NCAA Football News

Ohio State Football: J.T. Barrett's 4 Biggest Hurdles to Winning Heisman Trophy

The starting quarterback at Ohio State has to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

At least, that's the opinion of head coach Urban Meyer, who revealed those high expectations at the tail end of spring practice this April.

"The message was very clear to our team, and if you're going to play quarterback at Ohio State, you need to be a Heisman candidate," Meyer said, according to Bill Landis of the Plain Dealer. He later added, "If you play quarterback at Ohio State in this offense, you have to be a Heisman candidate, or we're going to suffer."

With the latest odds released by Bovada (h/t Patrick Murphy of The Ozone), the Buckeyes have their candidate in J.T. Barrett.

The dual-threat signal-caller already rewrote the school and Big Ten record books in 2014, breaking the single-season conference touchdown mark as a redshirt freshman. He was good enough in his first year to finish fifth in the Heisman voting.

But a broken ankle suffered against Michigan opened a quarterback competition with Cardale Jones, which derailed a followup campaign and another run at college football's highest individual honor.

Now a redshirt junior and the clear-cut leader of both the offense and the team as a whole, Barrett has an opportunity to bring Ohio State its eighth Heisman Trophy in school history.

What are the biggest obstacles he'll face this fall?

   

The Schedule 

Ohio State has been lambasted in recent years for a perceived lack of schedule strength, as a downturn in quality nonconference opponents was paired with a declining Big Ten.

That won't be the case this year when the Buckeyes take on one of the most challenging slates in the country. 

The Big Ten itself is well on the rise after Ohio State won the national title two years ago, and as a whole, the conference has gone 11-10 in the postseason since 2014. Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern, all of which are on the Buckeyes' schedule this fall, are projected as Top 25 teams by Bleacher Report's Ryan McCrystal.

The biggest challenge, however, will come early when Ohio State travels for a prime-time showdown with playoff contender Oklahoma in Week 3.

With five night games already on the docket, Barrett will have plenty of opportunities to shine this fall. But the quality of opponent will make it extremely tough for him to put up the video game numbers of recent Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.

   

The Play-Calling

With two big-time quarterbacks, Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and loads of playmaking ability on the perimeter, Ohio State's offense was supposed to be one of the most explosive in all of college football last year.

That explosiveness didn't truly materialize until the final week of the regular season, and much of that was due to a lack of quality play-calling.

The Buckeyes were transitioning from former offensive coordinator Tom Herman (who moved on to be the head coach at Houston) to offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who held the same position under Bo Pelini at Nebraska. Beck struggled to utilize all the tools he inherited, as Ohio State's pass offense ranked No. 100 nationally.

Ohio State figured some things out in its final two games when co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner moved from the sideline to the booth to call plays alongside Beck. The Buckeyes shifted to an uptempo offense, which yielded much better results in routs of Michigan and Notre Dame.

But most of the damage was done on the ground, as the rushing offense accounted for 654 of the 978 total yards Ohio State amassed against the Wolverines and Irish.

If Beck and Warinner can't find the aerial groove the Buckeyes had under Herman, Barrett might not have the numbers to get to New York City.

   

The Supporting Cast

Another thing that could affect Barrett's numbers is a new and relatively young supporting cast.

The Buckeyes are replacing all of their offensive skill players with the loss of all three starting wideouts (Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller), tight end Nick Vannett and, of course, Elliott at running back.

Ohio State has loads of promising options on the perimeter, starting with Noah Brown and Corey Smith—two relative vets who were supposed to contribute last year before broken legs derailed their seasons. Parris Campbell, Curtis Samuel, Torrance Gibson and Austin Mack give the Buckeyes plenty of potential superstars out wide, but there isn't a whole lot of game-time experience in the group.

When Barrett was at his best during the 2014 season, he worked as a distributor in Ohio State's offense. His two primary targets—Devin Smith and Thomas—are now playing their football in the NFL as second-round draft selections. 

If Ohio State can't identify a few reliable targets for Barrett to lean on, his chances of orchestrating a notable offense diminish greatly. 

   

The Strong Field

Even if Barrett is able to tame the tough schedule, the passing attack evolves and the supporting cast emerges quickly, it will still be tough to prove himself as the most outstanding player in college football.

The 2016 Heisman candidate field is absolutely stacked.

