July is almost over. That means fall camp is right around the corner. While some programs (looking at you, Ohio State) are sitting pretty with high expectations, other programs are still looking to get things turned around.
Which brings us to the Texas Longhorns.
Head coach Charlie Strong has some major questions to answer heading into Year 2. Which storylines are we watching for as the Horns start up preseason camp? We've selected a handful below based on unanswered position battles exiting spring, notable areas of improvement and high-profile freshmen joining the program.
Who Separates Themselves in the Quarterback Battle?
Strong knew this question was coming at Big 12 media days. How could he not? It's only the most-watched position and was a nightmare oftentimes last season. It's inexcusable to be at Texas and not have a good quarterback situation for this long.
"A lot is made about the quarterback position, and it should be," Strong said. "When it plays well, it gets a lot of praise. When it plays bad, it gets a lot of criticism."
Junior Tyrone Swoopes did receive a lot of criticism in 2014. While some of it was merited, Texas' offensive struggles can't be placed entirely on him, either. Not when the offensive line failed to protect him.
Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard isn't out of the race, especially since quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson gave glowing reviews of Heard in the spring. However, the vibe at Big 12 media days from Strong and running back Johnathan Gray was that Swoopes is the legitimate front-runner heading into preseason camp.
Does that mean the proverbial light hasn't quite turned on for Heard, or that Swoopes really has improved that much over the offseason? Or is it both? Perhaps we'll find out in earnest.
Strong said that both quarterbacks will play in the season opener against Notre Dame, which indicates the battle is still close. Perhaps the best way to determine who starts is by putting them in live situations to see how each reacts.
What About at Wide Receiver?
The other position in question on offense other than quarterback is at wide receiver, which loses its top two players from a year ago: John Harris and Jaxon Shipley. Marcus Johnson is the leading returning receiver, but who else steps up?
Strong specifically mentioned Daje Johnson during Big 12 media days. Johnson, a senior, has split time between running back and wide receiver, and he has contributed on special teams. A speedster with all the athleticism in the world, Johnson has yet to have the type of breakout season that's been expected of him.
"I was just teasing Daje the other day, and I said, 'You haven't made a play since Oklahoma (2013) when you returned that punt for a touchdown,'" Strong said. "There's got to be a point where he's got to step up and start at that position."
Johnson, Lorenzo Joe and Jacorey Warrick were all named by Strong, but none had more than 10 receptions a year ago. True freshman John Burt may be asked to contribute right away, as well.
First-year wide receivers coach Jay Norvell, who comes to Texas after being let go at Oklahoma, will be tasked with developing a unit of largely unknown names.
The Growth of Malik Jefferson
No Texas recruit has garnered as much attention over the past several months as linebacker Malik Jefferson. The former No. 1 player in the state of Texas, as determined by 247Sports, was an early enrollee who turned plenty of heads during the spring with his versatility.
Now, entering preseason camp, Jefferson has put on some weight to bring him to a bulkier 240 pounds:
This should terrify anyone who plays Texas' defense this year. Jefferson filled out his frame and will be taking snaps in Week 1 against Notre Dame.
"What's helped Malik is he came in in January, so he knows the system,” Strong told Jeff Howe of 247Sports. “It's so funny because you'll see the freshmen who came in in June and they kind of think Malik is older than them and it feels like that because they think, 'Well, Malik has been here.' But, no, he's a freshman just like you are.”
And because Jefferson is still a freshman, there are still going to be plenty of times when he looks lost or makes a mistake. That's to be expected. But what kind of growth does Jefferson display from a few months ago in the spring? Does he look any more confident? Is he thinking less and executing more? Is he even to that point yet?
Jefferson is going to be a heck of a player for the Longhorns. He just needs reps.
Which Freshmen Impress in the Secondary?
Cornerback Duke Thomas returns to Texas as a preseason All-Big 12 selection by the media, but the Longhorns secondary is easily the biggest question mark on defense because of their youth.
They are a talented and deep group, however, and one that could see some freshman take the field this fall. Among the freshmen who could see playing time as a starter or rotational player include 4-star corners Holton Hill and Kris Boyd, PJ Locke, DeShon Elliott and redshirt freshman John Bonney.
“Boyd, that boy there, I like him a lot,” Thomas told Nick Castillo of TheDallas Morning News. “He’s one of the guys that gets after it. I just call him KB. I’ve known him through the recruiting process. He’s a really cool dude.”
While Thomas is a surefire starter at one corner spot, the other corner position, nickelback and safety could be more up for grabs. Strong is a defensive coach at heart and has invested a lot of time into getting great, young talent on that side of the ball. The fruits of those recruiting labors should pay off in the secondary over the next few years.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
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With fall camp mere weeks away, the Big Ten will hold its annual media days later this week, which, along with the Pac-12's hosting in Los Angeles, will bring a wrap to such events for the Power Five conferences in college football.
But for the first time in a long time, the Big Ten can claim that the sport is merely saving its best for last, as the league is the home of the reigning College Football Playoff champion, Ohio State.
But it won't just be the Buckeyes creating headlines in Chicago this upcoming Thursday and Friday, with Jim Harbaugh's Big Ten media days debut sure to make waves across the college football news cycle. Factor in a Michigan State program that's hoping to crash this year's playoff, a Penn State program on the rise and two new coaches for a pair of West Division contenders, and there may not be a more anticipated media days event in all of college football this offseason.
With that in mind, here is our ultimate guide to this week's Big Ten media days.
According to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will be moving to wide receiver for the 2015 season. This leaves just two signal-callers in the mix for the Buckeyes' starting quarterback spot.
Who do you think will win the job? Watch the video and let us know!
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Editor's Note: The 5th Down captures the top social college football stories of the week. Because the long, grueling offseason is underway, we'll focus on things that make us laugh, think or maybe cry, but mostly laugh.
