NCAA Football

How Jim Harbaugh Brought the NFL to the Big Ten

When Tyrone Wheatley jumped Kentucky's Vince Marrow in 247Sports' rankings of the nation's top recruiting assistant coaches on Wednesday, it didn't come as much of a shock.

After all, the Michigan running backs coach has helped secure pledges from seven of the Wolverines' 11 commitments in what ranks as the nation's fifth-ranked class in the 2017 recruiting cycle.

What may be a surprise, however, is the realization this is only Wheatley's fifth full cycle on the recruiting trail—his second at Michigan following previous brief stints at Eastern Michigan and Syracuse, which were sandwiched between a stop as the Buffalo Bills running backs coach.

His experience is dwarfed by college counterparts and fellow ace recruiters such as Ohio State's Tony Alford, Oklahoma's Kerry Cooks and Florida State's Odell Haggins, each of whom possesses more than a decade's worth of tenure in the college ranks.

But when it comes to Jim Harbaugh's staff in Ann Arbor—and as evidenced by Wheatley's success—the less experience at the college level, the better. At least that's how it seems in Harbaugh's first 15 months at his alma mater, as NFL experience has turned into the Wolverines' most reliable recruiting weapon.

And the rest of the Big Ten has taken notice, with some even following suit.

Take one look at the Michigan coaching staff's resume, and extensive experience at the college level isn't as prevalent as one might think. In fact, the only Wolverines assistant to spend his entire coaching career in the college ranks is the staff's newest member, defensive coordinator Don Brown, who was hired to replace D.J. Durkin this past offseason.

With former high school coach Chris Partridge having just been promoted to linebackers coach this offseason, eight of Michigan's 10 coaches—including Harbaugh—possess some form of NFL coaching experience.

"I think it does help that there has been NFL experience in our coaches' background," Harbaugh said on national signing day in 2015. "A lot of our players, that's one of their goals, to make it to the NFL."

The level of NFL experience for each Wolverines assistant varies, with some coaches, such as Wheatley and defensive line coach Greg Mattison, having spent just a few years at the pro level. Others—including offensive coordinator/passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch—possess more prominent NFL resumes. Harbaugh is a blend of both, having spent seven combined years at San Diego and Stanford before his four years with the San Francisco 49ers that preceded his return to Ann Arbor.

As one might expect, Harbaugh hasn't hidden his staff's NFL ties. Some of the Wolverines' most prominent recruiting materials have related to their track record in the professional ranks, whether it be promoting players that the staff produced to or coached at the next level.

"We don't discourage that," Harbaugh said of prospects' desire to play in the NFL. "In fact, we try to teach it."

Thus far, the results speak for themselves.

After failing to arrive in time to save Michigan's 2015 class, Harbaugh and his staff went to work on the 2016 cycle early, ultimately securing the nation's fifth-ranked class, including the country's No. 1 overall prospect, 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary. As relayed to Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue, several of the Wolverines' prized players chose Harbaugh and his staff based on their NFL acumen.

"You're going to get coached on an NFL level, and your football IQ will be high, if not the highest, coming out of college," 3-star linebacker Elysee Mbem-Bosse said.

"Coach Harbaugh and his staff set themselves apart with me by installing a pro-like system," added 4-star defensive end Ron Johnson.

With 10 months to go until the next national signing day, Michigan already appears well on its way toward putting together a 2017 class that could rival—if not surpass—its predecessor. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Wheatley, the Wolverines lay claim to commitments from three 4-star prospects, as well as the nation's top pro-style passer prospect in 5-star quarterback Dylan McCaffrey.

Perhaps it's not a coincidence that with the success Michigan has found with its pro-centric approach, other programs across the Big Ten have attempted to emulate a similar staff makeup. Illinois' hiring of Lovie Smith brought an NFL-caliber staff to Champaign, while Nebraska's Mike Riley—a former NFL coach—filled two vacancies in Lincoln this offseason with assistants with NFL experience.

Even at Ohio State, the one Big Ten school to still out-recruit the Wolverines since Harbaugh's arrival, Urban Meyer's has added professional experience to his staff's recruiting repertoire. After defensive coordinator Chris Ash took the head coaching job at Rutgers, the Buckeyes head coach brought on Greg Schiano, who last served as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach from 2012 to 2013.

"Any time you have [an NFL] guy, that's the catch name," Meyer said. "That's a big part of recruiting, that's a big part of just instantaneous respect. We're reliant, leaning on him quite a bit."

"If you're recruiting the right players, they want to play in the NFL, right?" Schiano said about what he brings to the staff. "That's the talent level that we recruit here at Ohio State. So I can hopefully give them the true picture of what it is."

The reality is that not just the players in the Big Ten are looking for that NFL experience from head coaches—the programs are searching for it too. That didn't seem to happen much until Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor with his NFL-caliber coaching staff and watched as the results on the recruiting trail followed.

Of course, accomplishing what Harbaugh has in such a short time is easier said than done. It's worth noting that few NFL coaches were as successful as he was during his time in the pros, where he helped lead the 49ers to three consecutive NFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance.

