NCAA Football News

Deommodore Lenoir to Oregon: Ducks Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Oregon Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich identified pass defense as an area of need this year, and he strengthened his secondary quite a bit Thursday with the commitment of 4-star cornerback Deommodore Lenoir. 

Lenoir confirmed on Twitter that he will be a Duck:

Lenoir is the No. 8 CB and ranks 85th overall in 247Sports' composite rankings. The Los Angeles native had interest throughout the country, with some offers a little closer to home—Arizona State, California and Washington—and others on the other end of the country—Tennessee, Nebraska, Michigan, Miami (Florida) and Boston College, per 247Sports.

Versatility is one of the more impressive aspects of Lenoir's game. In an interview with Lorenzo Reyna of Sports Out West, he spoke about how two-way USC star Adoree' Jackson is something of a model for himself.

"We have the same kind of talents," Lenoir said of himself and Jackson.

He added that he's more than willing to fill whatever role necessary for the team: "I do what I can. If they need me at running back, I'll do that. Wide receiver? Cornerback? I'll play anything."

According to MaxPreps, Lenoir caught 18 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns and finished with 1,499 all-purpose yards as a junior.

In the event Lenoir does start playing a little at wide receiver, he'll almost certainly still spend the majority of his time on the defensive side of the ball. At 5'10 ½" and 191 pounds, he has a great frame for a cornerback.

In addition to Lenoir's versatile skill set, his on-field intelligence will help him contribute to Oregon right away. Throwing a true freshman right into the fire is rarely a good idea, so he shouldn't be expected to start every game. Lenoir could fill in as a situational option in nickel and dime packages, though.

Lenoir will make his fair share of mistakes, especially early in his college career, but he's wise beyond his years in terms of reading the field and putting himself in a position to make a play.

Barring an injury or a major road block in his development, Lenoir should be one of the best cover corners in the Pac-12 in two or three years.

 

Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the Top 25 College Football Programs of the Next 10 Years

College football is outstanding entertainment for myriad reasons, one of which is the sport's unpredictability. Rosters are completely overhauled every five years, so we can only reasonably predict a few seasons in advance.

Still, much can change over a short amount of time. Sustaining excellence is tremendously difficult. But that's what makes decade-long predictions fun.

Projecting anything more than five years away is a complete, unashamed guess. Unless your favorite team has already filled its 2022 recruiting class, we have no idea what the rosters will look like.

However, certain head coaches might be around. Thanks to recruiting success, a new hire or recent consistency, the following teams appear best suited to regularly chase conference titles and national championships for the next 10 years.

Begin Slideshow

How Good Does Alabama's Defense Have to Be to Defend National Title?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — New coordinator, new leadership and new starters.

It’s a nasty trifecta for Nick Saban and the University of Alabama football team this season, one that would stymie most college football programs, yet has caused few to think twice about the Crimson Tide’s potential this season.

Yes, Jeremy Pruitt has replaced Kirby Smart, who for years had been Saban’s right-hand man on the coaching staff. Players like Reggie Ragland, A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Cyrus Jones have moved on and were all selected in the second round of the NFL draft. The base defense will have at least seven new starters.

Nevertheless, the word drop-off has been significantly absent around Tuscaloosa this offseason. Some believe that this year’s defense could become something special, although, like usual, Saban is quick to deflect away such talk. He’s quick to point out that this group hasn’t even played a live down yet.

“Everybody not only has to have a get-it-done type of attitude but they also have to take ownership for people who aren’t getting it done because they’re unable to do things to the standard that we want to do it,” he recently said about fighting complacency.

“I do think this is a work in progress and I do think that players have to accept roles. This is not something that just happens. The team chemistry last year happened over time. I think we’ll see how this team develops over time.”

The chemistry part is definitely true as Alabama’s defense last season looked a lot better against LSU in November than it did during the loss to Ole Miss in September.

Pruitt is also very familiar with the players and scheme, which has helped everyone with the transition, including the two other new defensive assistant coaches, Derrick Ansley and Karl Dunbar. Smart will certainly be missed, but it’ll be interesting to see how someone else puts his thumbprint on Saban’s long-established defensive system.

“He brings a different kind of energy,” senior outside linebacker Ryan Anderson said about Pruitt. “He’s definitely more of a players’ coach. A lot of the guys are more willing to sell out for the guy because he’s willing to do it for us. It’s a different style.”

“I’m really going to enjoy playing for him,” junior interior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said.

Anderson and Hamilton are just two of the players with significant experience and are now expected to fill bigger roles. The same goes for the likes of Tim Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson and Ronnie Harrison, only no one’s sure how well they’ll handle those responsibilities and mesh until they actually do so.

That part of the equation is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. The Crimson Tide had to learn that the hard way with three losses in 2010, after winning the national championship in 2009.

After Alabama won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012, it was again unable to maintain its success during the two subsequent seasons. That left last year’s crew hungry, with Ragland going so far as to say “Guys aren't scared to play us anymore,” during the 2015 SEC media days.

Changing that perception became the goal, and Alabama came pretty close to pulling it off. Although not one defensive player received a major postseason award, they notched a shutout in a College Football Playoff semifinal, 38-0 against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

However, Alabama then gave up 550 total yards against Clemson in the title game, although most Crimson Tide fans were too busy celebrating after the 45-40 victory to really notice.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson established new playoff records for pass attempts (47), pass completions (30), passing yards (405), passing touchdowns (four) and total offense (478 yards), and his ability to move the ball caused Saban to attempt the on-side kick that no one will forget.

“I made the decision to do it because the score was 21-21 and we were tired on defense and weren't doing a great job of getting them stopped, and I felt like if we didn't do something or take a chance to change the momentum of the game that we wouldn't have a chance to win,” Saban said at the time.

Alabama had entered the game, its 15th of the season, ranked second in the nation in total defense, averaging 256.8 yard per game. Clemson’s output more than doubled that. Opponents had also completed 49.1 percent of their passes, but Watson found the mark in 63.8 percent of his attempts.

Overall, Alabama finished third in the nation in total defense, which was based on yards allowed per game. It stood out in what some called a down year for the conference even though Georgia was seventh and Florida eighth in the statistical category, while the Crimson Tide defeated two other top-10 teams in Wisconsin (second) and Clemson (10th).

Of note, only one other SEC West team finished in the top 25 in total defense, LSU, but all had a winning record.

Alabama matched its No. 3 showing in scoring defense and was first in rushing defense, but with the young secondary, finished eighth in pass efficiency defense. Except for Alabama’s rushing defense in 2008, which was second in the nation, those were the worst its been in those categories during the four title seasons under Saban.

That’s remarkable, but also sets the bar for what needs to be achieved for the Crimson Tide to repeat in 2016. Match those rankings, especially in total defense, and its probably a playoff team again, although that still wouldn’t automatically mean another national championship. After all, the 2008 team hit two of those marks and still lost to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, and Alabama also had the Heisman Trophy winner last season. 

The key number to look for is one, because whenever Saban’s had a defense finish first in any of the four major defensive categories Alabama has won the whole thing. 

