NCAA Football News

CFB Recruiting 200: Top 200 Overall Recruits in Class of 2016

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report recruiting analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay 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.

 

From big time playmakers to terrorizing defenders, the Class of 2016 is loaded with impressive talent on both sides of the ball. 

Stud high school recruits from Florida, Texas and California dominate the top overall rankings, but nearly every state is represented in 247Sports Composite Rankings, which compile ratings listed by the major media recruiting services. 

This list provides a glimpse of college football's future stars and how they've arrived at this point. Continue on for our review of the rankings, complete with individual grades and insight on each prospect.

Be sure to sound off in the comments below with your thoughts on overall rankings, scores and recruit projections.

 

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Texas Football: 7 Longhorns Sure to Surprise at Fall Camp

The Texas Longhorns' offseason has gotten pretty boring lately.

Sure, we've had the quarterback battle and the coming of Malik Jefferson, but both of them have been teasers for the real thing.

The big event, other than actual football, is getting the nation's No. 9 recruiting class, per 247Sports—head coach Charlie Strong's first full one at Texas—on campus. So far, its members haven't disappointed, following in Jefferson's footsteps to give this program a new attitude moving forward.

Once fall camp hits, we'll finally get a sense of who's on board and who's content to let the next generation of talent take the reins.

As expected, guys like Johnathan Gray and the rest of the incumbents who were expected to lead this team have responded. That should hardly be a surprise.

But there are still guys, aside from Gray, Jefferson and the other stars of this team, who have been overlooked and deserve your respect. They'll prove that once they put on the pads.

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SEC Football: Biggest Question Left for Each Team to Answer

The 2015 college football season is quickly approaching with well under two months left until opening weekend. 

When fall camp begins in a few weeks, head coaches will work to fine-tune their teams, tie up loose ends and have their squad ready to go to start the season.

Most SEC schools will start the season against a Power Five opponent. Without a tuneup game to start the year, teams can't afford to have any details left to iron out when they head into their first games. 

So what are the biggest question marks in the SEC as another college football season looms right around the corner?

Here is a look at the questions each SEC team needs to answer for the 2015 season. 

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: What 4-Star LB Daniel Bituli Brings to Vols

Tennessee football coach Butch Jones began last week with some excitement created by snagging a legacy commitment, and then he ended it in style with an in-state pledge from 4-star linebacker Daniel Bituli.

The 6'4", 235-pound linebacker from Nashville Christian School announced his intentions to play for the Vols on Saturday morning via Twitter:

As the video above displays, Bituli is a versatile and athletic big-bodied linebacker who has the size and speed combination to play several different positions.

Though he is perhaps best suited to play middle linebacker in defensive coordinator John Jancek's multiple 4-3 scheme, he also has the lateral quickness to stay on the outside if needed, especially in the hybrid role occupied by senior Curt Maggitt.

It's also possible that Bituli could grow into a pass-rushing defensive end, though he appears to be a premiere prospect to compete for the Vols' middle linebacker of the future.

Bituli is the state's top-ranked player, according to 247Sports' composite rankings, and the 14th-ranked outside linebacker nationally. He's also one of the country's top 200 players and the second-highest rated player in the Vols' current class.

He had offers from Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Mississippi State, Louisville, Oklahoma and others.

UT currently has 13 commitments in a class that is ranked 18th nationally and may not grow much more. With the Vols planning on taking fewer than 20 commits, this class may not wind up highly ranked, but it's going to have plenty of star quality.

Jones was excited about landing the highly coveted prospect. Even though NCAA rules precluded him from mentioning Bituli by name, this Saturday tweet was a not-so-subtle reference to Bituli's pledge:

But rankings aren't the only reason why Bituli's pledge is important. Let's take a look at some things his pledge brings to the program.

 

Loaded for the Future

Bituli will team with fellow in-state prospect Tim Hart of Memphis University School to give the Vols a formidable duo that will probably round out the position for UT in this cycle.

At 6'1", 215 pounds, Hart doesn't have elite size or speed, but he's just a tackling machine with strong football instincts, intelligence and a quality skill set. Though he's only a 3-star prospect, schools such as LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Missouri wanted him.

The Vols ultimately won his verbal commitment, and though it's non-binding, neither he nor Bituli seems like he'll waver. Bituli, especially, seemed final in his college selection.

"This is it," he told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan of his Saturday commitment. Bituli went on to say he "wanted to be part of something special."

UT's linebacking corps certainly has the ability to be.

By the time Bituli arrives, Jalen Reeves-Maybin will be a senior leader and cornerstone of the defense. But the Vols are absolutely loaded on the second level for the next few years.

Sophomore Cortez McDowell and redshirt freshman Dillon Bates lead a group of talented linebackers that'll be the next group of potential studs.

Tons of buzz has circulated about the size, speed and photographic memory of freshman mid-term middle linebacker enrollee Darrin Kirkland, who is expected to compete for the Vols' spot in the center of their defense right away.

As if that wasn't enough excitement, the two new outside linebackers—Quart'e Sapp and Austin Smith—are potentially dynamic, athletic key pieces who play different positions.

Sapp will be a future factor on the weak side, where Reeves-Maybin roams, while Smith appears perfect for Maggitt's hybrid end/outside-linebacker role.

"There were more high-profile prospects than Sapp and Smith in Tennessee's acclaimed 2015 class, but aside from maybe [former star recruit defensive tackle] Kahlil McKenzie, I've not heard better things about any of them than I've heard about Sapp and Smith since they enrolled this summer," GoVols247's Wes Rucker told Bleacher Report. "We'll see what they can do in pads, but so far, so great."