That, however, won't stop his Big Ten rivals from trying, especially as the NFL experience of coaches like Wheatley continues to pay dividends at the college level.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dalvin Cook Injury: Updates on FSU RB's Recovery from Shoulder Surgery

Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook is done for the remainder of spring practice thanks to a shoulder injury.

Continue for updates.

Cook Expected Back Before Fall Camp   Wednesday, April 6

Florida State can ill afford to lose superstar running back Cook for actual game action this season. Fortunately for Seminoles fans, Tim Linafelt of the school's official athletics website reported head coach Jimbo Fisher announced Cook is “expected back this summer” after shoulder surgery.

Fisher provided more details, via FSU Football:

There was plenty of hype surrounding Cook when he arrived at Florida State as a 5-star recruit, per 247Sports’ composite rankings. Thus far, he has lived up to that hype by eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first two years on campus:

Cook carried the offense for stretches last season after quarterback Jameis Winston left for the NFL and proceeded to set a school record with 1,691 rushing yards. Cook rushed for more than 100 yards eight times and was particularly dominant against in-state schools, running for 266 yards and three scores against South Florida, 222 yards and two scores against Miami and 183 yards and two scores against Florida.

He also turned heads across the country when he compiled 194 rushing yards and a score against a Clemson Tigers squad that eventually played in the national championship game.

Cook finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting in 2015 and has the sixth-best odds to win the award this season, per Odds Shark.

While Cook is expected back well before the season opener on Sept. 5 against Ole Miss, the Seminoles do have some depth at the running back position with Jacques Patrick and Jonathan Vickers.

Patrick found the end zone five times in his freshman season and averaged a solid five yards per carry behind Cook. Vickers is a physical backup who could pick up difficult yardage up the middle at 6’1” and 227 pounds.

Florida State has insurance policies in place, but it needs Cook back and healthy if it hopes to compete for an ACC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Teams Whose Next QB Will Be Better Than Current Starter

Just as the grass is always greener, the quarterback will be better on the other side. At least that's the hope.

College football fans can't help themselves when it comes to wanting bigger and better things—it's the nature of fandom. But in the case of some FBS teams, expecting future improvement at the quarterback position is a necessity.

We're still almost five months away from the start of the 2016 season, though at some schools the prospects for 2017 look much better than what's in store this fall. It's not necessarily that the current quarterback situation is bad; rather, it's that the future looks so much brighter than the present.

Here's our list of college football teams that should have a much better starting quarterback in 2017 season than in 2016.

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What Former Florida QB Will Grier's Transfer Means for West Virginia, Big 12

The Big 12 Conference is turning into a destination for former SEC quarterbacks, with ex-Florida passer Will Grier's transfer to West Virginia marking the second such move in the past four months.

Grier joins former Texas A&M quarterback Kyler Murray, now at Oklahoma, as top-tier passers whose circumstances prompted them to make a move and a Big 12 school proved to be the best option. Neither will be eligible until 2017—and Grier's eligibility remains in doubt because of an outstanding NCAA suspension—but their arrival will only improve the overall quality of that conference's QB play.

West Virginia announced (h/t ESPN's Travis Haney) Wednesday that Grier will enroll in May and will have two years of eligibility remaining. The 6'2”, 201-pound Grier announced in December he was leaving Florida, where he played six games (starting five) as a redshirt freshman, but in October, he was hit with a one-year suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Grier has said the failed test was due to an over-the-counter supplement, and Haney wrote that "WVU officials were satisfied with Grier's explanation."

It's unclear how Grier's transfer will impact what remains of his NCAA suspension. It's supposed to be for one calendar year, and an appeal to have the suspension limited to just the remainder of the 2015 season was denied. If his transfer-mandated year off doesn't get counted toward the suspension, he might not be eligible until October 2017.

Regardless of when Grier is allowed to play for the Mountaineers, his addition helps address a positional need that has been in effect for the majority of coach Dana Holgorsen's tenure. It's also continuing Holgorsen's reliance on transfers, as Grier could be the third such transfer QB to start since he was hired in 2011.

Skyler Howard, a junior college transfer who came to Morgantown in 2014, is set to be West Virginia's starter for the second year this fall. He took over the starting job late in 2014 from Clint Trickett, who began his career at Florida State.

Howard threw for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns last year as a junior, but he was intercepted 14 times and his 54.8 completion rate was worst among FBS quarterbacks with at least 400 pass attempts. He threw for 532 yards and five TDs in the Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State but also had two interceptions and finished the year with four games where he had a sub-50 percent completion rate. Despite his struggles, however, he remained West Virginia's best option over then-freshmen William Crest and David Sills.

Crest played in 11 games but was just 11-of-25 with an interception along with a rushing TD, while Sills—who once committed to USC as a seventh-grader—played eight games at wide receiver and had seven catches with two TDs, including the game-winner in the Cactus Bowl. The Mountaineers' 2016 roster lists six quarterbacks, including one from the 2016 recruiting class (Cody Saunders) who enrolled early.