REMINDER: Baker Mayfield's Dance Moves are Greater than Yours
We've seen this before. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has moves, y'all. And when you have moves like this, you're not afraid to show them off, nor should you be. If everybody could dance like Mayfield can, then they'd be posting it all over Instagram and Facebook and Myspace (do people still use Myspace?) and LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and whatever other social networking mediums are out there.
Whether Mayfield starts for the Sooners this year or not, he's easily the team's best dancer—which, if we're being honest, has to count for something.
Your Bulletin-Board Material of the Week
What's the offseason without a little smack talk, right? That's what LSU running back Leonard Fournette believes, anyway:
Oct. 17, when LSU and Florida will meet, can't get here soon enough.
Cooking with Bret Bielema
Brunch is absolutely the best thing ever. In addition to getting the best of two meals, adult beverages like mimosas and Bloody Marys are not only expected before noon, but they're also encouraged. And if there's one coach everyone should want to have brunch with, it's Arkansas' Bret Bielema.
Bielema's entire coaching philosophy revolves around having 500-pound offensive linemen for days. You're going to sit there and tell me Bielema doesn't know how to cook? What other way is there to a lineman's heart?
So part of Bielema's brunch skills are born out of necessity. At the same time, you have to think it's a passion, too. I mean, I bet Bielema's house is poppin' for Sunday brunch. I don't know this for a fact, of course, but the visual is pretty vivid, and it seems like it would be accurate.
Mike Bercovici's Girlfriend Has Skill
Yo, check out the lady friend of Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. She has some skill—that's all we're saying. Also, we're saying that the Sun Devils have to replace their best receiver, Jaelen Strong, from a year ago.
Meet Les Miles, Referee
So here's LSU coach Les Miles dressed as a referee. Why? Who knows. There's no context provided and we probably won't get any:
But with Miles, do you ever really need context? So much of what Miles says almost works better without it anyway. There are quotable coaches in college football, like Steve Spurrier or Art Briles, but none of them quite has the, shall we say, "linguistic complexity" of Miles.
So it's only natural that we view Les Miles in a referee uniform without any knowledge as to why.
Sure, Let's Bring Back the NCAA Football Franchise
There's really only one person who should realistically miss the NCAA Football video game franchise, and that's B/R colleague Adam Kramer. If you remember, Kramer used to simulate season games using the video game for awesome in-season #content.
But those days ended when Electronic Arts decided to discontinue the series in the wake of the Ed O'Bannon class-action lawsuit. There was no other option, really; either end the game and pay damages or pay the players moving forward for an obvious use of their likeness.
EA opted to do the former, and now NCAA Football enthusiasts all over the world are left to fill their summers doing mundane things like going outside or spending time with their families. Still, that's left plenty of folks, like Grantland's Andrew Sharp, to plead for the game's return.
Sharp's commentary conjures up college memories of days gone by playing endless hours of NCAA Football with friends, one of which got especially distraught after throwing his fourth, and game-sealing, interception against me. However, there's only one way to bring back the video game franchise, and that's the right way:
But the better long-term solution might be to broker a deal with individual conferences to license their teams and players. With all the money floating around college sports — along with the constant threat of litigation — it's eventually going to make sense for conferences to negotiate and pay royalties to players as a group. Video-game royalties would be a great low-risk place to start.
If NCAA Football is going to make a comeback, pay the players what's rightfully theirs. If not, everyone can stop being selfish for a change and find something else to occupy their time.
Let's Get Refreshingly Open About Expansion
There is no subject in college football more infuriating than expansion. If for no other reason, the number of Twitter and message-board lawyers increases by about 400 percent during expansion talk. And the last thing this world needs is more lawyers, real or imaginary.
In any case, expansion chatter would be a lot less painful if every conference commissioner were as open about it as the Sun Belt's Karl Benson. This past week, Benson took to Twitter to clear the air about a pair of potential expansion targets: Coastal Carolina and Eastern Kentucky.
In the big picture, few people probably care about the Sun Belt's realignment position, but it's a refreshing change to see these things talked about publicly. These aren't top-secret weapons we're talking about here. They're football teams.
Of course, talking about such things publicly, especially on a much larger level, could show an intent to breach a contract—a contract that could be worth millions and millions of dollars. That's something the realignment lawyers warned me about.
But, hey, a man can dream.
Finally, SLEEP TIGHT, Y'ALL
What in the actual...?
Nope. Nope nope nope.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. He's currently taking therapist suggestions to undo the Bielema video on Twitter @BenKercheval.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Since taking over as the defensive coordinator at Auburn, one of the main objectives for Will Muschamp has been to overhaul the secondary.
Shortly after arriving on the Plains, Muschamp played a huge role in helping the Tigers sign four defensive backs in their 2015 class.
As Niebuhr notes, the Tigers staff has quietly been involved with Griffin for almost a year. He earned an offer after visiting Auburn’s campus for the first time last week.
Griffin told Niebuhr that he appreciates the way the Tigers have been dealing with him.
“Just the way they treated me up here—they treated me with respect,” Griffin said. “The coaches, the way they coach. That’s a key thing in what I look at in the recruiting process.”
With that said, it’s still going to be a tough pull to get him to back off his pledge to the Wildcats—who earned his commitment last October.
Last year, the Tigers were able to flip 3-star corner Jeremiah Dinson after he committed to Kentucky.
Only time will tell if they can repeat that trick with the talented Peach State standout.
Oklahoma Offers 2016 4-Star CB
One area that Oklahoma and head coach Bob Stoops are looking to address in the Sooners' 2016 class is the cornerback position.
Stoops and his staff already have a pledge from 3-star JUCO corner Maurice Chandler.
The 6’1”, 175-pound Pennsylvania native has more than 30 offers under his belt—with suitors such as Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Pittsburgh among the schools believed to be in his lead group.
