NCAA Football

Tennessee Football: The Vols' Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

There's so much experience on this year's Tennessee football team that there shouldn't be as many position battles as there were in coach Butch Jones' first three seasons on Rocky Top.

For instance, only one certain wide-open battle looms on offense, and even though there are a few positions up for grabs on the other side of the ball, it's because there are several players with the ability to shine at those spots. Nine Vols made the recently announced All-SEC preseason teams.

That fact has a lot of media members, such as the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum, wondering aloud if big things may be in store this year:

In other words, the Volunteers should be in a good position at most every position in 2016.

Some spots such as nickelback have upperclassmen stalwarts in place such as Malik Foreman, but Jones' recruiting spoils are pushing players. In that case, it's Marquill Osborne who could stun. At slot receiver, pretty much everybody expects Josh Smith to win that race, but Marquez Callaway could make things interesting.

Still, the jobs of Foreman and Smith appear safe, so they didn't make this list. Once fall camp starts, several position battles will grab plenty of headlines. Every spot is important, but there are some particularly vital areas that need shoring up.

If the Vols thrive in those spots, they've got a chance of having a special season. If they struggle, well, Tennessee's high expectations could wind up falling flat.

Let's take a look at four positions where Tennessee fans should pay close attention once Aug. 1 rolls around. Here are the four biggest battles that'll be waged before the real tests take place in Neyland Stadium.

    

Safety

It may not be the most highly publicized position tussle this fall, but the one that'll probably be the most fun will be waged on the back end of the secondary.

That's where the Vols must replace departed senior starters Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil. While one of those positions appears to be locked down by junior part-time starter Todd Kelly Jr., the other is up for grabs.

And the reason it's going to be so enjoyable to watch is because of all the talent UT has stockpiled at the position.

Perhaps the odds-on favorite to win that other spot is redshirt sophomore Rashaan Gaulden, a hard-hitting defensive back who may be a tad undersized at 6'1" and 185 pounds, but he plays much bigger than he is. With some of the best instincts on the team, Gaulden could be in for a breakout season. 

He missed all of last season with a broken bone in his foot when he was all set to start at nickelback. This spring, he began on the second team but quickly unseated Micah Abernathy and looks to be a strong bet to start in August.

Fitting in with all the talent around him is something he told Tennessee football's official Twitter account motivates him daily:

If Gaulden falters, there are several ready to take over.

Abernathy is a former coveted recruit who will play a key role as a sophomore. Last year, late in the season, things began to click on defense for special teams dynamo Evan Berry, so he could be an X-factor back there.

Berry got somewhat behind as an injury kept him out this spring, but he may be Gaulden's biggest threat in the fight to see who starts alongside Kelly.

Somebody every Vols fan is excited to see is true freshman Nigel Warrior, who was one of the biggest recruiting coups of the entire class. Though it's asking a lot for a first-year player to come in and contribute at such a loaded position, Warrior has the potential to be exceptional.

His father, Dale Carter, is a UT legend, and Warrior has the ability to be an all-conference and NFL All-Pro like his dad was. Will he live up to that right away in Knoxville? If so, the Vols won't be able to keep him off the field.

"I want to make my own path," Warrior told Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Patrick Brown. "I want to follow his footsteps, but I want to do it in a different way. I want to do it better."

That's going to be exciting to watch unfold at safety.

    

Left Tackle

Perhaps the most important spot that is unsettled for Tennessee would answer the question, "Who is going to guard quarterback Joshua Dobbs' blind side?"

Yes, Dobbs can ease a bunch of worries by sliding out of the pocket and making things happen with his freelancing feet, but that doesn't mean the Vols can afford a huge revolving door at left tackle.

They've got to replace departed senior Kyler Kerbyson, who went from being a Swiss Army knife utility player throughout his career to solidifying the important spot during his final season at UT. 

The top candidate to take over his spot at left tackle appears to be redshirt freshman Drew Richmond, one of the biggest recruiting victories of Jones' tenure.

He got the 6'5", 301-pound offensive tackle to flip from Ole Miss on national signing day 2015, relieving a concern as the Vols desperately needed a franchise tackle.

The nation's second-ranked tackle, coming out of Memphis University School, would have been a massive in-state loss, but Jones got him to come to Knoxville. Though Richmond wasn't ready to make an impact right away, he began to show some promise this spring.

"We're continuing to work on those options," Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker in regard to his tackle battles. "Obviously Drew Richmond, we've been very encouraged by his development. He continues to be a student of the game, and his body has changed a lot. So you have that option."

At SEC media days, Richmond was one of the two players UT senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin singled out for carrying the momentum into the offseason too, and JRM isn't normally one to heap hyperbole.

All that is terrific news for the Vols if it holds up.

Beyond Richmond, you have to believe if Chance Hall—who also missed spring with a shoulder injury—is healthy, he will be a starter at one of the spots. Last year, he held down the gig at right tackle, and he could do that this year if Richmond rises to the challenge on the left.

But somebody who shouldn't be counted out is redshirt junior Brett Kendrick, who had a fantastic spring, subbing for Hall while Richmond learned the left side. If Richmond struggles early on, Hall could shift to the left and Kendrick would be more than solid at right tackle.

The Vols have so many quality guards and depth on the interior it would be possible for somebody such as Jashon Robertson to slide outside if needed.

UT has plenty of good options, and the Vols won't suffer at a spot as important at left tackle. They'd love for Richmond to live up to his recruiting rating and make this easy, but if he doesn't, others could step in.

    

Defensive Tackle

Another position where Tennessee has a lot of talent but maybe not so many options as the Vols would like is at defensive tackle, which is a position you simply can't be mediocre at and dominate in the SEC.

That's why they've got to get sophomore Shy Tuttle back healthy and have him and classmate Kahlil McKenzie live up to the huge expectations they brought with them to Knoxville. If that happens, it's difficult to envision a scenario in which they aren't the guys UT depends on when they're back.

For Tuttle, it truly is about getting back to 100 percent.

His season was cut short by a filthy hit from Georgia center Brandon Kublanow a season ago, and he's not been back on the field since. At the recent SEC media days, Jones told the contingent he expected Tuttle to soon begin running but that it'll be a while before he's healthy.

That's a concerning percentage. The Vols need Tuttle back at full speed—at least by the Florida game on Sep. 24. If that happens, it'll make them a ton better.

For McKenzie, it isn't about health as much as it is getting his weight down and living up the huge hype that comes with anybody who is a 5-star recruit, especially when his father and uncle both played in the NFL and the former is the general manager of the Oakland Raiders.

Still, it took McKenzie almost the entire year to begin to make an impact in 2015 after he missed his entire senior season of high school because of California high school transfer rules. He also rehabbed a knee injury during that time and got out of shape.

During the SEC Network's media days coverage, analyst Greg McElroy said McKenzie has been a "huge disappointment" thus far. While it's tough to label anybody as such after one season, it shows you just what kind of expectations follow the massive defensive tackle.

