Dame’s rivalries, maximize geographic reach, play in “special places” and maintain strength of schedule.

Clearly, for Notre Dame to achieve these goals, independence is the best route.

Pinkel’s main claim, though, seems to be that it’s challenging to assess a team outside the context of a conference. But isn't difficult to assess a team that battles juggernauts like Southeast Missouri State University and Arkansas State in the season’s opening weeks?

Isn’t it difficult to assess teams that face opponents from outside their own divisions?

At the risk of inflaming the masses with SEC talk, let’s look at Pinkel’s own conference. Thirteen of the 14 SEC teams face at least one opponent from outside the FBS level.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, is one of three FBS schools—along with USC and UCLA—to have never faced a non-FBS opponent, dating to 1978, when the current arrangement was formed.

It seems it’s more difficult to derive meaning from an FCS beatdown than from the slew of reasonable opponents dotting Notre Dame’s schedule.

Independence allows Notre Dame relative freedom to control its schedule, and the Irish welcome that opportunity with a slate typically devoid of gimmes. This year, the Irish face Texas, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Navy, USC, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Boston College and Stanford, while also indulging with UMass and Temple. It may not scream "world-class gauntlet," but Notre Dame’s schedule hardly allows for more than one week “off.”

And, in the end, strong schedules and compelling matchups should be the goals.

Independence may make for more difficult decisions when we near the College Football Playoff and compare teams with and without the chance to play in a conference championship. But as Swarbrick said in April regarding a 13th game, via Dinich, “One year’s worth of experience with this system is way too small to draw any conclusions about how it will play out over time.”

Carry on, Notre Dame.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Quiet Offseason Great News for Ohio State's Championship Repeat Hopes

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Officially, Ohio State's chase for a national title in 2013 came to an end with the Buckeyes' loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

But for all intents and purposes, Ohio State's championship quest two years ago was cursed before the calendar had even turned to August.

Even though the Buckeyes were coming off of a 12-0 debut season under the new direction of Urban Meyer and were preparing to face a regular-season schedule that they would prove to overmatch from a talent standpoint, Ohio State's immaturity that year had already caught up to it.

That much was evident when in the span of one July weekend, Meyer found himself suspending two star players—running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback Bradley Roby—as well as freshman tight end Marcus Baugh, in addition to dismissing offensive lineman Tim Gardner for off-the-field incidents.

And while both Hyde and Roby found their names cleared from a legal standpoint, the distractions each caused—including a three-game suspension for Hyde and an inconsistent junior season from Roby—followed the Buckeyes well into their 2013 campaign.

Meyer, of course, is no stranger to discipline-related issues, with the New York Times' Greg Bishop reporting that 31 players were arrested under his watch as the head coach at Florida from 2005-2010. But so far, aside from the occasional first pitch there and ESPYs appearance here, it's been a relatively quiet offseason for the Buckeyes in 2015, especially as far as the police blotter's concerned.

And for that, Meyer credits a "Power of the Unit" culture that's been established at Ohio State.

"If you're making decisions, if you have self-discipline and self-respect, you'll be fine. If you don't—which a lot of kids don't at this age—then there has to be a bigger purpose and there has to be something bigger than you and that's the unit," Meyer said. "Texts are always going out that where contact's made—whether it's contact on the football field or contact on High Street—where contact's made, make the right decision. And we train them for those decisions."

As Meyer mentioned, that's typically easier said than done, as evidenced by the steady stream of bad news that's emanated from Tallahassee and Florida State's apparent issues with player discipline in the past year, including twohigh-profile cases this offseason. But to their credit, the Buckeyes have managed to avoid the spotlight—at least for the wrong reasons—throughout this offseason, which is perhaps all the more impressive given their current spot atop the college football world.

Because between Cardale Jones' social media following, Ezekiel Elliott's status as one of the preseason Heisman Trophy front-runners, Joey Bosa's unique personality and the fascination surrounding Braxton Miller, there isn't a team in the country with a bigger collection of high-profile players than Ohio State.

Collectively, the Buckeyes have a larger target on their back and arguably more to lose than any other football team yet remain just a few weeks away from entering fall camp without any off-the-field incidents.

And perhaps the biggest reason for that is the hard lessons Ohio State learned just two years ago.

"We talk about it every day. This is the time of year where things can get out of hand," senior linebacker Joshua Perry said. "Coaches aren't around as much because they're taking vacations and there's a lot of free time because you're in one class and it's warm out, so everybody's out on campus. You really have to keep an eye on that. That's where it comes back to leadership."

That type of focus—perhaps more than anything—bodes well for the Buckeyes' shot at repeating as national champions, with linebacker Darron Lee taking to Twitter on Tuesday to officially turn the page on the 2014 campaign.

