NCAA Football

Top Assistant Coaches on the College Football Recruiting Trail

No head coach becomes a college football champion alone. Title runs rely on the collaborative effort of an organized support staff featuring assistants who contribute in a variety of roles.

Game-day preparation is an obvious part of the process, as position coaches focus on developing key pieces of a complete team. Efforts to ensure those meeting rooms are filled with premier players demand a year-round recruiting approach.

While a head coach ultimately steps to the podium on national signing day, it's often his assistants logging extensive miles for scouting purposes and maintaining communication with targeted prospects. Here's a look at some of the best in the business when it comes to building a roster and making their bosses look good in February.

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Jesus Machado, 8th Grade LB Prospect, Receives Offer from Alabama

The University of Alabama offered a verbal scholarship to class of 2020 linebacker prospect Jesus Machado on Wednesday, per's Alan Popadines

Machado, who is only in the eighth grade, goes to school in Florida and has already received offers from Michigan State, West Virginia, North Carolina State and Iowa State, per Popadines.       

Machado has played varsity football for Champagnat Catholic despite not being a true high school student yet. 

At 6'0", 190 pounds, according to 247Sports, Machado stuck out when playing youth football, to say the least:

Popadines ranked him as a top-10 national prospect as a seventh-grader in 2015. After he's finished with middle school, he'll be playing in the Florida/Georgia Future Stars Game this summer at IMG Academy. 

While it's difficult for many to grasp how such a young prospect is already fielding offers from some of the most elite programs in the nation, that's the nature of the business today. 

Schools are going to look at any young player who shows a glimpse of promise as early as possible. This gives teams an opportunity to gain an edge, no matter how small it might be. 

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Baylor Football Players Subject of Police Reports Uncovered by ESPN

An Outside the Lines investigation into the sexual assault crisis at Baylor uncovered additional incidents involving members of the Bears football team, including some situations where the cases were shielded from public view by Waco police.  

Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach of ESPN reported Wednesday the previously unreported cases included other forms of violence, including domestic abuse, along with sexual assault. The investigation found most of the players involved didn't end up missing any playing time despite Baylor officials and coaches knowing about the alleged actions.

One example of the records being hidden occurred in 2011. The report notes an investigating officer took "extraordinary steps" to keep an off-campus assault by asking "the case be pulled from the computer system so that only persons who had a reason to inquire about the report would be able to access it."

Another incident has remained under "open-case status" for the past four years, a category that keeps the details away from public view. The status hasn't changed despite the player and the alleged victim since denying any assault took place.

Waco police spokesman Patrick Swanton explained to Outside the Lines that cases can be kept away from public view for privacy concerns. He noted that occurs regardless of the surrounding circumstances and that, even if the police contact Baylor, no preferential treatment is given in those situations.

"Was this done specifically because this was a Baylor case and because it involved Baylor football players? I can't tell you that," Swanton said. "If you break the law and we have probable cause to arrest you, it doesn't matter if you're a football player. We're not going to give you leeway."

The Outside the Lines report takes a deeper dive into a wide range of alleged incidents from recent years involving Devin Chafin, Tyler Stephenson, Ahmad Dixon, Gary Mason and Isaac Williams. The records were discovered by ESPN after filing a request for all sexual assault and assault cases handled by Waco police over a six-year period and then matching names with the team's football roster.

In another case with an unnamed football player, a woman stated she told team chaplain Wes Yeary about two instances of assault against her by the player and that Baylor football coach Art Briles and university president Ken Starr were also made aware of the situation. No discipline was handed down.

"I'd seen other girls go through it, and nothing ever happened to the football players," the woman told OTL. "It's mind-boggling to see it continue to happen. I can't understand why. I think as long as they're catching footballs and scoring touchdowns, the school won't do anything."

A Baylor spokeswoman released a statement to ESPN in response to the latest findings:

We are certain the actions that result from this deliberative process will yield improvements across a variety of areas that rebuild and reinforce confidence in our university. We are saddened when any student, including a student-athlete, acts in a manner inconsistent with Baylor's mission or is a victim of such behavior.

Bruce Tomaso of the Dallas Morning News previously provided a look at the string of incidents that landed Baylor in the national spotlight due to the scandal, including the list of players who have faced legal action as a result of the assaults.

The Associated Press reported last Friday that Baylor had received the results of a probe by Pepper Hamilton law firm into the school's handling of the past cases. It's unclear whether the report will eventually be made public.

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Notre Dame Football: Early Grades for 2017 Recruiting Class

If early success is an indication of the future, the 2017 recruiting cycle will be kind to Brian Kelly and Notre Dame football.

According to the 247Sports composite rankings, the Fighting Irish hold the nation's No. 7 class with 10 committed prospects. To date, only Oklahoma and Ohio State have more than Notre Dame's seven 4-stars. A trio of 3-stars rounds out the group.

Five of the current pledges selected the program following its March junior day, so there could be another surge of verbal commitments after the Irish Invasion camp in mid-June.

Note: Notre Dame doesn't have any specialists committed right now, so while kickers are people, too, they don't have an exclusive section.



Notre Dame is following a wise recruiting guideline: You can never have too many quarterbacks.

DeShone Kizer has three years of eligibility remaining, and Brandon Wimbush could be in South Bend through the 2019 season if he redshirts this year.

Still, the Irish grabbed Avery Davis out of Cedar Hill, Texas. Though the dual-threat quarterback is undersized at 5'11", he threw for 2,148 yards and 25 touchdowns while running for 873 yards and 13 scores last season.

Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles noted that Davis has a trio of top-50 receiver prospects—Charleston RamboCamron Buckley and Jaylon Jackson—as teammates, so expect huge numbers from Davis during the 2016 campaign.

Barring any decommitments, Davis will arrive on campus with two or three new weapons.

Top-rated tight end Brock Wright highlights the bunch, while Cole Kmet and Isaiah Robertson are the third- and fourth-best prospects from Illinois, respectively. Wright and Kmet will have at least one season to develop behind Durham Smythe and Alize Jones.