None, however, was as highly rated coming out of high school as Grier. Rated by 247Sports as the No. 2 pro-style passer in the 2014 class, Grier threw for 1,204 yards with 10 TDs and three interceptions on 65.8 percent passing with Florida, helping the Gators to a 6-0 start. He was 24-of-29 for 271 yards and four TDs in a win over Ole Miss, his second-to-last game before getting suspended.

West Virginia hasn't had a non-transfer start at quarterback since November 2013, when Paul Millard started at Kansas as a junior. The only multiyear non-transfer starter in Holgorsen's tenure was Geno Smith, whom he inherited from previous coach Bill Stewart.

Grier's move to West Virginia not only boosts that school's quarterback lineup but also that of the Big 12, which, outside of Baylor and Texas, hasn't been that successful in recruiting (and retaining) prep passers. Grier and Murray (the No. 1 dual-threat QB in 2015) will make for a major talent upgrade in 2017.

 

Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Complete Previews for Top College Football Spring Games This Weekend

A true college football weekend won't return for another five months, but this upcoming one is the closest we'll get for quite some time. 

While a few teams across the country have already wrapped up their respective camps with their annual open scrimmages, this Friday and Saturday mark the first major days of the spring game slate. For the next three weekends, schools will have college football-like substances for fans in stadiums and on their couches.

Two of the four College Football Playoff teams from last season will hold their annual spring games, while other contenders and teams on the rise in the Power Five leagues will also take the field. A new head coach will get to showcase his new team in the SEC, and the ACC will offer its top two teams for your viewing pleasure.

Here are the FBS spring game schedules for this upcoming Friday and Saturday—complete with times and television options—and complete previews of the top 10 scrimmages of the weekend.

What is the top storyline for each team in 2016? What battles will take center stage, and which players will be looking to put exclamation points on their strong spring camps? Let's take a look.

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Will Grier to WVU: Latest Transfer Details, Comments, Reaction

The West Virginia Mountaineers announced Wednesday that quarterback Will Grier will transfer to the school.

The redshirt freshman threw for 1,202 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions for the Florida Gators in 2015. With Grier under center, the Gators looked like one of the SEC's best teams. He helped engineer a 38-10 upset of then-No. 3 Ole Miss. But following a 21-3 victory over Missouri on Oct. 10, the NCAA suspended Grier for a year following a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance.

ESPN.com's Travis Haney reported Wednesday the Mountaineers are hoping to have him ready for the start of the 2017 season after he sits out the NCAA-mandated one year following the transfer. According to Mike Casazza of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Grier sitting out the first six games would be the alternative.

ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff is still a fan of the move from the player's perspective:

The timing would work out perfectly if he's eligible to play right out of the gate in 2017. By the time incumbent starting quarterback Skyler Howard graduates following the 2016 season, the Mountaineers will have already figured out his replacement.

Smart Football's Chris B. Brown is surprised, though, the current coaching staff is looking that far down the road:

Should head coach Dana Holgorsen leave Morgantown, West Virginia, between now and the start of the 2017 season, the team's entire offensive scheme could change, leaving Grier in an unenviable position.

Between his impressive and passable mobility, Grier is certainly a great fit for Holgorsen's spread attack. However, Holgorsen will almost certainly be on the hot seat in 2016, and it remains unknown when Grier will even be able to play. Those two variables make this a somewhat risky move for both parties.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Elite 2018 QB Allan Walters Recaps SEC Visits, Praises Jim Harbaugh's 'QB Mind'

Recent visits into SEC territory continued to alter the collegiate outlook of promising sophomore passer Allan Walters, a New Jersey standout who's drawn interest from universities across America.

The 2018 Paramus Catholic High School recruit, rated No. 6 nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in his class by 247Sports, spent the past two weekends at Ole Miss and Alabama, respectively. Walters received scholarship offers from both programs last summer, so this latest Southeast trek presented an opportunity to further explore each option.

Ole Miss welcomed Walters to Oxford for the first weekend of April, establishing itself as a strong contender in this hotly contested recruitment.

"I loved Ole Miss. I loved it a lot actually," he told Bleacher Report. "[Quarterbacks coach Dan] Werner and [head coach Hugh] Freeze were so welcoming and there's a family atmosphere there. They preach to their kids about being great men off the field as well. I really appreciated that. I loved everything with football, the coaching staff, and off the field there."

Ole Miss is coming off an explosive offensive campaign. Incumbent starter Chad Kelly—a senior—broke or tied 14 single-season school records in 2015, according to Daniel Paulling of the Clarion Ledger, including passing yards (4,042).

Freeze further enhanced his passing attack by signing 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson this past winter. The IMG Academy product, rated No. 1 overall among 2016 prospects at the position, earned MVP honors in the Elite 11 finals and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Patterson enrolled at Ole Miss in January, providing him with early perspective and experience within the program. He shared some initial thoughts on the Rebels during a conversation with Walters.

"Shea said it's a special place and it's really a family there. They care about you," Walters said. "It would be a great opportunity, if he gets the starting role, learning under him for a year or two and then taking over the reins."