If his workout videos are any indication, McKenzie is motivated to change those opinions:

That doesn't always translate on the field, but the Vols need it to. If Tuttle and McKenzie don't live up to their abilities early on, senior Danny O'Brien and junior Kendal Vickers are solid players who've gotten a lot of reps in the past.

Also, don't forget about the nation's former top-ranked JUCO player Jonathan Kongbo, who is pushing 280 pounds and could slide inside and play an athletic, pass-rushing hybrid lineman. Just because he's been recruited as an end doesn't mean he can't help on the interior.

The Vols have options there, and while they'd love for Tuttle to get back on the field and for McKenzie to dominate, the battles for those spots are open because of the question marks surrounding the duo.

    

No. 2 Cornerback

Finally, there's no question who Tennessee's go-to, shutdown cornerback will be in 2016 following the return of Cameron Sutton.

After shunning the NFL, the quiet defensive back is poised to let his play do the talking as he prepares to break out of the shadows and receive the recognition he's deserved his entire career.

But what about who's going to hold down the other side?

Again, like at safety, there are plenty of cornerback options for defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, but somebody needs to step up and seize the spot.

The safest bet appears to be rising junior Justin Martin, a 6'1", 183-pound cornerback who has NFL written all over him. After surging toward the end of last season, he looked like he'd nail down the job, but an up-and-down spring didn't help.

Now, the Vols and new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop probably need to see more of Martin's huge skill set before anointing him the starter.

The versatility in UT's defensive backfield could wind up being a benefit here if Martin doesn't take the position and run away with it. Junior Emmanuel Moseley needs to get more consistent, but he has electrifying speed and would be solid as a starter. He should be the candidate to push Martin the hardest.

But a player such as Abernathy (who played some nickelback a season ago) could factor into the cornerback race. As could a potential wild card such as Berry, Warrior or Osborne. They aren't necessarily locked into their positions and are all athletic enough to shift around.

JUCO transfer D.J. Henderson may be somebody who has been overlooked a little in the race too, and the Vols didn't recruit him to stand on the sideline.

Martin has the highest ceiling, however, and the Tennessee would love for him to nail down the spot alongside Sutton. If he does, this could be the most talented secondary UT has put on the field since the early 2000s.

    

All information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered at CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 200 Overall Recruits in Class of 2017

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

 

The final stretch of high school has arrived for a talent-packed 2017 recruiting class. After three seasons and several series of showcase circuits, this group is now nearly six months shy of national signing day.

Some prospects secured scholarship offers in middle school, while others didn't emerge on the national radar until recently, representing the diversity of college football's recruiting process. Now approaching their senior campaigns, a lauded collection of players step into a larger spotlight, attracting attention from an array of collegiate coaching staffs.

In between summer showcases and high school training camp, it's an appropriate time to reassess this class across the board. Extensive film review and multiyear in-person scouting put B/R in a position to evaluate the top 200 athletes listed in 247Sports' composite rankings, a culmination of ratings among recruiting industry leaders. 

Before we break down the field position-by-position, here's an overall peek at college football's future impact performers, including a deeper look at 5-star recruits.

 

Player order and star ratings based on 247Sports' composite rankings. Unless otherwise noted, player stats are courtesy of 247Sports.

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Akial Byers to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star DT Prospect

The Alabama Crimson Tide added a physical presence to the interior of their future defense Sunday, when defensive tackle Akial Byers committed to their 2017 recruiting class.

Hank South of 247Sports reported the news and included comments from Byers' Fayetteville High School head coach, Benji Mahan, on the big decision:

The reason it's Alabama is in a span of two or three weeks he got 15 to 20 offers from some really big-time schools. And to me the difference in Alabama and some of those is, it wasn't just, 'Hey we would like for you to come to our school' and then just kind of done. Alabama not only gave him an offer, they invested in his life and built a relationship with him and his mom and his brother and with us as coaches. That to me is what separated them.

When we left Ohio State, me and him, I said what do you think and he said Alabama. I say why? He said Coach (Karl) Dunbar and Coach (Billy) Napier and that was the bottom line.

The 6'4", 275-pound lineman is a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports' composite rankings, and the No. 228 overall player, No. 13 defensive tackle and No. 2 recruit from Arkansas in the 2017 class.

He drew plenty of attention from the SEC, being an Arkansas native, and his home-state Arkansas Razorbacks and the Crimson Tide earned each of the predictions for his commitment in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

Florida State, Missouri, Michigan, Iowa State and Oklahoma were also among the programs that showed interest.

Hudl shared some highlights from Byers' junior campaign, which showed how effective he can be as the anchor of a defensive line:

Byers' size immediately jumps out when studying his film. It allows him to overpower his way into the backfield and stop running backs in their tracks. If he isn't the one making the tackle, he helps stretch the play to the outside, where his teammates can corral the ball-carrier.

Byers also occupies double-teams, which frees up pass-rushing lanes for defensive ends and holes for linebackers to attack. He can create pressure on the quarterback up the middle as well, which helps him stay on the field for all three downs as more than just a force against the run.

Winning the line of scrimmage is key against power-rushing offenses that utilize the middle of the field and spread attacks that rely on timing between the quarterback and receivers. Byers will help Alabama consistently disrupt opposing offenses if he lives up to his potential in the collegiate game.

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Stedman Bailey Named West Virginia Football Student Assistant Coach

Former Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey is going back to college, where he will serve as a student assistant coach under West Virginia Mountaineers head football coach Dana Holgorsen. 

Per Mike Montoro of the team's website, Holgorsen announced on Sunday that Bailey will enroll at West Virginia and work with the Mountaineers football team in 2016.

Per Montoro, Bailey said he was grateful to the Rams for all of their support throughout his career, "especially during the past few months, which have been a tough time."

He also thanked West Virginia for the opportunity: 

Moving forward, I would like to thank West Virginia University, especially coach Dana Holgorsen and athletic director Shane Lyons for making this opportunity available. Even though my playing career isn’t over yet, this gives me more time to heal so I can make a return. However, It is important to me to finish my degree. I loved my time as a Mountaineer football player and I look forward to working with coach Holgorsen and the Mountaineer football program.

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said Bailey's "ability to teach and his remarkable drive and determination will serve him well at West Virginia, and we wish him and his family the best as they step into the next chapter of their lives,” per Montoro.

In addition to working with the football team, Bailey will also be enrolling in classes to earn his bachelor's degree after he left as a junior following the 2012 season. 

The Rams drafted Bailey with the 92nd overall pick in 2013. He was the victim of a shooting in Florida in November, when a car pulled up next to the one he was in and opened fire, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport (via NFL.com's Tyler Dragon).

The 25-year-old attended the Rams' organized team activities in June, helping coach the wide receivers. The team waived him June 7 and expected him to take on a non-playing role before the deal with West Virginia came about.

