Although they aren't household names just yet, many of the top high school football players in the country will be on display at the 2016 Army All-American Bowl.
The Under Armour All-America Game featured a good portion of the top competitors in the 2016 class, although the upcoming showcase isn't exactly a consolation battle. Saturday's game includes the best quarterbacks in the nation and many skill players who will be on highlight reels throughout the next few years at the collegiate level.
If you want to watch the future stars of your favorite team or just want to get a preview of the next few years of college football, this game is a good place to start. Here is a look at everything you need to know to keep you informed about the upcoming exhibition.
When: Saturday, Jan. 9
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio
Top Players to Watch
Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia
One of the biggest stories during the week is the battle to be the top quarterback in the 2016 class. K.J. Costello has an argument, although most seem to consider this a two-man race between Jacob Eason and Shea Patterson.
Eason noted this week that the competition to be No. 1 is on his mind, although he is more concerned with the future, per Adam Gorney of Rivals.com:
I would be lying if it wasn’t something I strived for. I wouldn’t be devastated if I wasn’t and it wouldn’t destroy my life, but any competitive person wants to be No. 1.
We don’t really talk about rankings or who’s No. 1, it’s more about college and success. It would be really cool for Georgia to play Ole Miss for the SEC championship and to go head-to-head in that respect.
Per Gorney, Eason is committed to play for Georgia, while Patterson is headed to Ole Miss, meaning there could be some exciting SEC battles in the future if these players live up to expectations.
While both players have high potential, Eason represents a better physical presence at this stage in their careers. At about 6'6", he is a few inches taller than Patterson (6'2") and turns that into superior arm strength on both deep and mid-range throws. In any case, it will be interesting to see which player performs the best on the big stage in this All-Star event.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
No matter what happens to Clemson in the national championship game, the Tigers will be back for more next year with a lot of returning talent. To make things even scarier for opposing teams, they are adding top talent like Dexter Lawrence to an already-elite defense.
You can only show so much in practice, but Lawrence has certainly been a standout in the week leading up to the All-American Bowl. Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com noted Lawrence and Derrick Brown have been dominant on the defensive side of the ball:
Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports hears even higher praise from coaches in attendance:
Lawrence is a physically imposing specimen at 6'4", 327 pounds, but he also has the agility to get past opposing linemen and into the backfield with regularity. His strength will ensure he gets on the field early at Clemson, and it won't be long before he is an All-Conference performer or even better.
Considering how advanced he is compared to other high school players, you will likely hear his name called quite a bit in the exhibition game.
Isaac Nauta, TE, Undecided
It's rare to see a tight end highlighted as a top player, especially at the high school or college level, but Isaac Nauta is not an ordinary tight end. The 6'4" athlete has a chance to be a game-changer over the next few years no matter where he ends up.
Not only is Nauta an explosive athlete, but he also has soft hands that will make him a serious threat over the middle. This play down the seam will definitely beat most defenses, per Barton Simmons of 247Sports:
The tight end will announce his college decision during the Army All-American Bowl, and he is down to Michigan, Georgia and Alabama, per Sam Webb of Scout.com. As one of the top uncommitted players in the class, this moment will be just as exciting as the game itself.
Although he will disappoint plenty of fans in this moment, his play on the field will be must-see action during this showcase.
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Lopsided results have characterized the 2015-16 bowl season and national semifinals, but college football fans can at least take comfort in knowing that the biggest game of all, the 2016 College Football National Championship, indeed features the two best teams in the nation in No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama.
There's a good chance the game is as competitive as the two teams' respective resumes would suggest.
Clemson is looking to complete a 15-0 undefeated season and capture the school's first national championship since 1981. For Alabama, it's a chance at a 16th national title and fifth under head coach Nick Saban.
The stakes are high; the stage is set. All that's left is to play the game.
Here's a rundown of the viewing info and odds, followed by a look at some interesting prop bets for the game. Game odds are courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of Friday, January 8 at 7 a.m. ET.