This team has that kind of potential if it wants it badly enough.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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How Many Wins Does Charlie Strong Need in 2016 to Survive at Texas?

Athletic directors will swear up and down that there aren't "magic numbers" when it comes to a head coach on the hot seat.

The people in power will argue there isn't a minimum amount of wins a coach needs to keep his job past the upcoming season. Texas AD Mike Perrin even said as much in March, according to Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News:

But according to a recent column from Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, Texas head coach Charlie Strong might have such a number on his head for 2016.

"One highly influential Longhorns power broker can count, and on Wednesday [he] said Strong needs at least eight wins to show progress from an 11-14 record," Bohls wrote Wednesday evening.

Bohls wrote that getting to eight could be a tough challenge for Strong in Year 3. All but one of Texas' 12 opponents returns their starting quarterbacks—a luxury the Longhorns might not have this fall—and the schedule is among the toughest in the country.

Bleacher Report's Brian Pedersen ranked Texas' schedule as the 17th-hardest in the FBS for 2016. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports gave the Longhorns' nonconference slate a ranking of 10th-toughest. The S&P+ metrics from Bill Connelly of SB Nation project 6.7 wins for Texas in 2016.

So should eight wins be a fair benchmark for Strong to keep his job past 2016?

First, let's break down Texas' 2016 schedule compared to its 2015 slate of opponents:

In order to get to eight wins, Texas would have to first repeat its three victories over opponents projected to start outside the Top 25: UTEP, Kansas State and Kansas. While UTEP and Kansas should be easy victories, Texas hasn't beaten Kansas State in Manhattan since 2002.

Then the Longhorns would need to flip most of their losses to teams that most likely won't be ranked to start 2016: California, Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas Tech. All four of these teams bring on their own unique challenges.

California is trying to reload its offense with Texas Tech transfer quarterback Davis Webb III and former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. 

Texas should be favored in home games against Iowa State and West Virginia, as the Cyclones will be adjusting to a new head coach and the Mountaineers only return four starters from their defense. But both teams had Texas' number in 2015 by beating the Longhorns by a combined score of 62-20. Those won't necessarily be easy flips.

Texas Tech will need to be a good road win for Texas after losing a close one at home to the Red Raiders late last season. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes will undoubtedly be in late-season form, and TTU will be fired up to get two in a row over Texas for the first time since 1997 and 1998.

That leaves five games against projected preseason Top 25 teams for Texas in 2016: Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. Last year, those were two surprising upset wins, one frustratingly close loss and two blowout defeats.

The two surprising upsets are going to be tough to duplicate. Oklahoma returns most of its starters from its Big 12 title-winning team and will be out for revenge. And for all the uncertainty surrounding Baylor, the Bears will most likely have star quarterback Seth Russell this time around instead of a converted wide receiver running a prehistoric-looking offense.

The close loss would be one Texas should feel good about turning around in 2016 after losing to Oklahoma State last fall on a special teams gaffe. But even though the Longhorns match up well with a Cowboys team that has a stellar passing attack but a struggling running game and rebuilding defense, that game will be a challenging Big 12 opener on the road.

Texas will get chances at revenge for its lopsided losses to Notre Dame and TCU at home this season. The Fighting Irish look like potential national title contenders. The Horned Frogs will be strong on defense and have the pieces to keep rolling on offense, such as KaVontae Turpin, who scored four touchdowns against Texas in 2015:

The simplest path to eight wins for Strong in 2016 is to defeat all seven unranked opponents and get an upset victory against one of the five ranked foes. If the Longhorns take a loss on the road to a team like Cal, Kansas State or Texas Tech or drop a home game to a WVU, they'll have to replace it with another upset.

Considering Texas pulled off two eye-opening upsets last season with a team that finished below .500, reaching that number with a more experienced squad in 2016 is definitely within reason.

But what will be more important for Texas in 2016 than hitting a magic number of victories is continuing to show signs of progress.

No one should reasonably expect the Longhorns to challenge for a championship this season. The recruits from Strong's first full cycle at Texas will only be sophomores. The Longhorns will be adjusting to a new offensive system under new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and will have some growing pains.

If Texas takes care of business against its projected unranked opponents in 2016 but gets routed by a combination of, say, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and TCU, would that season be looked upon fondly?

On the other hand, let's say Texas makes a bowl after winning less than eight regular-season games.

But say the Longhorns show progress on offense with true freshman Shane Buechele at quarterback, a dynamic one-two rushing punch of D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren III, an improved offensive line and a receiving corps led by young stars such as John Burt and recent Baylor flip Devin Duvernay. All of those players would be expected back in 2017.

In this scenario, Texas also looks stronger on what was a bad run-stopping unit in 2015 and continues to develop exciting defensive playmakers. The Longhorns improve all across the board under Strong, grab some more big recruiting victories and avoid any blowout losses like the ones from last year.

Even with less than eight regular-season victories in a brutal schedule, wouldn't those be enough signs of progress in Austin? Letting Buechele take over as the starting quarterback and building the young offense around his talents should buy Strong some more time, and the defense would be loaded with his own recruits in 2017.

Returning to the postseason should always be the bare minimum for a school like Texas, and the talent is there for the Longhorns to challenge for a huge season in 2016. After all, Texas was a couple of special teams blunders away from being 7-5 last year. 

However, the upcoming transition on offense and the schedule ahead might be too daunting for any "eight wins or else" demands.

Staying patient in the high-stakes world of power-conference college football is extremely difficult, especially at a blue blood like Texas that is desperate to win now. Strong understands that pressure.

"This is a critical year for us," Strong said in March, per Bill Frisbie of Inside Texas. "There's a standard here, and we need to meet that standard. It's time for us to move forward now."

Moving forward for Strong and Texas would be a winning season without the embarrassing routs of 2015—a campaign that would pave the way for a potentially huge 2017 with a talented team built mostly on experienced Strong recruits.

Hitting the reset button on all that Strong has done just because he didn't hit some magic number would do nothing but continue Texas' vanishing act on college football's biggest stage.

 

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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Should James Franklin Get More Patience at Penn State?

Technically, James Franklin is preparing to enter his third season at Penn State.

But if it were up to the Nittany Lions head coach, he'd prefer to be treated as if his time in State College were just getting started.

"In a lot of ways, we look at this as Year One. It's the first year post-sanctions, with the ability to have all of our scholarships, and there's nothing hanging over our heads," Franklin said in March, per Mark Wogenrich of the Morning Call. "We're still a young team, but we don't have any of those things anymore."

For the most part, he's right. For the first time in his Penn State tenure, he is no longer faced with the effects of the unprecedented sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the makeup of the Nittany Lions roster would suggest a program starting from scratch rather than one that's been building toward something.

But to think that everyone—both outside and inside the Penn State program—will be as gentle in assessing Franklin's time in Happy Valley, which includes a 14-12 overall record, would be naive. 

The third-year Nittany Lions head coach isn't on the hot seat quite yet, but it's getting warmer, with multiple columns—including one from this Big Ten writer—pointing to 2016 as a potentially defining season in Franklin's State College stint.

"Fans and as coaches and as players, it doesn't always happen at the rate we want it to happen," Franklin said this spring. "At a place like Penn State with the history and the traditions and everything we've been through—I think that's part of it."