Like Walters, Patterson was heavily pursued by the Crimson Tide. Alabama ultimately failed to flip him from an Ole Miss commitment but it's managed to make a strong impression on the young Garden State gunslinger.

Walters traveled to Tuscaloosa for the final weekend of March. He noticed a contrast in environment between SEC rivals.

"It's a different feel than Ole Miss. You get more of a business feel," Walters said. "They're going to get the best out of their players regardless. Day in and day out, it's going to be hard, you're going to work and be pushed to your full ability. You have to have a certain type of mindset for that. Obviously it's paying off with four national championships in seven years."

The reigning College Football Playoff champs identified him among early 2018 targets who warranted an offer, which is substantial when you consider the selective nature of Alabama's approach at quarterback. He caught a glimpse of what it takes to earn starting reps in coordinator Lane Kiffin's offense by chatting with Blake Barnett, Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell.

Each member of this trio is battling for first-team reps in Tuscaloosa. There has been constant competition at quarterback since Kiffin joined Nick Saban's staff in 2014, with seniors Blake Simms and Jake Coker claiming the starting spot in successive seasons.

"It will be interesting to see how this quarterback battle plays out since it's the third one in three years," Walters said.

The current Crimson Tide passers further solidified his sentiment about Alabama's team atmosphere.

"Again, they said Alabama is different in terms of how hard you're going to work. It's going to be a grind but in the end, if you stay focused and do the right things, it's going to pay off for you," Walters said.

Alabama and Ole Miss are in line to receive return visits from Walters this summer, he said. Michigan is also firmly in the mix for future travel plans, solidly situated as a potential landing spot.

Wolverines assistant Chris Partridge was his head coach at Paramus Catholic in 2014 and played a pivotal role in the program's ability to land six New Jersey signees earlier this year.

"I probably don't have a better relationship with any coaching staff in the country," Walters said. "I'm so close with the Michigan coaching staff. Obviously, Coach Partridge is there and [passing game coordinator Jedd] Fisch is a great guy who I can connect to so easy. It's a very enjoyable staff and they're doing special things there, so I'm going to keep building that relationship with them."

Paramus Catholic defensive lineman Rashan Gary, rated No. 1 overall in the 2016 recruiting cycle, was actually with Walters during his discussion with B/R. Months away from enrollment at Michigan, he's become a key resource for the quarterback as recruiting pressure mounts.

"Rashan is one of my best friends so he gives me advice like every day," Walters said. "He kind of regrets his [recruitment] lagging out so long, so he says to try to get it over with early and enjoy it while it lasts. Obviously being around a great player like him has been fun and enjoyable, so I'm learning a lot from him."

Wolverines fans surely hope Gary's presence on the roster can provide further motivation for Walters to join him in Ann Arbor. He's already heaping praise toward head coach Jim Harbaugh, who led his alma mater to 10 victories during an inaugural campaign last season.

"There's no better quarterback mind in the country," Walters said. "He's a different type of coach but that's the special thing about him. He's going to push you physically and mentally, especially at the quarterback position because he knows what it takes to be successful at the college level."

Harbaugh, who starred behind center with the Wolverines before his lengthy NFL career, signed U.S. Army All-American Player of the Year finalist Brandon Peters in the 2016 cycle. He landed a commitment from top-ranked 2017 quarterback Dylan McCaffrey in February, bolstering Michigan's long-term depth chart at the position.

While the Wolverines have secured a blue-chip 2017 passer, Alabama and Ole Miss are still in search. The Crimson Tide lost 4-star Jake Fromm last month when he flipped to Georgia.

In either situation, Walters feels comfortable approaching his recruitment the same. He won't allow the developments of an accelerating 2017 cycle to dictate how he handles his approach toward signing day 2018. 

"It's not really something I take into consideration too much. Regardless of where I go, I know I'll have to compete," Walters said. "I'm a kid who loves to work hard and enjoys competition. That's what I do every day. I like having great players around me because it pushes all of us."

His travel itinerary is likely wrapped up for the spring, though Walters wouldn't rule out a trip within driving distance such as Maryland or in-state Rutgers. He hopes to have a collegiate decision finalized before the start of his junior season but won't restrict himself to that timeline.

Walters, who measured in at approximately 6'2 ½", 200 pounds at Alabama, aims to build off a sophomore campaign that included 1,579 passing yards and 17 touchdown tosses in just six full games.

 

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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Thomas Graham Decommits from USC: Schools to Watch for 4-Star CB

USC’s 2017 class took a hit on Tuesday evening when 4-star corner Thomas Graham announced that he decommitted from an early pledge to the Trojans.

The 5’11”, 170-pounder had been a soft commit to the Trojans since July 2015.

Now, the Rancho Cucamonga [California] High School product—who rates as the nation’s No. 6 corner and the No. 41 player overall in the 2017 class—is back on the market.

Graham has 15 offers to date, and he’s taken recent visits to programs such as Arizona, Notre Dame and Utah.

With Graham hitting the reset button on his recruitment, which programs are worth keeping an eye on as potential landing spots for the talented Golden State standout?

Let’s take a look at a few schools that have already laid the groundwork to become candidates to end up on his short list.