Robertson is included here because his listed position is receiver. However, Jake Brown of Scout noted that the 6'3" Robertson could switch to safety in South Bend.

Should that happen, any of several highly rated wideouts could take Robertson's place in the class. Notre Dame is pursuing Donovan Peoples-Jones, Joseph Lewis, Tyjon Lindsey, Osiris St. Brown, Devonta Smith and Hezekiah Jones.

But an offense can only reach its full potential with reliable blocking. Joshua Lugg and Dillan Gibbons are pledged to the Irish, who are targeting five of the nation's top 11 tackles: Foster Sarell, Wyatt Davis, Jedrick Wills, Andrew Thomas and Trey Smith.

Although flipping Robert Burns from Miami would put an exclamation point on the class, running back isn't a need in 2017.

The Irish must secure a few of those receivers and linemen. As long as that happens, the offensive portion of the class will be superb.

Grade: A



Notre Dame has a solid defensive foundation, but the next eight months will be dedicated to reeling in stars to bolster the front seven.

Kurt Hinish is the lone commit on the defensive line, but Robert Beal, Greg Rogers, Darnell Ewell and Corey Malone-Hatcher are on the board. The Irish won't stop recruiting Maryland pledge Joshua Kaindoh or 4-star D.J. Johnson, either.

Granted, there is some concern. Notre Dame isn't a runaway favorite for any of those marquee prospects, so it either needs to build connections elsewhere or wisely pick 3-stars—like Hinish.

Linebacker provides some relief, though. Since David AdamsPete Werner and Drew White each chose the Irish, Kelly and Co. can focus on top targets Baron Browning and Jacob Phillips.

Position coach Mike Elston has done exactly that.

According to Tom Loy of 247Sports, Phillips said Elston "was telling me how much of a priority I am for them and that although he already has some commits, he really wants me and that he hopes I'll consider them heavily."

One player the staff knows has significant interest is Keldrick Carper. Luke Thompson of the Shreveport Times noted that the 4-star athlete's favorites are Notre Dame and Georgia. Carper is one of several defensive backs with an eye on the Irish.

Notre Dame will attempt to land some combination of Thomas Graham, Deommodore LenoirDaniel WrightSaiid Adebo, Chaz Ah YouJaylen Kelly-Powell, Chevin Calloway and Amari Carter, among others.

The Irish are targeting highly ranked talents, but now it's a matter of securing verbal pledges to improve the class.

Grade: B


All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Recent Arrests Put Nick Saban, Alabama in a Challenging Predicament

HOOVER, Ala. — The pressure was on University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban on Wednesday morning, and not just because he was hitting golf balls in front of hundreds of onlookers.

Before most people arrived to work, Saban was on the practice tee at Greystone Golf & Country Club for the Pro-Am of the PGA Regions Tradition, helping raise money for Children’s of Alabama (which provides specialized medical care for ill and injured children).

It’s the kind of outing where the closest thing to news ought to be comedian Steve Harvey saying that he’s moved on from his gaffe at the Miss Universe pageant—although one brave fan did ask him to autograph a photo from it (he declined)—and what kind of fashion statement John Daly would make (pineapple print pants).

Considering that the annual event is held just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, Saban would have been the biggest attraction for the media anyway, but the Crimson Tide having two players arrested early Tuesday morning made it doubly so.

Consequently, the first question to the coach was about one of them, junior offensive tackle Cam Robinson.

“I talked to him and there’s nothing really different on it, we’re still gathering information about the circumstance and the situation,” Saban said. “We’ll figure out of there’s something internally that we need to do, that’s appropriate relative to what the situation is.”

What is known is that Robinson and safety Hootie Jones, who were home in Monroe, Louisiana, were arrested in a park at approximately 2 a.m. CT.  

Jones is facing charges for possession of a controlled substance and illegal carrying of a weapon; Robinson for possession of a controlled substance, illegal possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen gun, which is a felony. 

It’s the felony part that makes this especially tricky, in addition to it having occurred in another state.

Without getting into the seriousness of each charge, or the growing trend to legalize marijuana, this isn’t like trying to decide whether to attempt a two-point conversion. There isn’t a chart involved for what’s next.

Moreover, there’s a legal process that must be adhered to and numerous hurdles to be cleared. For example, one of the first things to keep an eye out for is if Robinson is granted youthful offender status. The laws are different in each state, but Robinson is 20 years old. He doesn’t turn 21 until October 9.

Another potentially huge issue is that the gun was reported stolen in Baldwin County, Alabama, which means more than one state’s involved in the investigation, which might potentially slow the process.

Alabama is about 80 days away from opening training camp, and while Robinson obviously would like nothing more than to be there, it’s obviously way too early to speculate on his potential status.

That puts the team in a bind as the All-SEC selection has the potential to be a strong candidate for the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman and a top pick in the 2017 NFL draft. If you were to take a poll of Alabama fans last week on who’s the athlete the team could least afford to lose this season, he probably would have won.

Yet now Alabama has to start making contingency plans and getting another player ready to play left tackle. Among the options will be true freshman Jonah Williams, senior Korren Kirven, left guard Lester Cotton and maybe even Ross Pierschbacher, who just made the move to center.

“Look, I’m not going to talk about that right now,” Saban said when asked what could be next, but added: “We do it internally. It’s not something that we do it publicly, and it’s not something that we’re going to do today.

“If we can change their behavior, based on what we do, that would be the purpose of discipline. Discipline is not necessarily just punishment, which a lot of people view it that way. It’s how you change somebody’s behavior so they have a better chance to be successful. That’s the way that we’ve always done it, that’s the way that we try and do it. That’s the way I’d like to do it with my own children. I think that’s the way that most parents would like to do it with their own children.” 

If anything, Saban’s known for giving second chances, and of the seven players Alabama had selected in the recent NFL draft, three essentially got one. Running back Kenyan Drake had twice been suspended for a game but wasn’t following his arrest for crossing a police line in 2014. Defensive lineman Jarran Reed had a DUI, and cornerback Cyrus Jones had domestic violence charges filed against him that were quickly dropped.