CFP National Championship 2016: Alabama vs. Clemson
When: Monday, January 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
Watch: ESPN or live stream at WatchESPN
Odds: Alabama (-6.5); over-under: 50.5
No surprise here. The player given the best odds to score the game's first touchdown is the Heisman Trophy winner. Derrick Henry tops the list, which is hardly a surprise considering he scored 25 of his team's 50 offensive touchdowns this year. He has a fine track record of getting the Crimson Tide off to a fine start. Henry has scored the first touchdown for either team in seven of 14 games this year.
Clemson running back Wayne Gallman and Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley aren't too far behind. Gallman is perhaps under-appreciated outside of Clemson thanks to sharing a backfield with star quarterback Deshaun Watson. The sophomore back has 13 touchdowns on the season and has scored in six of Clemson's last seven games.
Calvin Ridley is Alabama's top receiving threat and scored twice against Michigan State in the semifinal. Then again, he only has seven touchdowns on the entire season and will face a difficult test in Clemson corner Mackensie Alexander. It would be quite the feat if he beats Alexander for the first score of the game.
Watson is a better threat than most quarterbacks to take it upon himself to score. Equally dangerous as a passer and runner, Watson has scored a staggering eight rushing touchdowns in his last five games. If there is a run defense to shut him down, it would appear to be Alabama's. ESPN.com notes the Crimson Tide defense doesn't like to let quarterbacks run around too much:
Just as Watson’s running has hit a high gear lately, Alabama’s rush defense appears to be peaking.
The Crimson Tide held Michigan State to 29 rushing yards in the Cotton Bowl, a season low for the Spartans. It was the sixth straight opponent the Crimson Tide held to fewer than 100 rush yards, the longest active FBS streak -- by four games.
Can a running quarterback hurt Alabama? The Tide have allowed one 20-yard rush by a quarterback this season.
Then again, Watson is a rare athlete. Alabama (nor any other team) doesn't often come across quarterbacks with his speed and instincts as a ball-carrier. He's the type of player who can flummox even the stoutest of run defenses, especially with a talented back like Gallman drawing plenty of attention.
According to TeamRankings.com, Alabama's highest-scoring quarter is the second, at 10.6 points per game in this frame. Same goes for the Tigers, who have averaged 11.6 points per second quarters this season. The odds in the table above reflect this reality.
While Clemson does a pretty good job of picking up points throughout the game, it appears Alabama is a slow starter. It averages just 4.6 points per first quarter, per TeamRankings.com. For a power-running team, this seems pretty intuitive. It may take a drive or two to break down the opposing defense and let the floodgates open. Chewing the clock also comes into play.
If this game is close, the fourth quarter might be a good bet to see a bunch of points. Smaller, speedy players like Clemson's Hunter Renfrow could have a better chance of turning a short gain into a long one. Watson is dangerous in a two-minute drill against a prevent defense.
Henry loves to wear teams down. If he doesn't score early, he's a good bet to finish drives late. Alabama center Ryan Kelly told Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh why it's so hard for defenses to contain Henry:
He’s got the endurance. I mean, the guy can run for days. Defensive guys, when we start going fast in the third and fourth quarter, them getting off the ground, running back there and trying to get lined up, then you’ve got Derrick Henry running at you and you have to tackle him, do it all over again, that kind of wears down defenders.
I can’t [speak] for them, but a guy like his stature, his size, his speed, I wouldn’t want to do that every time. It would suck.
Apparently, the oddsmakers feel this game has a better chance of starting off with a touchdown than a field goal. In 55 red-zone trips, Clemson scored 33 touchdowns and 16 field goals; it has little trouble finishing off drives. Alabama also put up far more touchdowns than field goals when it got close to paydirt, with 33 touchdowns and 15 field goals in 59 red-zone trips.
This is to say nothing of the several long touchdowns Henry ripped off this year, or the big plays in the passing game engineered by Watson and Alabama QB Jake Coker.
Clemson's scoring ability is sound, but this is Alabama's defense we're talking about. Even if Watson's mobility proves troublesome, Alabama can clamp down in the red zone, where the field is shorter and there's less room to maneuver.
An early Clemson drive stalling out because the likes of Alabama linebackers Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster can hunt down Watson and Gallman without worrying about leaving swaths of open grass behind them seems like a distinct possibility.