 

Arizona

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, a trio of Pac-12 schools and Notre Dame "are the teams to watch going forward for Graham."

One of those Pac-12 programs is Arizona—which hosted Graham in late March.

The Wildcats are a program that recruits the state of California hard, as evidenced by the fact that half of their 2016 class hails from the Golden State and three of their four pledges in 2017 are also California natives.

Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff are hoping that trend continues with Graham. Assuming they are able to get him on campus again in the near future, they could become a serious threat to get him to leave his home state for college.

 

Arizona State

Another program that could factor into the Graham sweepstakes is Arizona State.

However, for the Sun Devils to become a legit player, they need to get the electric athlete to Tempe for a campus visit in the near future.

Similar to the Wildcats, the Sun Devils are very familiar recruiting neighboring California.

Given the program’s ascent under head coach Todd Graham, the Sun Devils have enough momentum to become a player in the race to land the No. 7 overall prospect from California.

 

Michigan

One program that could become a factor if it offers Graham is Michigan.

The Wolverines signed a trio of prospects from California in their 2016 class, and head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff have been active with Golden State products in the current cycle.

According to Scout’s Brice Marich, Graham is already showing interest in Michigan despite not currently holding an offer from Harbaugh and his staff.

Things are likely in a holding pattern between the two parties until an offer is extended. If that occurs, the Wolverines could go from dark horse to front-runner in Graham’s recruitment.

 

Notre Dame

Notre Dame is another program that was able to host Graham recently.

He made the trek to South Bend, and, as Tom Loy of 247Sports reported, the trip went well enough that he’s already scheduled a return trip in the fall for an official visit.

Now with his recruitment wide open, the lane is open for the Irish to make a move on Graham.

Assuming Graham follows through on his plans to return to South Bend, the Irish appear to be his top out-of-state option at this point.

 

UCLA

With USC seemingly out of the picture, UCLA is the top in-state program in the hunt for Graham.

While geography could help the Bruins in their pursuit of one of the top prospects in their backyard, the fact that Bruins head coach Jim Mora Jr. and his staff were the second program to offer Graham back in February 2015 is also a plus.

As Loy detailed back in February, Graham mentioned plans on visiting UCLA to take in a Bruins spring practice.

Regardless of whether that visit takes place, the Bruins have established a strong relationship with Graham. With that factor and proximity taken into account, UCLA should firmly be in the mix to land him when he makes a final decision.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: 3 Players Who Need to Break out for Buckeyes in 2016

Ohio State lost a wave of superstars with the departures of running back Ezekiel Elliott, linebacker Darron Lee, wide receiver Michael Thomas and 13 other starters from its 2015 team. But with the ever-present expectation of excellence that surrounds the football program, head coach Urban Meyer will need a number of players to break out and have big seasons for the Buckeyes this fall.

The quest to identify those players is underway as the Buckeyes completed the ninth of 15 spring practices on Tuesday. With injuries to some key players and so much youth on the depth chart, Meyer knows he has to start making some tough calls regarding the depth chart.

"We have to make some hard decisions coming up here," Meyer said on Tuesday, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "There’s some guys that are gonna play and some guys that aren’t gonna play."

These three players in particular would provide a huge boost if they're able to break out in 2016. 

 

Mike Weber, Running Back

Throughout the duration of spring camp, the Ohio State coaching staff has routinely talked about the possibility of implementing a running back-by-committee approach for the 2016 season. 

"Will we get to that point? I don't know," Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford said, according to Seger. "I guess the question you're asking is if we'll do it by committee? I don't have that answer right now."

The Buckeyes, of course, are replacing do-everything back Ezekiel Elliott, who paced the offense with 4,125 total yards and 41 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Elliott was the answer Ohio State needed after Carlos Hyde, who piled up 2,689 total yards and 35 touchdowns in 2012 and 2013, graduated three years ago.

With the success Ohio State has had with featured backs, it's not a leap to think Meyer would want that in 2015. For that to happen, someone will have to emerge, and that could be redshirt freshman Mike Weber.

The former 4-star prospect came to Columbus last year and surged in fall camp as a true freshman. He was at his best in a fall scrimmage, when he ran the ball 15 times for nearly 200 yards with "a few touchdowns," according to Dave Biddle of 247Sports.

That's the kind of production that could put Ohio State's offense over the top this year, especially with how much talent the unit is replacing. Weber will have to beat out redshirt junior Bri'onte Dunn, though, who's fighting to break his role as a career backup. 

 

Dante Booker, Linebacker

Ohio State is churning out freak linebackers at an alarming rate.

It started in 2013 when outside linebacker Ryan Shazier showcased his outrageous speed—running a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at Ohio State's pro day. He had anchored Ohio State's defense for three years and was a first-team All-American in his final season.

A year later, Darron Lee came out of nowhere and became a disruptive nightmare working behind (and sometimes alongside) defensive end Joey Bosa. He became college football's best-kept secret during Ohio State's title run in 2014, then became a household name last season. He showcased why at the NFL combine, posting the fastest 40-yard dash for a linebacker at 4.47 seconds.

Is Dante Booker next in line?