Others such as Elliott Berry, Jakob Johnson and Gavin Bryant should provide quality depth, too.

There are already a pair of elite linebackers in the 2017 class whom the Vols are off to excellent starts with, including La Vergne, Tennessee, athlete Maleik Gray and Shelby, North Carolina, outside 'backer Justin Foster.

With so many young, talented players and with all the quality prospects UT and position coach Tommy Thigpen are in the mix for, the position is in good shape for the next handful of seasons.

 

Stacking Vols In-State

Last week served as a microcosm to how Jones has rebuilt the Volunteers' roster over the course of his two-plus seasons in Knoxville.

Not only has he taken advantage of elite players with ties to UT as he continued with 2018 elite offensive lineman Cade Mayscommitment, but Jones also locks down state borders, as he proved with Bituli.

Bituli's commitment marks the third consecutive year that Jones has pulled the top-ranked player in the state, a feat that Derek Dooley pulled off just once.

The verbal pledge is huge not just because of how good a player Bituli is but also because it is symbolic of the success Tennessee's coaches have experienced in keeping the top prospects at home. That's an element that simply didn't exist under Dooley, who failed to establish and sustain recruiting relationships. Mark Nagi noted Dooley's dismal situation when it comes to successful in-state recruiting:

Jones said on the day he was hired to coach the Vols that his focus would be on keeping the best players home, and he's done it.

Last year, three of the top four prospects in the state (Kyle Phillips, Drew Richmond and Jack Jones) chose the Vols. In 2013, the first full recruiting class Jones signed, the top three and nine of the top 11 signed with UT.

With Bituli secured now, the Vols will turn their attention to the state's second-ranked player, Joejuan Williams. UT is also still very much in the mix for the next two players on that list—offensive tackle Bryce Mathews, who may be deciding very soon, and defensive lineman Emmit Gooden. Gooden was a one-time UT commit and still has Tennessee at the top of his list.

With No. 5 Ryan Johnson already a Volunter and with UT still trying to flip receiver Dillon Mitchell from Oregon, there is work to be done, but the Vols are looking strong in-state again.

Considering the 2017 class is expected to be one of the best crops of talent in the state's history and with the way Jones has snagged prospect after prospect from the Volunteer State, Vols fans should feel confident.

 

Time to Develop

Finally, with all that depth and talent already in place at UT, Bituli has time to marinate, go through a strength and conditioning program, pay his dues on the practice field and learn the scheme.

If he's good enough to come right in and battle Kirkland and Bates at middle linebacker, he'll get that opportunity. Otherwise, Bituli should have time to see where he can carve his niche.

Big, athletic players such as Bituli, who move the way he does laterally and who looks like he can hold 250 pounds relatively easily, don't come around very often. He may be a bit raw, and he hasn't really participated much in the camp circuit, but that doesn't take away his prospect ceiling.

His high school coach, Jeff Brothers, has nothing but praise for Bituli, and this is a man who coached Ole Miss offensive line commitment Alex Givens a year ago and sees Division I talent all the time: 

A network with quality talent evaluators, such as 247Sports, doesn't determine you are the state's top-ranked player without you being a top-shelf talent.

Bituli has the chance to be a really good player for a long time in Knoxville. Getting his commitment is good for perception, it's good for depth at a position that is loading up for the future and, most importantly, it's good because he has the chance to be a dynamic playmaker.

 

All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. Quotes obtained firsthand 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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Ohio State Football: 3 Buckeyes Primed for Breakout Seasons

The Ohio State Buckeyes have more star power on their roster than any other team in college football, but head coach Urban Meyer has a trio of players in Raekwon McMillan, Curtis Samuel and Tyquan Lewis who are ready to break out in 2015.

Fresh off their improbable run through the first College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes are set to enter the season as the top-ranked team. They'll have 15 starters back for their title defense—in addition to three championship-caliber signal-callers—and they're expected to dominate, as early lines out of Las Vegas have them as at least 14-point favorites over every opponent on their schedule, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.

But these three players have a great chance to break out and shine alongside Ohio State's bevy of superstars.

 

Raekwon McMillan, Middle Linebacker

The middle linebacker position was a big problem for Meyer when he took over at Ohio State. 

During his first year in Columbus in 2012, the Buckeyes had to convert fullback Zach Boren to defense midway through the season because of a lack of production from the position. In 2013, the linebacker unit developed into Meyer's biggest concern as the season wore on, and the group collapsed in season-ending losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

But 2014 was different, in part because of a simplified defensive scheme—but mainly because of improved depth. Darron Lee became the best-kept secret in college football, developing into a nightmare pass-rusher and an exceptional all-around defender.

But McMillan's presence was another big part of the turnaround. Sharing time with senior Curtis Grant, McMillan shined, totaling 54 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception that he returned 24 yards for a touchdown.

With McMillan taking over as the primary middle linebacker, those numbers could (and should) easily double. He has outstanding instincts and finds the ball effectively, and with Lee and Joshua Perry lining up on either side of him, he'll have plenty of opportunities to make plays.

How good can McMillan be in 2015? The true sophomore was named to the 2015 Butkus Award watch list before even making his first start for the Buckeyes.

 

Curtis Samuel, H-Back

It didn't take long for Samuel to show how dangerous he could be in Meyer's offense.

As a true freshman and early enrollee last year, Samuel flashed his playmaking ability during spring practice, just a few months into his collegiate career. In one of his first practices with the team, he ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run that caught Meyer's attention.