Ahead of Barrett on Bovada's latest Heisman odds are LSU running back Leonard Fournette (who ran for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns last year), Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (who led his team to the national title game and amassed 5,209 yards and 47 total touchdowns) and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (who totaled 2,703 yards and 17 total touchdowns).

Barrett has even odds with do-everything Florida State running back Dalvin Cook and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

It's one of the strongest fields in recent memory, and Barrett will need to elevate his game to uncharted territory to come out on top.

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The Next Honey Badger? 4-Star Jamyest Williams Dominates at 5'9"

A high school prospect who measures 5'9", 170 pounds has the kind of frame that typically makes college football coaches skip a recruit's film and move on to the next.

Four-star corner Jamyest Williams—a player approaching 50 offers heading into his senior season—wears those measurables as a badge of pride.

The Peach State standout is a man of action. Words are seemingly hard to come by, especially when he's asked to describe himself.

Between the lines, he's a quick-twitch bundle of dynamite ready to explode at the snap of the ball—whether he's eluding defenders as a kick returner, carrying the ball, catching it or trying to take it away from opponents.

"It's about going out and proving yourself every single play. Some people talk, but it's about earning that respect on the field with how you play and perform," Williams told Bleacher Report. 'There's some kids who get caught up in all of the talk and forget that you still have to prove it every day."

Away from the field, Williams—who recently transferred schools and will play his senior season at Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia—understands the importance of the decisions and experiences he will encounter in the next few months.

While he's talented enough to play on both sides of the ball in college, his future appears to lie on defense. Moreover, his stature, demeanor and play resemble another diminutive athlete who thrived on proving his detractors wrong—current Arizona Cardinals All-Pro defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

What makes Williams similar to the Honey Badger is his fiery mentality and competitive streak on the field.

"Tyrann Mathieu is a guy I really look up to. I study his game, and I know he went through a lot in his life, but he also got through it, and he's just an awesome player," Williams said. "He makes plays wherever he is on the field, and that's what I try to do when I'm out there."

Williams notes that he didn't initially start out rated as a Top 100 prospect overall in his class. Instead, he steadily climbed the rankings thanks to two years of dominant play at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Georgia—his home for the previous two seasons—sandwiched between a stellar spring and summer camp circuit in 2015.

Even with his accolades, he remembers attacks every snap with the hunger of an athlete searching for his first letter.

That's because he carries the weight of the undersized and overlooked athlete on his shoulders.

At the crossroads of Williams' rise was a father who doubled as his coach until the eighth grade. Lessons were learned through tough love and a Jedi mind trick or two.

"[Football] is all mental. In my mind, once he could get beyond the mental aspect of playing football, as far as making and overcoming mistakes on the field—things such as coming back strong on the next down without getting down on yourself after a mistake—I knew he could be special if he could do that," Jamyest's father, JJ Williams, said.

"To me, it was about challenging him and pushing his buttons to see how he would respond. I figured once I challenged him in a way that no one else could possibly challenge him, and then I knew he could take anything from anybody and be able to succeed at a high level."

JJ Williams admits he's heard the whispers from other parents in his community that he's too hard on his son.

They thought he was crazy for pushing Jamyest to the brink mentally and physically during his career in youth leagues.

JJ, undeterred by criticism, carried on. On the field, he wasn't "Dad" to Jamyest. He was "Coach." JJ admits that he was harder on his son than the other kids on his team.

"I held him to a higher standard than everyone else because he is my son. It was all a mental challenge, but he responded," JJ said. "He's been able to overcome the questions about size or anything else that could deter him from conquering his goal in any situation."

Even though he isn't coaching Jamyest in an official capacity anymore, the lessons he taught years ago are the foundation for his son today.

JJ passed the baton to Derrick Tatum, a trainer at Elite Talent Football Academy in Atlanta who has worked with Jaymest since he was in the eighth grade.

They set a plan in motion for him to transition from quarterback to skill positions on both sides of the ball. Tatum—who also serves as the defensive backs coach at Pace Academy in Atlanta—specializes in molding defensive backs.

From the moment he started working with Jamyest, he coined a term that has stuck with his pupil.

"Honestly, I think it's just 'little-man syndrome,'" Jamyest said.

Tatum laughs at the phrase while noting that JJ's influence on Jamyest's attitude is evident and prevalent on the field.