Of course defensive lineman D.J. Pettway was kicked off the team after being involved in the 2013 mugging of two students along with Eddie Williams, Tyler Hayes and running back Brent Calloway, who were all immediately suspended. After a year at the same junior college as Reed, he returned to Alabama and eventually earned his degree. 

Incidentally, Williams was arrested the day before the attacks for having an unlicensed gun. The only one of the four who wasn’t granted youthful offender status ended up pleading guilty to second-degree robbery, which is a felony, and sentenced to five years of supervised probation.

Running back Bo Scarbrough missed the first four games last season due to an eligibility issue, and defensive lineman Marcell Dareus was suspended at the start of the 2010 season. But in both cases the NCAA was involved, just like it is with defensive back Tony Brown this season.

In this situation with Jones and Robinson, things would be very different if either of the two had taken action against someone or if there had been any violence involved. The same goes if police would have charged them with possession with intent to distribute controlled dangerous substances.

Coupled with so many teammates immediately jumping to their defense on social media and Monroe being known as a high-crime community, at this point one could give them the benefit of doubt that they just made a really bad mistake.

But police are obviously still looking into the stolen gun, which could change that. So there really was nothing that Saban could say on Wednesday.

“I think everybody knows about the Charles Baldwin situation,” he said, referring to the former junior college offensive lineman who was recently dismissed from the team.

“We will announce these things when they come. I appreciate what you all have to do, but I don’t know we can’t all do our jobs and release things in the appropriate fashion.”

At this point, no matter what he does, Saban’s going to be criticized, and the university has already taken the public-relations hit even though there appears to have been no previous issues with either player. Robinson especially was expected to be a team leader this season.

So Saban talked to reporters longer than just about every other coach here—Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze took three questions and predictably said “I can’t comment” about the ongoing NCAA investigation, and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn spoke for one minute, 37 seconds—and then started warming up to hit the course.

He’s essentially in the same place regarding this problem, just getting started.


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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Jim Harbaugh's Biggest Challenges for Michigan in 2016

Jim Harbaugh has championship aspirations for the 2016 Michigan football team, and outside expectations are the same.

While that specifically is the greatest challenge, "win" is vague. What must the Wolverines do to win?

In order to meet the lofty goals, they need to improve in a few areas to prepare for a brutal late-season stretch. Coaching will have an especially large impact on three items.

Most of all, though, the proven strength of Michigan's team cannot regress. Otherwise, the Wolverines won't meet the aspirations and expectations.

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Jedrick Wills Tweets Top 10: Which School Is Best Fit for 4-Star OL?

Kentucky offensive lineman Jedrick Wills unveiled an updated look into his widespread recruitment Tuesday afternoon.

The 4-star prospect, a junior at Lafayette High School in Lexington, posted a list of favorites on Twitter:

This collection of contenders, which is not ordered, included 10 programs. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Tennessee each made the cut.

Wills, a 6'5", 318-pound lineman, is considered one of the premier blockers in his class. He is rated No. 8 nationally among offensive tackles and No. 35 overall in 247Sports' 2017 composite rankings. 

Judging by his list, it appears Wills will compete in either the SEC or Big Ten Conference. Unless, of course, he ends up at independent Notre Dame.

Wills traveled to South Bend last summer for the Irish Invasion event and could return this June, according to Tom Loy of 247Sports. Loy, who covers the Notre Dame recruiting beat, wrote that the talented tackle is "adamant that he will visit South Bend this summer." 

That's good news for the Fighting Irish, whose program has excelled with elite-level offensive linemen under the direction of assistant coach Harry Hiestand. 

Joshua Lugg, rated No. 23 among offensive tackles in 2017, committed to Notre Dame before his junior year. Dillan Gibbons, a fellow top-50 offensive tackle, is also verbally pledged to the Irish.

Last cycle, Notre Dame signed two of the nation's top 10 offensive tackles in Tommy Kraemer (No. 3) and Liam Eichenberg (No. 7). The Irish are in excellent shape to secure both bookend positions for years to come and certainly could look to enhance interior slots along the line by shuffling linemen from a loaded tackle position.

“[Coach Hiestand] definitely has a great ability [to develop offensive linemen]. I look forward to working with him again," Wills told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports (via Loy). 

Kentucky is also coming off a strong 2016 cycle in regard to offensive line talent. The Wildcats signed Drake Jackson (No. 2 center) and Landon Young (No. 6 tackle), who played alongside Wills at Lafayette.

Fellow high school teammate Walker Wood, a 3-star quarterback, is already a member of Kentucky's 2017 recruiting class. Proximity and personal ties surely seem to point toward the Wildcats as an ideal fit from a standpoint of comfort.

Kentucky is projected to sign Wills by 86 percent of experts' predictions in his 247Sports Crystal Ball.

Beyond the perceived top two suitors—Kentucky and Notre Dame—a Big Ten team warrants monitoring as things move forward. The Michigan Wolverines presented one of Wills' latest offers and will likely look to line up a campus visit.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff are in contention for several top-tier offensive linemen, and recruiting momentum at Michigan has become even more apparent in May. Wills joined 5-star Tennessee receiver Tee Higgins, 4-star Ohio tight end Matt Dotson, 4-star Florida linebacker Jordan Anthony and 4-star California cornerback Deommodore Lenoir as blue-chip prospects who've listed the Wolverines as a top option this month.

At this stage, we'll give Kentucky the nod to land Wills and consider Notre Dame the most significant out-of-state threat. Expect upcoming visits and further list cuts to put the process into greater focus.

Wills recently told Tom VanHaaren of ESPN he anticipates trimming his options to five schools and then three before reaching a decision.


Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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College Football Coordinators Who Should Be Head Coaches Already

This past "silly season" in college football head coaching hires was undoubtedly a big one for elite coordinators all over the country.