Bailey's resiliency in the face of unfathomable adversity is incredible. His desire to stay around the game of football has given him a great opportunity to teach young players while also earning his college degree at the university where he became an All-American.

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Alphonse Taylor Arrested: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction on Alabama OL

University of Alabama offensive lineman Alphonse Taylor was charged with driving under the influence after being arrested by the Tuscaloosa Police Department on Sunday.

Charlie Potter of 247Sports passed along the news from the Tuscaloosa Country Sheriff's Office, adding that Taylor's bond was set at $1,000. Matt Zenitz of AL.com also reported the news.

Stephanie Taylor of the Tuscaloosa News shared Taylor's mugshot after his arrest:

No further information about the incident that led to his arrest was immediately released.

Taylor emerged as a key cog in the Crimson Tide offensive line last season as the team went 14-1 and won the national championship. He started all 15 games at right guard and finished with a team-leading 57 knockdown blocks, according to his official bio.

Outside expectations are high for the senior heading into the 2016 campaign, too. He was listed on the All-SEC preseason second team following the conference's media days last week.

Nick Saban hasn't guaranteed his place in the starting lineup, though. Marq Burnett of SEC Country passed along comments from the Alabama coach after Taylor got demoted to a backup role during spring practice.

"He's going to continue to be on the second team if he doesn't get his weight down and get in shape," Saban said. "Would he be a better first-teamer with all the experience he has?"

Redshirt freshman Brandon Kennedy filled the void during what seemed more like an attempted wake-up call from Saban than a true long-term demotion for Taylor.

Now the outlook may change more permanently with Taylor's status uncertain. Those additional reps with the starters could prove vital if Kennedy does step into a starting role when the Tide open the regular season against USC on Sept. 3.

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Best College Football Coaches Under 40 Years Old

Rising up the employment ladder often involves "paying your dues." College football is a terrific application of that phrase.

Several young coaches have already climbed the ranks and toppled the old guard before reaching the age of 40. While they may still oversee a specific position, each of the coaches included are at least coordinators.

After a brief overview of the top coordinators, we'll highlight the four best head coaches under 40.

Additionally, we've also pointed out a few coaches who are closing in on the mark. Why? Because that group is full of excellent names, and they'd certainly look like glaring omissions otherwise.

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Brandon McKinney to Washington: Huskies Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

Washington added a potential future star to its defense Saturday when safety Brandon McKinney joined its 2017 recruiting class. 

Scott Eklund of Scout.com reported McKinney's decision to play football at Washington. 

The 6’1” and 180-pound McKinney is a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, and the No. 262 overall player, No. 21 safety and No. 30 prospect from the state of California in the 2017 class.

Being from the West Coast, McKinney naturally generated plenty of interest from Pac-12 schools throughout the recruiting process. The "crystal ball" predictions on 247Sports were split between UCLA and Washington on March 3, and Arizona State also pursued the safety.

What’s more, McKinney visited USC for junior day in February and indicated he would love to play for the Trojans even though they hadn’t offered him a scholarship yet at the time, per Luke Stampini of 247Sports:

That would be huge. That’s always been a — I guess — dream school when I was younger. The Reggie Bush years, watching them play at the Coliseum, so that would be a huge one.

One thing that stood out to me is they always had good safeties coming out back to Troy Polamalu to T.J. McDonald to you know Su’a Cravens before he moved down to linebacker. It’s just a good school, good atmosphere, and the Trojan family seems like a good unit.

McKinney may have been impressed with USC, but his talent is the reason he was on the program’s radar in the first place.

Yet for all of his adoration of USC, Eklund noted that McKinney wound up picking the Huskies after visiting the campus this weekend and meeting with head coach Chris Petersen

Washington is having a very good start to next year's recruiting. The Huskies currently rank 22nd among all football programs with 11 total commits, with McKinney being the program's fourth 4-star commit and second defensive back after cornerback Keith Taylor, per 247Sports

He brings solid athleticism to the safety position and can offer support against the run and make receivers pay for crossing the middle. McKinney is also fast enough to keep up with pass-catchers in coverage situations and demonstrated instincts against the aerial attack in high school that could help him see playing time early in his collegiate career.

Scout.com provided a complete breakdown of McKinney’s game: "McKinney has an athletic frame, is a very solid tackler, runs well and plays with a nice edge to him. For a young player, he plays with surprising confidence and isn't afraid to step up and meet a ball-carrier head-on. He closes very well on the ball and has the range to play sideline to sideline."

The versatility to make an impact against the run or pass is often the difference between solid and elite defensive backs, especially in high-level college football. He is a potential true three-down defender who will rarely have to come off the field if he fulfills expectations.

McKinney may still be raw, as so many incoming freshmen are, but he possesses enough talent to develop into a future starter and featured member of his new school’s 2017 class. Pac-12 quarterbacks have been warned.

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Former Mississippi State Football Player Chris Smith Killed in Shooting

Former Mississippi State Bulldogs wide receiver Chris Smith was killed in a shooting Friday night in Meridian, Mississippi. 

Few details surrounding the incident are known currently, but police are still searching for a suspect, according to WTOK.

Following news of Smith's death, several former teammates paid tribute, including Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Deontae Skinner:

Former Mississippi State and Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney had the following to say:

Smith played for the Bulldogs from 2009 through 2012, registering 109 receptions for 1,180 yards and five touchdowns during his collegiate career.

Smith's best season came as a senior in 2012 when he set personal bests with 47 grabs for 564 yards and two scores. He also appeared in three bowl games during his four seasons at Mississippi State.

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Every SEC Football's Team Best and Worst-Case Scenarios for 2016

With SEC media days behind us, it's smooth sailing until preseason camps for Southeastern Conference football teams, and then the 2016 season will be here.

Those long, slogging summer days are almost over, and it's nearly football time in Tennessee…and Alabama…and Mississippi…and everywhere else.

At this point of the offseason, everybody has massive expectations. After all, everybody's still undefeated, right?

If you listen to the conference's media contingent, it's going to be Alabama over Tennessee in the SEC championship game. That's according to this week's media polls released, and even though the scribes and analysts have been right just five times in 24 years, the Crimson Tide are a safe pick.

Can you imagine two of the oldest rivals meeting twice in the same year? It would be the first time the Volunteers and Tide have met for the conference title since there was a championship game, and it would be one of the toughest tickets in all of sports.

But they aren't the only programs with huge expectations. LSU is expected to be stout again, and if Ole Miss can wade through its off-field worries, the Rebels could shine, too. On the East side, Florida is the defending champion, and Jim McElwain's team has to be better on offense than it was a season ago, right?

Also, there are three new coaches in the East with Georgia's Kirby Smart, South Carolina's Will Muschamp and Missouri's Barry Odom. So, there is new life in all three of those atmospheres.

Expectations abound, so let's take a look at best- and worst-case scenarios for each program this year.