It's also indicative of the culture that Meyer has cultivated at Ohio State as he enters his fourth season in Columbus, which has grown by leaps and bounds since 2013's rough summer.

"It's incredible right now," Meyer said of the state of his program earlier this month. "You wish you could bottle it because it's a fight to stay there. Every school wants this culture."

It's that kind of culture that Meyer will continue to rely on, as the Buckeyes will be tested by an unprecedented quarterback competition in the coming months and all that comes along with being the defending national champions. Right now, no news is good news for Ohio State football, but with Big Ten media days kicking off in Chicago next week, it won't be long before the Buckeyes once again pop up in the headlines.

But for now, silence is more than golden when it comes to Ohio State's quest for a second straight national title.

As the Buckeyes learned the hard way two years ago, it may be essential.

 

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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2017 OL Jack Anderson Becomes 5-Star, Sets New Goal to Be 'Top 10 in the Nation'

Jack Anderson is just approaching his junior season, but he may already be the meanest dude in Texas high school football.

"I do my best to make sure people don't want to line up across from me," the 6'4 ½", 285-pound offensive lineman told Bleacher Report.

Anderson owns that persona when he steps onto the field, presenting a fearsome task for opponents.

"I play mean and physical. That style of play intimidates people and wears them down during a game. It's a style of play I'm proud of," he said.

It's a style of play that, when combined with his outstanding technique and impressive physical stature, earned Anderson 5-star status in 247Sports' composite rankings. He is one of only 29 prospects in the 2017 recruiting class to land on that list, which is established via average ratings from the industry's leading services.

Check another accomplishment off the list for Anderson.

"It feels great to finally earn it. Always been a goal of mine. ... Definitely the next step for me," he said.

Anderson became a rare early-invite competitor at The Opening this month. He joined more than 160 of the country's premier college football prospects at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, competing alongside a pack predominately filled with rising high school seniors.

"I've always been confident in my abilities, starting as a freshman in high school and getting the college attention early, but it's an honor to compete at The Opening as a younger player," Anderson said  "It was actually super surprising, but [Opening coach] Todd Huber told me he thought I was one of the top 20 offensive linemen in the nation."

Punching his ticket to the event was one thing. Meeting increased expectations there presented a whole new challenge.

"It's a big thing for any underclassman, especially in the trenches," Anderson said. "It teaches you mental and physical toughness because they don't take it easy in these drills. It's a man's game."

Rashan Gary, the top overall 2016 prospect, impressed as a youngster last summer at The Opening. He returned this month to claim defensive line MVP honors and believes similar success could await Anderson.

"It's going to be huge for him to get two opportunities out here," Gary said in Beaverton. "It's something I was grateful for, and I definitely used it to my advantage. He could be one of the nation's best this time next year."

If Anderson does live up to that top billing, he can thank Gary for a few lessons.

"I got some reps against Rashan, and they were humbling experiences for sure," Anderson said. "He's the real deal. It wasn't easy, but those are opportunities that help you grow as a player."

LSU defensive tackle commit Caleb Roddy, another Opening attendee, already sees immense potential.

"Jack was getting after it, man. For being a younger guy in the group, he did great out there and stopped some of the big-time 2016 players," Roddy said. "He got [Alabama commit] Kendell Jones a couple times."

Anderson managed to earn respect from several elite peers, many of whom will take on large roles with college programs as early as next year.

"I definitely saw not to underestimate him," Roddy said. "Some of those younger players who have a lot of hype get exposed at big events. He definitely stepped up to the plate."

Tommy Kraemer, a 4-star offensive tackle pledged to Notre Dame, echoed those sentiments. 

"Jack is already a very good player, and I think he'll only continue to get better," Kraemer said. "It's pretty sweet for him to have an opportunity to come out to The Opening as a '17 guy and compete against the best in America. If he continues to work on his game, he's going to be really tough on defensive linemen for a long time."

So where will Anderson intimidate folks at the next level?

His list of scholarship offers features more than 40 universities though he aims to trim things down to "10-15" favorites in the near future. Anderson, set to visit Texas A&M on July 27, said it's "safe to say" the Aggies, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will make the cut.

Texas, TCU and Baylor are additional in-state teams attempting to remain in this race. Florida, Penn State, LSU, Georgia, UCLA, USC and Ole Miss each extended offers this spring.

For now, he's focused on sharpening his craft when it comes to footwork and pass protection. Those efforts should add up to another Opening invite next summer.

"This year at The Opening was about getting used to the process and learning from a lot of people," Anderson said. "Next year, it's all gas and no brakes. I expect to be the best lineman there."