Alabama's Kirby Smart got the dream offer he had waited for from his alma mater of Georgia. Mike Norvell parlayed his success as Arizona State's offensive coordinator into a job at rising Group of Five power Memphis. D.J. Durkin and Chris Ash traded their Big Ten coordinator jobs into head coaching positions in the same league. Oregon offensive mind Scott Frost scooped up an offer from UCF.

Later this year, another crop of coordinators will become the highly coveted names of the next coaching carousel in college football. They'll get their chances to take over a program after honing their skills as top assistants.

For some of them, their potential hires can't come quickly enough. The following coordinators in this countdown are ones who have shown the skills and had the connections for head coaching jobs in the past, but they've all stayed put. 

Which college football coordinators should get their first head coaching opportunities—sorry, Lane Kiffin—when the carousel spins again? Here are nine names to watch.

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Why Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh Are More Alike Than You'd Think

Leaving last year's Big Ten kickoff luncheon in Chicago, one image in particular stuck with me.

And with all due respect to Joshua Perry, Nate Sudfeld and the overcooked grilled chicken, it had nothing to do with either of the keynote speakers or the meal that had been served to the attendees.

But while waiting for the festivities to begin that late-July afternoon, I noticed only one seat—a metaphorical border, if you will—sat between Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh on the dais. For seven months to this point, the two had been painted as natural rivals, both in terms of their respective schools and personalities, only you wouldn't have known it by the way the two could be seen chatting it up in the Windy City on that day.

In fact, most of their conversation seemed to be taking place with the coach seated between them—Michigan State's Mark Dantonio—serving as a barrier to their conversation.

I'll probably never know what the Ohio State and Michigan head coaches talked about that day and whether or not I was making something out of nothing. But at that point, I realized that for all of the myth-making that had been going on for the previous half-year—some of which I took part in—the reality was Meyer and Harbaugh were probably more alike than dissimilar.

That thought was reinvoked this past weekend, when ESPN's Chris Fowler posted a selfie with the two at the Dick Vitale Gala, where Meyer was serving as an honoree.

Much like the aforementioned conversation in Chicago, the genesis of the selfie seen 'round the college football Twittersphere remains unclear and it's worth noting that the two were in attendance at a charity event.

But for a pair of head coaches whose public personas—especially when it comes to their respective fanbases—are so tied to their rivalry with one another, it once again seemed interesting that they'd be willing to give a peak behind the curtain as to what their relationship might be like if Big Ten titles and recruiting battles weren't always at stake.

After all, there may not be two head coaches in the conference with more in common than Meyer and Harbaugh.

And if you really wanted to, you could date the connection between the two back to their births, with each being born in Toledo's Mercy Hospital seven months apart, according to David Briggs of theToledo Blade.

From there, they took their own unique paths to head coaching stardom, Meyer through the traditional ranks and Harbaugh via his 14-year NFL quarterback career. But by the time they arrived at their respective rival schools—Meyer in 2012, Harbaugh in 2015—each could already lay claim to being one of the best in his profession.

"I don't know Jim," Meyer said upon Harbaugh's hiring in Ann Arbor in late 2014. "But anytime you add a quality coach to the Big Ten or college football, obviously it's good for college football and great for the Big Ten."

Harbaugh has similarly been mum on Meyer since taking over his alma mater.

"As far as my relationship with Coach Meyer, and all the coaches we face, I have tremendous respect for them," Harbaugh told ABC7 in Detroit before their first matchup last November. "We tend to have at it."

Only their history would indicate they've crossed paths more than each is letting on.

As recently as 2014, Harbaugh drafted Meyer's star running back, Carlos Hyde, while he was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Granted, the tension between Harbaugh and the 49ers front office has been well-documented, but it's hard to imagine Harbaugh wasn't at the very least involved in those discussions, perhaps even with Meyer as head coaches often are, given Hyde's history of off-field history.

And even more than a year before Harbaugh's team drafted Hyde, Meyer had already expressed admiration for the head coach he'd soon find as his primary opposition in the Big Ten.

Speaking to The Dan Patrick Show at the end of his debut season at Ohio State, Meyer praised the way Harbaugh had been finding recent success with quarterback Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco. With his own offense possessing a similar spread scheme, the Buckeyes head coach said he had spent the offseason studying NFL film and that it was Harbaugh's team that stood out most.

"The San Francisco team was really the one [that impressed me], because they actually do something we don't do," Meyer said of his studying of NFL offenses that offseason. "I can assure you we're gonna do it next year. That's how good they were. I just give credit to guys like Coach Harbaugh."

Compliments have been more commonplace in their 16-month rivalry than barbs, especially when taking into consideration the coaches' fiery nature and unwillingness to hold their tongues. The lone public exception thus far is an apparent sub-tweet Harbaugh sent Meyer's way during last winter's heated recruiting battle for running back Mike Weber, who ultimately landed at Ohio State.

Inadvertent or not, the two have actually found themselves on the same side of battles recently, such as this spring's fight against the NCAA's since-rescinded satellite camp bans. When it was revealed Harbaugh would be taking his Michigan team to Florida for spring practice, Meyer contemplated eventually doing the same, citing the uniqueness of his rival's plan.

"I think it's creative," Meyer told Sara Perlman of WUFT-TV in March, via's Doug Lesmerises. "I'm looking into it for next year and maybe the future, too."

And while Meyer has since distanced himself from a potential off-campus spring practice, his interest in a Harbaugh-generated idea isn't all that surprising, as you won't find another coach in the country outside of Nick Saban who matches Meyer's aggressiveness on the recruiting trail as closely as Harbaugh does.

While Harbaugh made waves this past winter trimming his 2016 class as signing day approached, Meyer sat by idly, perhaps aware that he may find himself in a similar position a year from now with numbers available in his own 2017 class already a concern. Both coaches recruit nationally and neither is afraid to get creative with his classes, two tactics that weren't frequently used in the Big Ten a mere five years ago.

"Prior to Urban Meyer arriving in the Big Ten, a lot of the recruiting was very basic," National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell told Bleacher Report. "Harbaugh's taken another step."