That helped him earn some time in the running back rotation last year, and by the end of the season, he was Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup. He ran for 383 yards and six touchdowns and added 95 receiving yards during his first season with the Buckeyes.

But with Elliott back and expected to carry the load at running back this fall, Meyer moved Samuel to the perimeter this spring in an effort to get his best playmakers on the field.

"The days of Curtis Samuel playing 10 plays are over," Meyer said, according to Ari Wasserman of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. "It's our job to get him on the field for 40 or 50 plays."

That effort will put Samuel in more of a hybrid role, so he'll be able to make plays out of the backfield, running the ball, and down the field in the passing game. And when his athleticism and playmaking ability combine with Meyer's creativeness on offense, it could mean big things for the sophomore.

 

Tyquan Lewis, Weak-Side Defensive End

Joey Bosa is getting a ton of attention this offseason—and deservedly so. The strong-side defensive end was phenomenal during his sophomore season, ranking fifth nationally in total sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (21).

But that attention could be the main cause for optimism with Lewis, the Buckeyes' emerging weak-side defensive end.

That position wasn't as strong for Ohio State last season after it lost rising junior Noah Spence to a season-long suspension. Seniors Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier filled in admirably, but neither packed the punch that Spence brought to the other side of the line as a complement to Bosa.

But Lewis has the potential to provide that punch this fall.

After playing sparingly as a reserve last season, Lewis was one of the lone bright spots in spring practice. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson chimed in, per Tim Moody of the Lantern:

Tyquan is having a great spring, really great spring. ... It’s clicked in his mind, the kind of player he has to be. He’s playing much faster than he played last year. And I think he understands the defensive concept much more than he did last year. But he’s had a really outstanding spring.

Will that outstanding spring translate to a breakout fall?

With Bosa demanding so much attention on the other side, and with Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt forming a formidable interior, Lewis will have all the opportunities in the world to thrive this season.

 

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

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Laquon Treadwell's Comeback Not Just Inspiring but Reinvigorating Ole Miss

You hear words like “heartbreak,” “inspiration” and “comeback” used with Ole Miss junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, but none of them seem to be entirely fitting or worthy.

Perhaps that’s because the way he sustained a horrific injury, on national television with a high-profile game on the line, or that it had such a wide-reaching impact. Regardless, Treadwell remains on pace to be back in the starting lineup when Ole Miss opens the season against Tennessee-Martin on Sept. 5.

“He’s killing it,” junior tight end Evan Engram said. “He’s come a long way from his injury, strength-wise, confidence-wise. He’s back to being that leader—I mean he’s never left as being a leader—but he’s running around getting guys right, teaching the young guys.

“It’s good to see him back, and he’s having fun.”

Although Ole Miss players won’t officially report to training camp until early August, Treadwell pushed himself through the spring and remained busy over the summer in hopes of not just returning but coming back a better player.

Teammates say he’s lost a little weight, is jumping higher and may be even more explosive. Granted, there can be some hesitation when he’s going through drills opposite defenders, which is normal for any player coming off a serious injury, but even his coaches can’t stop raving about his progress.

“I'm anxious to get pads on him and see how he responds when the ball's a little high and in traffic,” Hugh Freeze said.

Of course, the last time Treadwell was in uniform was Nov. 1. Although Ole Miss was coming off a 10-7 loss at LSU, it was still ranked fourth in the playoff standings and hosting No. 3 Auburn. At minimum the winner would control its own destiny, and the stadium atmosphere matched the intensity from what was at stake.

Down 35-31, the Rebels’ season was hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter. The offense had just lost a fumble inside the Auburn 10, while the defense was in the process of giving up a then-season high in points and yards (507).

Only one minute, 38 seconds remained on the clock when the Rebels snapped the ball facing 3rd-and-3 at the Auburn 20. With three wide receivers lined up to the left, the call was a play-action, catch-and-run screen pass to Treadwell, who stepped back and caught it at about the 23. With a burst he eluded two would-be tacklers and quickly closed in on the goal line.

With Auburn attacking, the only player who had a chance to stop him was Kris Frost, who had started the play on the other side of the field. Because Treadwell already had a step on him, the linebacker had to try and pull him down from behind.

The force of the tackle caused Treadwell to swing back the arm carrying the ball, which had yet to cross the goal line, but in the process Frost landed on the speedster's planted left leg, resulting in a fracture and dislocated ankle.

“Extremely unfortunate,” Frost said. “It was one of those freak accident plays that just kind of happens when playing this rough sport that we play.”

Although initially ruled a go-ahead touchdown, replay confirmed that it was actually a fumble, with Auburn’s Cassanova McKinzy recovering in the end zone. For Ole Miss, whose fans had been poised to celebrate another dramatic win, it didn’t just suck the joy out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium but the season too.

“The way it ended, it hurt,” senior safety Mike Hilton said. “We all thought he scored at first. He didn’t, and the way he got hurt it really brought our energy down.”

Things just weren’t the same after that, even in practice, and coupled with some other key injuries, Ole Miss struggled down the stretch. It meandered through a 48-0 victory against Presbyterian and the subsequent bye week, only to make six turnovers during a crushing 30-0 loss at Arkansas.

Ole Miss closed out the regular season with a 31-17 victory against rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl but was pounded by a hungry TCU team in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, 42-3.

“For it to happen like it did, adversity is certainly a teaching tool, but that next week, I don't know—I tried everything in the world, but I didn't sense that we could rebound from it,” Freeze said.