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Home and Home College Football Series We Wish Would Happen

If we’ve learned anything in the two full seasons of the new College Football Playoff era, it’s that scheduling matters.

Ask Baylor and TCU, who were passed for the final playoff spot by Ohio State in the final week of the 2014 regular season thanks in part to weaker nonconference schedules. A year later, the Buckeyes’ only loss came at Michigan State’s hands, making them one of only five one-loss Power Five teams competing for three playoff spots. Their best nonconference win was over an average Virginia Tech team, and they finished sixth in the final regular season poll.

Getting quality opponents on your nonconference slate matters. Every Power Five team has at least one fellow P5 team on its nonconference schedule, and winning high-profile games matters even more. Many programs, most notably Alabama, are skewing toward neutral-site games that protect lucrative home schedules.

Home-and-home series are less common, but series like Ohio State-Oklahoma, Notre Dame-Texas, Houston-Oklahoma, Clemson-Auburn and Penn State-Pitt will highlight 2016 while also building the resumes of those involved.

They’re great, but here’s a look at home-and-home series we wish would happen in college football. These series were selected for a variety of reasons, from geographic proximity to natural ties to fascinating storylines that could be created if the teams meet on the same field anytime soon. Here we go:

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Bold Predictions for Top College Football Freshmen in 2016

Hundreds of new players will be joining college football teams this summer, but a select number will draw far more attention than the rest. These are the freshmen who were at the top of the national recruiting rankings for 2016, the blue-chip prospects every program coveted, but only a few could haul in.

With the increasing push to play freshmen right away, and not just in a limited role, there's even more pressure on the top prospects to live up to their hype. Many meet or exceed expectations in that first season, but others do not.

How will these top freshmen fare in 2016? Using 247Sports' final rankings as a guide, we've got some bold predictions for the exploits of the top 10 players (listed alphabetically) this fall.

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Winners and Losers from 2016 Pac-12 Media Days

Two days of interviews, photo sessions and bottle-flipping demonstrations are in the books, putting a quick finish to the Pac-12 Conference's media days in Hollywood, California. Unlike the SEC, which spreads its media days over four days and has wall-to-wall coverage, the Pac-12 embodies a more low-key approach that's got a casual tone to it.

Players and coaches donned team polos rather than suits and ties, spending as much time in the sun—the event was held at an outdoor mall—as in convention halls.

What else was there of note from the Pac-12's first media availability for the 2016 season? Follow along as we highlight some of the "winners" and "losers" of the past two days.

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Winners and Losers from 2016 Pac-12 Media Days

Two days of interviews, photo sessions and bottle-flipping demonstrations are in the books, putting a quick finish to the Pac-12 Conference's media days in Hollywood, California...

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With DT Darnell Ewell's Commitment, Notre Dame Now Needs 1 Major Target

Remember the Voltron cartoons? Remember how five lions formed to make a giant robot to battle the opponent in every episode?

Consider Notre Dame's Voltron nearly complete.

Emphasis on the word "nearly."

Many who follow college football recruiting will admit that Darnell Ewell's commitment to Notre Dame late Friday morning wasn't a huge surprise. What Ewell's announcement did, however, was give the Fighting Irish that big-name prospect to spearhead the defensive line. Although Notre Dame already had defensive linemen committed in 3-stars Kurt Hinish and Jonathon MacCollister, Ewell gives added pop to that defensive class as a national top-10 tackle and top-150 overall player.

The Irish now have 16 commits in their 2017 class. Eleven of the 16 are 4-star pledges, including Ewell, a stud from Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Virginia. He committed to Notre Dame at his high school over offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and others.

Notre Dame has a 4-star pledge at every major offensive and defensive position, sans one. Ewell is the defensive lineman. David Adams and Pete Werner are the linebackers. Isaiah Robertson is a safety commit, and Paulson Adebo, a legit, two-way option, can play safety, cornerback or wide receiver. Adebo confirmed to Bleacher Report Friday afternoon that he will play in the secondary for the Irish.

Offensively, Avery Davis is the 4-star leader at quarterback. After his play at The Opening, there's a good chance C.J. Holmes, also listed as an athlete, could take snaps at a receiver position upon his arrival. Notre Dame, additionally, is hoping to eventually land 4-star receiver Osiris St. Brown, the younger brother of sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.

Robert Hainsey, a recent commit, headlines Notre Dame's offensive line class. He and fellow 4-star Joshua Lugg will challenge for playing time early in their career. And this doesn't even include the possibility of landing a few more studs for the line, including 5-star Foster Sarell, and 4-stars Jedrick Wills Jr. and Trey Smith.

That only leaves the running back position vacant for Notre Dame. Pretty easy, right?

Think again.

Eleven of the top 15 running backs are committed to other programs. None of the four uncommitted targets—5-star Cam Akers, and 4-stars Ty Chandler, A.J. Davis and Colin Wilson—are predicted in their respective 247Sports "Crystal Balls" to choose Notre Dame.

Devan Barrett is a major player to watch as the Irish look to fill that void. Barrett had Notre Dame in his top 10, which he announced via Twitter last month. Barrett rushed for nearly 1,900 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior for Tampa Catholic High School in Tampa, Florida.

If Notre Dame fails to land a running back for the 2017 class, it should be OK at least for the upcoming season. The position is loaded with depth, led by Tarean Folston and featuring four underclassmen who could see starter's minutes and a junior in Justin Brent who is ready for a breakthrough season.

If the Irish, however, do finish their 2017 class with an elite running back, consider it a huge win. And look for their version of Voltron to be successful in the near future.

        

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

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Biggest 2016 College Football Storylines 50 Days Away from Week 1

This week the media days circus opened across the college football landscape, from the four-day extravaganza in SEC country over to the tamer Pac-12 event on the West Coast.

Media days are often said to be the unofficial start of football season. But everyone knows they're nowhere close. The return of the real thing—college football in its truest form, a jam-packed Saturday of morning-to-late-night action—is just 50 days away.

College football's offseason is passing one of its biggest mile markers Friday, as we are seven weeks and an extra day from perhaps the greatest Week 1 Saturday in the sport's history. 

With 50 days left until Sept. 3—yes, we know there are a handful of games before that first true college football Saturday—here are the major storylines fans and pundits alike will discuss and dissect between now and that long-awaited game day. 

Below you'll find the 20 biggest questions, the 10 most important quarterback battles, 10 of the most anticipated debuts and 10 individual matchups fans should already circle.

Add them all up, and you have 50 reasons to get even more excited for college football's grand return.

                

20 Biggest Questions for 2016

1. Can Alabama repeat? The Crimson Tide will always be in the national championship discussion, and they return several key pieces from their title run last season—a deep defensive front anchored by sack master Jonathan Allen (14.5 sacks in 2015), an experienced secondary and several star receivers. But the Tide also have major questions in their backfield, and everyone will be gunning for head coach Nick Saban's crown.