The Sooners will now try to work on getting in the mix with one of the nation’s top corners who has yet to make a commitment.
2017 Georgia DB Nets Pair of Big Offers
The recruiting process is just beginning for 3-star safety Xavier McKinney.
Considering the connections each school has to his high school team, it appears that both will be in the running to land McKinney down the road.
Oregon Offers Pair of 2017 LB’s
As noted by Ourlads, Oregon enters the 2015 season with four seniors pegged to start at linebacker and another two juniors as primary backups.
With the mass exodus coming at the position after this season, it figures that Mark Helfrich and his staff would hit the recruiting trail hard in search of linebackers.
Roberts, who is the nation’s No. 5 inside linebacker, has 18 offers, with Nebraska and Penn State among the schools standing out early in his recruitment.
Given the Ducks’ need at the position, getting in early on two of the nation’s top linebackers in 2017 could help them become a factor in each player’s recruitment moving forward.
Best of the Rest
- According to Mike Wilson of Spartan Tailgate, Michigan State offered 3-star offensive tackle AJ Arcuri.
- Florida offered 3-star tight end Nick Eubanks and 4-star linebacker Jeremiah Moon. Thomas Goldkamp of Gator Bait reported that the Gators also offered 3-star offensive lineman and current LSU pledge Jakori Savage.
- Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports reported that Penn State offered 4-star offensive lineman JaRaymond Hall.
- Texas offered 4-star receiver Camron Buckley. The Longhorns also offered 3-star quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
- Niebuhr reported that Auburn offered 2017 defensive end Christopher Allen. The Tigers also offered 4-star athlete and current Ohio State commit Bruce Judson.
- Georgia offered 4-star running back Cam Akers. The Bulldogs also offered 4-star athlete Devonta Smith and 3-star offensive lineman Blake Vinson.
- LSU offered 4-star offensive lineman Trey Smith. The Tigers also offered 4-star defensive end Malik Herring.
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
College football is a very competitive game. With coaching staffs consistently looking to upgrade talent via recruiting and transfers, no player should consider his starting role a given. There’s always the next incoming player looking to take a spot and push a veteran to the bench.
As college football programs across the nation prepare for preseason practice, that’s certainly the case again. There are multiple position battles which will unfold during August and perhaps into the regular season. Here’s a look at returning college football starters who are in danger of losing their jobs this fall.
For about the entire calendar year during the 2012-2013 offseason, there was plenty of smoke surrounding the idea of Alabama head coach Nick Saban taking over at Texas for former Longhorn head coach Mack Brown. It turns out there was a little bit of fire too.
Well, maybe a spark.
That spark, according to Monte Burke, author of the unauthorized book Saban: The Making of a Coach (via: New York Times), was generated by Saban himself.
According to Burke's article, which was adapted from the book, a friend of Saban's agent Jimmy Sexton reached out to University of Texas regent Wallace Hall prior to the Crimson Tide's BCS National Championship Game victory over Notre Dame. Sexton's friend told Hall that Saban was interested in becoming the coach at Texas, despite the fact that the Longhorns were still coached by Brown.
What transpired next is a blueprint in coaching search "ethics" and a lesson in how to create plausible deniability for coaches who don't want it to be known that they're actively searching for a job.
Shortly after the title game, Hall allegedly met with Tom Hicks, the brother of Texas regent Steve Hicks and former owner of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars, for a scheduled conference call with Sexton in which Sexton's number was provided to Hall by another party.
Simply put, "Texas reached out to Saban," rather than the other way around, based on this shadow game.
As we all know now, it didn't work out.
Hicks couldn't convince Brown to retire and focus on a role in television, Brown coached one more year before resigning, Charlie Strong was named his replacement in January 2014 and Saban received a raise and extension through the 2021 season for $6.9 million per year before bonuses.
All part of the plan?
As SEC Network's Paul Finebaum noted on The Opening Drive on WJOX in Birmingham, Alabama, on Monday, Saban was close to making the jump.
It's very realistic that Saban could have played Texas in order to get that raise, or perhaps he genuinely was interested in moving to Austin. Burke states in the story that, at the time, Saban was frustrated with special pressure at Alabama that essentially made it national title or bust.
This isn't the first we've heard of this pressure. Terry Saban, Nick's wife, told Sharon Terlep of the Wall Street Journal prior to the 2013 Iron Bowl with Auburn (when Brown was still employed by Texas) that, despite those unrealistic expectations, they weren't leaving for Texas.
Yes, Saban lobbying—or perhaps leveraging—for a job that is currently occupied by somebody else is very Bobby Petrino-ish of him. Remember when Petrino was Louisville's coach in 2003 and met with Auburn officials about their job, which was then occupied by Tommy Tuberville? All situations are different, but this is about as close as we've come in college football to repeating that drama from 2003.
Is it out of bounds for a coach to actively seek out a job that isn't vacant—even for leverage purposes?
Yes, but this kind of thing likely happens much more than we hear about publicly.
Agents are in the game of getting their clients' names out as much as possible. Every November and December, when jobs look like they're going to open up or become vacant, names get tossed around in stories, on the radio and on television like they're hot cakes.
Whether you're a Saban fan or think he's a snake based on his previous employment stops and the way he left those jobs, his flirtation with Texas shouldn't change your opinion of him one way or the other. The contract extension he signed with Alabama last year will likely be the last for the 63-year-old Saban, and whether it was in Austin or Tuscaloosa, he was looking for a long-term commitment and even more financial stability to close out his coaching career.
He got that, and used the instability in Austin to his advantage.
Good for Saban.
He knew the game, played the game and won the game.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 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 Sirius 93, XM 208.
Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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From the time he committed to Penn State as a high school quarterback at Fork Union Military Academy, Christian Hackenberg has been hyped as a future No. 1 overall pick.