Booker is slated to take over Joshua Perry's vacated role at outside linebacker, but he's bringing a much higher athleticism to that side of the field.

"Dante is a way better athlete," middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan said when comparing Booker to Perry, according to The Plain Dealer. "When he gets on the field, he does some things y'all haven't seen yet. He's one of the fastest guys on the defense regardless of position, and he just brings that pop."

 

Austin Mack, Wide Receiver

The hype is growing for 4-star wide receiver Austin Mack, who would be getting ready for his high school prom if he hadn't graduated early to enroll at Ohio State and participate in spring practice.

The true freshman turned heads during winter conditioning and caught the eye of Ohio State's unquestioned leader and quarterback J.T. Barrett.

"He's got a little fight in him," Barrett said of Mack, according to Scout's Tim Moody. "That's the thing, when things are hard in our workouts, those are the times you see you're like all right, he's got a little dog in him."

That momentum has carried over to spring practice, where he's garnered rave reviews from both his teammates and the coaching staff. 

"Austin Mack is going to play next year," Meyer said early in spring practice, via Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report. "It's two days and I know it's too early to say that, which I have a tendency to over-evaluate guys and get too excited about them, but he's doing fantastic."

The Buckeyes could certainly use an impact guy on the perimeter.

Ohio State's passing attack struggled last year, ranking 100th nationally with an average of 188.8 yards per game. Losing the team's top three pass-catchers in Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller doesn't help matters either, so the Buckeyes are in desperate need of perimeter playmakers. 

Mack's early graduation and participation in spring camp has certainly helped his cause, and if he continues to impress through the summer and into fall camp, it'll be hard for Ohio State to keep him off the field and opposing defenses to keep him out of the end zone. 

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Most Talented 2-Way College Football Players of All Time

Names such as Shaq Thompson, Myles Jack and Jabrill Peppers have recently commanded attention because of their versatility.

But those unique talents are simply leading names in an era not focused on two-way college football players.

For decades, the sport was riddled with guys who starred on both sides of the ball. Many of the best suited up before 1960, claiming national awards and All-American honors.

And these aren't just receivers or cornerbacks who also returned kicks. Rather, they're players who held significant roles on offense and defense—and excelled at both while in college.

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4-Star 2018 QB Jalen Mayden Following Family Footsteps in Recruiting Process

SACHSE, Texas — Many who follow college football recruiting in the Dallas area are well-aware of the strength of the Mayden family genes.

It's something 2018 quarterback Jalen Mayden has gotten used to hearing when he speaks to media members. He's the youngest of three brothers who have made their marks on the football field. Oldest brother James Mayden Jr. has established himself as an electrifying option at wide receiver for Rice. And then there's Jared Mayden, a 4-star cornerback who signed with Alabama in February.

All eyes are now on Jalen, a 6'2", 205-pound quarterback for Sachse High School with seven offers. What may be the telling story is that three of those offers—Bryant University, Houston and Oregon State—all came before he ever started a varsity game.

"I'm just thankful there's someone out there who wants to have me as the face of their program," Mayden said. "I've still got a lot of work to do, though."

As a sophomore, Mayden threw for 2,496 yards and 32 touchdowns and completed 65 percent of his passes (178 of 271). He also rushed for 513 yards and four touchdowns. On Sept. 17, Mayden produced his breakout game, throwing for 540 yards and six touchdowns and completing 28 of 33 attempts in a win for Sachse.

"His accuracy, man," Jared said of his brother. "He really doesn't throw balls that make you think it was a dumb pass. He really improved on his decision-making later on as the season went on."

Oklahoma fans will know his last name because of the quarterback's father. James Mayden Sr., at 6'10", was a center for the Sooners basketball team for two years. The brothers' mother is Katrina Salles, who also went to Oklahoma and is an established name in and around Texas as a recruiting aficionado

All three Mayden sons are athletic, but while dad found his niche on the basketball court, the brothers decided that football was their best avenue for success. From the looks of things, all three made the right decision.

And at different positions, no less.

"I started off playing receiver, but I'd always throw the ball," Jalen said. "I really started liking it, so I'd always ask my brothers to do routes and help with my distance and my accuracy."

"He's had a very blessed walk," Salles said of Jalen. "They say the first one always has it the roughest. He watched James go through the process, then watched Jared do it. Now it's his turn, but he knows what needs to be done on the field and academically. He has the right mindset and is always somewhere working."

Mayden's offer list includes Ohio State, Louisville, Mississippi State and Syracuse, along with his first three offers. In-state programs like Baylor, Texas, TCU and Texas A&M are keeping a close eye on him as the spring progresses, according to his mother.

For Jared, watching his younger brother mature into a quarterback recruit has been a treat. He's one of his biggest critics but also one of his biggest fans. In practices last season, neither one was soft on the other, as they both knew that coddling on the field would only hurt their growth as players.

"He has goals," Jared said of Jalen. "When he first started playing, he would say he didn't think it was going to work. He didn't know if this would be for him. Now he looks like a quarterback. I just sit back and watch him."