At the moment, CoachesHotSeat.com slots Franklin as the No. 40 coach in its hot-seat rankings, still considered "safe for now," but right on the cusp of earning "edge-of-hot-seat" status. He's only 10 spots removed from the actual hot seat, according to the site, and with Franklin trending in the wrong direction, there's no telling how much additional heat an underwhelming 2016 season would add.

"I love the fact that we have such high expectations. I do. I love that," Franklin said. "It's something, when you're at a place like Penn State, you have to embrace."

To Franklin's credit, he's done that. But even he might admit it may have been better to temper expectations, given the situation he inherited in 2014 as Bill O'Brien's replacement. After Joe Paterno held the Nittany Lions head coaching job for 45 years, Franklin became Penn State's second head coach in three seasons, with sanctions limiting him to 75 scholarships in his first season and 80 in his second.

As a result, the Nittany Lions have had some issues with their depth chart, particularly on the offensive line, as walk-ons and JUCO transfers have created a patchwork unit in each of the past two years. It's not a coincidence Penn State ranked 124th and 113th in sacks allowed in 2014 and 2015, respectively, hardly giving the Nittany Lions offense a chance to succeed in its first two seasons under Franklin.

"I don't think people understand the importance of competition at every single position throughout our program and really anywhere," Franklin said of his offensive line depth this spring.

But even if the Penn State offensive line begins to live up to expectations, the timing of a potential make-or-break season could not have been worse for Franklin.

While he never seemed like a great fit in Franklin's system, quarterback Christian Hackenberg is heading to the NFL after having served as Penn State's starting signal-caller in each of the past three seasons. On defense, the Nittany Lions have lost the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Carl Nassib, second-round pick Austin Johnson and a versatile and experienced defensive back in Jordan Lucas.

Altogether, Penn State will have to replace nine combined starters on offense and defense from a year ago. Breaking in a new starting quarterback will only heighten the task of making a splash in the ultra-competitive Big Ten East, where Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan have solidified themselves as the division's top three teams.

On paper, the Nittany Lions appear to be a team building toward 2017, with 2016 likely to be marked by growing pains. But in his first two years, Franklin may not have bought himself that much time, although he does deserve credit for landing top-25 classes in his first two recruiting cycles and bolstering his roster with the likes of Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders, the top running back in the 2016 class.

But for as well as Franklin has recruited, and even with the extenuating circumstances he's dealt with, he's not blameless in the disappointing consecutive 7-6 seasons he's started his Penn State career with.

Not only have clock-management issues consistently plagued the Nittany Lions under Franklin, but the losses of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and offensive line coach Herb Hand and the firing of offensive coordinator John Donovan leave Penn State dealing with no shortage of turnover on its staff in 2016.

Sustaining stability in State College was never going to be easy, but Franklin hasn't helped matters. And when that's factored in with everything else he inherited upon arriving in Happy Valley, it may leave him with a shorter leash—or warmer seat—than he may ultimately deserve at season's end.

Is that fair?

Not necessarily. Even for his faults, it's not hard to see Franklin was facing an uphill climb, even if he hasn't helped his cause via unrealistic expectations or on-field errors.

But in college football coaching, what's fair is irrelevant. And no matter how levelheaded your approach, it's becoming easier to see that 2016 will mark a pivotal point in Franklin's time in Happy Valley, one way or another.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting class rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite.

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SEC Extra Points: After Chad Kelly and Joshua Dobbs, Where Are the QBs?

The annual circus known as SEC media days will take place from July 11-14 in Hoover, Alabama, where the assembled members of the media will speak with coaches, players and vote on predicted order of finish and the preseason All-SEC teams.

When we do head to the ballot box, we will have a tough decision to make.

Who should be the third-team All-SEC quarterback?

Unless there's an incredible upset, Ole Miss' Chad Kelly and Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs will be on the first two teams. The third choice is anybody's guess.

Based on SEC success, the only viable choice is LSU quarterback Brandon Harris. The rising junior from Bossier City, Louisiana, completed 53.6 percent (148-for-276) of his passes a year ago for 2,158 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions while also adding 226 rushing yards and four scores on the ground.

Not exactly earth-shattering numbers for Harris who, while similar to Dobbs in production through the air, is a far cry from the Volunteer signal-caller on the ground.

If Harris doesn't do it for you, where else can you go?

The only other viable option is Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight—who has played precisely two games against SEC competition while he was at Oklahoma. Granted, those were two good games—348 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Alabama in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl and 308 yards and a touchdown versus Tennessee in Game 3 of the 2014 regular season.

But Knight lost his job to Baker Mayfield, was incredibly inconsistent in other starts with the Sooners and doesn't exactly strike fear in opposing defenses.

After Harris and Knight, who would you pick? Georgia's Greyson Lambert? Auburn's Jeremy Johnson? Those two players might not win starting jobs and didn't exactly impress in 2015. 

The preseason All-SEC vote at quarterback will be an indictment of the state of the position in the SEC. Whether it is poor development, stubbornness from a philosophical standpoint or outright misses on the recruiting trail, the position that was once a strength in 2012 and 2013 has fallen into the abyss.

It doesn't have to stay that way once the season starts. But until then, it's hard to find where all of the quarterbacks have gone.

 

Kirby's Law

In what is his first real test as a disciplinarian at Georgia, head coach Kirby Smart made the obvious choice. 

Defensive back Chad Clay was arrested and charged with theft by taking—his second arrest in four months—and promptly dismissed from the program, according to Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Unfortunately, Chad will no longer be a part of our football program," Smart said in a statement, per Emerson. "It is very disappointing, and we wish him the best in his efforts to continue his education."

Clay was arrested earlier in the offseason, along with early enrollee defensive tackle Julian Rochester, for firing a BB gun on campus. 

Clay and Rochester's previous cases involve felonies. While those are still pending, Clay being arrested twice in one offseason speaks to incredibly poor decision-making.

Felony or otherwise, Clay made it impossible for Smart to trust him to make the right decisions off the field, so how could he be trusted to make the right decisions on it?

Smart has now set the tone within the Georgia program—one that his predecessor Mark Richt also set—that poor decisions have serious consequences. That message should resonate with the Georgia players who are still getting to know the intricacies of their new head coach.

 

A Welcomed Addition

Missouri's running back situation looked bleak earlier this offseason when junior college transfer and 2016 signee Nate Strong ran into some academic issues that will delay his enrollment until January, according to Frank Cusumano of KSDK.

Immediate help is on the way, though.

Missouri announced Wednesday that Oklahoma graduate transfer Alex Ross is now a member of the Missouri football program:

The addition of Ross is huge for a Missouri rushing attack that finished last in the SEC with 115.42 yards per game and 118th in the nation in yards per carry at 3.49.

Ross, a 6'1", 221-pounder, has the speed to be a weapon in space and on special teams, but also has the size and strength to be a monster between the tackles. That's important, because Missouri's leading returning rusher—Ish Witter—is only 190 pounds and more of a home run hitter than a bruiser. 