However, his performance on the field for the Nittany Lions will need to improve significantly in his junior season if he's going to legitimize that hype in the 2016 NFL draft.
A 6’4”, 236-pound, pro-style pocket passer with the arm strength to make any throw on the field and good movement skills for his size, Hackenberg possesses a skill set akin to that of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft.
Because of that skill set, many media draft analysts—including Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and ESPN’s Todd McShay—consider Hackenberg to be the best NFL quarterback prospect in the nation heading into the upcoming college football season.
According to ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha, NFL scouts are likewise looking at Hackenberg as a potential top prospect for 2016. At least one AFC scout considers Hackenberg to be “the best talent” in comparison with Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Ohio State’s Cardale Jones, two of the other quarterbacks being viewed in league circles as potential first-round picks.
Looking beyond Hackenberg’s physical tools and taking a closer look at his film and statistical production, however, makes it look curious that he is receiving so much love so early in the draft process.
In reality, Hackenberg appears to be an overrated prospect who needs to make major strides in his development if he is going to end up being an early first-round pick in 2016.
One of the Nation’s Least Efficient Quarterbacks
Most NFL scouts and draft analysts emphasize physical tools over collegiate production when it comes to evaluating players as potential pros. College statistics are not considered to be accurate predictors of NFL success and are therefore only viewed as a small piece of the puzzle within a draft evaluation.
Hackenberg’s stats from the 2014 season, though, are too awful to ignore.
Despite ranking ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 484 passing attempts last season, Hackenberg only threw 12 touchdown passes, the lowest total among the 40 quarterbacks to throw at least 400 passes at college football’s highest level last season, according to CFB Stats.
On the other side of the equation, Hackenberg was one of just 13 FBS quarterbacks in 2014 to throw 15 or more interceptions. Among the 40 quarterbacks with 400-plus attempts, Hackenberg was one of only four to finish the year with more interceptions than touchdowns.
Hackenberg’s completion rate of 55.8 percent ranked 88th in the FBS last year, while his 6.2 yards per passing attempt ranked 94th. In the 128-team FBS, Hackenberg’s overall passer rating of 109.44 was not even good enough to rank him within the subdivision’s top 100 quarterbacks.
Ultimately, there will be many other variables—some of which carry much greater weight than his college stats—that play a part in determining Hackenberg’s draft stock. After all, Florida State’s Jameis Winston ranked just 27th in passer rating and threw 18 interceptions last season yet still went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Even so, it would be unprecedented for a quarterback with statistics as putrid as Hackenberg’s to be selected at the top of the draft. If he is going to put himself in position to turn pro after his junior year and be a first-round pick, he needs to be much more efficient in 2015.
Some have made excuses for Hackenberg’s poor play last season, pointing to the struggles of Penn State’s offensive line, as well as the fact that Hackenberg had to adjust to a new offensive system under new coach James Franklin after playing in a more traditional pro-style offense under former Penn State and current Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien in 2013.
Being able to deal with pressure and to adjust to new offensive playbooks, however, are both areas that could make or break Hackenberg’s ability to succeed in the NFL. Going beyond those concerns, there were numerous fundamental flaws evident in Hackenberg’s game last year that played a big part in his unexpected struggles.
Watch a number of Hackenberg’s games from last season (most of which are available for viewing at Draft Breakdown), and you will see that his high interception total was no fluke. While he threw at least one interception in 10 of Penn State’s 13 games, he had many additional passes throughout the season that went off defenders’ hands and could have been picked off.
The biggest reason for Hackenberg’s high interception rate and low completion percentage is that he too often forces throws into coverage.
One example of that can be seen in the following clip from last season's game against Ohio State. Rolling right with pressure coming toward him, Hackenberg made an irresponsible decision to throw back across his body toward a receiver moving in front of him 17 yards downfield. Having apparently failed to realize that Ohio State defensive back Tyvis Powell was within the receiver’s hip pocket, Hackenberg had his pass intercepted.
Another example of Hackenberg forcing a throw into dangerous territory occurred late in the fourth quarter of that game, a point at which Penn State needed a scoring drive to keep the game alive. While the following play did not actually result in an interception, it easily could have, as Hackenberg tried to force a screen pass to a tightly covered receiver against heavy pressure, giving Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple a diving chance to catch the ball.
In the following GIF from Penn State’s 2014 season opener against Central Florida, Hackenberg made a horrible decision to try to throw a pass between three defenders, on the run and under pressure. Hackenberg’s pass never had a chance, and UCF defensive back Jordan Ozerities was able to jump in front for an interception.
When Hackenberg is at his best, he shows he is capable of making multiple reads over the course of a play and going through his progressions to find an open receiver. A more regular sight last season, however, was that of Hackenberg locking onto his intended target from the snap, staring his receiver down and allowing a defender to jump the route for an interception or pass breakup.
One of the most glaring examples of that problem occurred in Penn State’s loss to Northwestern last September. As can be seen in the clip below, Hackenberg directly stared down a five-yard throw to wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton over the middle, which enabled Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker to read the quarterback’s eyes and pick him off for an interception he would return 49 yards for a touchdown.
Another alarming trend in Hackenberg’s game highlighted by the clip above is his tendency to throw the ball flat-footed.
Had Hackenberg stepped into the above throw and released the ball more quickly, he might have been able to drive the ball to its target past the linebacker. His lazy throwing mechanics on the play, however, played a big part in Walker's pick-six.
While all of these tendencies are flaws that Hackenberg might be able to overcome as he gains more experience and becomes more comfortable in Franklin’s offense in 2015, they were apparent in his game with alarming frequency in 2014.
High Upside, High Downside
Although there are additional reasons for NFL teams to be concerned about whether Hackenberg will be able to realize his potential, we would be remiss to go any further without taking a look at why his potential is considered to be so high.