Family battles seemed to work out just right. They'd have a quarterback (Jalen) throwing to a receiver (James Jr.) with a cornerback (Jared) looking to lock the receiver up. It made for great entertainment. It also built the competitive edge and established an alpha-dog mentality for all three brothers.

"In our household, no one screams, but we mean what we say, and we say what we mean," Salles said. "With Jalen, he's also going to show you what he means when he's doing it. It's kind of how he cultivated his leadership role. He's not afraid to tell his receivers to fix stance or call out a play he thinks the DBs are running."

Mayden's leadership skills will attract college coaches. He is big on team chemistry and maintaining chemistry on and off the field.

"At school, everybody is so focused with taking care of this level to be ready for the next level," Salles said. "They've all bought into the program. At Sachse, you have to walk right, talk right, live right and be prepared. Jalen's really bought into that, and he's a leader."

When he's not directing the offense in practice, Mayden's watching film or in a room with teammates studying position play. Team bonding is important to Jalen, on both sides of the ball. In fact, two athletes who traveled to Houston with Mayden and his mother to compete at last week's The Opening regional line up against him in practice—2017 linebacker Riko Jeffers and 2018 defensive end Zach Gilson.

As he continues to improve throughout the spring, Mayden is hoping he's doing enough to attract additional offers. He said he's going to take his time with the recruiting process and has good mentors in his brothers if he has any questions.

When that time comes to make a decision, Mayden said the winning school will answer pertinent questions that will aid his personal growth.

"Who's going to have the best fit for me? Who's going to make me better throughout my four years as a football player and as a young man?" he said. "I'm looking to make good decisions and learn how to do things outside of football. I just want to be developed, all in all."

Salles is excited about the future of her youngest son. She's anticipating Jalen to one day be the face of a program and go on to do big things like his brothers.

"Hopefully, colleges will see his walk of life and know that they can look at him as trustworthy," she said. "I want them to look at Jalen and say, 'This is our guy.'"

 

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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SEC Football: Predicting the Biggest Upsets in the Conference in 2016

By now, you've read all of the "way-too-early" predictions for the 2016 SEC race.

You've heard all about Alabama earning the benefit of the doubt, LSU's impending return to SEC glory and Tennessee finally getting over the hump and making its first SEC Championship Game since 2007.

The unpredictable, though, is what makes this sport great.

Sometimes 18-to-22-year-old young men have bad days, coaches make mistakes and upsets happen. In this slideshow we predict the eight biggest upsets in SEC football based on talent, scheme, matchup and schedule placement. 

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Big Ten Football: Predicting the Biggest Upsets in the Conference in 2016

With spring games in full gear, the college football season is officially fewer than five months away and, of course, it's never too early to start looking ahead to the upcoming campaign.

And after a 2015 season unlike any other in Big Ten history, it's only gotten tougher to predict what will happen in the conference in the coming year.

That means that upsets could run rampant—perhaps even on a weekly basis—as teams deal with overhauled rosters, programs enter new eras and perennial powerhouses find themselves fighting to stay at the front of the league's food chain. Add in the shocking results for some teams—both good and bad—that played out a year ago, and handicapping the conference for the coming year becomes even more difficult than it already was.

Of course, a lot can change between now and the start of the 2016 season. But while we're waiting, let's go ahead and try to forecast the Big Ten upsets that will be occurring in a season that could ultimately prove to be even crazier than its unpredictable predecessor was.

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Projecting 2016 Win-Loss Records for Every ACC Football Team

It’s hard to believe, but spring football is already entering its final stages around the ACC. Syracuse has already wrapped up its first spring under Dino Babers. On Saturday, Clemson, Duke, Florida State and Wake Forest will put their best faces on for spring football games, with games stretching through April 23 when Georgia Tech, Virginia and Virginia Tech host games of their own.

In other words, we’ll soon pass another milepost on the road to the 2016 college football season opener. Real, meaningful games are less than five months away, and the ACC is plenty excited. Over the last three seasons, the league has gained plenty of national respect. Florida State won the final BCS National Championship and made the College Football Playoff in the following season, and Clemson followed suit by beginning the 2015 season 14-0 before falling to Alabama in the national title game.

With new coaches Mark Richt (Miami), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia) and Babers in the league, ACC officials have reason to believe their conference will take another step forward in the near future, with the hopes of another power emerging to join the Seminoles and Tigers. Will it happen this fall?

Let’s take a look. We’re predicting the win-loss records of every ACC team, considering factors such as returning talent, schedule and recent track record.

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4-Star QB Jake Bentley Enrolling Early at South Carolina a Big Win for Muschamp

The South Carolina quarterback battle just added another competitor—and it's somebody out of the class of 2017.

That's not a typo. A class of 2017 quarterback could be starting for South Carolina in 2016.

Jake Bentley, a 4-star prospect from Opelika, Alabama, announced on Twitter Wednesday morning that he will graduate from high school a year early and begin his South Carolina career this summer.

Bentley, who is the son of South Carolina running backs coach Bobby Bentley (who was an analyst at Auburn last season and a legendary former high school coach in South Carolina), will join a loaded quarterback battle at South Carolina this summer that includes redshirt senior Perry Orth, true freshman early enrollee Brandon McIlwain, sophomore Lorenzo Nunez and junior Connor Mitch.