On the flip side, Henry driving into the teeth of Clemson's excellent defensive front might take some time to set up the passing game. Jake Coker faces a strong pass rush and a strong cornerback duo in Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley.
Barring a big downfield play early on, Alabama's passing game might only take off once Henry and (perhaps) a dash of Kenyan Drake have established the run and forced Clemson to draw in its defense.
These two teams have little trouble finishing drives, but national-title jitters and strong defensive play might mean field goals come first in this contest.
Prop bets are courtesy of Oddschecker.com and updated as of Friday, January 8 at 7 a.m. ET.
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Urban Meyer expected to lose a few underclassmen to next year’s NFL draft, but the Ohio State Buckeyes head coach didn’t expect the reigning champs to lose as much firepower as they have.
Nine Buckeyes have already announced their intentions to go pro, a figure well above what Meyer forecast—even with Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones declaring in November with two games to play.
But Meyer admitted it comes with the territory, per Austin Ward of ESPN.com:
Nine is a lot. Nine’s a lot. The four or five [is more manageable]. One year at Florida we had 12 players send in their paperwork, and you're like, 'My goodness.' I mean, it's what we do when you recruit like that.
I've been in scenarios where you don't have a lot of conversations about the NFL because you don't have that caliber of players. This was over the top.
Meyer's recruiting classes have ranked fifth, second, third and seventh in the nation, respectively, in his four seasons, per 247Sports.
The nine Buckeyes who have declared for the 2016 draft are Jones, Elliott, defensive end Joey Bosa, safety Tyvis Powell, safety Vonn Bell, cornerback Eli Apple, linebacker Darron Lee, wide receiver Jalin Marshall and wide receiver Michael Thomas.
Meyer admitted some of those decisions surprised him, but he wouldn’t specify which ones.
"A couple, yeah, but I'm not going to get into names," Meyer said, per Ward.
But the three-time national champion coach also said he appreciated how each player handled his departure: "I'm a fan of great players, and a bunch of those guys are going to play for a while. They decided to chase their dreams, and everyone was so professional about how they did this."
As many as five players project to go in the first round, meaning the Buckeyes will have voids across the depth chart to fill before national signing day in February.
But Meyer and Co. are already in prime position to reload with a class that ranks second in the 247Sports composite rankings.
Ohio State went 12-1, with its one blemish being a 17-14 loss to Michigan State, which dashed the Buckeyes’ chances of playing in the Big Ten Championship Game and reaching the College Football Playoff.
While Ohio State will look different in the fall, given Meyer’s track record of turning around rosters after churning out NFL talent, there’s no reason to believe the Buckeyes won’t be in the thick of CFP contention in 2016.
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With Tennessee's athletic department finally operating in the black after having to emerge from a deep financial hole created by poor leadership and blundering coaching hires, some may think the Volunteers can't yet afford to hire a marquee defensive coordinator.
Quite frankly, at this stage of coach Butch Jones' tenure, the Vols can't afford not to.
Tennessee is ready to win big. The Vols just finished a 9-4 season with six straight victories to close a very successful 2015 campaign. They were 17 points away from being undefeated and led in the second half of every single loss.
Yet on Wednesday, Jones parted ways with defensive coordinator John Jancek after a season where UT finished 36th nationally in total defense.
Despite the respectable ranking, the Vols struggled on defense at key moments, particularly in fourth-down situations during a grueling 28-27 loss at Florida that culminated with a 63-yard Antonio Callaway reception on 4th-and-14 that ultimately gave the Gators the win.
Also, the fourth quarter and overtime in the loss to Oklahoma and the final drive against Alabama stood out as opportunities for UT to make a call or a play that could have turned the season's momentum sooner.
Though there were moments of futility, Jancek's tenure at Tennessee was solid. Players developed, the numbers were never bad and the Vols progressed and improved. That's why you can't make this move if you're Jones unless you know you can make a home run hire.
VolQuest's Brent Hubbs and John Brice wrote that those close to Jones say this was a "move to take Tennessee to a championship level." Now, Tennessee has to pony up whatever it takes to do that.
If UT is going to be an elite program again, it has to act like one. More importantly, it has to pay like one.