Even with the recent successes of some smaller and more mobile quarterbacks like Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, NFL teams still tend to favor traditional dropback passers who are tall and pocket-centric. Hackenberg, who meets those criteria while also exhibiting top-notch arm strength and ability to move within the pocket, fits the league’s prototype for the position.
Hackenberg has the arm talent to make any throw on the field. He exhibits the ability to throw the ball more than 50 yards downfield and can fit passes between tight windows to all regions of the field.
A shining example of Hackenberg’s pure passing ability can be seen in the following clip. Despite slipping at the back end of a seven-step play-action drop from under center, Hackenberg still managed to maintain his balance and deliver a perfect deep ball 52 yards downfield to connect with Hamilton between two defensive backs.
Hackenberg’s game tapes are plagued by his mistakes, but he has plenty of throws to put on a highlight reel that will impress NFL decision-makers, such as the following completion to Geno Lewis, which came on a 29-yard corner route over two defensive backs and converted a 3rd-and-25 against Akron last season.
Another trait that stands out about Hackenberg is his ability to pump-fake and progress off it. Convincing in the motion, Hackenberg is often able to fool defenders with his pump fake, then take advantage by moving his eyes across the field to find an open receiver and throw the ball his way.
That skill led to one of Penn State’s biggest plays of the game against Central Florida, when a well-executed fake throw by Hackenberg made multiple Knights defensive backs bite forward and allowed Lewis to get wide-open up the left sideline beyond them, leaving an easy pitch-and-catch for Hackenberg to connect with his wide receiver for a 79-yard touchdown.
Another example can be seen in the following clip from the game against Akron. By effectively faking a screen pass to the right sideline, Hackenberg convinced a cornerback to attack downhill toward the line of scrimmage, which allowed Lewis to run right past him and connect with Hackenberg's pass 17 yards downfield.
While hasty decision-making proved to be a problem for Hackenberg in 2014, he has exhibited good ability to progress through reads and find an open receiver when he is patient. He can be seen doing so with pro-caliber ability in the following play, also against Akron, on which he pump-faked right then worked his eyes across the middle of the field to find a receiver slanting inside from the left for a 16-yard completion.
Hackenberg is not considered to be a dual-threat quarterback and is unlikely to be a regular running threat in the NFL, but he is an impressive athlete for his size. He has the quickness and burst to extend plays with his feet, enabling him to throw on the run or take off if he gets open field in front of him.
One of the most impressive examples of his in-pocket mobility came last season against Rutgers. As can be seen via multiple angles through the following GIFs, Hackenberg was able to sidestep a potential sack and run up toward the line of scrimmage, generating momentum with his feet to transfer into a high-velocity, 14-yard strike to Hamilton for a 3rd-and-10 conversion.
Seeing examples of what Hackenberg does well might be enough to convince you that the Penn State product can be the next Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers. Yet there are other reasons to be concerned as to whether Hackenberg can be a successful starting quarterback at all, based on his overall body of work from last season.
Despite having demonstrated ability to throw deep balls with laser-like precision, Hackenberg is inconsistent with his ball-placement at all levels of the field. His play last season included far too many instances in which he failed to connect with open receivers—even at times when he was not under pressure—because he threw passes that were uncatchable.
It is fair to suggest that Hackenberg’s performance in 2014 was adversely affected by his offensive line’s inability to consistently provide adequate pass protection. As the season progressed, opposing defenses increasingly recognized Penn State’s blocking as a weak point and exploited that by sending heavy blitzes toward the backfield.
A great quarterback, however, can minimize the effects of a struggling offensive line by staying composed and making quick yet effective decisions in the pocket. Hackenberg, on the other hand, mostly compounded the effects.
In addition to his aforementioned tendency to force passes into traffic, Hackenberg took 44 sacks last season, many of them from him simply staying sedentary in the pocket for too long. As he moves forward to the upcoming season and to the NFL—where he is only going to continue to see frequent pressure in passing situations—Hackenberg needs to learn when to throw the ball away rather than force a pass or take a sack.
Where Should Hackenberg Be Drafted?
The debate over this question could prove to be one of the most interesting storylines in the months that lead up to the 2016 draft. While it is clear that some talent evaluators are ardent supporters of Hackenberg, there are others—at least within the media—who do not see Hackenberg as a valuable prospect at all.
Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus, whose company grades all Football Bowl Subdivision players and uses those grades to project players to the NFL, has stated on Twitter that Hackenberg does not grade out as a prospect of quality right now.
RealGM’s Jeff Risdon, meanwhile, has tweeted that he considers Hackenberg to be “undraftable” unless he can improve on his current flaws.
When the dust settles, the reality with Hackenberg will likely lie somewhere in the middle.
As Hackenberg will be heavily scrutinized throughout the upcoming season because of his standing as a well-known quarterback prospect, he will need to make significant progress this year to avoid seeing his draft stock free fall. While he could get a free pass for his 2014 struggles if he has clearly improved in 2015, he will no longer continue to get the benefit of the doubt if he continues to be inefficient this season.
Ultimately, though, it would be a big surprise if Hackenberg does not take a step forward in his development in 2015. Assuming he does, there will almost certainly be a team in the 2016 NFL draft—probably sooner than later—who is willing to take a chance on him, given his physical makeup and mental potential.
If his career to date at Penn State is any indication, teams that emphasize efficient game management and mitigating risks at the quarterback positions will want to stay far away from Hackenberg.
Teams that want a gunslinger at the quarterback position and are more willing to live and die with a balance of big plays and mistakes are the ones who should ultimately be attracted to Hackenberg.
While it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Hackenberg could develop into a master of the position like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, his current game is far more similar to Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Like Cutler, Hackenberg has the tools to make plays that many other quarterbacks simply cannot but can also be frustratingly inconsistent and mistake-prone.