Of course, there's still been some of the pettiness masked as tradition that exists in almost every college football rivalry.

Meyer won't say "Michigan" or allow visitors to wear blue inside his facility. Harbaugh cracked a buckeye nut on Bo Schembechler's grave prior to playing Ohio State last November. A mutual respect and admiration may exist, but make no mistake about it, these are still archrivals vying for both Big Ten and national supremacy.

Only the hatred—if any even exists—doesn't seem to run as deeply as either of their respective fanbases may prefer.

At their cores, these are two head coaches with plenty in common, who just happen to find themselves on opposing sides of college football's most famous border.


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. Recruit rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Trey Smith out to Prove No. 1 Ranking and Represent His Late Mother, Hometown

ADDISON, Ill. — When he got the news, Trey Smith was getting some video game time in. He wasn't expecting to hear that he was considered the nation's top-ranked player.

It was a late-April afternoon when Smith got the word that he was the No. 1 player in the latest ESPN 300 rankings, a huge honor considering the many other big names around the country capable of holding down the top spot.

"I thought it was a joke at first," said Smith, a 247Sports Composite 4-star offensive tackle from Jackson, Tennessee. "I was actually playing Xbox when I saw it and said, 'Yeah, whatever. Let me get back on these sticks.'

"I looked at it again, and that's a huge honor. The list of names who can be No. 1, those are some dogs. To be the top right now, just representing my class is an honor. I'm going to take it humbly."

Among the many names who could have been named No. 1: Running back Najee Harris, linebacker Dylan Moses and defensive tackle Marvin Wilson—the top-three ranked players in the 247Sports Composite rankings. It's a list that Smith doesn't take for granted, and it's an honor he holds with pride.

ESPN rewarded Smith heavily, despite Smith not even being the top-ranked player in the state of Tennessee per the 247Sports Composite (No. 3 in Tennessee, No. 11 offensive tackle, No. 53 overall).

Smith, a 6'6", 298-pound athlete who holds south of 30 offers, is the first to admit being considered the nation's top-ranked player in the 2017 class was a goal of his. Getting to The Opening finals for a second consecutive year was another goal, which he achieved on Saturday at The Opening Chicago regional.

Now it's time to achieve other goals, such as playing college football and, ultimately, making it professionally. It's what his mother would have wanted.


Doing It for Dorsetta

Smith's offer list features a ton of heavyweights, including Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Auburn and in-state school Tennessee. While he's maintained a poker face regarding his actual favorites, Smith admitted that he's planning on dropping a top eight at The Opening and would like to make a verbal commitment around mid-December.

Dorsetta Smith wasn't the biggest fan of football, but she was a huge fan of watching her son excel. Trey's world was rocked in February of last year when his mother died after dealing with heart complications. She was 51; Trey was only 15.

"There's not a day that goes by I don't think about her," Smith said. "I just want to honor her every time I step on the field. I want to do my job, get that reputation of being No. 1 and eventually get to the NFL.

"Those are some of my dreams, and she knew that. Accomplishing that would be great and another way to honor her."

Representing for his hometown also is something that drives Smith. He said his mother would always give advice about being the best while remaining humble. It's something that Smith keeps close to his heart, and it's something he discusses with his father, Henry, and his other football mentors.

Todd Huber is the director of football for Student Sports, which puts on The Opening. Huber, as a former college offensive lineman, has been watching Smith for quite some time and fully understands why he is such a wanted athlete and well-liked person off the field.

In short, Smith "just gets it," Huber said.

"There isn't a box Trey doesn't check," Huber said. "He's a great kid, student, teammate and competitor, to go along with his physical traits. From our operations crew who checked him in, to our digital crew that was covering the event, to Bob Connelly—who's been coaching at the D-I level for 20 years—everyone had something good to say about Trey.

"He put down one of the more impressive The Opening regionals of the year [in Chicago]. It's exactly what you'd expect from a guy returning for his second go at The Opening finals."

Even though his mother physically isn't here, Smith knows she's with him with everything he does. He said she taught him how to be respectful while also making it a priority to dominate at all times.

It's enough to motivate him daily.

"She's pretty much the main influence of my life," Smith said. "I got some good advice from someone about her: 'Live your life the way she'd want you to live it.'"


'For the 731'

Jackson is a growing city in western Tennessee. With a population of roughly 70,000, Jackson is about a 90-mile drive east of Memphis. The city has produced a few NFL athletes, including Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Sylvester Hicks and Al Wilson.

Two other Jackson athletes who made it to the league are Trey Teague and Artis Hicks, two offensive linemen whom Smith has relied on for advice. Collectively, Teague and Hicks played nearly 20 years in the NFL.

"Trey Teague went to my high school. I see him a lot," Smith said. "He's always saying to take the recruiting process as humbly as possible. He tells me to take my time and look at all my decisions.

"Artis Hicks is sort of like my mentor. He's always giving me the truth about people. He knows what to look for in people. He can read them—who's fake and who's real. He's a nice guy who's humble with a good personality. My mom told me she wanted me to be more like him."

Jackson has the 731 area code, and Smith is the first to say he's "representing for the 731" at any given opportunity. Being the next big thing to come from the city is something he dreams about.

It's also something Huber sees as a reality, as long as Smith continues to improve. He came to Saturday's The Opening Chicago noticeably bigger than last year and more mentally prepared. Smith not only can play tackle, but also can line up at guard if necessary at the next level, which potentially could make him a versatile option early in his college career.

"As the top dog, he could have let the weather and group dictate his energy and physicality and effort," Huber said, referring to Saturday's chilly temperatures. "Instead, he came in and set the tone and put everyone at the camp on notice right away. He showed why he's the dude and why he was at The Opening last year."

Smith's play has put him in a position to practically play college ball wherever he wants. He said he's doing his research and keeping an eye on the movement of coaching staffs. Having a reliable offensive line coach is one of the main X-factors in selecting a college.