"His dad is a really intense guy. He gets that dog mentality from his dad," Tatum said. "I think because he was so overlooked during his first few years at the high school level, he just got tired of hearing that he wasn't good enough. He just really locked in."

Jamyest dominated as a skill player playing mostly quarterback until his ninth-grade year.

But because JJ had been preparing him mentally for the challenges that awaited him, his attitude and determination have helped him continue to find success as the competition and stakes have been raised.

Jamyest's ascent into a recruiting phenom wasn't by accident.

Instead, JJ insists he knew respect would come slowly because of his son's smallish build.

There's data to back up his logic.

Since the 2013 cycle, Jamyest is one of only 15 recruits shorter than 5'10" who have landed in the top 100 overall rankings in their respective classes. Furthermore, he's one of only five of those who play corner.

So together, father and son hatched a plan that would essentially send him to scouting camps and college camps from coast to coast during the spring and summer of 2015.

The mindset was simple. If there were touted receiver prospects or defensive backs who were rated higher, Jamyest wanted the chance to compete alongside them in a camp setting to prove them wrong.

"I told him, 'You don't want anything given to you.' I would tell him, 'If this guy is better than you, let's go see him,'" JJ said. "'Where are they at? Let's go find them. If they are better than you, then give respect where respect is due.' That's just the mentality you have to have when you are playing football. If he's better than me, show me and beat me on the field."

The first opportunity to make a name for himself on a national stage came at the Atlanta Nike Opening Regional in March 2015.

In a field littered with stud 2016 prospects such as LSU signee Saivion Smith, Williams won the MVP for the defensive backs segment as an underclassman. (Warning: NSFW lyrics in the following video.)

He would go on to stand out at similar camps such as the Adidas Chicago Showcase and the Sound Mind, Sound Body camp in Detroit.

But he was far from done.

Williams estimates he visited more than 20 colleges in the spring and summer. Included in that spree were visits to Auburn, Baylor, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas to name a few.

Roughly half of his 49 offers came during that time period.

If that weren't enough, he cemented his place as an elite talent with a standout performance last summer at The Opening, which is the premier summer camp showcase featuring the nation's top talent.

Williams, one of a handful of underclassmen invited to the event, was the only 2017 defensive prospect to make the event's all-tournament team, as detailed by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

Wiltfong, who is the director of recruiting at 247Sports, said Williams answered a lot of the questions about his ability to play at the next level with his play on the field and during the camp circuit.

"To [rank] Jamyest that high, obviously what he's done on defense speaks for itself," Wiltfong said. "To be 5'9", I don't question the fact that he can tackle. He's going to be able to wrap up and play the game the right way. He's going to be physical enough to do that.

"Whenever you see him at camps, he's usually the best player on the field. You just roll the dice on those type of guys. You don't do that with many guys his size, but that's why he's special."

But Jamyest wasn't satisfied. He moved to shatter any lingering doubts with a monster junior year for Archer where he lined up at running back and corner and returned punts and kicks.

According to MaxPreps, Williams racked up 1,249 yards rushing while averaging more than six yards per carry with 23 touchdowns.

Over the course of 2015, nothing was given to Jamyest in terms of offers or respect from his peers. He spent those 12 months doing what his father had prepared him for some 12 years earlier. He didn't wait for opportunities to come to him. Instead, he put opportunity in a chokehold.

He did what Mathieu would do. He took what he felt was his.

And that was more meaningful than a ranking or even an offer.

With Jamyest, it's all about respect.

Respect for his abilities, respect for his competitive drive, respect for his work ethic and respect for the game.

Those qualities and his measurables, or lack thereof, are what make him a worthy successor to the star defensive back nicknamed the Honey Badger.

Tatum admits his star pupil has a lot of work to reach that status. Still, he feels Jamyest can get to that level if he continues on his current trajectory and says there are a few characteristics he sees in Jamyest that are critical elements of what has turned Mathieu into a superstar.

"[Jamyest is] hungry. He works hard. He's humble, but he's mad at the guy in front of him on the field. He's mad at anyone who thinks they can beat him on the field," Tatum said.

As he heads into his senior season, he will have to make a choice among the nearly 50 programs that have offered him. Programs such as Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and South Carolina are pursuing him aggressively.

JJ said the size issue is rarely brought up by college coaches recruiting his son. In fact, if it is brought up in a negative manner, it's essentially a deal-breaker.