Only now can the players fully see that Treadwell’s injury was really a mortal wound for the 2014 season.

“It took a lot out of us,” senior linebacker C.J. Johnson said. “To lose any player like that would hurt, but to lose Laquon, that was something that was tough for us to bounce back from.”

But with Treadwell back, optimism has returned to Oxford, and he’s become one of those rare players who just about everyone in the SEC can’t help but root for. Even Frost, who reached out to Treadwell the day after the injury, made a point to watch the Ole Miss spring game and enjoyed seeing the wide receiver run around on the sideline.

He might not like it so much in a couple of months.

“We feel like we’re refreshed,” Johnson said.

“I think we’re going to do something special,” Hilton said.

 

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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UCLA Football: Bruins' Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

There are four big position battles facing Jim Mora and the UCLA football team as fall camp approaches. 

Fortunately for Mora, the vast majority of the roster returns, with experience littered throughout the roster. 

With said, there are a few areas of concern—particularly at one position in which the former starter set multiple school records before leaving for the NFL. 

This piece will analyze the biggest position battles heading into fall camp for the Bruins.

 

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Texas Football: Longhorns Need 2015 QB to Just Be Game Manager

DALLAS — Texas head coach Charlie Strong didn't want to talk about what his quarterbacks, Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, needed to do in 2015. He wanted to talk about everyone else. 

When you consider what Strong is looking for in a quarterback in Year 2, his reasoning makes sense. 

"A lot is made about the quarterback position, and it should be," Strong told Bleacher Report during Day 2 of Big 12 media days. "When it plays well, it gets a lot of praise.  When it plays bad, it gets a lot of criticism."

And, boy, oh boy, did Swoopes get a lot of criticism in 2014. 

Some of it was warranted. Swoopes was inconsistent, to say the least, throwing 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. For every good game, there were another two or three bad ones. In the Texas Bowl against Arkansas, Swoopes had just 57 yards passing.

But to put the Longhorns' offensive struggles on Swoopes alone would be unfair, especially considering he was thrust into the starting job perhaps before he was ready. Injuries and dismissals took an especially hard toll on the offensive line. Strong said as much in a March interview with Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports. 

"I don't care if you had Teddy Bridgewater standing back there last year, people wouldn't have thought he was very good either," Strong told Feldman

Senior running back Johnathan Gray agreed. 

"Last year, the O-line was young. They didn't know what they were supposed to do," said Gray. "We just weren't clicking together. 

"Now they're jelling, helping me and Tyrone read the defenses."

So think of Gray's point this way: In 2015, it's not so much what Swoopes (or Heard) needs to do; it's what everyone else needs to do—what they can do.

"Every quarterback I've ever been around, there's been really good players around them," Strong said. "I could just go back to the University of Florida, and I think about Tim Tebow. You had Percy Harvin lined up, Aaron Hernandez lined up, you had Riley Cooper outside. You had (Chris) Rainey behind, you had two first‑rounders on the offensive line. 

"Everybody's got to do their part."

Strong promised a move to a more wide-open offense this year. If that offense can get more production out of Gray, who is finally healthy and up to 215 pounds after an Achilles injury ended his 2013 season, a new-look wide receiver unit and the O-line, it will take a ton of pressure off the quarterback. Specifically, Strong praised Daje Johnson, a longtime program guy who has potential but hasn't quite lived up to it. Help from those types of players would be a huge step in the right direction. 

Perhaps, then, less will actually be more for the starting signal-caller. Swoopes or Heard, who are still in a quarterback battle, won't feel like they have to do everything. The "game manager" title can be viewed as an indictment, but in this instance, it would be a welcome change. 

"My goals for this year is help my teammates get better first," Gray said. "My responsibility is to be an option. I need to make sure I'm good in the run and the pass. I need to open up things for Tyrone so he doesn't have to think as much." 

Swoopes wasn't at media days, but if he was, he probably would have agreed that he was thinking too much last year and not letting the game come to him. Not that he had many options, of course. Texas' run game averaged fewer than four yards per attempt, meaning there was little respect for it. That allowed defenses to make the passing game a living hell for the sophomore. 

If Texas can improve in the trenches, there won't be any more excuses for the quarterback not to play well enough to move the chains. 

"It's all about them managing the offense, putting us in position where we can move the football, but not turning the ball over and having dumb plays or dumb mistakes," Strong said. 

Decision making is an emphasis for all positions, but especially at the quarterback spot. Gray said Heard has been making better decisions this offseason. Instead of taking off to run after going through his first read, Heard is going through his progressions more and pushing Swoopes. That's made both players better. 

The potential is there. The scheme has changed. The challenge has been accepted. Now, all that's left to do is to execute. And that's not just a check list for the quarterbacks. It's on everyone. 

"It's a great offense for us," Gray said. "The sky's the limit."

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Ranking the College Football Players Most Likely to Score 20 Touchdowns

The college football landscape in 2015 will feature an array of dynamic athletes. 

Many of these talents have the ability to produce at high levels. Of course, a top determiner when it comes to production is the number of touchdowns one can accrue.

This piece will analyze the players most likely to score 20 touchdowns this upcoming year. 

A few factors contribute to ranking—and appearance—on this list. For example, the returning situation at quarterback and wide receiver will likely determine the number of touches one may receive. Of course, the success enjoyed in past years by the player will also be taken into account. 

Aside from one player on this list (who is more of a mobile option), quarterbacks will not be included. 