Interestingly enough, Hackenberg told reporters last fall that Rodgers and Cutler are both among his favorite NFL quarterbacks to watch, according to Audrey Snyder of Penn Live:
"I'm not going to say I'm similar to any other guy or anything like that, but I enjoy watching guys like (Tom) Brady, I like watching Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers. I actually like Jay Cutler. He's a really good football player and he's had sort of an up and down career, but I really like watching him play. He throws the ball really well, he makes a lot of plays moving around outside of the pocket, unorthodox throws, not really having great fundamentals and mechanics but still being able to execute the play.”
Unlike at this time last year, when Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota already stood out as the 2015 NFL draft’s top signal-callers, there is no consensus choice to be at the top of the 2016 draft board among quarterbacks. That said, there are many players who appear to be candidates for that conversation, including Cook, Jones, California’s Jared Goff, Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson, USC’s Cody Kessler, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel and TCU’s Trevone Boykin.
Hackenberg, in the eyes of some draft analysts, leads that conversation right now. He’s going to have to improve in many facets of his game, however, if he’s going to stay there.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani andTyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Defensive Backs.
Of all the athletes on the football field, defensive backs—elite defensive backs—seem to be the ones most in demand.
With spread offenses becoming more and more the norm, good defensive backs are needed to cover not only deep routes but also the routes run by flex tight ends and hybrid running backs. It's imperative for a defensive back to be solid on passing downs as well as sturdy and aggressive on running plays.
Bleacher Report's CFB Recruiting 200 series breaks down the top defensive backs—cornerbacks and safeties combined—in the 2016 class. They are graded on key factors such as speed, ball skills, tackling, run support and pass coverage.
Everybody knows that when you play in the SEC, the schedule is riddled with land mines that could blow up a season, and Tennessee's 2015 football schedule is no different.
Despite getting to stay in the state of Tennessee for eight of their 12 games, the Volunteers still have a tough task ahead if they're going to live up to the expectations set when they were chosen second in the SEC East at media days.
UT should be able to compete with every single team on its schedule. That includes an Alabama team that has plenty of question marks despite still being the most talented team in the league.
Also, though a game such as the very winnable early-season showdown against Oklahoma in Neyland Stadium is big for national exposure, a loss wouldn't be season-crippling.
And while losing to Vanderbilt would crush anybody's season, that's unlikely to happen, so it doesn't get consideration.
UT is still an extremely young team. How inexperienced? How about this staggering number thrown out by Vols coach Butch Jones at SEC media days.
There are some battle-tested players in key positions, but that much youth could spell struggles if some unforeseen misfortune manifests itself in the form of marks in the loss column.
So, what are the games that could really derail a turnaround campaign for Jones' Vols? Let's take a look at five games that have the ramifications to send UT into a downward spiral if the Vols were to lose.
Florida (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Sept. 26)
In the decade of futility Tennessee has experienced, one of the many frustrating constants is a loss against Florida.
The three most recent games have been the most maddening.
It didn't matter that Jeff Driskel couldn't do anything against anybody else, he had a career day in 2012. Even when Tyler Murphy was turning the ball over left and right, Nathan Peterman was worse in '13. Then, with a 9-0 lead in the fourth quarter last season, the Vols choked it away yet again.
That last nail in the coffin was one Jones told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan was the "lowest moment" of his coaching career.
Now, this year, even though it's on the road, the Vols are sure to be favored in what is shaping up to be the biggest game of the season.
Florida has a new coach in Jim McElwain, major question marks at quarterback and along the offensive front as well as finding a pass rush. As has been the case the past few years, this is UT's best chance in memory to end the streak.
Though McElwain doesn't talk much about streaks, the 10-year reign isn't lost on him.
If there's truly no mystique attached to the Gators the way UT says, a Vols win should happen.
The fans expect it, and most of them demand it. Regardless of what else happens the rest of the season, shedding the Gators albatross would signify an end to UT's decade of misery. If they lose, it's a letdown the Vols will have to overcome with much of the season ahead.
Arkansas (Neyland Stadium, Oct. 3)
There will be other tests of will for UT during the season and even a couple before this one in Oklahoma and Florida, but no team will push around the Vols quite like coach Bret Bielema's Razorbacks early in the season.
Jones and Bielema have a ton of respect for each other, and the Hogs will come into Neyland trying to grind out a good, old-fashioned slobber-knocker. They'll run and run and run some more.
With UT having major question marks at middle linebacker and youth at defensive tackle, they'll realize the answers to those in a hurry.
Also, Curt Maggitt will have to play outside linebacker more than he will for much of the early season as UT must go to its traditional 4-3 set to combat Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
Not only do the Vols need to get out of this one with a win in a battle of the preseason hype-hoarders, they also need to exit the showdown healthy.
Divisional foe Georgia looms the next week, so UT can't afford to emerge from the game against the Hogs at anything but full strength. If they can win this one, it'll be a major confidence booster.
If they lose, it'll probably be because some glaring weaknesses were exposed.
Georgia (Neyland Stadium, Oct. 10)
The only team picked ahead of the Vols in the SEC East is Georgia, a team that has owned UT in recent years despite the past four games being decided by a score or less.
This year, the Dawgs return to Neyland Stadium and the site of Pig Howard's gut-wrenching overtime fumble through the end zone for a touchback in 2013 that cost the Vols a win.
If Tennessee takes care of business against Florida for the first time in a decade, this game will have massive divisional ramifications.
On the bright side, UT will have just faced the Arkansas two-headed rushing monster, so the Vols will be able to employ much of the same game plan against Georgia. The bad news is Nick Chubb and company could pound a tired defense into submission.
Losing this game won't be devastating considering UT likely won't be picked to win. But that doesn't diminish the importance. If the Vols beat Florida, they'll be riding a high thinking they've got an opportunity to win the SEC East.