"Basically, how Jamyest and I gauge a coach is that when we can talk football without the size thing even being mentioned, then we know we have a real coach," JJ said. "Real coaches value football players more than size or measurables. We don't need to talk about size. Either you are a football player or you are not. That's the bottom line."

JJ recalls dealing with coaches such as Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Ohio State's Urban Meyer who expressed affinity for the way his son competes on the field.

"It's funny and consistent that the one aspect they enjoy the most about my son, they love his dog mentality. They love that spirit within him on the field. His competitiveness is something that they really see and appreciate," JJ said.

Regardless, wherever he lands, don't expect his mentality to change in lieu of the increased fame surrounding his ability to be a game-changer at the next level.

Jamyest Williams is used to being an underdog. He knows what it's like being dismissed on sight alone. He's taken the feelings of being doubted and willed himself into one of the nation's elite prospects in the 2017 cycle.

"I just want to go out and prove my worth to everyone. Another thing with that is getting in front of the coaches and working out with them and observing how they coach you," Jamyest said. "It's a whole different level in college. You have to start over and prove yourself on a daily basis. That's what I love to do anyway."

But don't expect him to celebrate the respect he's fought so hard to earn. After all, that underdog spirit is part of his fabric and is one of the primary elements that has fueled his meteoric rise.

"For all of the guys that always hear that they are 'too small' or 'undersized,' he really takes it to heart and carries that on his shoulders," Tatum said. "He proves it every time he's out there."

 

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

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Is Clemson Becoming Tennessee's Biggest Threat on the Recruiting Trail?

Tennessee's football program routinely butts heads in the cutthroat Southeastern Conference recruiting circles with the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Auburn. But there's a new nemesis in town.

Literally in town; like, in the Volunteers' back yard.

That would be the Clemson Tigers, and head coach Dabo Swinney's defending national runners-up are painting the Volunteer State a deeper shade of orange so far in the 2017 recruiting cycle.

As a matter of fact, there's no doubt who Vols coach Butch Jones' biggest rival on the trail has been so far this year.

Swinney is swinging for the fences in Tennessee. He's hit several home runs, too, including July 4's bombshell commitment from 5-star wide receiver Tee Higgins, who's from Oak Ridge, a town in Knoxville's shadow. Higgins' decision came via an explosive Bleacher Report video:

Higgins pledged to the Tigers after once being committed to the Vols, sending shock waves across Big Orange Country. How could a kid who seemed to have genuine love for UT growing up spurn his hometown team?

Part of the reason is his budding relationship with a pair of players whom it also hurt Vols fans to see on the Clemson commitment list—5-star quarterback Hunter Johnson and Knoxville native Amari Rodgers.

Johnson is the nation's top-ranked pro-style passer, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and he was committed to the Vols for a while, building a relationship with Higgins. The day after Johnson flipped from UT to the other orange team, Higgins decommitted, too.

They wound up together again, at least for now.

Rodgers is a local product who just so happens to be the son of former Tennessee national champion quarterback and current Southern Cal offensive coordinator Tee Martin. So, as good as Jones has been in swaying legacies to UT, the one with perhaps the most decorated father chose to play for Swinney.

It doesn't stop with that trio, either.

Four-star running back Cordarrian Richardson is from Memphis and had a Tennessee offer when he chose the Tigers. Though UT had runners higher on their board at the time, Richardson's pledge foreshadowed the foe. Clemson tackle pledge Blake Vinson was high on UT before committing to the Tigers, too.

The list goes on and on.

According to the State's Phil Kornblut, the Vols and Tigers are both in the final four for 4-star Virginia Beach defensive end Jordan Williams

On Friday, North Carolina linebacker Justin Foster, who has named the Vols his leader, told 247Sports' Ryan Bartow (via GoVols247's Wes Rucker) that the Tigers are pushing UT for his services.

"I know all the coaches well," Foster told 247Sports' Ryan Bartow when asked about Clemson. "I've been down there many times. I know my way around campus. It's just a great relationship, great people. And it's kind of where everyone in my hometown wants me to go."

Most people around Higgins in his hometown wanted him to go to Knoxville, but that didn't stop him from committing elsewhere.

UT has also recruited well in Jackson, Tennessee, which is the home of elite 5-star offensive tackle Trey Smith. Though the Vols are in the thick of that race, Clemson, Alabama and Ole Miss are at the top, too.