"That's the main thing. That's the dude I'll be with 90 percent of the time," Smith said. "As soon as I get on campus, I'm converted to the O-line coach. Right now, I'm just evaluating all of them, seeing the talent they produce and seeing their personalities and what kind of men they are."

The winning school will get a player who has multiple reasons to excel. The school also will get someone who refuses to let any excuse get in the way of his goals.

"Being one of the next guys to carry that legacy, and doing it for my mom ... that's what it's about," Smith said. "I know I'm representing a lot of people in a lot of different ways, not only on the field but off the field. It's all about making your hometown proud."


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Muschamp on Brandon McIlwain: '1 Man's Misfortune Is Another Man's Opportunity'

Will Muschamp entered his first spring practice session as the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks with a quarterback logjam thick enough to stall traffic on I-126.

Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Lorenzo Nunez were all back after starting games for former head coach Steve Spurrier and interim head coach Shawn Elliott a year ago, and they were joined by redshirt sophomore Michael Scarnecchia and true freshman early enrollee and former 4-star prospect Brandon McIlwain.

By the end of spring, Muschamp was down from five quarterbacks to three, with the most inexperienced of the bunch gaining a leg up on the rest of the competition. 

With Orth out with a collarbone injury and Nunez nursing a knee issue, McIlwain thrived under center. It culminated in the spring game, where he completed 19 of his 26 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a couple of impressive runs including an 18-yarder.

"One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity," Muschamp told Bleacher Report. "He took advantage of the opportunity, and he took advantage of the reps and did an outstanding job."

McIlwain was a 4-star dual-threat prospect from Newtown, Pennsylvania, who passed up what could have been first-round Major League Baseball draft money this year to give both sports a shot in Columbia. From the midway point of his first spring practice session—even when Orth was healthy—it was clear that Orth and McIlwain were the top two options for Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.

"He progressed and matured through spring," Muschamp said. "He's got a confidence about himself, and it needs to continue to grow and develop."

Part of that growth will be accelerated by the offense's clean slate—thanks to the presence of a new staff—and the inexperience of the wide receivers.

South Carolina lost star wideout Pharoh Cooper last year after he caught 66 passes in a very disjointed offense. Gone too are tight end Jerell Adams and running back Brandon Wilds—the three top receivers from the 2015 Gamecocks. 

Deebo Samuel, a 6'0", 205-pound rising sophomore is the most polished receiver on the roster, but he's still learning the ropes after catching 12 passes as a freshman.

"I think he's a talented guy, but he hasn't done it consistently in our league," Muschamp said. "We don't have another receiver that has. I think we have four other [total] starts at the position."

While Samuel doesn't have the snaps at wide receiver to help McIlwain ease into a more prominent role at quarterback, the true freshman QB does get to grow with a fellow early enrollee who might fix that in a hurry.

Bryan Edwards, a 6'3", 205-pounder from Conway, South Carolina, has already elevated himself to the top spot on the depth chart at one of the wide receiver spots, and he has the chance to grow with McIlwain this offseason so the two can hit the ground running in the fall.

"Bryan's got a big upside," Muschamp said. "Bryan hurt his knee coming out of high school. He's a guy who built more strength in his knee and had more confidence in his abilities in the latter part of spring because he got more strength in his knee.

"He's a guy who can high-point the ball. He's got really good ball skills and runs good routes. He's very intelligent. How quickly is he going to continue to come on? I'll let you know in Game 4, 5, 6 and 7 where he is. He's a mature young man, and playing as a freshman has more to do with maturity than anything else."

McIlwain is stepping into a perfect situation for a freshman quarterback to take the reigns.

Coming off of a tumultuous 3-9 season in which Spurrier walked away midseason, the pressure to win the SEC East that existed two offseasons ago is a distant memory, the youth and inexperience on the roster is as clear as day and the presence of a new staff provides a grace period that Muschamp and McIlwain can take advantage of.

The 6'0", 206-pounder still must beat out Orth this summer, and the two months prior to fall camp when the quarterbacks organize "optional" offseason workouts will go a long way toward keeping his post-spring momentum going in the right direction.

"He's got to continue to grow and develop with his off-the-field football, film study and all of the things that go with being the quarterback at South Carolina or any SEC team," Muschamp said. "That goes into film study of how other teams are going to play us, what we're doing schematically and all of those things that make a good quarterback.

"That's what he's working on right now."

If he keeps it up, McIlwain should be working with the first-team offense this fall.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Butch Jones' Biggest Challenges for Tennessee Football in 2016

Tennessee football head coach Butch Jones will be under the microscope this year more than at any time during his coaching career.

Every single detail will be scrutinized. If all of his decisions were dissected last season, just imagine how they'll be taken apart now that he's got a roster that many early polls around the nation believe can equate to a top-10 program for the Volunteers in 2016.

But obstacles await, and they aren't just in the forms of the Reptilian Rapscallions who've given the Vols so many issues or the Crimson Kings of college football, who also just happen to be UT's biggest rivals.

There are roster question marks, as well as the puzzle of how the Tennessee players and coaches will react to the national spotlight.

Jones' recruiting successes will be on full display this season. Not only does he have the leadership of Joshua Dobbs, Cameron Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Alvin Kamara, Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett and others, but he also has a plethora of talent behind those guys.

Tennessee is loaded, and at a recent Big Orange Caravan stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Jones didn't shy away from the expectations. But he did note that all the preseason accolades mean little, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

We've worked hard to put ourselves into these conversations, but really they don't mean anything. Where you're predicted or your predictions are really based on the performance of last year's football team—Team 119—and how they finished. Team 120 has not taken one snap yet. We just have to focus on the task at hand. 

That task, fair or not, is winning the SEC. As the East division favorites, the Vols won't sneak up on anybody. They've got the roster, they've got the fanfare and they've added some big-name coaches to the staff. Now, it's all about following through.

Let's look at some challenges that will face Jones on the quest to field his best team since arriving in Knoxville.