Ross took a back seat last year to Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, but did rush for 595 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014 and has two career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

With Drew Lock entering his first full season as the starting quarterback, a passing attack that has been less than stellar over the last couple of years and a questionable offensive line, having a somewhat proven commodity at running back is imperative for first-year head coach Barry Odom.

Ross is that guy.

 

Getting Thin

Tennessee's wide receiving depth took a hit this week when the school confirmed to Wes Rucker of 247Sports that Vincent Perry, a 5'10", 175-pound redshirt freshman, has been ruled academically ineligible. 

According to Rucker, Perry will stay at school, pay his own way this fall and work to regain his scholarship and eligibility for the 2017 season.

Is this a big deal? Sort of.

Perry is by no means one of the headliners of a Vols receiving corps that includes Preston Williams, Josh Malone, Josh Smith, Jeff George and others. But while all of those players are talented, the group as a whole has been wildly disappointing over the last two seasons thanks to the inability of former highly recruited players to run crisp routes and get off the ball consistently.

Because of that, head coach Butch Jones needs options at the position. Perry could have been one of those options, especially in the slot.

Can Jones and the Vols compensate? Absolutely.

Williams looked like a star downfield in the spring game, Malone should be healthy come September, and there's a talented group of receivers coming in this year.

But the last thing that Jones needs is the one unit that needs help to start losing possible contributors. 

 

Quick Outs

  • Don't worry about the recent transfers of former Alabama defensive backs Maurice Smith and Shawn Burgess-Becker. Alabama's secondary is loaded, Anthony Averett is a speedy defensive back who can step in, the Tide has recruited well in the defensive backfield over the last couple of seasons and Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson are all returning. What once was a liability became a strength last year, and that should continue in 2016 despite a couple of transfers.
  • One of Alabama head coach Nick Saban's favorite movies in the mid-1990s was Crimson Tide, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com. That worked out well.
  • Here's Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd squatting 255 pounds on one leg. Never skip leg day, folks:

 

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

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

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Hunter Rison, Son of a Super Bowl Champion, Aims to Write His Own Legacy

ADDISON, Ill. — The moment when "Dad" became "NFL star" is still crystal clear for Michigan State wide receiver commit Hunter Rison.

The receiver from Ann Arbor, Michigan, remembers watching film of his father, 1989 NFL first-round draft pick Andre Rison, during his rookie season with the Indianapolis Colts. It was a rookie season that included 52 receptions and four touchdowns, but it also included one signature play that fascinated his son.

"He caught a pass on a curl [route], and then he did a move to make a guy fall," Hunter said. "He then juked, made two more dudes miss and scored.

"That's when it really hit me. I mean, he was on some other stuff."

Andre Rison earned five Pro Bowl appearances and won a Super Bowl in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers in 1996. He also won a Grey Cup championship in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts in 2004. Before the pro success, Andre established himself as one Michigan State's all-time great receivers in the 1980s. His career numbers rank among the top five in almost every receiver category.

It's knowledge that Hunter is well-versed in. Consider his father's stats and achievements as the ultimate goal as he prepares for college football.

"He tells me I can be better than him," Hunter said. "I always strive to be, not to show him up but just as a goal of mine. I've got a chip on my shoulder. I don't want to be known as Andre Rison's son all my life.

"I want to be known as Hunter Rison." 

Being a Legacy

Measuring at 5'11" and 197 pounds at The Opening Chicago regional, Hunter Rison is a 4-star player who first committed to Michigan State while at a Spartans camp the summer before the start of his junior season. He was their first pledge of the 2017 class, but he would go on to decommit in November to explore options, only to recommit on April 1. He selected Michigan State over schools such as Ohio State, Alabama, Miami, Penn State, Oregon, Oklahoma and UCLA.

"Seeing the past, I realized that's where I come from, what I was born into," Rison said of Michigan State. "I think about the present; they're winning now and really have solidified themselves as a national champion contender.

"Coach [Mark] Dantonio is known for making 2-stars into NFL draft picks. Now he has this pool of talent coming in, and the future is about to be crazy once it all comes to fruition. We're setting a goal to win that national championship."

Rison plays for his father, who coaches receivers at Skyline High School. Andre Rison watched his son emerge as a dynamic, reliable receiver who, per MLive, had 1,046 receiving yards and 10 touchdown passes as a junior.

"I've seen him make some catches I've never made...and I thought I pretty much made all of them," the elder Rison said.

Some consider Michigan State lucky to have held on to Rison. He decommitted in November citing that he made a rushed decision but remained high on the Spartans.

"A lot of kids hadn't thought about committing when I did," he said. "I felt like I rushed it and did it in the heat of the moment. I figured I needed to take a step back and play the [junior] season and see what other colleges give me interest."

After weighing his options, Rison recommitted to Michigan State on April 1. What may have won him over, he said, is that Dantonio and his staff were supportive of his original decision to explore options and take his time with the process. Rison added that Dantonio told him that the offer would always be there, regardless of his decision.

Rison had heard about Michigan State's loyalty and family environment from his father multiple times. The conversations with Dantonio, receivers coach Terrence Samuel and recruiting coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brad Salem ultimately helped put a bow on his recruiting.

"That stuck with me," he said. "For them to show consistent love, even with all the new offers, it just showed that's where I needed to be. My dad and I weighed out all the pros and cons, and Michigan State seemed to win every battle."

Recruiting, Rison said, is a closed chapter. Now, it's time to prepare for a productive senior season at Skyline.

From there, it's all about the chase of his father's accolades.

"I want to, for sure, break his marks at MSU," he said. "I want to go first round [in the NFL draft] like he did, but I want to go higher. He went 22nd to the Colts; I want to go higher. He scored 52 TDs in his first five years; I want to have more."

Chasing Dad

Rison described his father as "the Antonio Brown of his time." Andre Rison had 80 or more receptions in five of his first six NFL seasons. He finished his career with 743 catches for 10,205 yards and 84 touchdowns.

Hunter said there are definite similarities and differences between him and his father. Both are outgoing individuals off the field, and they both take pride in being the best athlete on the field. Hunter admits that his father was faster and more of a showman.

Andre doesn't worry about his son's speed.

"In the near future, he'll be running 4.4s," the elder Rison said of his son, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds at The Opening Chicago regional. "By the time he turns 20, he'll be running 4.4s. Trust me."

Andre also said he wants his son to keep his reputation clean on and off the field. As talented as the former pro was, he had to overcome a tainted past that included legal issues, verbal and physical spats with teammates and a rocky, publicized relationship with the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, formerly of R&B group TLC.

Andre had a nickname of "Bad Moon," and that person, off the field, is someone he's made certain his son has avoided. On the field, however, Hunter is looking to put up big numbers, and Andre is working with his son to be better than he was.

"I want him to be better than me, and I know he can be," Andre said of Hunter.

Is there pressure to carry on the family name? It's something of a loaded question for the younger Rison, but it's one he never dances around.

"We talk about it all the time, and there's always going to be pressure," he said. "What he did was so big. It's just crazy sometimes to think that it was my dad doing it.

"I can handle the pressure, though. He tells me just to stay true to my game and play my game. People are going to always put pressure on me, but it's always going to come down to what I do. If he's teaching me the game, I know I can handle it."