Then if they lose, it'll be a letdown with the heart of the conference schedule in front of them. Tennessee-Georgia is always big, but the Vols need to turn their recent close losses into a major win that would be a program definer for Jones.
Kentucky (Commonwealth Stadium, Oct. 31)
When one team has beaten another 29 out of the past 30 meetings, you tend to overlook them.
The Vols had better not do that against Kentucky. Not this year.
It's a potential trap game on Halloween, coming a week after what is sure to be an emotional rivalry game at Bryant-Denny Stadium against Alabama. It also comes before the Vols will be looking forward to traveling home to play South Carolina.
Coming off a grueling stretch of Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, it's highly possible the Vols could ease off the gas a little against the Wildcats. But UK quarterback Patrick Towles (or Drew Barker), running back Boom Williams and company will be able to put up points on offense.
If Mark Stoops' defense is deep enough to sustain throughout the season unlike a season ago, UK could be good enough to be bowl-bound.
Tennessee has a history of playing tough and not overlooking anybody with Jones at the helm. That will need to continue. If it doesn't, a loss to UK would be a massive dent in the rebuilding process.
Missouri (Faurot Field, Nov. 21)
There are many massive "ifs" that must transpire in order for the Vols to be playing for an SEC East championship this late in the season, but the game against the Tigers represents much more than that.
Mizzou has made it to Atlanta each of the past two seasons. Though many may not view this as a high-profile win, it certainly would be. The Vols haven't beaten the Tigers since they joined the league three years ago.
It's possible UT will need to win this game to make it to Atlanta. If the Vols already have lost to Florida, Georgia or both, this game will be equally huge for bowl placement and perception points.
This game will be important one way or another. It will be on the road in a hostile environment against a quarterback in Maty Mauk that has made a career out of owning the Vols.
Whether it's for a chance to go to Atlanta or a better bowl than the TaxSlayer and take a program step forward, losing to Mizzou would be a big deal.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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The Pac-12 is traditionally loaded with quality arms, and 2015-16 will be no exception, despite the departure of Marcus Mariota from the league.
Nine of the conference's 12 projected starting quarterbacks started at least one game last year for their current teams, so the league should be overflowing with depth.
Among the top gunslingers in the league are USC's Cody Kessler, Arizona's Anu Solomon and even Arizona State's Mike Bercovici.
But who among those three is the best signal-caller in the West, and who could potentially use an upgrade at quarterback?
Let's rank the Pac-12 starting quarterbacks and find out.
All recruit rankings according to 247sports unless otherwise noted.
The Miami Hurricanes have already put together a strong recruiting class for 2017, and that class got even stronger following the addition of Navaughn Donaldson.
The 4-star offensive tackle confirmed Sunday night on Twitter he'll head for Coral Gables, Florida:
According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Donaldson is the No. 22 offensive tackle in the country and ranks 147th in the 2017 class. After his commitment, Miami has the second-best class in the country on 247Sports, so the 'Canes will only climb up the leaderboard.
Donaldson is a massive presence on the offensive line. He stands at 6'5" and 300 pounds, so the Miami staff won't have to worry about others overpowering him at the line of scrimmage. He'll be a major difference-maker in the running game.
As you'd expect with a player of his size, Donaldson doesn't excel in pass protection, but he'll be more than good enough to play on the right. The Vine below, courtesy of College Spun's Dustin Tackett, illustrates Donaldson's ability to move laterally:
So far, Miami head coach Al Golden had yet to land an offensive lineman to anchor his 2017 class. Donaldson will be that exact player.
He should grow into a steady presence on the Hurricanes O-line following a year or two of seasoning after his arrival.
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At one point in history, any loss would be considered catastrophic for Nebraska football fans and something to agonize over throughout the year. But Nebraska fans have endured enough multiple-loss seasons under Frank Solich and Bill Callahan, and enough comically bad losses under Bo Pelini to be numbed to the pain of an individual defeat.
But even if Nebraska fans have become (somewhat) accustomed to losses, there are still a number of games on the schedule that could ruin Nebraska’s 2015 season. Here are those games and why those individual losses would be so catastrophic.
The Georgia Bulldogs are looking to do something they haven’t done in 10 years, and that’s win the SEC title. Since that time, they have either shared or won the SEC East title three times and have been to the SEC Championship game twice.
After coming in third place in the SEC East in 2013 and second in 2014, it would seem like the Bulldogs will take the next step and win the division outright. Based on the talent on the roster and the returning starters they have coming back, the Bulldogs could be the favorite to win the East and make a run at the SEC title and College Football Playoff.
However, there are a few games that could ruin the Bulldogs' season if they are not careful.
This game has always been one that haunts the Bulldogs when the season comes to an end. The Gamecocks have beaten the Bulldogs four out of the last five times, and it was 2013 when the Bulldogs last beat South Carolina.
When these two teams got together last season, the Bulldogs came up short because of a few questionable coaching decisions, and the defense had a hard time stopping the South Carolina offense. This year, the Gamecocks will have a new quarterback just like the Bulldogs.
Steve Spurrier not dead yet...last 5 years South Carolina vs 5 Biggest rivals; Clemson 4-1 Georgia 4-1 Florida 4-1 Mizzou 2-1 Tennessee 3-2— Jim Dunaway (@jimdunaway) July 22, 2015
But this game got a little more juice when head coach Steve Spurrier put Atlanta-Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley on blast after Bradley said that he’s not sure if Spurrier has anything left because of his age. No matter the talent level of each team, this game will be interesting and intense.
When the Bulldogs travel to Knoxville on October 10, they know they are in for what could be their toughest road game of the season.
The last two times the Bulldogs played the Vols, both games came down to wire. In fact, when the Bulldogs traveled to Knoxville in 2013, the Bulldogs had to win in overtime.