Now that his fate as a 5-star is sealed, Anderson immediately decided to push the bar higher.

"Sounds like it's time to set some new goals," he said. "Hopefully, I can be top 10 in the nation soon."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Obstacles That Can Prevent Georgia from Winning the SEC East

In a vote that came as a shock to nobody, Georgia was picked to win the SEC East by the assembled members of the media at SEC media days earlier this month.

The Bulldogs have been in the mix in late November in each of the last four seasons, have an abundance of talent, a superstar in running back Nick Chubb and arguably have the best outside linebackers in the country.

There are plenty of roster holes, though.

Wide receiver is a big concern behind veteran Malcolm Mitchell, there are no returning starters along the defensive line and the quarterback position is still very much up in the air heading into fall camp.

What could prevent Georgia from matching expectations and playing in the Georgia Dome in early December for a shot at the SEC title?

 

Trouble in the Trenches

Let's get this out of the way right out of the gate—the defensive line prospects head coach Mark Richt lured to Athens in the most recent recruiting class is amazing. Guys like Trent Thompson and Jonathan Ledbetter are awesome and will be stars, but are they really going to shine bright just a few months removed from prom against grown men on opposing offensive lines?

I'm not so sure.

Linebacker Jordan Jenkins complimented the way the newcomers have fit in with the experienced guys at SEC media days earlier this month.

"The young guys who are there now are eager to learn," he said. "They always ask for help and are coming in to get extra film time."

That's great, and it's certainly a step in the right direction. That doesn't necessarily mean it's going to translate to the fall, though.

There are veterans at the top of the depth chart now as well, including tackles Sterling Bailey and James DeLoach, and end Josh Dawson. Can the combination of veteran rotational experience and youthful exuberance be the right combination for the Bulldogs? 

Color me skeptical. If it doesn't work out, and Georgia's defense struggles in the trenches, it could be what prevents the Bulldogs from taking the East.

 

Passing Game Doesn't Evolve

The combination of an unsettled quarterback situation and a wide receiving corps that's incredibly inexperienced should terrify Georgia fans.

Sure, Brice Ramsey is talented, Greyson Lambert has plenty of experience and Faton Bauta has the dual-threat ability that can bring a new dimension to the Georgia offense. But all of them are still wild cards, and one has to step to the forefront in August.

This isn't like last year's offseason, when redshirt senior Hutson Mason was the unquestioned starter despite being a career backup and getting a two spot-starts for Aaron Murray in 2013. He had intimate knowledge of former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's system, a bona fide stud receiver in Chris Conley and uninterrupted first-team snaps for the entire offseason.

These quarterbacks have none of those things working in their favor. 

They have a potential star in Malcolm Mitchell who absolutely has to stay healthy, a solid slot option in Isaiah McKenzie who's relatively inexperienced and a bunch of unknowns outside. Couple that with a new offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheiemer, who installs his offense with NFL speed, and a three-man quarterback battle that includes a newcomer in Lambert who just got to campus in mid-July, and Georgia is almost guaranteed to go into the opener against Louisiana-Monroe with a ton of offensive questions.

Georgia isn't going to contend for the SEC East title playing "Nick Chubb left, Nick Chubb right" all season long, and the passing game is going to have to step up at key times to take some pressure off of the superstar tailback.

 

The Schedule Jumps Up and Bites the Bulldogs

Of all of the teams in the SEC East, Georgia got perhaps the worst draw of any team.

The Bulldogs draw Alabama out of the SEC West in addition to the traditional cross-division rivalry with Auburn. Those two teams were picked to finish first and second in the SEC West by the members of the media at media days, respectively, with the Tigers pegged as the overall conference champion.

On top of that, the Bulldogs have to travel to Knoxville to play Tennessee—which was picked second in the SEC East—the week after facing the Crimson Tide in Athens. SEC teams are 10-13 the week after playing Nick Saban's squad over the last four years, with three of those wins coming against out-of-conference competition.

Georgia will have to buck the trend on Rocky Top in what could turn out to be the de facto SEC East title game.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 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.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma Football: Why Big 12 Shouldn't Sleep on the Sooners

An 8-5 season that fell well short of College Football Playoff expectations may have tempered preseason outlooks for Oklahoma in 2015. In the media's preseason poll, the Sooners were projected to finish third in the Big 12 behind TCU and Baylor. 

It did not, however, temper center Ty Darlington's confidence.

"We knew we were capable of playing with any team in the nation last year," Darlington said at Big 12 media days. "But we didn't play to the best of our ability at times." 

That's a bold statement given the outcome, but is it necessarily a false one? 