       

2. Will Clemson stay strong? The Tigers destroyed all notions of "Clemsoning" last season by going undefeated in the regular season, winning the ACC and taking Alabama down to the wire in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. There are zero questions about the strength of an offense led by quarterback Deshaun Watson—a Heisman Trophy finalist last season. But the Tigers only return three starters from an elite defense. Can head coach Dabo Swinney and his team continue to be a model of consistency and contend again?

       

3. Is Florida State national championship material? After a brief dip in form last season in which it still won 10 games, Florida State could return every starter from its offense and brings back the majority of its defense in 2016. Head coach Jimbo Fisher still has a major question to answer at quarterback, but there is ridiculous talent all over the field for the Seminoles, who will have to navigate through a treacherous schedule to get back to the playoff.

       

4. Can we trust LSU as a contender? On paper, the Bayou Bengals have everything they need to win it all, including perhaps the best player in the game in running back Leonard Fournette. We've seen this script from LSU before, though. The passing game must take a step forward with returning quarterback Brandon Harris or else LSU will fall well short of the increasing expectations placed on it in 2016.

       

5. Will any of the hot seats cool in the SEC West? LSU head coach Les Miles could be on his way out of Baton Rouge if the Tigers don't live up to the hype this fall—especially considering how his job was in jeopardy late last season. Elsewhere in the division, Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin need better seasons to ease the pressure off them. That all starts with challenging Week 1 matchups against Clemson and UCLA, respectively.

       

6. Is Tennessee for real? For the second straight year, this is the year in Tennessee. The Volunteers couldn't make it happen last season, but they still return a lot of firepower from a team that won nine games. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs and his "Chain Moving Gang" in the backfield should pair well with new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's unit. They've all got to get over the hump on Rocky Top.

       

7. When will Nick Chubb return for Georgia? New Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has plenty of weapons for what could be a strong 2016, and none is better than running back Nick Chubb. The superstar suffered a devastating knee injury against Tennessee last year, and it's unknown when he'll return to action for the Bulldogs. If doctors clear him for action Week 1 against North Carolina, watch out.

       

8. How much better will the ACC be as a whole this season? Speaking of North Carolina, the Tar Heels won the Coastal Division last season and should be contenders again in 2016. They'll have to battle the rest of a conference that is looking to close the gap. Louisville is dangerous in the Atlantic with all of its returning talent. Strong head coach hires have the Miami Hurricanes (Mark Richt), Syracuse Orange (Dino Babers), Virginia Cavaliers (Bronco Mendenhall) and Virginia Tech Hokies (Justin Fuente) all on the rise.

       

9. Is Michigan the team to beat in the Big Ten? Jim Harbaugh's first season as head coach at his alma mater was a success both on and off the field. The Wolverines return the most experience of anyone in the loaded Big Ten East, boast new defensive coordinator Don Brown and are coming off a fantastic recruiting cycle. Can the likes of Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis and Jehu Chesson lead UM through a tough road slate and into the playoff?

       

10. Does Ohio State have too much inexperience? Head coach Urban Meyer will always have championship-caliber talent at Ohio State. But the Buckeyes return only six starters—fewer than anyone else in the country, according to Phil Steele—ahead of a challenging 2016 slate. Heisman contender J.T. Barrett and defensive star Raekwon McMillan will be tasked with paving the way for this massive youth movement in the Horseshoe.

                 

11. Are repeats on the cards for Michigan State and Iowa? These two teams played an instant classic at the Big Ten title game last season. They both have the chance to follow the same blueprints in 2016. Michigan State has a tough defense and its ball-control offense in the East, while Iowa has established talent in quarterback C.J. Beathard and Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King, as well as a favorable schedule in the West. Michigan and Ohio State get most of the spotlight in the conference, but don't sleep on Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio and Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz's squads.

           

12. Does Notre Dame have what it takes to win it all? Notre Dame might be the national title contender that is getting the least amount of love this preseason. There are stars to replace in South Bend, including 2016 first-round NFL picks Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, and All-American LB Jaylon Smith, but the depth behind those departed players got plenty of experience in an injury-filled 2015. Head coach Brian Kelly's team also has a favorable schedule with only three true road games.

         

13. Can Oklahoma keep things going? Oklahoma rebounded in a huge way last season, bouncing back from a disappointing 2014 to win the Big 12 and make it to the College Football Playoff in 2015. The Sooners' rejuvenated offense still has Baker Mayfield under center as well as running back Samaje Perine and wide receiver Dede Westbrook. The secondary is also loaded with Jordan Thomas and Steven Parker returning. If OU can reload up front, another championship campaign is in the cards.

         

14. How will Baylor look on the field? Baylor will enter the 2016 season not as a title contender again, but as a giant question mark after the dismissal of head coach Art Briles and the exodus of several of its recent top recruits in the wake of its sexual assault scandal. No one knows what to expect from the Bears under interim head coach Jim Grobe. There's still plenty of talent, but some difficult days could be ahead.

                     

15. Who will contend in the Big 12? If the Bears regress on the field in 2016, who will step in to challenge Oklahoma? While TCU needs to rebuild its high-powered offense, Gary Patterson's trademark 4-2-5 defense should be a strength again. Oklahoma State has a talented passing game led by Mason Rudolph and James Washington, but the running game and the defensive front need to find some answers. Watch out for the under-pressure talent of Texas and the wide-open aerial attack of Texas Tech.

            

16. Will Christian McCaffrey lead Stanford to a Pac-12 repeat? Stanford finished 2015 on top of a wide-open Pac-12 conference but fell short of a playoff bid. Christian McCaffrey and his jaw-dropping skills are back, but there's a void at quarterback after veteran Kevin Hogan's departure. The defense should be deeper in 2016. Head coach David Shaw must navigate through the major depth-chart changes and the added pressure to repeat with the Cardinal.

           

17. Is Washington really a contender? The Huskies might be a bigger preseason darling than Tennessee. They return a lot of young talent from a team that lost a number of close games in 2015 but turned it on late in the season to post some impressive victories. Head coach Chris Petersen knows how to build a surprise contender from his days at Boise State, and he has the tools to do it in Seattle with the sophomore combo of quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, as well as the Pac-12's No. 1 defense.

 

18. Who will win CFB's battle of Los Angeles? The Pac-12 South looks like it will be a competition between the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans this fall. These two teams have the most talent in the division, and both retain stars. UCLA returns quarterback Josh Rosen and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, while USC has wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree' Jackson back in the fold, just to name a few. USC has more overall returning starters than UCLA, but it will have to deal with the toughest schedule in the country.

       

19. Can Houston prove it wasn't a one-hit wonder? Head coach Tom Herman's first season in Houston was nearly a perfect success, as the Cougars ran wild with a 13-1 record and a Peach Bowl victory over FSU. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. returns to lead Herman's high-flying offense, and some highly touted newcomers are set to fill in the gaps for an attack-minded defense. The road will be more difficult with an opener against Oklahoma and a matchup against a tougher Louisville team. Let's see if the takeover continues in H-Town.