Hunter's mental approach to the game is one of the things Andre appreciates most. Andre said his son understands the position he's been put in, and he works hard to perfect everything he does on the field.

The elder Rison called his son's grind "hardcore."

"He's a great kid, first of all," Andre said. "I think that's going to carry over to him getting better as a football player. Right now, we're just working on him letting a bad play go. He can get disgruntled in trying to make every catch or run every route perfectly.

"I tell kids all the time that I've never played a game and graded out 100 percent."

Hunter spends just as much time in the film room as he does on the field. He's a true student of the game and he makes attention to detail a part of his character. His father said there's a definite level of focus Michigan State fans will notice about him the minute he steps on campus.

For Hunter, it helps knowing that he's looking to put his name in the record books beside the man who is raising and training him. There's added incentive in wanting to maintain the Spartans legacy while also starting a side chapter in those record books.

"Just knowing what my dad did, it's pretty cool," he said. "But he knows I'm coming for [his records]."

 

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

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Auburn Football: 10 Best Players in Tigers History

Auburn's proud history in college football has produced some of the best athletes the sport has ever seen. There are the three Heisman Trophy winners who are forever linked to many of the program's best moments and then there are the legends who paved the way for success on other title-worthy squads.

So, one can imagine how tough it is to try to condense all that history of individual greatness into just a top-10 list of players.

Last summer, I posted my list of the top 10 players in Auburn Tigers football history. But after digging deeper into the record books, reading the firsthand accounts of the school's past greats and growing into an older and wiser college football analyst, I found myself questioning several of my selections. (OK, maybe that last part is a bit of a stretch.)

Still, there aren't any right or wrong answers for the top 10 football players in Auburn history once you get past the top three—and even the order of that trio can be up for debate.

With that being said, here's an updated countdown of the 10 best players to ever suit up for the Tigers, which was based on individual awards, All-American honors, school records held and number of team titles. As always, please feel free to list your own top 10 in the comments below.

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Michigan Football: Wolverines' Most Important Players at Each Position

While every contributor on a roster occupies a specific role, a select group of Michigan football players are most important to the team achieving national success in 2016.

At each position, the Wolverines have a talent who—while not necessarily irreplaceable in each case—will carry the heaviest burden, is the most experienced player or can be used in a variety of ways.

Michigan needs a new quarterback, but one player boasts a significant amount of previous snaps. No matter if he starts, though, the offense returns two skill-position leaders from the 2015 team.

On both sides of the trenches, a veteran is switching to a new starting position to help the Wolverines adapt. And there's simply no debating the players at linebacker and in the secondary.

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Elijah Blades to Florida: Gators Land 4-Star CB Prospect

The Florida Gators aren't waiting around to add top talent for next year's recruiting class, as they have landed cornerback Elijah Blades.

Blades confirmed his commitment to Florida on Twitter:

Blades is a 4-star prospect who is both the 26th-ranked cornerback and player from the state of California, and he is ranked 222nd overall, per 247Sports

He's a long and lanky player at 6'2", 170 pounds. There's plenty of room for him to fill out his frame and get stronger to play one-on-one at the line against bigger wide receivers who will come at him in college. 

After giving the Gators his commitment, Blades went on to explain what went into his decision to Luke Stampini of 247Sports: “Just knowing Florida would show love to a California [defensive back], they must really want him. ... Plus, it’s my dream school.”

Andrew Spivey of Gator Country noted that Florida's recruiting superstar is quickly becoming Tim Skipper:

Blades has also undoubtedly taken notice of the success Florida has had developing defensive backs for the next level. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and safety Keanu Neal were both top-20 picks in this year's NFL draft, for example. 

Florida head coach Jim McElwain is known for his offensive prowess, having played quarterback in college and having served as an offensive coordinator at Fresno State and Alabama before he became a head coach.

McElwain and his staff are showing no problems appealing to defensive players, adding defensive end Antonneous Clayton and cornerback Chauncey Gardner and now Blades for 2017.

The SEC is known for its wealth of powerful and intimidating defenses. One key to that is having a secondary capable of shutting down the passing game. Blades gives the Gators another foundational piece at cornerback to build around as they slowly build a talented roster that will compete for conference titles.

 

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10 Upcoming College Football Home-and-Home Series We Can't Wait to Watch

Strength of schedule is always an important issue late in the season, and that discussion has only become more heated after the creation of the College Football Playoff.

Nonconference games can boost or hurt a team, so programs typically try to schedule a home-and-home series against a respected Power Five conference opponent. Over the next five years, college football fans will be treated to several potentially pivotal showdowns.

The list does not include a matchup in progress or Notre Dame's yearly five-game ACC affiliation. Each series will start in 2016 but end no later than 2020.

Additionally, annual clashes—and that includes nonconference bouts (Florida and Florida State, for example)—were not considered.

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12 College Football Players with the Most 'Take It to the House' Potential

The most exciting players in college football are the ones who can take any play and turn it into a potential touchdown. They're the ones who make fans in the stands sit on the edge of their seats and get the viewers at home to pay closer attention to their TVs.

Having explosive speed or incredible agility in the open field is one thing. It's another to be able to get opportunities to create big plays and then take full advantage of them.

The following dozen players fit both descriptions. They have the wheels to take it to the house on any play in which they can get some daylight, and they also have proven track records of doing just that.

Here are the 12 college football players heading into the 2016 season who have the most potential to create huge gains for touchdowns. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it's based on stats such as explosive plays, touchdowns and yards per touch, as well as their specific roles for their teams.

These are the players who have the best chance of turning a standard handoff, reception or return into something that gets the college football world to pay attention.

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Devin Duvernay to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Devin Duvernay, one of the top wide receiver prospects in the Class of 2016, committed to play college football at Texas on Wednesday. A gifted athlete with high-end playmaking ability, it shouldn't take long for him to make an impact for the Longhorns. 

ESPN.com's Gerry Hamilton was the first to report the commitment, and he provided the following comments from Duvernay:

[I'm] going to Texas. I just feel like they are coming up, and feel good about [head coach] Charlie Strong and his staff's plan and they are going to turn this thing around. I feel like [offensive coordinator] Coach Sterlin Gilbert is kind of the missing piece to help out the offense. I feel like he can add me in, and add some speed to the receiving core.

Duvernay is a 4-star prospect who ranks as the No. 4 wide receiver, No. 4 player from the state of Texas and No. 36 overall prospect in his class, according to 247Sports. The outlet noted he received interest from more than three dozen schools before making a choice.

He previously committed to Baylor but decided to reopen his recruitment in the wake of the school's sexual assault scandal. That became possible because Baylor failed to submit Duvernay's national letter of intent paperwork, per ESPN (h/t Julie Boudwin of the Times-Picayune).

At this point, the Sachse High School (Texas) product remains a raw talent on the outside. He's going to need more polish before he becomes a consistent threat in the passing game. What made him stand out from the crowd was his top-tier athleticism.

Here's an example from the Dallas Nike Football Combine (via Student Sports):

It's easy to see why he's also a threat on special teams. Get him the ball in space and he can make people miss. Once there's a lane, there aren't many players who can chase him down.