Darlington pointed to some specifics, and sure enough, Oklahoma was much closer to a Big 12 championship in 2014 than its record would lead you to believe. The little things, he said, can be the difference in a win or a loss.

"Attention to detail is everything," Darlington said, adding that has been the top priority for the Sooners this offseason. "It's part of being a good teammate and holding yourself and others accountable."

Three of Oklahoma's five losses last year came by four points or fewer. Though one play does not determine the outcome of a game, Darlington was correct in noting that those three losses involved pivotal mistakes:

In a 37-33 loss to TCU: Tied at 31 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, quarterback Trevor Knight threw a pick-six. 

In a 31-30 loss to Kansas State: Michael Hunnicutt, one of the most reliable place-kickers in college football, missed a 19-yard field goal with just under four minutes to play. 

In a 38-35 overtime loss to Oklahoma State: Up a touchdown with under four minutes remaining in regulation, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops elected to rekick a punt after a running into the kicker penalty. Tyreek Hill took the punt 92 yards for a touchdown. 

The Sooners were thoroughly outclassed in their two other losses to Baylor and Clemson, but a few plays contributed to the difference between eight wins and 11. 

"We look at it also in some of those games, we're one play away," Stoops said, "maybe having a chance to have a couple more wins if you don't give up one play on defense or you don't have a turnover for a touchdown, you don't miss a field goal, you don't punt the ball one more time if you have a poor decision by a coach."

If Oklahoma finds that attention to detail, the rest of the Big 12 shouldn't sleep on the Sooners as a possible title contender. Talent isn't a problem. Several key players return on both sides of the ball, including leading receiver Sterling Shepard.

And as Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World tweeted, Oklahoma is well-represented on the media's preseason All-Big 12 team. In fact, the Sooners are right up there with Big 12 favorites Baylor and TCU:

So if talent wasn't the issue in '14, what was? It comes back to execution. 

"I think a lot of the stuff gets blamed on the coaches, but a lot of it should fall on us," said Shepard, an All-Big 12-caliber player who essentially became a nonfactor in the second half of the season because of a groin injury. "We're the ones out there playing. They [the coaches] gives us the game plan, and we have to go execute."

Darlington concurred. "You saw how being on the wrong side of the little details can lose you games," he said. "I don't think it was a character issue or lack of effort in practice; it's just that little things add up. A missed block or assignment here or there is what cost us."

There were other factors as well. It became clear Oklahoma's coaching staff needed adjusting, so Stoops let go of co-offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell while shaking up assignments elsewhere on offense and defense. In all, four new coaches were brought in. 

"He (Stoops) made those necessary (coaching) changes, and we're behind him on those," Shepard said. "Hopefully, they're for the best. I think they are." 

With a talented roster with a number of All-Big 12 selections and a revitalized coaching staff, Oklahoma seems to be in prime position to make a surprise conference championship run. But don't call 'em an underdog. That's not the title OU wants.  

"Are you kidding? No," Stoops told the Tulsa World's Eric Bailey. "Not one bit. We're not used to that."

No, the Sooners would much rather be called by another name: Big 12 champions. In their minds, they can compete with anyone. They just have to finish. 

"There's a pride factor, a feeling that we didn't finish like we needed to last year," Darlington said. "We didn't perform how we expected to regardless of what other people expected of us."

It's a small difference from the national narrative, but then again, it's all about the details anyway. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained at Big 12 media days unless noted otherwise. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the 2015 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year

The start of the 2015 season is just a few weeks away, so let's take a look at some end-of-year predictions. Who will be the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after the 2015 season?

Texas' newest freshman Malik Jefferson is looking to make a huge impact in 2015. Will he do it?

Check out Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down who should win the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

3 Reasons Why Alabama Commit Shyheim Carter Will Be a Star CB for Crimson Tide

According to 247Sports, Shyheim Carter is a 4-star cornerback who is committed to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives three reasons why Carter will be a star in Tuscaloosa.

How good can Carter be for Alabama? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

3 Reasons Why Michigan Commit Chris Evans Will Be a Star for the Wolverines

Chris Evans is a 4-star all-purpose back who is committed to the Michigan Wolverines, according to 247Sports.

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives three reasons why Evans will be a star in Ann Arbor in the video above.

How good can Evans be for Michigan? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Trades We Wish Could Be Made in 2015

The MLB trade deadline is just about a week away as franchises prepare moves that could make or break their playoff pushes.

In the past year, both the NFL and the NBA were sent in respective frenzies with flurries of blockbuster trade activity. Basketball fans will definitely remember the zaniness of the last trade deadline, when one of the league's best insiders was astounded.