Clemson is a constant, nagging presence for the Vols, and it's a battle they're routinely losing. After all, Swinney's Tigers are one of the hottest names in all of college football right now, he's always been known for his recruiting acumen, and quarterback Deshaun Watson is throwing up huge numbers in Death Valley.

They've got that recruiting swagger, and it's a happening place for kids to go these days.

With the Vols and Tigers recruiting in the same circles, that hasn't been good news for UT. Clemson routinely has been a team Tennessee battled for prospects in recent years, but Swinney's team is easily the biggest villain for the Vols in this year's cycle.

This was supposed to be the year when Tennessee restocked the pantry with top-shelf talent. The Vols are losing a ton of quality, experienced players after this season, and the Vols have things set up for a huge year on the recruiting trail since they're able to sign a full class.

With arguably the best crop of in-state talent ever in the Volunteer State, things set up nicely. But Clemson is putting a huge paw print on those plans.

The Vols aren't devoid of recruiting momentum in the least, currently ranked 12th nationally with 17 commitments, but that class could look a whole lot better with some of those Tigers' pledges. Especially if Higgins was the centerpiece.

Rucker doesn't think UT fans should give up on the star target just yet, given the local pressure, even though he seems firmly committed.

 

Back in the 1990s, former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was one of the nation's most elite recruiters, and he regularly raided South Carolina for talent such as Albert Haynesworth, Darwin Walker, Shaun Ellis and Dominique Stevenson.

Those guys outfitted championship teams for a dominant program. 

Now, the Tigers are returning the favor, years later. These are players who could be cornerstones for UT's future, but if they stick with their pledges, they'll be playing in the ACC rather than the SEC.

"Balling out," the Greenville News' Scott Keepfer wrote after Higgins' commitment, "That’s pretty much what Clemson has been doing on the recruiting trails of Tennessee."

It's becoming a national story how Clemson is pilfering talent in a state Jones promised to batten the hatches on, and that's not positive publicity for the Vols' coach, who has built a ton of momentum in recruiting and in a steady uptick of the on-field product since coming to Knoxville.

Perhaps some of these prospects are taking a wait-and-see approach on whether the Vols are ready to back up what they've been selling these past few years in '16, as they're trying to go where the Tigers already are. Clemson is established, and given its easy schedule this year, it may be right back battling for the title.

In other words, this nemesis likely isn't going anywhere. 

The Vols are going to have to win on the football field to keep securing elite recruits, and it just so happens that so far in this year's cycle, they've failed to convince some of their top targets (who are also Clemson's top targets) that they're in as good a shape as the Tigers.

Jones is a dynamic recruiter, but so is Swinney. Considering UT is just now coming out of its decade-long slumber, hardly any of these in-state kids grew up thinking Tennessee was a national power.

Over the past three recruiting cycles, Jones has been able to convince star prospects within state borders—such as Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett, Todd Kelly Jr., Josh Malone, Drew Richmond, Kyle Phillips—that they're heading back to the top.

Those kids bought in; so far this year, the 2017 class of Tennessee kids haven't.

Maybe they're just wowed by Clemson's new-car smell. After all, the Tigers fell just short of beating hated UT rival Alabama for last year's national title. Swinney swooped in and sold Johnson that his system was a better fit for a pro-style passer, and the peer recruiting took over.

Rodgers and Higgins followed, and that left Tennessee in the cold for three of its most important pieces to the 2017 puzzle. That's recruiting, and Swinney played that game perfectly.

All is not lost for the Vols, however. Tennessee's class is off to a solid start, and with a big year on the gridiron possible, the Vols could build all the recruiting momentum they need by performing when it counts. It's July, after all, not February.

Most importantly, it's not yet September or October. That's when Jones and his Vols get the opportunity to really sell its product—when all those recruiting victories Jones won on the trail the past two years have the chance to shine when it matters most.

If they win those battles, they'll win their fair share in recruiting, and that includes ripping that Swinney-sized thorn from their side. 

For now, though, "Clemson" will remain a cringeworthy name around Tennessee recruiting circles. Unfortunately for the Vols, it appears it'll keep being a hot one with UT targets, too.

 

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

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

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The Opening 2016: Biggest Takeaways from Day 3

BEAVERTON, Oregon — Thursday was the last day when just quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends dominated the action at The Opening.