Once LSU lost defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to Auburn, the Tigers opened the checkbook for Wisconsin coordinator Dave Aranda, quickly securing him with $1.3 million to come to the Bayou, according to NOLA.com's James Smith.
Sure, that's a lot of money, but big bucks can be parlayed into big wins which generate even bigger bucks.
As Alabama has shown over Nick Saban's tenure, you have to spend money to make money. Think anybody in Tuscaloosa is grumbling about that huge paycheck Saban makes, especially with all those national championship rings and dollar bills being pumped out of the Crimson Tide factory like NFL defensive linemen?
Of course not.
Alabama football is a moneymaking machine, and when it comes to coaching hires, nobody pays like UA. Strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran's $600,000 paycheck is more than any Tennessee on-field assistant coach currently makes.
The Vols are getting there financially.
Jones received a lucrative raise this year, and athletic director Dave Hart also gave him another $500,000 for his assistant coaches' pool. The financial doldrums are a thing of the past as UT ranked third in Forbes.com's list of most valuable college football programs.
It's time to take that money and make some more. Jones has to get the right guy, but, most importantly, he needs to get his guy.
Most of the buzz surrounding this search is centering on Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Not only is he one of the most respected coaches in the game, he has a history recruiting Middle Tennessee for Penn State head coach James Franklin when both were at Vanderbilt.
Considering Nashville and the corridor to Murfreesboro have been fertile recruiting soils recently and only figure to keep producing more talent, it's essential that the Vols improve the relationships there. After plucking several top-notch prospects out of the area the past two years, UT hasn't fared as well in this cycle.
Plus, Shoop is a pretty darn good on-the-field coordinator, too.
Other names being thrown around are North Carolina DC and former Auburn national championship head coach Gene Chizik and Houston DC Todd Orlando—a young, energetic assistant who has excelled everywhere he's been.
That trio is a strong start to the search, and if that's truly who Jones is zeroing in on, it needs to go no further than there. If Shoop's the guy, throw enough money at him to make him take it. If it's Chizik you want, do what it takes to get him back to the SEC.
With eight defensive starters returning in 2016 (if Cameron Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin don't choose to enter the NFL draft early), next year could be special. The Vols have all their offensive horses returning, and there's no reason to believe a playoff run is out of the question.
But you can't be bumbling around on defense and expect to win games. Jones must find the perfect fit for his scheme and philosophy and make a move that will be seamless as UT enters an era where it should compete for SEC championships.
The Vols have experienced both sides of the coin recently. When offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian left for the NFL following last season, Jones pegged Mike DeBord as his replacement, and UT rushed for the second-most yards in school history and wound up with a strong step forward offensively.
However, back in 2012 when Derek Dooley was facing a make-or-break season with a slew of talent, he lost defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to Washington and replaced him with Sal Sunseri, who implemented a 3-4 scheme without the personnel.
The Vols wound up having a historically awful defense that cost Dooley his job and UT a step forward with an offense full of future NFL players.
Nobody is comparing this situation to that one. Tennessee is in far better shape from a personnel standpoint, on firm footing as a program and appears to be on the precipice of sustained success.
But the Sunseri failure is a lesson in hires gone awry, nonetheless. Does Dave Clawson ring a bell? That one wound up backfiring for the Vols, too.
So pardon Tennessee fans if they're a little bit gun shy when it comes to making drastic changes at pivotal program points. There have been forgettable nightmares that sent UT spiraling.
Jones, however, should be commended for taking this type of chance at this juncture of his tenure.
Rather than wring his hands over a decision or tread water in the mires of mediocrity, the third-year coach evaluated his team, decided Jancek wasn't the man to get the defense to a championship level and made the tough decision.
With this move, Jones proves he isn't scared to roll the dice. Just because it was a bold move, though, doesn't make it the right one.
Now comes the hard part: What the Vols do with the hire is what will ultimately determine how good they can be. When it comes to elevating your program, you can't be scared of change—as in personnel change or pocket change.
You don't make a move this drastic without having somebody in mind. Now, Jones just has to go out and get him, no matter what it takes.
All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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