This year, many Vols fans believe that with the leadership of quarterback Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee will contend for the SEC East title. And because Georgia will be coming off what could be a physical contest against Alabama the week prior, this easily could be a game that could cost the Bulldogs a trip to the Georgia Dome.
Georgia has suffered some bad losses in Knoxville (such as the 2007 and 2009), but they have also had some good wins too (such as 2001, 2003 and 2013). So this will be another close contest that will come down to the end.
Let’s say the Bulldogs have a 7-1 record in the SEC and rank in the Top 5. When they face Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, it doesn’t mean they can take a break.
Both teams have always been rivals, but the last two years have seen the rivalry take new heights. Both games have gone into overtime, and each team has come out on top. (Georgia won in Atlanta in 2013, and Tech won last season in Athens.)
Both teams ranked in the Top 10 last season in the AP Top 25 poll (via CBS Sports), and both are looking to reach their respective conference championship games the week after. The Yellow Jackets would love nothing more than to ruin the Bulldogs season with a second consecutive win. And it could happen because Tech is emerging as one of the better teams in the country.
The Bulldogs know that they will have their hands full in Atlanta, but they can’t afford to lose this game if they want to be considered in the College Football Playoff.
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According to the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman, University of Florida wide receiver Alvin Bailey was arrested Saturday after failing to appear in court. In May, Bailey was charged with a misdemeanor citation for driving with a suspended license, and a warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear in court on June 9.
He was later released Saturday evening after posting $5,000 bond, per Auman.
According to 247Sports' Thomas Goldkamp, Alachua County court records indicate Bailey was first cited on May 8, 2014, for driving with a suspended license. One year later, Bailey was cited again for driving with a suspended license. According to Goldkamp, the second offense was classified as a second-degree misdemeanor.
A redshirt sophomore, Bailey hails from Seffner, Florida, and attended Armwood High School before committing to the Gators three years ago.
Although he's a former 4-star recruit, according to 247Sports, Bailey has yet to make a noticeable impact on the Gators offense. A quick scan of his game logs reveals Bailey has yet to tally a catch or score a touchdown at the collegiate level.
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Steve Spurrier landed his first blue-chip defensive back ahead of the 2016 season after Marlon Character committed to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Rivals.com's Woody Wommack first reported the news:
According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Character is the No. 13 safety in the 2016 recruiting class. He ranks 275th overall and 22nd in the state of Georgia. The Atlanta native likely sealed the deal after visiting the South Carolina campus Saturday:
Character spoke about the motivation behind his decision.
"I will be able to play five positions, and there’s more opportunity to get on the field and showcase my talent," per Phil Kornblut of the State in Columbia, South Carolina. "[Co-defensive coordinator Lorenzo] Ward is not afraid to play freshmen at corner. I would be one of the biggest ones he has."
According to Scout, Character was timed at 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash. While that's not blinding speed, he should be plenty quick enough to thrive at safety—should he play there instead of cornerback.
More importantly, he's strong enough to wrap up on follow-through on his tackles. Character also possesses the agility and on-field IQ to quickly react and adapt to how a play is unfolding.
The biggest knock on Character is arguably his pass coverage. As a safety, he won't need to drop back in man-to-man coverage on every play, but his coaches will at least want to feel confident that he will be able to do so effectively when necessary.
In a way, struggling in coverage isn't the worst thing in the world. The right coaching staff can turn that around. Meanwhile, Character's instincts and physical tools are what really counts.
His desire to play right away could mean Character provides an immediate impact when he joins the Gamecocks next year.
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SEC football programs are known for their ability to recruit, and every season's top-10 rankings are evidence of that fact. But there's more to recruiting than scouring high schools.
Each offseason, coaches look toward junior college programs to find instant-impact players. They also try to take advantage when players look to transfer from peer programs. Though these players normally must sit out a year, some are worth the wait.
Recently, there has been a wave of players transferring up a level (from the Football Championship Subdivision) who are eligible to play immediate.
Teams such as Florida have been able to use that to their advantage to fill major depth needs like getting Fordham's Mason Halter to come to Gainesville to help shore up the offensive line.
Another recent rule change that has become advantageous to SEC programs is the graduate transfer rule, which allows players who've graduated to transfer where they want and be immediately eligible as well.
South Carolina defensive back Isaiah Johnson—a Kansas transfer—is a good example of a player who may step right in and start.
No matter the method, transfers are a key part of today's college football, and there is going to be a significant impact felt in the SEC in 2015. As a matter of fact, there are far too many potential elite transfers to mention.
But let's take a look at a few who should provide help right away. They may just wind up being in the difference in winning an SEC championship.
The 2015 college football season is now less than six weeks away, and before you know it the games will be back. Before that can happen, though, teams have to come together and prepare for the year ahead.
Conference media days have been going on since mid-July, and all of the many award watch lists have been released. Now all that remains is for the actual football to happen, which starts Sept. 3 and will run through the 2016 college football championship game Jan. 16 in Glendale, Arizona.
What happens in between those dates will have a lot to do with how teams go about their preseason training camps. Returning players have been trickling back to campus throughout the summer, and most schools' newcomers have either arrived or will be showing up soon.
Here's our quick look ahead to what's in store during training camp for every team in Bleacher Report's post-spring practice top 25.
Well, look at that. It's almost August, which means it's almost time for preseason camp. Football, even if in practice form, is almost here.
Still, we know the summer offseason is a tough time for everyone. Be real: How often do you scope out team schedules to find the top games you're looking forward to this year? It's okay to be honest; you're among friends.
Anyway, that was the inspiration for this little list: the must-watch Big 12 games of 2015. Preseason media polls, projected playoff contenders and interesting out-of-conference games with big storylines were used here.
So take a look and let us know if we missed anything.