Those position groups held a workout for the third consecutive day in preparation for the seven-on-seven tournament beginning Saturday.

While they were busy practicing, the rest of the position groups—running backs, offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs—arrived in the metro Portland area.

With new players coming in and more action on the field, there were plenty of newsworthy nuggets to digest Thursday.

Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest takeaways from the third day of The Opening.

     

Nation’s Top ILB Drops Top 10

The public recruiting process of 4-star linebacker Anthony Hines III reached a new chapter when the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker chopped his list of 90 reported offers to 10. 

Hines released a top-10 video he put together by way of YouTube, and Auburn, Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and UCLA all made the cut.

After releasing a top 20 back in August 2015, he's whittled his list of suitors in half—with Auburn representing the only new program to enter into his list of finalists.

"It was tough, very tough," Hines told Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles. "A lot of schools were really close but didn't quite make [the top 10]. We'll see if the other schools continue to recruit me."

Hines, ranked No. 72 overall in the 2017 class, arrived in Oregon Thursday afternoon and dropped the video shortly after his arrival. He's a linebacker who finished his junior season with 205 tackles.

The next step? Hines is hoping his next big announcement will be a verbal commitment.

He is expected to be an early enrollee at the college he chooses.

"I want that to be the final step," he said. "I know it's going to be tough, though. If it's harder than what I think it'll be, I'll just cut my list down to a top three first."

    

Wide Receivers Benefit from Early Arrival

As we noted Tuesday, format changes to the event brought in tight ends and receivers early in an effort to gain more synergy on the offensive side of things.

Curtis Conway, a former NFL receiver on The Opening’s staff who now coaches young pass-catchers, is a big fan of getting his guys in with the quarterbacks.

“I think the biggest thing for a wide receiver is to be on the same page as the quarterback,” Conway told Bleacher Report. “You don’t want to come in the day before or the day of something like this and not have chemistry with the quarterback. That’s one thing about that pairing. You have to work together and develop that comfort zone.”

That chemistry has grown each day, as the players have earned more and more reps.

Working out the kinks and earning the trust of the quarterback are critical factors he believes will help his unit when the tournament begins.

“Last year, the difference was that the guy had to get wide open. Then, the quarterback might throw it, or he just threw it to the first open progression,” Conway explained. “Now, he may see a guy that is his first progression who may be covered, but he understands the guy can go get the ball since they’ve worked together the last two days.”

While he admits he’s been hard on his group and wants to see them perform well against the defensive backs, the former USC All-American and 12-year NFL veteran has noticed a trend of bigger receivers among this year’s crop.

He plans to work with them on the finer points of using their size to their advantage.

“Receivers come in so many different sizes, so you have to understand who you are and use who you are,” Conway said. “The bigger guys have to learn to use their bodies as a weapon, and that’s something they don’t really understand right now. But you can see them learning it. I’m recognizing that’s one thing I’m going to be focusing on moving forward.”

     

Gibbs Out to Reclaim 5-Star Status

Even though he’s making his second consecutive trip to The Opening, 4-star corner Deangelo Gibbs is treating it as a proving ground.

The 6’2”, 204-pound junior from Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia, is quick to note that rankings don’t mean much to him at this stage. He was one of a handful of players who dropped in the latest batch of 247Sports composite rankings, according to Chad Carson of 247Sports.

Still, the competitor inside of him is anxious to show why he’s worthy of being billed as one of the elite talents in the 2017 cycle.

“This is the biggest stage, and I want to compete and show my talent,” Gibbs said. “There’s nothing I can really say. I just have to go out and prove it on the field. Actions speak louder than words to me.”

He's the nation's No. 4 corner and No. 34 player overall and is scheduled to be an early enrollee at whichever school he chooses, so the time to make a decision is rapidly approaching.

However, Gibbs insists he’s in no rush to commit.

SEC members Florida and Tennessee were the last two schools to host the Peach State standout on campus. Those two programs, along with Auburn, Georgia and Miami, are among the schools he said are coming after him the hardest.

However, a powerhouse from the ACC has jumped into the mix for Gibbs and is hoping for an opportunity to get a visit from him before his senior season begins. 

“I want to get down to Florida State. I haven’t been down there yet. They’ve been in contact with me recently,” Gibbs said.

He doesn’t have any other visit plans but admits he has a “couple of ideas” for trips to potentially take in the fall.