        

20. Will any "Group of Five" team challenge Houston? Houston is far and away the favorite to take the Group of Five's lucrative berth in the New Year's Six bowl matchups. But Boise State is eyeing a bounce-back campaign after losing control of the Mountain West to what should again be a stout San Diego State program. Can USF and Cincinnati spoil the party for Houston in the AAC? Who will be the breakout program in the MAC? They will all be fighting for Houston's spot. 

 

10 QB Battles to Watch During Fall Camp

21. Alabama: For the third straight year, Alabama will enter fall camp with a question at starting quarterback. Cooper Bateman is the only one with any substantial experience for the Crimson Tide, but promising young signal-callers Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts have put themselves firmly in the competition along with David Cornwell. Bateman is the projected leader, but there might be room for an upset in a new-look backfield this fall.

     

22. Auburn: A productive dual-threat quarterback makes all the difference for head coach Gus Malzahn in his offense. JUCO transfer John Franklin III looks to follow in the footsteps of Nick Marshall with his run-first ways. However, 2015 starters Jeremy Johnson and Sean White are out to prove they deserve another chance to give Auburn's offense the teeth it had in 2013 and 2014.

      

23. BYU: Brigham Young won't contend for a national title this year, but its matchups against six Power Five teams in the first seven weeks of the season mean the country needs to pay attention to the enthralling battle between veteran QB Taysom Hill and 2015 breakout star Tanner Mangum. The 6'2", 230-pound Hill is a bruising force at quarterback when healthy, but Mangum stepped in to save the Cougars in a eye-popping freshman season.

     

24. Florida State: Sean Maguire didn't get a chance to secure his starting job at Florida State this spring as he recovered from a nasty Peach Bowl ankle injury. That opened the door for redshirt freshman Deondre Francois and true freshman Malik Henry to battle it out in practices and the annual spring game. Maguire will be ready to go in fall camp, when he'll go head-to-head with Francois for the chance to lead an FSU offense filled with experience into 2016.

                   

25. Georgia: Kirby Smart wasn't the only new arrival at Georgia that made offseason headlines. Five-star quarterback Jacob Eason stayed true to the Bulldogs through the coaching change from Mark Richt and put on a show at a sellout spring game in Athens. This fall, Georgia must decide between the highly touted true freshman, returning starter Greyson Lambert and reserve Brice Ramsey. The decision might be the difference in a potential SEC East title run.

              

26. Michigan: Jim Harbaugh got a lot out of Iowa transfer Jake Rudock in his first season in Ann Arbor. This season, he could do the same with former Houston quarterback John O'Korn, who had a fantastic freshman campaign for the Cougars before switching schools. But Wilton Speight had the edge leaving spring practices, and Shane Morris won't go down without a fight, either. This a battle of the highest profile.

       

27. Notre Dame: Notre Dame will have to decide between two dual-threat passers with starting experience. Malik Zaire won the job in 2015 and was riding high until an early-season injury. DeShone Kizer stepped in and led a banged-up Irish team to a Fiesta Bowl berth. Kizer will likely keep his job in South Bend, but head coach Brian Kelly is keeping all of his options open as the Irish prepare for fall camp.

      

28. Stanford: David Shaw's biggest offensive weapon in Christian McCaffrey is back, but he'll have a new backfield partner this fall after the departure of veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan. The preseason Pac-12 favorite has to pick between Keller Chryst, who backed up Hogan last season, and Ryan Burns, an older reserve who has spent more time in the system. The two have similar size—Chryst is 6'5", 237 pounds, while Burns is 6'5", 233 pounds—and skill sets, so this battle will come down to who takes charge the most in Palo Alto, California.

             

29. Texas: Texas must improve on offense in order for head coach Charlie Strong to stick around in Austin, and a lot of that will come down to the quarterback for new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's run-pass option scheme. True freshman Shane Buechele had the best spring of any of the Longhorns quarterbacks. But there's a chance a new system is just what former starters Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes need to get back on track.

                        

30. USC: USC's quarterback battle seemed to be decided before spring practices started, as many expected Max Browne to take over for Cody Kessler. However, the younger Sam Darnold had a fantastic spring, and the Trojans exited spring camp without a clear-cut No. 1 guy under center. Browne will most likely get the nod for the season opener against Alabama, but the Trojans can be confident in Darnold's abilities as well.

       

10 Debuts We Can't Wait to See

31. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart: The former Alabama defensive coordinator is back at his alma mater, ready to see if he can get the Bulldogs to the title games it missed under Mark Richt. Defense shouldn't be a problem for this Saban disciple, but his squad will get a tough test in Week 1 with North Carolina's attack.

           

32. Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver: Ed Oliver was a top-10 recruit in the class of 2016 who decided to stay at home and become an instant-impact star for Tom Herman at Houston. He'll be one of the most talented Cougars from the moment he takes the field at NRG Stadium for the highly anticipated showdown with Oklahoma.

           

33. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda: Dave Aranda built elite defenses out of overlooked and under-recruited players with the Wisconsin Badgers. Now he inherits a roster from former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele that's filled with blue-chippers at LSU, which wants to get back to its elite defensive form. And it just so happens that his debut with the Tigers will come against his former employer.

            

34. Miami (Florida) head coach Mark Richt: Mark Richt will start life at his alma mater easily with back-to-back games against Florida A&M and Florida Atlantic. But no matter the caliber of the Hurricanes' opponents, Richt's first contests at Miami are going to be quite a sight. Can he bring the swagger back to "The U"?

                    

35. Michigan defensive tackle Rashan Gary: The nation's No. 1 recruit decided to join Jim Harbaugh's growing powerhouse at Michigan, and Rashan Gary will carve out a role on a deep defensive line from day one. The Wolverines begin the season against lowly Hawaii, so Gary will have a chance to shine brightly from the first snaps of his college career.

       

36. Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa: Opponents who got tired of seeing a Bosa line up at defensive end for Ohio State will have to endure at least three more seasons of it. Former Buckeyes superstar Joey Bosa's younger brother, Nick Bosa, will most likely make his collegiate debut in Week 1 against Bowling Green, and he has the talent to fill his brother's shoes.

                   

37. Ole Miss offensive tackle Greg Little: Greg Little was the No. 3 recruit in the class of 2016, and he'll jump into an Ole Miss offensive line that lost a lot of talent, including elite left tackle Laremy Tunsil. There's a great chance he replaces Tunsil right away. His first matchup? The attack-minded defense of Florida State.

           

38. Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop: Last season, Oregon had an FCS transfer quarterback in Vernon Adams Jr. who was electrifying when healthy. Dakota Prukop fits the mold of the dual-threat Ducks passer, and he should put up some huge numbers on opening weekend against the UC Davis Aggies before facing Virginia and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks.     