He's also planning to use that natural speed in other ways. Michael Taglienti of Saturday Blitz passed along comments from the receiver about his college plans back in August: "I plan on doing both track and football in college."

Given his need for more work in terms of route running, along with learning the offense, it wouldn't be a surprise if he initially makes his impact on special teams. Returning kicks and punts while playing a rotational role on offense would be ideal at the outset.

The short-term outlook should become clearer once he arrives on campus. His long-term potential is intriguing, though. As long as he becomes more proficient in technical areas, his natural talent could help him blossom into a major threat for the Longhorns.

Exactly how long it will take before Duvernay becomes an every-down contributor on offense is a mystery at this point. But there are certainly a lot of reasons for Texas fans to get excited about the signing. He's a major piece to add to the 2016 class.

 

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Could All 3 SEC West Coaches on the Hot Seat Survive 2016?

Remember when Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen got his raise in February of 2015 that brought him into the $4 million club—an "exclusive" society that included every other coach in the SEC West?

The question was asked throughout the college football world: "Which $4 million man will finish last?"

It was Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn in 2015. That performance landed him squarely on the hot seat along with, as Bleacher Report's Brian Pedersen noted earlier in the offseason, LSU's Les Miles and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin—both of whom didn't meet the expectations that their lofty salaries demanded last season either.

So something's gotta give this year, right?

The most likely answer is "yes," but it isn't the only answer.

If Texas A&M and Auburn go 8-4, are competitive in those four losses and make it clear that their offensive issues from 2015 are in the rearview mirror, it's safe to assume that Sumlin and Malzahn, respectively, will likely stick around.

Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs commented on his primary goal Tuesday at a booster club event, according to Tom Green of AL.com.

"We need stability at Auburn, and so we're counting on him to get it done," he said.

Sumlin is in the same boat, knowing that the floor of the program has been raised.

"That's an expectation that has been created since we've been here, and we don't run from that," he told Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel. "And that should never change. And to get to that expectation was not easy, but to answer those expectations isn't easy either. So from my standpoint, there's always been a sense of urgency, and that will never change."

Eight wins and a chance for No. 9 in a bowl game should be enough to keep Sumlin and Malzahn around.

For Miles, that won't be good enough based on how some outlets—including ESPN The Magazine—are forecasting the 2016 LSU season.

Those expectations leave Miles a very slim margin for error in 2016. But what if he lives up to that expectation or, at the very least, finishes second in the West and is in the title race through Thanksgiving weekend?

Even though I don't think it'll happen—as explained in Optimistic, Pessimistic and Realistic SEC Predictions—it certainly is a possibility.

Every coach on the hot seat in the SEC West, with the exception of head-to-head-games against two of them, can cool their seats based on differing expectations in 2016 and fixing the problems that ailed them in 2015.

What's more, it's not like other teams in the SEC West are without problems.

Mississippi State is entering the post-Dak Prescott era, has offensive line concerns and has an entirely new defensive staff.

Arkansas has to replace a 1,000-yard running back, a 3,000-yard quarterback, three players off of one of the best offensive lines in the country, one of the best tight ends in the country and fix a secondary that gave up the most passing plays of 20 or more yards in the conference (53), according to CFBStats.com.

Ole Miss has talent, but replacing several superstars from last year's squad and the potential distraction of the NCAA investigation could force the Rebels to take a step back.

It's a reasonable assumption that two or three of the teams mentioned above take steps back, which should elevate the teams with coaches on the hot seat into positions where their jobs won't be called into question.

The last two coaching hires that have been made in the SEC West were in December of 2012, when Malzahn was hired by Auburn and Bret Bielema moved from Wisconsin to Arkansas. The pressure created with big-money contracts suggests that another move being made in the division this offseason is a probability.

But it's far from a certainty. 

"The expectations in the league, especially in the West right now, they're so high," Mullen said at SEC spring meetings earlier this month. "You have seven teams. You have seven student bodies. You have seven administrations. You have seven alumni bases and fanbases that expect to win the West this year.

"Six of them are going to be disappointed."

But the three that were the most disappointed at the end of the 2015 season may not be in the same position after 2016.

 

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

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

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Ohio State Football: 3 Recruits OSU Needs to Finish with No. 1 Recruiting Class

Ohio State surged to the front of the pack and built a strong lead in the race for the 2017 recruiting national championship, and it has maintained its position with the No. 1 class for well over a year now.

But despite having verbal pledges from a pair of 5-star commits, 10 4-star commits and the country's top-rated kicker, the Buckeyes are feeling pressure from Alabama, which gained steam with four 4-star commitments and raced up the recruiting rankings to No. 2 this month. 

Will the Buckeyes be able to hold off Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, who have finished No. 1 in the rankings in each of the last six recruiting cycles?

To do so, Ohio State will need to finish strong with a flurry of marquee commitments. Two big-time pledges from 5-star wideouts Tyjon Lindsey and Trevon Grimes are starting to feel more like inevitabilities than possibilities, per 247Sports' "crystal ball" predictions.

If Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer closes the deal with those two wideouts, as expected, he could focus his attention on what could be a historic wave of 5-star talent that would ensure Ohio State lands the No. 1 recruiting class.

Here are the three recruits who could seal the deal for the Buckeyes.

 

Jeffrey Okudah, 5-Star Safety

Ohio State could sign two of the top five players in the country if it can get Jeffrey Okudah to join Josh Myers, 2017's No. 4 overall player and the top offensive tackle prospect.

Okudah, the No. 1-rated safety and No. 5 player overall for 2017, has been one of Ohio State's top targets for months now, and the attention the school is giving him is paying off. The Buckeyes have been trending up in his recruitment, blowing past schools such as Alabama, Baylor, Stanford, Texas and Texas A&M to become his top school. 

"The tradition at Ohio State. It's just a surreal atmosphere," Okudah told Greg Ladky of Rivals in a video interview. "The coaching staff, Coach Meyer wins a lot of games. Coach [Greg] Schiano, a former head coach, I know he can develop me and get me to the next level."

Okudah could take Ohio State's secondary to the next level, especially when he's paired with 4-star Isaiah Pryor, the nation's No. 3 safety, and 5-star Shaun Wade, the No. 2 cornerback—both of whom have already committed to the Buckeyes.

 

Cam Akers, 5-Star Running Back

Why wouldn't a star running back want to play for Meyer and the Buckeyes? 

Since Meyer took over in 2012, the starting running back at Ohio State (Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott) has averaged 1,547.5 rushing yards per season. Elliott was the gold standard, eclipsing 1,800 rushing yards in both 2014 and '15 while running for 41 touchdowns in a 28-game stretch.

Those are the numbers that have Cam Akers, the No. 2 running back and the No. 16 overall prospect nationally, interested in the Buckeyes.

The 5-star Clinton, Mississippi, product was a onetime Alabama pledge, but he decommitted from the Tide and reopened his recruitment on March 3.

Four days later, the 5'11 ½", 212-pound bulldozer was in Columbus for an unofficial visit at Ohio State. That trip got the Buckeyes in the thick of his recruitment, and Akers came away impressed.