 

Honorable mentions: Shock Linwood, Derrick Henry, Paul Perkins

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LSU Football: Tigers' Most Important Players at Each Position

LSU football will look to rely on its key players as the Tigers try to rebound from a disappointing season last year in 2014. 

After an 8-5 season characterized by an inept offense and inconsistent defensive play, the Bayou Bengals return a solid core of contributors at every positional group, which puts the team in a promising spot to improve. 

The Tigers return 15 starters from a team that still was able beat Mississippi and Wisconsin and take Alabama to overtime a year ago, according to Phil Steele

LSU was also picked to finish third in the SEC West by the media.

Here is a list of LSU’s most important players at each position based on the player’s status as an X-factor as well as being the one of the overall best players at his position.

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Winners and Losers from 2015 Big 12 Media Days

DALLAS, Texas—That's all from Big D, folks. Big 12 media days are officially in the books. What, exactly, did we learn?

We learned TCU might be the only group with tempered expectations for the season. We learned why Kansas coach David Beaty is such a strong recruiter. We learned that Oklahoma feels it's much closer to competing for a Big 12 title than you may think. 

That, and much, much more. 

So let's take a few minutes to reflect on what the last two days have brought us. Here are the winners and losers—which, generally, aren't "losers" since there are no losers this time of year—from Big 12 media days, based on the best quotes and moments of the week. 

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Ranking the Best 5th-Year Seniors in College Football in 2015

With one of the main goals of every college football player being to get to the NFL, it's come to where the best of the best tend to spend as little time in school as necessary before setting off on a pro career. Though they can play four seasons and attend class for up to five, once three years are in the books many will make the move to the NFL.

Sticking around and using up every bit of eligibility has somehow become a red mark when evaluating a player's talent level, the feeling being that if they were good enough to turn pro earlier they would have done so. But life sometimes gets in the way, thus requiring a college student to spend their full five years in school.

And there are plenty of rewards for doing so. Besides the obvious benefit of being able to complete their college degrees, there's the ability to establish themselves as a team leader while also honing their craft to the point they have less of a learning curve at the pro level. And for the teams they play on, having fifth-year seniors is a huge boost in the experience department.

There are varying reasons why the best fifth-year seniors in college football needed that year away from the game. Many weren't ready to compete when they first arrived five years ago, or their teams were stacked at that position and it made sense to bring them along slowly. Others were forced to sit out a season either due to transfer rules or because of injury, but that time away has added to their drive and dedication.

As we creep ever closer to the 2015 season, here's our ranking of the best fifth-year seniors in college football based on their performance to this point in their careers and their value to their respective teams this fall.

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Winners and Losers of 2015 ACC Media Days

Conference media days are in full swing, and the ACC joined the preseason party Monday and Tuesday with its annual Football Kickoff event in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

Each of the ACC's 14 schools sent its head coach and two player representatives to face the media and preview the upcoming season.

Several players and coaches highlighted the event with their quotes, while the preseason polls handed out some unfortunate results for a few teams.

Then, of course, there was the eye-opening media guide phrase that thrust the conference into the spotlight Monday afternoon.

With the event wrapping up Tuesday afternoon following the head coaches' turns at the podium, let's recap the ACC's media days with some winners and losers from the event.

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Steve Spurrier Comments on South Carolina's Domestic Violence, Drug Policies

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is willing to show some leniency for certain violations or rules a player may commit or break. He absolutely has a zero-tolerance policy for domestic abuse and striking women, however, as he told Mike & Mike on Tuesday morning, per Robby Kalland of CBS Sports.

I have had that rule I think every year I've been at South Carolina, so 10 years, and we have lost two players. I tell the team when they first arrive on campus, all the freshman know right now, if you ever hit a girl, punch a girl, whatever, you're finished. You can go somewhere else, transfer somewhere else, but you're not going to be on our team.

That's just a rule I have, a personal rule. Some other coaches don't have it. They think they'll give a guy a second chance, but we don't have second chances for that.

Those comments mirrored his remarks about domestic violence last week during SEC media days, when he noted that he dismissed two players in the past for hitting women. But those players weren't stars, so the dismissals didn't become national stories.     

But Spurrier also shed a bit of light on his policy for marijuana offenses, telling Mike & Mike, "You can smoke pot and get lectured on it—three pots and you're finished—and we have our rules for all our other things. We haven't had anything happen [with domestic violence] in about eight years now, so I think it's a good rule and if you enforce it it's really helpful."

His stance on domestic violence is particularly relevant in football circles given the increasing incidents tied to football players in recent years, namely at the NFL level. But it is also a topic at the center of the college football world right now, as former Florida State quarterback De'Andre Johnson—who was dismissed from the team after video surfaced of him striking a woman at a bar in June—and current running back Dalvin Cook are facing battery charges for allegedly striking women.

Spurrier's candor about his lack of tolerance for domestic violence makes him an excellent example for other coaches at both the college and NFL level, especially as this issue continues to be such a pressing one within football culture. 

 

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UAB Announces Return of Football Program for 2017 Season

UAB has a plan to reinstate the football program in 2017 after cutting the sport in December, according to a release from the school's website Tuesday.  

Per that release, the UAB "currently is working with donors who committed enough financial support earlier in the year to enable the programs’ return without impacting the school’s budget beyond its current subsidy." The NCAA informed the school that football can return for the 2017 season, with the team competing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. 

The team would also be eligible for bowl competition and a Conference USA championship immediately.