College football has plenty of aspects that make it extremely entertaining, but it doesn't have the hand-wringing drama of trades like the professional leagues. (It definitely has free-agent signings thanks to the wild world of recruiting and the rise of graduate transfers.)

As the long offseason continues to drag along toward the fall, let's look at some possible and completely hypothetical trades that would be great to see in college football.

First, here are some ground rules: Teams can't trade for scholarship slots, which would be like pro teams trading for draft picks. There must be an exchange of players for both sides. Also, the deals should be fairly even—we're not in the business of trade robbery here with this offseason exercise.

In the words of Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval, who did a similar piece last season, remember that "all trades are completely fabricated and shouldn't be attempted by anyone, ever."

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Arrests Ensue After Fans Brawl over Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry on a Boat

College football fanhood runs deep—really, really deep.

While riding the Jet Express in Michigan, a pair of couples were arrested after a brawl ensued following an argument over Michigan and Ohio State.

According to 13ABC Action News, “Witnesses say the rivalry argument turned physical between two couples with a woman pulling another woman’s hair and the two men throwing punches at each other.”

Here's one rider's account of the melee:

They were arguing, cursing at each other. As the argument went on, the Michigan fan's girlfriend stood up, pulled the hair of the Ohio State's fan's girlfriend … the wife, actually. He tried to defend his wife by shoving the Michigan fan's girlfriend. The Michigan fan stood up and tried to defend his girlfriend. And after that they mutually started to fist fight and swing on each other. It was crazy.

Madness. Jet Express owner Todd Blumensaadt didn’t seem all that shocked, though.

“It happens,” Blumensaadt said. “They get very passionate about their teams. ... We haul a lot of people, bring a lot of people together. This was like 1:42 a.m., so I'm guessing there may be a few drinks involved in this one.”

It’s hard to believe Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines’ new leader, isn’t at least somewhat proud of this.

[ABC, h/t Sporting News]

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Excuses, Distractions and the SEC's Loss of the Benefit of the Doubt

That sound you heard coming from Hoover, Alabama, and Bristol, Connecticut, this month isn't the SEC trumpet being blasted all over the college football world, it's the sound of its coaches saying "hey, look, don't forget about us!"

"Talkin' season," as South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier calls it, has turned into "complaining season" as we get closer to the start of fall camp.

At SEC media days earlier this month, Alabama's Nick Saban took to the podium and complained about the NFL's draft calendar, which returns draft grades to players prior to most major bowl games.

"We had six guys in this situation this past year and 11 the year before," he said. "So we're trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he's a first-round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick finds out he's not a first-round draft pick, and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game."

Is that an excuse? It certainly got portrayed as one nationally. The truth is that it can be part excuse, part complaint and part political stance at the same time. However you viewed Saban's comments, though, it's pretty silly to give players their draft grades prior to the College Football Playoff.

Fast-forward a week, and Auburn's Gus Malzahn is now the SEC's new "whiner."

While going through the ESPN car wash on Tuesday, Malzahn was asked about the success of other conferences in major bowls over the last two seasons. His answer, according to ESPN's Travis Haney and Brett McMurphy, was bizarre.

Not surprisingly, the comments have spurned a strong reaction from national media members.

The SEC simply can't have it both ways.

When the conference was ripping off seven straight national titles, the strength of the conference was one of the primary reasons that its best teams were "battle-tested" for those big games.

Now, suddenly, it's a liability? Come on.

On top of that, SEC coaches have suddenly become big-time proponents of expanding the playoff to eight teams. That's not the most shocking thing in the world considering they all get a little bump in salary for making the meaningful postseason.

All of these things, though, point to a bigger issue: The SEC has lost the benefit of the doubt nationally, its coaches know it and they don't like it.

Two straight bowl seasons without a single major bowl win has chipped away at the perception that SEC teams in the playoff mix are unquestionably worthy of not only a spot, but the top spot.

If the exact situation that presented itself last year came up this year, would Alabama be the unquestioned No. 1 seed? I'm not sure, especially with the resume Oregon posted prior to the playoff.

Instead of that SEC patch on a team's jersey carrying the weight, teams are more likely to be judged on their specific resumes now.

That means lingering issues like Alabama's secondary, Auburn's defense and other problems that have plagued teams that have made major noise on the national scene will be placed under even more of a microscope and could knock them down a peg or two.

SEC coaches are going to be labeled whiners based on their offseason comments, and that's fine. I'm not so sure they care all that much. 

What is important, though, is that it's clear from their comments that they know that the benefit of the doubt the conference once enjoyed is long gone.

That should make for an interesting Selection Sunday in year two of the College Football Playoff.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 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.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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