“I definitely love Ohio State,” Akers said, according to Bill Kurelic of 247Sports. “My family and myself love Ohio State and what the [football] program is doing. They always produce good running backs. They are always in the running for the national championship and the academics are great also.”

Meyer and the Buckeyes are still trailing Ole Miss as the favorite, per 247Sports' crystal ball predictions, but they're not far behind. And with another visit scheduled for July 22, Akers could be trending Ohio State's way over the summer in more ways than one.

 

Chase Young, 5-Star Defensive End

Few schools have recruited the defensive end position better than Ohio State over the last five years.

The Buckeyes have signed the likes of 5-stars Noah SpenceAdolphus Washington and Nick Bosa and 4-stars Joey BosaJalyn Holmes, Jashon Cornell, Dre'Mont Jones and Jonathon Cooper. But defensive line coach Larry Johnson and the coaching staff are trying to maintain that momentum by earning a commitment from 5-star defensive end Chase Young.

Rated the No. 3 weak-side defensive end and the No. 32 recruit for the 2017 class, Young has a long and decorated offer list, but he's seriously considering Ohio State alongside Alabama, USC and the home-state Maryland Terrapins. The Buckeyes are in a dead heat with Maryland, via 247Sports' crystal ball predictions, but they're trying to pull ahead as camp season approaches.

They've got a great chance of doing so in July, when Young visits Ohio State for its marquee recruiting camp/event—Friday Night Lights. If that trip goes well and Meyer can convince Young that he's their priority (Ohio State doesn't have a defensive end in its 2017 class yet), then the Buckeyes would have a great chance of stealing one of Maryland's top prospects. 

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports.

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

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Blockbuster TV Rights Deal Shows Big Ten Prominence Is Here to Stay

It started five years ago with the hiring of Urban Meyer, continued with Ohio State ending the conference's 12-year national title drought in 2014 and was only furthered when Jim Harbaugh returned to his alma mater to become college football's most-talked-about head coach.

But if there was ever a sign that the Big Ten has staying power in its recent resurgence, it came earlier this week with the revelation that ESPN had purchased the second half of the league's media rights package, completing a massive offseason of negotiations for the conference.

Earlier this year, Fox Sports had purchased the first half, signing on for an average of $240 million per year over the course of six years, per SportsBusiness Daily's John Ourand. With ESPN now on board for $190 per year and CBS Sports laying claim to a $10 million annual basketball deal, the total of the Big Ten's offseason media rights haul finds itself at an astonishing $2.64 billion.

When its new deals kick in next fall, the conference's annual media rights payout will have tripled.

Ourand hailed the Big Ten's negotiations as a "clear win" for the league, and the numbers speak for themselves. If you divide the $444 million the conference will pull in annually across its 14 schools, each will receive a yearly $31.7 million—and that's before adding in additional revenue from the Big Ten Network, bowl games or appearances in the College Football Playoff.

To put that in perspective, each of the 14 schools in the Southeastern Conference received $32.7 million in total revenue from their league in 2015, according to Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com. The Big Ten, meanwhile, paid out $32.4 million to its 11 longstanding members—relative newcomers Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers were on different payout plans—a figure that will only increase with the league's new rights deals.

In essence, the SEC's status as college football's wealthiest conference could soon be in question. With its new deals lasting six years, the Big Ten won't just be the last, but also the next of the Power Five conferences in college football to renegotiate its media rights, which could mean that another financial boost isn't too far off in the future.

Per Ourand:

"Not only did the conference pick up a significant increase in a down market, but the relatively short length of the deal means the Big Ten will be the first major college conference to renegotiate a new deal in what it hopes will be a more robust marketplace."

With Ohio State and Michigan serving as two of the sport's most prominent programs, particularly on the recruiting trail, Michigan State enjoying a steady stream of success—including two of the past three conference titles—and schools like Nebraska, Illinois, Maryland and Penn State hoping to make strides under relatively new head coaches, it's not crazy to think the Big Ten's latest deal could ultimately pale in comparison to its next one, due in 2022.

Plus, with a new influx of revenue, no school in the conference will have an excuse for not investing in its program, although it's not like the league has been lacking financially in recent years either.

The importance of ESPN's addition to the Big Ten's media rights package isn't completely financially based either. While Fox Sports contributing $240 million annually over six years provides an obvious monetary boost for the conference, it's no secret there's a big benefit for the Big Ten to keep its product on ESPN, which is currently in more homes than any other sports cable network.

According to WhatYouPayForSports.com, ESPN is present in 89,465,000 homes while its sister station ESPN2 lays claim to 89,326,000 homes, each of which is more than the 83,209,000 and 51,537,000 homes Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 claim, respectively. Add in ESPNU's 70,776,000 homes and its clear which entity possesses the most viewing opportunities, which matters from an exposure and in turn, recruiting standpoint.

"We're interested in having great partners that have great platforms who are interested in marketing and promotion," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany at the Big Ten spring meetings, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free-Press. "The market will decide what happens. It's a new day, and we've approached it that way."

Per SportsBusiness Journal, the conference coaches agreed. When the Big Ten's struck its initial deal with Fox in April, Ourand reported that, "some of the conference’s powerful basketball coaches were not shy about voicing their displeasure, believing that the lack of ESPN coverage would hurt their recruiting efforts."

Given the aggressive recruiting approaches of coaches like Meyer and Harbaugh, it's not hard to imagine the football coaches agreed.

Only in the end, the Big Ten wound up with the best of both worlds. Not only will the league see its schedule spread across the most-watched platforms in sports, but a newfound surplus of money will keep the conference more than healthy financially, with an opportunity to renegotiate in six short years.

On the field, the Big Ten is thriving, with appearances in the College Football Playoff from two teams in the past two years, with a sleeping giant in Ann Arbor appearing to just be waking. Off the field, it's not doing too shabby either, as the financial pieces fall into place for the conference to continue to sustain its newfound success for the next six years and most likely, beyond.

In either case, this much is clear: the Big Ten is rich.

And at this point, the rich only appear to be getting richer in college football.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting class rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite.

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Santino Marchiol to Texas A&M: Aggies Land 4-Star ILB Prospect

Linebacker Santino Marchiol has given Texas A&M some much-needed attitude and power on defense after committing to the school on Tuesday. 

Taylor Hamm of 247Sports broke news of Marchiol's decision to become an Aggie.   

Marchiol explained to Hamm what Texas A&M had to offer that made it such an appealing destination:

At Texas A&M, I felt like it was the only place where they wanted me to be the first to commit but they never pressured me into it like these other places. I had a great relationship with everyone there, the players and the coaches.

It really just fell into place when I sat down with coach (John) Chavis, who is a historical legend in the SEC. He’s put the most linebackers in the NFL which is crazy. Having an opportunity to play for him and a staff like that in the SEC, in College Station, it doesn’t really get any better.

The job of a linebacker is multifaceted, but it's a position that lends itself to intimidation because it is involved in most of what happens on a given play.