The news thrilled head coach Bill Clark, per the school's release: 

I am so excited that UAB Football will return to FBS competition in 2017. Like our fans, I wanted to light the scoreboard much sooner, but doing it right is more important than doing it fast, and this was our best option. We want a program that is here to stay. We have to start by building a new, stronger foundation. We need to take our time to do it right, then we can compete for conference and bowl championships.

Given the number of players who transferred after the program met its demise, rebuilding the roster before 2017 may have been a tall task.

In December, UAB's president, Ray Watts, announced that football, rifle and bowling would be abolished (all three were reinstated Tuesday), as he claimed that maintaining football wasn't financially viable.

But with donors helping out, fundraising efforts in place and the support of the NCAA and Conference USA, the university appears to have a sustainable plan in place to maintain the football program.

It's a bittersweet result, perhaps, for those players who were so devastated when the school initially cut the program and who won't have eligibility in 2017, but for those who fought to have football reinstated, this is nonetheless a huge win.

 

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Why Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech Rematch Is Already Worth the Hype

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Between the preseason loss of the star quarterback, the seemingly devastating defeat suffered in the second week of the season and a team rallying around its third-string quarterback when everybody else was counting it out, Ohio State's 2014 national title run followed a script that could have only been written in Hollywood.

And with seven weeks to go until the start of the 2015 season, the sequel appears already appears poised for a strong start.

At least that's the vibe that's been emanating from ACC media days in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where the Buckeyes have been a big topic of conversation despite the Big Ten still being a week away from holding its media days. But with one of the ACC's tentpole programs preparing to get the first crack at the defending national champions, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Urban Meyer's squad has once again made its presence felt outside of its own league.

Especially when you take into consideration that the Buckeyes' first opponents in their national championship defense will be the same team that handed them that aforementioned "seemingly devastating defeat" a season ago—their only loss of the 2014 campaign. Heading to Blacksburg, Virginia, on Labor Day for its 2015 opener, Ohio State will take on Virginia Tech, who will be just a year removed from having beaten the Buckeyes, 35-21 in Columbus.

And while Ohio State has already opened up as 14-point favorites according to Bovada (via Odds Shark), the hype for the rematch between the Buckeyes and Hokies has already made it one of the can't-miss games of college football's opening weekend.

"Talent-wise, they're by far the No. 1 team in the country," Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer said of the Buckeyes during his Tuesday press conference. "They're coming to Blacksburg on a Monday night. You don't have that opportunity that often. I know for fans, they've looked forward to it. We have, too. I mean, it's the best team in the country coming to your house. You want to make the best of that."

Only adding to the excitement from the Hokies' perspective was Monday's announcement by school president Tim Sands that Virginia Tech won't be holding classes on Labor Day this year, as it has traditionally done in the past. It's not a coincidence that Sands' decision to cancel classes on the holiday has come in the same year in which the Hokies are hosting the defending national champions, nor will it likely have much of an affect on the attendance in the Blacksburg classrooms on that day anyway.

"To be honest, I don't think anyone was going to be going to class that day anyway," Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller said, via Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times. "I seriously doubt it. If someone was going to class, kudos to them."

Added Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer: "Regardless, class or no class, it’s going to be a crazy environment," Brewer said. "The fans are extremely excited about it. We’re excited about it. It’s good for college football. The defending national champions coming into a historically great place to play, 'Enter Sandman,' Frank Beamer, Urban Meyer. It’s awesome. It’s what you grow up watching, stuff like this."

But rest assured, the excitement for the Ohio State-Virginia Tech rematch extends well outside of Blacksburg, even if the Buckeyes already find themselves as double-digit road favorites. The reality is that it wouldn't matter to Meyer's team if it was favored by 100 points or underdogs for the fourth game in a row, after the Hokies put the lone dent in an otherwise storybook 2014 season in Columbus.

Ohio State has wisely been mum on the subject publicly, with most of the offseason attention paid to the Buckeyes focusing on the unprecedented upcoming quarterback competition between Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller. But inside the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the Hokies have served as a major source of motivation in offseason workouts, a sentiment that has occasionally leaked into the players' social media accounts.

Not that Virginia Tech will be caught off-guard by the Buckeyes' thirst for revenge, which isn't exactly a secret strategy in the Meyer playbook. In a Q&A with Bitter earlier this offseason, Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster admitted as much, using a bit of hyperbole to illustrate his point.

"Regardless of who their quarterback is, they’ll want to score 100 points on us, I know that," Foster said. "They’ll want to beat us down."

It's highly unlikely the Buckeyes will actually reach triple-digits, but an Ohio State blowout, given the Buckeyes' motivation, wouldn't be all that surprising. That's not to say that Virginia Tech should be entirely counted out from scoring its second upset over OSU in as many years, even as the Buckeyes return 14 starters from a season ago and are a near-lock to be the nation's preseason No. 1 team.

Because despite Ohio State's decisive talent advantage over the Hokies, it was Virginia Tech's X's and O's that beat the Buckeyes a year ago, rather than its Jimmies and Joes. Employing a cover-zero scheme that dared Barrett to throw the ball downfield in the second start of his college career, the Hokies stifled Ohio State with a defensive scheme that admittedly flustered Meyer.

And according to Fuller, Foster's unit once again has a surprise up its sleeve.

"Guess we'll have to see if y'all like it," Fuller said of the Hokies' secret strategy at media days, via Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Of course, the Hokies don't even know what they're exactly preparing for yet, as Meyer has yet to decide between Jones, Barrett and Miller as his starter, with all three quarterbacks possessing unique skill sets. Then again, the possibility exists that Meyer and his staff won't yet be 100 percent sold on their first choice at quarterback, either, and some second-guessing could play into Virginia Tech's favor.