              

39. TCU quarterback Kenny Hill: Remember Kenny Hill? The last time he played in a season opener, he torched South Carolina for Texas A&M. Now he's at TCU, where he was named the Preseason Newcomer of the Year in the Big 12 as the presumptive replacement for Trevone Boykin. He'll look to set the tone in Week 1 against FCS school South Dakota State before facing former SEC rival Arkansas.

                         

40. Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight: And while we're on the subject of Texas A&M, the Aggies also picked up a talented transfer quarterback during the flurry of movement in the Lone Star State. Coach Sumlin already named former Oklahoma starter Trevor Knight the No. 1 signal-caller at Texas A&M, where he'll lead an offense searching for its mojo again under new coordinator Noel Mazzone. 

            

10 Week 1 Must-See Matchups

41. Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley vs. USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson: As a true freshman last season, Ridley flashed Amari Cooper-like skills and led the national champions in receiving with 1,045 yards. The South Florida native will go up against USC to open his sophomore campaign, and the Trojans will look to counter with the ultra-athletic talents of do-it-all cornerback Jackson.

                         

42. BYU's quarterbacks vs. Arizona's new defense: It will be worth watching how BYU uses both Hill and Mangum in new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer's scheme this fall. The Cougars open with Arizona, which will look to turn around its struggling defense from 2015 with the aggressive stylings of former Boise State coordinator Marcel Yates. This will be an underrated but awesome matchup.

 

43. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson vs. Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson: Watson will look to start his Heisman campaign for Clemson with a strong performance away from home at Auburn, which is eager to attack him with a healthy, edge-rushing Lawson. This will be a matchup between two stars Bleacher Report's Matt Miller thinks could be top-five picks at next year's NFL draft.

        

44. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook vs. Ole Miss' "Landsharks": The most explosive running back in college football is going up against one of the most recognizable defenses of the last few seasons. Cook will lead the way for an experienced FSU offense against Ole Miss and its swarming, physical Landshark defense. Expect speed, speed and even more speed.

               

45. Georgia running back Nick Chubb vs. North Carolina's defense: Chubb's spot here comes with an asterisk, as he might not be 100 percent healthy when Georgia takes on North Carolina inside the Georgia Dome. If he is, though, he'll meet a Tar Heels defense that improved across the board last season under coordinator Gene Chizik but gave up a bowl-record 645 rushing yards against Baylor to end 2015.

    

46. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. vs. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield: Two of the country's best dual-threat gunslingers will open the season in style at NRG Stadium. Ward Jr. is a touchdown machine who could put up massive numbers in 2016. Mayfield has his sights set on another title run for Oklahoma and, this time, a spot in the Heisman Trophy ceremony. This has the potential to be one of the best quarterback matchups of the season.

                      

47. LSU running back Leonard Fournette vs. Wisconsin's defense: Can Fournette open 2016 on the same destructive streak that he had for most of 2015? In order to do that, he'll have to go through a stiff test from Dave Aranda's old defense at Wisconsin, which returns six starters from a top-10 unit. This matchup will be at Lambeau Field, which is fitting for a superstar running back who should be a star in the NFL for years to come.

     

48. Notre Dame's starting quarterback vs. Texas' defense: Whether it's Kizer or Zaire, the winner of the Notre Dame quarterback battle will want to put on a show from the start in the Irish's Sunday showcase against Texas. The Longhorns return eight starters on a Charlie Strong-coached defense, and linebacker Malik Jefferson should be making plays all over the place in Austin. It'll be a Texas-sized test from the opening kickoff for Notre Dame's starting signal-caller.

          

49. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey vs. Kansas State's defense: Friday night of Week 1 will be McCaffrey's time to shine, as he'll take the field for Stanford in his first game since torching Iowa in a Rose Bowl rout on New Year's Day. Longtime head coach Bill Snyder always has Kansas State ready to play the underdog role, so don't expect this to be a breeze for the Cardinal superstar. 

             

50. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen vs. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett: Rosen flashed his elite skills from the first series of his college career, when he lit up Virginia. Now a sophomore, Rosen opens the season against a much different challenge—a Texas A&M defense coached by coordinator John Chavis that will look to wreak havoc with superstar pass-rusher Myles Garrett. These two potential All-Americans will meet early and often in College Station 50 days from now.

 

Stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a national college football analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Walter Camp Award Watch List 2016: Full List Revealed

With just seven weeks left before the college football season kicks off, 40 players appear on the 2016 Walter Camp Award watch list. 

As is often the case in football, quarterbacks dominate the list with 15 players, including Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer. 

The full list is available at the Walter Camp Foundation's official website.

The three standout names on the list are Watson, LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey. 

McCaffrey and Watson finished second and third in last year's Heisman voting, respectively, behind Alabama running back Derrick Henry. Fournette finished sixth in the voting with 110 points. That trio owns the top three spots in Heisman odds for 2016, per Odds Shark.

Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller had high praise for Fournette heading into his junior season:

There seems to be no limit to Fournette's ceiling. He was essentially asked to carry LSU's offense last year, racking up 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns on 300 carries. By comparison, Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris had only 212 more passing yards than Fournette had rushing yards. 

McCaffrey was the breakout star in college football last year, even more than Henry. He led the nation with 2,664 yards from scrimmage to go along with 13 total touchdowns. 

Watson is arguably the best quarterback in the country and plays for one of the best teams in the nation, which will give him an edge with the voters. 

The Walter Camp Award watch list features essentially what any fan would expect a list of the best players in the nation to look like heading into 2016. There will be some surprises along the way, but college football will have no shortage of stars to watch this season. 

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Hits and Misses from SEC Media's All-SEC Team

The SEC concluded its week of being the center of the college football universe Friday by unveiling its three preseason all-conference teams, which were voted on by the hundreds of media members who were in Hoover, Alabama for the league's annual press event.

Defending champion and 2016 pick to repeat Alabama led the way for the SEC with seven first-team selections, which was one more than the Crimson Tide had in 2015

The star offensive trio of LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley took home the honors as the top vote-getters.

While the SEC media did mostly what was expected in sorting out the top talent in the league on the three loaded teams, there were a few surprises—good and bad—in the final tally from Hoover. Judging by the players' performances from 2015 and their potential for 2016, there were a few misses and slides down the ranks.

Here are the SEC media's three preseason all-conference teams and several notable hits and misses from the results.

Begin Slideshow

Darnell Ewell to Notre Dame: Fighting Irish Land 4-Star DT Prospect

Darnell Ewell rose to prominence at the high school level as a two-way lineman, and his intriguing football journey will continue at Notre Dame after the 4-star recruit made his collegiate intentions official Friday. 

BlueandGold.com first relayed news of Ewell's decision. 