Marchiol brings that intimidation factor, along with excellent tackling skills, to his new home. The IMG Academy standout is a 4-star prospect who is the No. 16 inside linebacker, the No. 39 player from Florida and the No. 269 player in the 2017 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. 

The Florida native is already well-developed physically at 6'2" and 222 pounds, though he could stand to add some more weight over the next couple of years.

However, Marchiol's tackling prowess is so good already that he can be an instant-impact player. ESPN's Recruiting Nation noted his ability to diagnose plays and to close quickly as two of his best assets:

Reads quickly, takes good angles. Strong at the point of attack and can shoot gaps. Drops smoothly and shows solid instincts in zone. Delivers a good pop when tackling and wraps effectively. ... Marchiol is a downhill linebacker with very good length and athleticism. Although he could play both inside or outside linebacker at the next level, we feel he projects best on the outside. 

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin is in need of all the good vibes he can get right now. The Aggies have had a strange seven-month period in which quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen both transferred from the program. 

The Aggies did put together a solid 2016 recruiting class, finishing 19th in 247Sports' composite team rankings, but it's still a tall task climbing up the SEC mountain when teams such as Alabama, LSU, Mississippi, Georgia, Auburn, Florida and Tennessee all finished ahead of them in the rankings and always land premier talents. 

Sumlin isn't known for building strong defensive clubs, though the Aggies showed improvement last year, finishing tied for 28th in points allowed and 51st in total defense. Landing a top-tier talent like Marchiol will only help those numbers get better.  

An underrated part of Marchiol's value is that he has the ability to play inside or outside. His size and his explosiveness will make him a better fit on the outside, where he can easily move into coverage or rush the passer when asked. 

However, if Marchiol's new team uses him inside to help stop the run, it will not be wasting his power. 

Versatility is crucial in this era of football, as teams seek three-down athletes at every position. Marchiol fits nicely into the new standard of what a linebacker is able to do and will be a college star as soon as he puts on a uniform. 

 

Recruiting and player info per 247Sports unless otherwise noted. Stats per NCAA.com

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Alabama's New Coaching Contracts Reflect Nick Saban's Emphasis on Loyalty

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was a very untypical exchange during what’s usually a routine conference call.

Tuesday morning, the University of Alabama board of trustees’ compensation committee approved raises for nearly all of the returning football coaches on Nick Saban’s staff and contracts for the new additions, including a $1 million annual salary for defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

However, his name wasn’t the one to generate some discussion. It belonged to Scott Cochran, who technically isn’t a football coach, yet director of athletics Bill Battle described him as “The loudest and most energetic coach in America.”

“I know we’re excited that he’ll be with us and is more than a strength coach,” committee chairman Harris Morrissette said. “We’re lucky to have him.”

“He really is,” Battle responded. “He’s the equivalent to a coordinator with what he contributes to our team and the coaching staff.”

The board subsequently approved an annual raise exceeding $100,000 for the assistant athletic director for strength and conditioning (yes, that’s his official title), bumping his salary up to $525,000 a year.

To put that into perspective, the only non-football coach to get a raise Tuesday was women's basketball coach Kristy Curry, from $400,000 to $440,000 through 2020, and it’s probably more than new baseball coach Greg Goff will make (his deal has yet to be announced).

Additionally, all of the football contracts and extensions announced were for two seasons (2016 and 2017). Cochran had three years added to his deal, which was also telling.

More than just rewarding everyone, Tuesday was about the thing that may matter the most to Saban when it comes to his staff: loyalty.

It’s huge to him, and Saban believes it's worth paying for.

You may remember that Cochran recently had the chance to follow former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to Georgia. After thinking it over, he turned his good friend down. Not only is he one year away from being vested in the state’s pension programs—which translates to a lot of money via lifetime membership benefits—but he might now be the highest-paid strength coach in the nation.

According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Iowa’s Chris Doyle held that title last year by making $515,000.

Alabama fans won’t even think twice about the raise for the popular figure who’s “YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH” yells are played at Bryant-Denny Stadium to fire everyone up, just like they haven’t regarding the salaries of the assistant coaches and having probably the most elaborate support group in college football. 

It’s just the cost of winning national championships.

The only assistant coach who didn’t get a bump was offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who is set to make $714,000 in the final season of his three-year contract with Alabama. According to the Los Angeles Times, he had still been receiving paychecks from his former head coaching job at USC through 2013-14, but it's unclear if that’s concluded.

After Cochran, the biggest raises this year went to Burton Burns and Tosh Lupoi, who are taking on added responsibilities. In addition to the running backs, Burns will oversee special teams, while Lupoi is now co-defensive coordinator in addition to outside linebackers coach.

While on the outside it may appear that Saban’s trying to hedge his bet that Pruitt will do a good job, Lupoi may have turned down an opportunity elsewhere like Cochran and/or is now being groomed to someday become defensive coordinator.

Pruitt was the one being groomed few years ago, only to be lured away by Florida State in 2013, where as a first-time defensive coordinator he made $540,000 before landing a much bigger contract at Georgia.

According to the USA Todaycoaching salary database, he made $1.3 million last year at Georgia, and offensive line coach Brent Key made $1.04 million at Central Florida. Moreover, defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley had just been named co-defensive coordinator at Kentucky. 

All four of the new coaches will be making less than their predecessors, which, with this offseason having the most turnover since Saban arrived, will ironically keep Alabama from contending for having the highest-paid coaching staff in 2016.

Smart, for example, had a base salary of $1.5 million last year. He had also been with Saban since his LSU years, moved up the ranks and enjoyed tremendous success along the way.

That’s the thing about loyalty—it can go both ways and be equally beneficial.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every Top 25 College Football Team's Most Valuable Asset

Conference and national championship dreams are the result of a complete team, but each college football program can point to a singular key contributor along the way.

In order for any team in the preseason top 25 to reach its ceiling in 2016—whether that's the College Football Playoff or simply being in conference contention—the following person likely is the critical piece. If he succeeds, the team will. If not, the program may falter.

While players are the common choice because of previous contributions, roster changes, versatility and depth, the list is not limited to on-field talent. Coaches can be the most valuable asset, too.

The list order is based on Bleacher Report's post-spring practice top 25.

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Bob Stoops, Oklahoma Agree on New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Bob Stoops and the University of Oklahoma agreed on a new contract Tuesday that will keep him in charge of the Sooners sideline through 2021.

John Shinn of the Norman Transcript reported Stoops will make $5.5 million during the upcoming season, adding it "could be more" with performance bonuses.

According to Derek Peterson of the Oklahoma Daily, Oklahoma assistants Mike Stoops and Lincoln Riley also received extensions through 2018.

The 55-year-old Stoops has been Oklahoma's head coach for 18 seasons, posting a record of 179-46. He has nine Big 12 titles to his credit and won the national championship in 2000.

The Sooners reached the College Football Playoff last season, however, they were eliminated in the semifinals by Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

While Oklahoma is in the midst of a lengthy national title drought, the team has won at least 10 games in five of the past six seasons and is a perennial championship contender.

With quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Baker Mayfield back in the mix for the 2016 season, Oklahoma figures to be among the nation's top teams, and Stoops will have a strong chance to legitimize his new contract in short order.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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