Ultimately, however, we still have seven weeks to dissect the rematch between the Buckeyes and the Hokies and decide if the latter has a realistic shot at scoring another monumental upset.

But if the hype that it's been receiving in Pinehurst is any indication, Blacksburg will be the home of one last summer blockbuster come Labor Day.

 

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

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Jimbo Fisher Taking Responsibility for FSU's Troubles a Step in Right Direction

Jimbo Fisher faced the music Tuesday morning at the ACC Football Kickoff.

Fisher fielded plenty of questions about the recent incidents of violence against women involving former quarterback De'Andre Johnson and indefinitely suspended running back Dalvin Cook. However, the Florida State coach had an expected but welcome tune to his responses. 

Fisher placed the responsibility of his players' actions on himself. He spoke of ways the program was becoming more proactive in preventing future incidents.

"Just like it is anywhere else in the country, you as the head coach take responsibility, and you continue to educate," Fisher said, according to Jared Shanker of ESPN.com. "You hope they don't make mistakes, and when they do, you punish and adjust and continue to educate so they don't do it again."

Fisher's time at the podium in Pinehurst, North Carolina, on Tuesday marked his first press conference since the Johnson and Cook incidents.

To his credit, Fisher didn't shy away from any off-the-field questions. A lackluster press conference would've only made the issues worse for him and his Florida State program, but Fisher was direct with his answers—just like he needed to be.

Fisher said Florida State continues to have a zero-tolerance policy regarding violence against women.

"You're judged by what you do and we've had a couple of instances, just like other people have, too," Fisher said, according to Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post. "It's not a Florida State problem, it's a national problem. It's not just an athletic problem, it's a domestic problem across our country...we don't tolerate it or accept it."

While Fisher is correct in saying that this problem doesn't just affect Florida State—several other powerhouse programs have dealt with similar incidents in recent years—the recent cases of Johnson and Cook aren't the first under his watch.

According to Shanker, "at least six" Seminoles have been accused of violence against women during Fisher's time as Florida State's head coach.

That should be an extremely hard number to swallow.

Fisher said his program has been proactive with character issues in the past with classes and conducting background checks for recruits "as much as we possibly can." 

However, he plans to add to those efforts in the wake of Johnson and Cook's incidents, which came within days of each other.

"We've had a very extensive program," Fisher said, per D'Angelo. "We go 40 days a year of bringing in character-building people, developmental conditioning with issues: drugs, alcohol, opposite sex, domestic violence. We’ve done it from the very first day I’ve been there."

Shanker reports Florida State's players are now in a four-step program following the recent arrests. 

Fisher said he has enlisted the help of several high-profile people for a greater emphasis on character-building, including former FBI agent Bob Delaney, members of the Navy SEALs and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's "Pass the Peace" campaign against domestic violence.

All these actions by Fisher—taking responsibility, new programs, more character education—are small steps in the right direction for Florida State.

But they're just small steps.

Fisher knows the actions of a few of his players have affected the image of the team and Florida State as a whole. And he knows these aren't just isolated incidents this season.

"You want to change perception, you have to have continual performance in the right way for long periods of time," Fisher said, per D'Angelo. 

Changes need to be made, and Fisher is saying all the right things in response to the growing questions about his program. And the result of Cook's situation will show how much Fisher backs up those words of "zero tolerance."

Fisher said he would "wait for the facts to come out" about Cook before making a decision. According to Chip Patterson of CBS Sports, Cook's court date has been pushed back to Sept. 2—three days before FSU's 2015 season opener.

It was an easy decision for Fisher to dismiss Johnson, a backup quarterback, after video surfaced of him brutally punching a young woman at a bar.

But what will Fisher do with the results for Cook, who led Florida State in rushing last season?

How Florida State handles its top running back and prevents future instances of violence against women will be the true measures of progress for this program.

Perhaps the added hours of off-field learning will get through to Fisher's team and prevent more of these awful incidents.

Maybe Florida State's players, who Fisher said were involved in a decision to make bars off-limits, are taking more responsibility for the actions of one another.

"They said they’re not putting themselves in those positions," Fisher said, per D'Angelo. "It's a collective ban. They collectively as a group said the same thing, 'We don’t need to be in there.'"

The head coach can create countless new rules and programs, but it's ultimately up to Florida State's players to end this deeply troubling trend.

Fisher's words on Tuesday were good, but they can only go so far.

Actions—or the lack of actions in this situation—speak louder than words.

 

Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 

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Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze's Proposal for Playoff Change Isn't Ideal

"Talkin' season" is still in full gear for another couple of weeks, and SEC coaches are hitting the home stretch this week by going through a "car wash" at ESPN world headquarters that sends them to virtually every outlet at the Worldwide Leader.

Apparently, some coaches are taking the opportunity that ESPN's massive distribution network provides to politic for change in the postseason format.

Most notably, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.

According to ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy, Freeze suggested a change to the College Football Playoff that will not only add teams to the mix but take away several big games along the way.

Freeze isn't the only one asking for change.

Arkansas' Bret Bielema made the rounds Tuesday and lobbied for the playoff to double in size, according to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn got into the mix Tuesday as well, according to ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg.

Guys, come on. Can we have a few years of the four-team playoff first before begging for it to expand?

Of course coaches want more access because they get bonuses and enhanced job stability for reaching the playoff. The truth of the matter, though, is that Freeze's plan won't fly.