As Dayne Young of WRBL-TV in Columbus, Georgia, notes, Bentley will head east to Columbia with hype attached to his name.

Does Bentley have the chance to start right away?

A chance, sure.

But asking a kid who should be a senior in high school to learn an offense, figure out the speed of the game and beat out a crowded pack of talented quarterbacks in essentially a month of practice is too much to ask, no matter how much time he has spent around the game with his father.

McIlwain has already jumped to the front of the pack in his first spring practice, and Muschamp said that he and Orth looked great prior to the collarbone injury that knocked the latter out of action this spring, according to David Caraviello of the Post and Courier.

Bentley's quest to start is only one part of the story, though.

The bigger news that stems from Bentley's decision is that the quarterback talent Muschamp has amassed in Columbia is incredibly impressive.

Bentley has a 0.9511 ranking, according to 247Sports, and now joins McIlwain, who boasted a 0.9254. Muschamp has successfully recruited two of the top three quarterbacks South Carolina has had over the last decade.

Think about that for a second.

Muschamp, who's hardly known for developing quarterbacks into stars, now has a better reputation of recruiting top-tier quarterbacks to South Carolina than Steve Spurrier—a man who literally changed the game of college football because of quarterback play.

That's strong.

What he will do with those quarterbacks is still a mystery, but he's giving himself and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper plenty of chances for success with players who not only are highly rated, but also touted for different reasons.

Bentley has a strong arm, can stretch the ball sideline-to-sideline and make all of the throws required to keep defenses honest. What's more, he's a good runner who can at least pose a threat on read-options, which is a staple in Roper offenses.

McIlwain is the opposite. His ability to create on the ground is as good as it gets, and is no slouch in the passing game either. 

Muschamp has things cooking on the recruiting trail in Columbia.

The next step is having that potential translate to success on the field.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is 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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Wolverines' Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

Though there aren't many football-related worries in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Wolverines wrapped up spring practice with a handful of mild concerns.

Perhaps to the irritation of some, the primary topic remains Michigan's quarterback battle. But with a competition this important, it's simply unavoidable.

While the Wolverines avoided serious injuries this spring, a series of ailments revealed a minor yet notable depth issue.

Michigan has five months to address each concern—none of which are debilitating individually. However, they could pose a significant problem if combined.

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Auburn Football: Players to Watch in Tigers' Spring Game

AUBURN, Ala. — There should be a different feeling in the air this Saturday when football returns to the Plains.

Unlike the last couple of years under head coach Gus Malzahn, the Auburn Tigers won't be entering their annual A-Day spring game as one of the SEC's preseason darlings. After a 7-6 campaign in 2015, there's more talk of hot seats than titles in Auburn.

With eyes on a turnaround 2016 campaign, Auburn will wrap up a spring camp featuring plenty of new potential starters and assistant coaches. The all-important quarterback battle, the race for the lead running back position, a new-look offensive line and the fifth defensive coordinator in six years will all be major storylines for the Saturday afternoon scrimmage.

Which players should Auburn fans keep their eyes on the most on A-Day? Here are 10 players—representing all the major offensive and defensive position groups—to watch when the Tigers unofficially open their 2016 season inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Which Auburn players are you most looking forward to seeing this weekend? Shout them out in the comments below.

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Watch HS QB Chris Robison Nail Trick Shot from Top of AT&T Stadium

Oklahoma 4-star commit Chris Robison, the eighth-ranked pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2017, clearly has a great arm. Just how impressive is it, though? We here at Bleacher Report put his accuracy to the test.

We made Robison hit a target on the field from the upper deck of a stadium. It wasn't just any stadium, though. He did it at AT&T Stadium, one of the largest in the country, with a seating capacity of 80,000.

Check out the soon-to-be Sooner's ridiculous trick shot in the video above.


Star ratings via 247Sports.

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Tennessee Football: Freshmen Who Will Play Significant Snaps in 2016

Tennessee football coach Butch Jones harps all the time on the idea that the Volunteers haven't yet built a program that is as stocked with depth and talent as any of their peers around the country.

Whether that's poor-mouthing with a purpose or not—the Vols should be really good in 2016, and nobody on Rocky Top is shying away from those expectations—several freshmen will still play this year.

Part of that is out of necessity, but the bottom line is that UT is recruiting at such a high level that the talent is simply too good to keep off the field.

However, a few star upperclassmen will block some uber-talented first-year players.

Defensive back Tyler Byrd, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and running back Carlin Fils-aime would play on a lot of teams around the country, but they didn't make the list because UT is in an enviable place at those positions.

That's a product of consistent classes, and Jones is working on building a program that should be able to compete on a yearly basis.

The Vols have a good chance to have a good year in '16. Perhaps, it can even be special. But as many promising junior and senior players as there are in orange and white, the Vols will still rely on freshmen of the redshirt and even true variety.

Let's take a look at 10 freshmen who'll be on the field a whole lot this year for Tennessee.

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