A photo of Ewell making his choice was subsequently tweeted out by 757Teamz:

Following the announcement, Ewell explained the reasoning behind choosing ND, according to Steve Hare of Scout.com:

It really means a lot to be given an opportunity to go there, just the opportunity itself means a lot. Notre Dame is really, really different from all the other schools I went to I've got to say. There's just something about there. It's not like any other school does the same stuff. Notre Dame does things a little differently.

Ewell fielded over 30 offers over the course of the recruitment process, with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, Clemson Tigers, Michigan Wolverines and Fighting Irish all vying for his attention. 

And based on his raw physical tools, it's not hard to see why so many schools pursued the 6'3'', 298-pounder. Not only did Ewell flash promise as an offensive guard during his time at Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Virginia, but he throttled up lists of can't-miss prospects thanks to his play at defensive tackle.

Per Tyler James of NDInsider.com, Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network had high praise for Ewell:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Ewell ranked 149th among all players in the class of 2017 and No. 10 overall at defensive tackle. And among players in the state of Virginia, Ewell graded out fifth overall. 

For a player who is considered "very flexible and extremely athletic for a prospect his size," and "has all the tools to become a dominant player at the collegiate level," per Scout.com, Ewell should be on national radars as a potential breakout star. 

And with the spotlight ready to shine on Ewell as he transitions to life as a key cog on one of the nation's premier squads, it should be fascinating to watch his development from a coveted high school prospect into a foundational talent.

The Fighting Irish ranked 45th in total defense and 39th in points allowed last season. While Ewell may not step into a big role right away, he should be able to help improve those numbers if he can at least work his way into the rotation as a freshman in 2017.

 

Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com

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Cory Batey Sentenced to 15 Years for Rape: Latest Details and Comments

Former Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday morning after previously being found guilty of raping an unconscious woman in 2013.

Stacey Barchenger of the Tennessean reported the 15-year sentence handed down by Judge Monte Watkins was the minimum term available in the case.

The unnamed female victim, who's now 24, spoke at the hearing and stated she has no memory of the incident, and only learned about what occurred during the investigation.

She also discussed the impact the incident has had on her life, according to the Tennessean:

It will never be possible for anyone to put into words how this has affected me. You will never understand what this has done to me if you aren't standing in my shoes. The humiliation, the pain, the isolation, being reduced to nothing but a piece of flesh right before your eyes, it does something to you that is truly impossible to describe.

Batey was found guilty in an April retrial of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery along with less-severe but related charges, including another count of aggravated sexual battery, facilitation of aggravated rape and two counts attempted aggravated rape, per Barchenger.

Kara Apel of WSMV reported the other charges amounted to eight years of prison time, which he will serve concurrently with the aggravated rape sentence. The report also noted he will be forced to serve 100 percent of the sentence.

Three other players were also charged in the case. The Tennessean noted Brandon Vandenburg was found guilty on eight counts in June and is awaiting sentencing in September. Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian McKenzie are awaiting trial after pleading not guilty.

Judge Watkins noted each defendant found guilty in the case would have to register as a sex offender after being released from prison, according to the Tennessean. He also stated he weighed "thousands of cases" before deciding to give Batey the minimum term.

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Best Facemask and Helmet Designs in College Football

Typically, aesthetics are overlooked in college football until a program unveils something spectacularly bad.

And sometimes the new look is really bad.

Instead of focusing on the unfortunate, though, we're taking a brief offseason moment to commend teams for paying attention to headwear—and in some cases not messing with it.

While a No. 1 spot is awarded, this list is not a ranking of the best helmets. Rather, the focus is on identifying the best categories and trends of helmets and facemasks in college football today.

               

5. Multicolored Facemasks

Thanks to Phil Knight and Nike, Oregon sits atop the uniform rankings. The program literally has thousands of possible combinations yet still breaks out new gear seemingly every weekend.

But the Ducks' facemasks are also ahead of the game.

Without a doubt, there's a decent amount of risk here. This feature could be abused in a hurry, but one example is quite tasteful. Oregon's silver wings blend into the primary yellow.

Rival Oregon State has flaunted a comparable look. While the Ducks' design goes from outside in, the stripes on the Beavers' helmets continue down onto the fasemask.

However, the question is which program's twist will be met with a negative review—something that seems imminent.

You're pushing it, Miami (Ohio).

                

4. Extra-Large Logos

Most helmet designs are perfectly symmetrical. No matter which side you're looking at, it's the same thing.

Recently, though, boundaries have started to get pushed. The 2011 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Boise State and Georgia—which also featured a multicolored facemask—displayed helmets with extra-large logos on one side and a number on the other.

Among others, Arizona State has joined the trend.

Boise State remains no stranger to sporting the massive logo, but the program combined it with a personal favorite, too.

                           

3. Matte or Flat-Black Helmets

Chrome is fine, but a non-glossy black helmet is terrific.

Boise State showcased Halloween-themed digs against UNLV last season, complete with an orange eye for the Broncos logo. They also sported a great look in the 2012 MAACO Bowl.

This trend is catching on with stops all over the country. The list includes representatives from the ACC (North Carolina), Big Ten (Northwestern and Purdue), Big 12 (Baylor), MAC (Buffalo), Pac-12 (Utah and Washington) and SEC (Missouri), and that's certainly not all.

Here are some examples, like Missouri's back in 2013:

North Carolina busts out the helmet on occasion:

And finally, Northwestern:

                         

2. Timeless Classics

Despite the fancy and often good-looking upgrades teams receive today, they'll simply never match or overtake tradition.

Each school listed in this section falls under the "blue blood" category—a program that has participated in college football for a long time and is basically revered as royalty in the sport.

Although the helmet design changes, the design of the helmet doesn't need alterations. When players put on this helmet, they're wearing something that exemplifies the history of the program.

"Simple, yet elegant" defines this group, starting with Alabama:

Nebraska dropped the "U" from its helmet in 1970 and hasn't changed:

Notre Dame underwent an "exhaustive" process to make sure the helmet's color properly replicated the Golden Dome on campus, per its official site:

Ohio State complements the black-, white- and red-striped helmet with Buckeye stickers— a tradition legendary head coach Woody Hayes started in 1968, per the school:

Here's Penn State—and a bonus second appearance by Northwestern's beautiful non-glossy black helmet.

Lastly, here's Tennessee's renowned block "T":

             

1. The Winged Helmet

Relativity is a funny thing. Imagine for a moment Michigan releasing the design today, and it wouldn't be surprising if the reception wasn't all that great.

However, the winged helmet dates back to 1938, according to the school. Thanks to that history, the pattern is synonymous with college football and should never, ever be touched.

Delaware and Princeton also wear similar versions of the winged helmet, a practice which Paul Lukas of Uni-Watch noted doesn't have an official beginning, though a version existed at Michigan State in 1934.

Wolverines and Spartans fans may proceed to argue about that, but there's no denying the Maize and Blue popularized the most recognizable look in college football.

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