First, there's the obvious. The only way the Power Five would ever approve of an expanded playoff—even to six teams—would be if conference champions received automatic bids. Is that really what we want college football to be? Should teams that win their arbitrarily—and oftentimes geographically—determined conference automatically be considered title-worthy?

Of course not.

And spare me the comparison to other professional leagues. College football isn't like any other sport and has a much different landscape due to the number of FBS teams. It's unique, and it should stay that way.

Did Wisconsin, a team that was 8-5 after winning the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game, deserve as much of a shot at the national title that year as undefeated Notre Dame and one-loss Alabama? Of course not. Suggesting otherwise would be insane.

Of course, in Freeze's plan, there would be no Big Ten Championship Game for Wisconsin to win. So would a Nebraska team that was 10-2 and ranked 12th in the BCS heading into championship weekend be worthy of national title consideration?

Nope.

A team that's worthy of a national title being left out of the four-team playoff every once in a while is much more acceptable than one that's not worthy getting hot in the postseason and winning the whole thing. When access becomes the most important factor in determining playoff participants, college football will have lost its way.

Zach Barnett of FootballScoop.com is with me when it comes to being against the expansion of the College Football Playoff.

Besides, in Freeze's plan, conferences would give up the programming and financial cash cow of the conference title games and eliminate the 12th regular-season game. 

Television partners and athletic directors would flip if that idea ever gets serious traction.

Whether the absence of the 12th game eliminates tough out-of-conference games, neutral-site kickoff games or cupcakes that help programs generate home-game revenue, it's simply not going to fly. Money talks, and while the addition of more playoff games would help negate some of that lost revenue, it's a lot to ask programs and television partners to give up that much regular-season inventory just to double the size of the meaningful postseason.

The College Football Playoff just wrapped up Year 1 of a 12-year deal and doesn't look like it's changing anytime soon.

"There has been no talk about expanding the playoff," CFP executive director Bill Hancock said at SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, in May. "We are set for 11 years. Four is the right number."

Can we just enjoy what we have for a little while before rushing to expansion?

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee. 

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Art Briles Says Baylor's 6'8" TE LaQuan McGowan Has 'Slimmed Down' to 403 Pounds

I've got good and bad news for Big 12 secondaries.

The good news is LaQuan McGowan has slimmed down significantly this offseason. The bad news is he's still the size of a logging truck.

Baylor head coach Art Briles dropped a terrifying progress nugget on the assembled press at Big 12 media days Tuesday. According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, Briles said his 6'8" tight end has worked himself down to 403 pounds since season's end.

The scary thing is, Briles wasn't being entirely facetious. As Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel noted, McGowan said he was 440 with pads on at the Cotton Bowl in January.

Even once you've subtracted pad weight (which maxes out at around 15 pounds), you're still looking at a weight loss of around 25 pounds—a measurable drop for McGowan and a huge figure for standard-issue humans who aren't frost giants.

This means McGowan could be faster this year—a scary prospect for anyone who watched him waltz in untouched for a touchdown against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.

Briles said he'll be keeping McGowan to a limited play count, presumably as an act of mercy for opposing safeties.

Now, clearly, McGowan at tight end is an absurd luxury only college football could provide. No coach should be able to have a 6'8", 400-pound specialty player tucked away just for red-zone passing patterns.

But here we are, in the Year of Our Lord 2015, watching Andre the Giant stand-ins carve through secondaries like sashimi. What a time to be alive.

 

Dan is on Twitter. The key to tackling McGowan is getting low to the ground and just staying there until he's gone.

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Clemson Picked to Win ACC, Deshaun Watson Voted as Player of the Year

Florida State has won the last three ACC titles, but the media members who cover the conference are picking Clemson to end that streak.

The ACC released the league's 2015 preseason poll results Tuesday morning as part of the ACC Kickoff event in Pinehurst, North Carolina. 

Clemson led the ballot with 84 of the media's 158 picks for the winner of the ACC championship. Florida State and Georgia Tech followed Clemson for the overall title and four other schools received championship votes.

The Tigers are coming off a 10-3 campaign in 2014 in which they finished second in the Atlantic Division. Last year, Florida State went undefeated in ACC play for the second straight season and fell to Oregon in the semifinals of the first College Football Playoff.

Clemson won the preseason media poll in 2013 but finished 7-1 in ACC play with a lone loss to Florida State.

And while the SEC media failed to put its overall champion as the winner of its own division, their ACC brethren got it right by picking Clemson (84 first-place votes) to edge Florida State (41) in the Atlantic Division poll. Louisville received one vote to win the Atlantic.

Georgia Tech led the way with 96 first-place votes in the Coastal Division. Virginia Tech came in second with 44 votes, while four other teams grabbed division-title nods from media members.

Clemson also topped the vote for the ACC's Player of the Year on Tuesday.

Sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson, who threw for 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in eight games last season, edged Pittsburgh running back James Conner for the preseason award.

After winning the starting quarterback job following Clemson's overtime loss to Florida State, Watson threw for 435 yards and six touchdowns in his first career start against North Carolina.

Several injuries, including a torn ACL, limited his playing time for the remainder of the 2014 campaign.

Watson and preseason favorite Clemson will take on defending champion Florida State on Nov. 7.

The winner of the annual matchup between the Tigers and Seminoles has gone on to win the Atlantic Division and play in the ACC Championship Game each of the last six seasons.

 

Justin Ferguson is an on-call college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 

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