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Urban Meyer's Biggest Challenges for Ohio State in 2016

Urban Meyer was supposed to have one of the easiest jobs in college football last year, fueled by a loaded roster that returned seven starters on each side of the ball from a team that had just steamrolled its way to—and through—the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Ohio State entered the 2015 season as the first unanimous preseason AP No. 1 team in college football history, and no one anticipated the Buckeyes struggling with a schedule that provided few obstacles.

The pressure of living up to those enormous expectations, though, proved to be too much for Meyer and the Buckeyes, as they stumbled down the stretch against Michigan State and ultimately fell short of a second consecutive playoff berth.

With the 2016 season on the horizon, Meyer has a whole new set of hurdles ahead of him. But fortunately for the Buckeyes, none of those hurdles will be as big as the expectations that wore the team down a season ago.


Getting a Young Team Ready

The main cause for those decreased expectations is the youth movement that's underway in Columbus.

After pasting Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day, an incredible nine underclassmen declared for the NFL draft, leaving an enormous hole in Ohio State's depth chart. The Buckeyes had a record 10 former players selected in the first three rounds of the draft, highlighting the talent exodus that's headed to the NFL.

Meyer was left with a team needing to replace 16 total starters—eight on each side of the ball. 

The Buckeyes are fortunate to return a ton of experience at key spots. Offensively, the unquestioned leader will be behind center with J.T. Barrett in the fold. On defense, middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan will anchor a new-look unit. 

Looking at all the attrition and youth on his roster, Meyer talked about the enormous challenge his team faces heading into the season.

“It's just survival right now,” Meyer said, according to Dennis Dodd of He later added, “This is uncharted waters for me too. [The roster turnover] is the thing that kicks you in the teeth.”

Getting this young team ready to go by Week 1 will be Meyer's toughest challenge this season.


Integrating New Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano

Roster turnover is difficult enough to manage, but Meyer will have the added task of integrating a key coordinator into the fold this year.

That process was disastrous a season ago, when Ohio State's offense failed to establish an identity without former offensive coordinator Tom Herman at the helm. Meyer brought in Tim Beck to replace Herman, and despite boasting NFL talent at every position, the Buckeyes ranked just 41st nationally in total offense.

Meyer is undergoing a similar change with his defense, replacing former defensive coordinator (and now Rutgers head coach) Chris Ash with Greg Schiano.

Schiano, of course, has a long and successful career that's highlighted by a successful head coaching run at Rutgers and an NFL stint as the head man of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Meyer is banking on Schiano's experience paying dividends and easing the transition process that went so poorly for the offense last year.

"Greg Schiano is an excellent coach,” Meyer said, according to Austin Ward of “He is someone I have known for quite some time now and someone who is going to align with our staff extremely well. I think he will be outstanding as a coach and mentor in our program and I am pleased to have him on our staff.”


Navigating One of College Football's Toughest Schedules

Once Ohio State has its infrastructure established—from the two-deep roster to the new-look coaching staff—it will have to find a way to conquer one of college football's most brutal schedules.

It starts with the improved nonconference slate and matchups against reigning MAC champion Bowling Green and high-flying Tulsa. Those are just warm-ups to one of the most highly anticipated games of the year when the Buckeyes head south for a showdown with playoff contender Oklahoma.

A well-timed bye week will give the Buckeyes a break before they attack the newly implemented nine-game league schedule.

Back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Penn State will be tough to navigate, then two West Division matchups against Northwestern to close October and Nebraska to open November will be tricky as well.

But all of this will pale in comparison to the two-week gauntlet to close the season, when Ohio State travels to East Lansing with revenge on its mind against Michigan State. A week later, the Buckeyes will close out the 2016 campaign against Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, who will be looking to avenge last year's humiliating 42-13 home loss.

Last year's loaded team would've been challenged by this schedule. This year's team may be swallowed by it.


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

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Best College Football Program Fits for Every Uncommitted 2017 5-Star

Still nearly nine months shy of national signing day, two-thirds of 5-star prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings remain undecided about their collegiate futures. These heralded athletes have the skill sets and potentials to impact programs for years to come, and they could ultimately help lure other elite talents to the same schools.

From dynamic pass-rushers and dominant offensive linemen to scintillating receivers and a coveted quarterback who earned his first scholarship offer before eighth grade, there's plenty to sort through while analyzing a compelling collection of uncommitted players.

Rather than simply projecting their most likely landing spots, here's a glimpse at these recruits and which universities could provide an ideal fit from a perspective of program fit and early opportunity.

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Notre Dame Football: 5 Toughest Defenders Fighting Irish Will Face in 2016

Notre Dame's offense is expected to carry the 2016 squad, but the Fighting Irish will encounter some of college football's best defenders along the way.

The top two individuals earned a place on Bleacher Report's post-spring practice top-50 list, while the other three players are among the leaders at their respective positions.

Although the list focuses on defensive abilities, versatility is not ignored. Two of Notre Dame's upcoming opponents are key pieces on special teams, and one contributes on offense too.

The Fighting Irish will challenge a few more standout players like Miami's Jermaine Grace, but the following five are the toughest.

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Patrick Zane Thompson, Former ASU Football Player, Arrested for Animal Cruelty

Former Arizona State football player Patrick Zane Thompson was arrested Saturday after allegedly putting his family's dog in a lit smoker and breaking its neck.

Thompson, 42, had been smoking marijuana and having an "episode" before he broke the white poodle's neck, per court documents Katie Faller of the Republic obtained. He said he believed he had to make a male sacrifice to God after burning his daughter's shirt, per Jonathan Lowe of

That's when, per police documents Faller cited, Thompson said he chose killing the dog over committing suicide or sacrificing his six-year-old son. Officers found him with a self-inflicted cut in his arm. It's unclear whether it was a suicide attempt.

After inspecting the home, officers found the poodle in a barbecue smoker with an open flame, per Lowe.

"Police say Thompson admitted to then breaking the dog's neck and strangling it until it 'could not breathe,'" Lowe reported. "He allegedly told officers the sacrifice was not done and that he had to put the dog in a 'lake of fire.'"

His family escaped and called police. 

Thompson has been charged with two felonies and four misdemeanors related to the dog's death, including animal cruelty, making threats to his family and evidence tampering. He was booked on a $20,000 bond and is scheduled for another court appearance May 23, per Faller and Lowe.


Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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If Alabama Loses Cam Robinson, the Tide's Chances to Repeat Will Greatly Suffer

When the phone of a head football coach rings at 3:37 a.m. in the offseason, it's the college football equivalent of fingernails across a chalkboard or that cryptic sound from Jaws when a shark is approaching.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban's phone rang twice Tuesday morning.

According to the Ouachita Parish (Louisiana) Sherriff's Office, Alabama All-SEC left tackle Cam Robinson and reserve defensive back Laurence "Hootie" Jones were arrested in Monroe on weapons and drugs charges. The most serious charge for the two is Robinson's felony charge of possession of a stolen firearm.

Head coach Nick Saban addressed the arrests Wednesday morning, courtesy of Alex Byington of the Decatur Daily.

As Michael Casagrande of notes, the penalty under Louisiana law for felony possession of a stolen weapon is "not less than one year nor more than five years" in prison.

It's safe to say any potential punishment from the school might be a nonissue because, if convicted, Robinson might not be available to play for Alabama in 2016.

Robinson has started every game of his career over his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa despite several nagging injuries.

Without him in the lineup, it would be very hard to pick Alabama to repeat as national champs.

Robinson was the anchor.

The rock.

The stabilizing force on an offensive line that already has to navigate through a massive overhaul without three-year starter and 2016 first-round draft pick Ryan Kelly at center.

As ESPN Stats & Info notes, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and the rest of the Crimson Tide running backs did their best work outside of Robinson.

That was with Henry and a center who had three years of experience adjusting the blocking scheme at the line of scrimmage under his belt.

That offensive line won the inaugural Joe Moore Award in 2015, which is given to the nation's best unit. But it struggled at times, including in the first half of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Clemson. Now, it will be without its two best players from a year ago and has a new running back and quarterback behind it.

Alabama's offensive identity is as a power rushing attack that dominates the line of scrimmage, establishes the run and works off play action downfield.

Every single part of that equation is a question this offseason, and Robinson's arrest makes it even more difficult to answer.

As Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News noted on Twitter, Robinson's backups aren't exactly household names.

Korren Kirven started one game at right tackle in place of Dominick Jackson last year, according to his bio, and moved over from the defensive line after the 2014 season. Lester Cotton didn't record any stats as a freshman last year, and Jonah Williams is a freshman.

Think of the defensive fronts Alabama has to face early in the season.

Southern California is short on experience but loaded with talent, like rising sophomore linemen Rasheem Green and Noah Jefferson. Then in Week 3, that road trip to Ole Miss and the fearsome Rebel defensive front that features tackle Breeland Speaks and end Marquis Haynes looms large.

Robinson can deal with the speed Haynes brings off the edge. I'm not sure anybody else on the Alabama roster can at this point of their careers.

Later on down the road? Maybe. Three games into the season? Not likely.

Arkansas in Week 6 should be stout up front with Deatrich Wise Jr. off the edge, Tennessee the following week is loaded with stars in the trenches like Derek Barnett, LSU has an NFL draft's worth of monsters in its front seven, and Auburn's defensive line with end Carl Lawson and tackle Montravius Adams should be stellar if everybody can stay healthy.

It's unlikely Alabama can run that gauntlet with Robinson off an offensive line that already is undergoing some significant changes, a new feature back and new quarterback without at least a couple of losses, which makes a second straight title seem more like fantasy than reality.

Nothing good happens after 2 a.m. As a result, Alabama will be fighting an uphill battle in 2016.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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College Football Teams with Worst National Championship Droughts

Every season brings renewed hope for college football teams that once won a national championship but haven't hoisted the trophy recently.

But in some cases, the drought has reached multiple decades and might not have a realistic end in sight.

The list focuses on programs that have claimed at least one title and is limited to power-conference schools. A current "Group of Five" team such as Army (1946) or Navy (1926) simply gets a mention here.

Remember, only since 1998 has college football had a championship game. Before then, polls decided the No. 1 team, and programs could claim a title—which is recorded in the NCAA record book or a respective program's media guide.

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Predicting First Loss for Every Projected 2016 Top 25 College Football Team

College football, at its highest levels, can be a highly unforgiving game. The combination of only 12 regular-season games and ever-increasing amounts of television dollars and attention create an environment where winning, winning big and winning quickly are paramount. The pressure is intense, and there is little margin for error.

The College Football Playoff has created an exclusive club that only four teams can join per year. It also fosters intense scrutiny that centers around the weekly CFP Top 25 polls that begin midway through the season and run through the national title game. A loss makes the road to the playoff difficult but not impossible to traverse. In its brief two-year history, only two teams (Florida State in 2014 and Clemson in 2015) have finished the regular season unbeaten.

So for almost everyone, losses can and do occur. We’ve taken our best shot at predicting when they’ll happen for each preseason Top 25 team. This ranking was compiled by using a consensus of current preseason Top 25 polls. Losses were predicted by considering opponents and the difficulty of games as they appear on an individual team’s schedule.

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Predicting Who Will Lead Major College Football Stat Categories in 2016

College football is a great sport for stat heads. Nearly everything that happens on a field can be tracked, and some of the best analytics minds in sports are constantly finding new ways to more accurately explain all the action.

The game's collective obsession with stats extends into everything from game predictions to awards races to smack talk between rivals fans. People want to dig into box scores after a game or keep an eye on the final numbers that stand out on the TV networks' bottom lines.

So as the offseason continues, let's take a look at some players who could be leading their respective positions in statistical categories this fall.

Here are 10 major stat categories from and predictions on who will top those charts this season. These picks are based on past performances and potential for the upcoming season, with factors such as fellow returning starters—or the lack of them—playing into the projections. 

Who do you think will lead the way in these stat categories this fall? Shout out your picks in the comments below.

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