He will take into account a few factors when making his decision.

“How I fit into the environment of the school and how I fit into the system at a school," he said. "I’m also looking at the opportunity to play early.”

     

2019 Phenom LB Excited to Meet 2017’s Top LB

Among the field of 166 athletes on Nike’s campus this week, class of 2019 linebacker Owen Pappoe has already done something no one before him has achieved.

The 6’0”, 200-pounder from Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia, is the first rising sophomore ever invited to the nation’s premier summer camp showcase, according to Bleacher Report’s Tyler Donohue.

Pappoe described the moment he found out that he made history.

“I was with a bunch of my friends and people started DM’ing me on Twitter. The guys [at The Opening] sent me the invitation and I was just super excited,” Pappoe said. "I want to be the first player to get here three years straight. Each year at the regionals, I’m going to come out and compete just like I did this year. I just want to compete.

Additionally, his arrival in Oregon will give him a chance to meet a player who is probably more familiar with his journey than most—2017 5-star linebacker Dylan Moses.

Moses has been a household name in recruiting circles since he was a freshman, and he’s making his second consecutive trip to The Opening.

“I’ve watched Dylan’s film a lot. It’s going to be nice to finally meet him. He was in a similar position I’m in now so that will be cool to pick his brain a little bit,” Pappoe said.

With more than 30 offers under his belt, Pappoe has already garnered attention from some of the nation’s top programs, including Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska and Tennessee.

The Volunteers were the last school to host him, and a trip to a Big 12 powerhouse is next up on his agenda. 

“I'll be visiting Oklahoma later this month,” he said.

      

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

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Jarrett Stidham to Transfer from Baylor: Latest Comments and Reaction

Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham announced Thursday he intends to transfer from the school:  

Stidham threw for 1,265 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions last year and projected to be the backup QB behind Seth Russell for the 2016 season. Baylor interim head coach Jim Grobe said the sophomore wasn't content to sit on the bench for the upcoming season, per John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald.

According to KWTX in Waco, Texas, Stidham will transfer to McLennan Community College, where he'll sit out the year so he doesn't lose any eligibility come 2017.

Stidham arrived with high expectations. He was the No. 2 dual-threat QB in the 2015 recruiting class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. The Stephenville, Texas, native was a perfect fit for then-head coach Art Briles' high-powered offense.

Everything changed following an investigation by law firm Pepper Hamilton into Baylor's handling of sexual assault allegations. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the school's board of regents announced in May it would move to terminate Briles' contract. The school reached a settlement with Briles in June to finalize his firing.

His departure resulted in upheaval on the recruiting trail. ESPN.com's Max Olson noted how many players Baylor lost from its 2016 class:

Stidham's transfer is arguably a far bigger blow. Even if he didn't win the starting job from Russell this year, he's only a sophomore, so he would've had two more years to lead the Bears offense. His performance last year following Russell's season-ending injury showed Stidham has a bright future in college football.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee assumes Stidham will have plenty of interested suitors when he's eligible to transfer again:

Sports on Earth's David Ubben foresees a reunion between Stidham and his former offensive coordinator down the line:

With Stidham gone, true freshman Zach Smith is the likeliest candidate to back up Russell in 2016. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Smith was the No. 16 pro-style QB in the 2016 recruiting class.

Should Russell go down with an injury again next year, the Baylor offense could be in serious trouble.

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Power Ranking the Top 25 Fastest College Football Players for 2016

Since this is an Olympic summer, the elite track athletes of the United States will get their biggest times to shine. This will be a season of speed, and that reaches into the world of college football, too.

A pair of Pac-12 football players went through the qualification process of making the United States' Olympic track team, and one of those speedsters still has a shot at making it to Rio.

With the Olympics set to run from Aug. 5-21 and an entire season of NCAA track times now officially in the books, let's revisit January's power rankings of the top 25 fastest college football players for the 2016 season. While a lot of fans and analysts like to compare 40 times to determine the fastest of the fast, 40s are unreliable due to different timing methods and track conditions.

In these rankings, I used the fully automatic time system used in official track and field records from sites such as Track & Field Results Reporting SystemTrack & Field News and DyeStat. In this countdown, I listed recent top track times for many of college football's fastest players.

The 100-meter dash was the most common measuring stick, although more great indoor times in the 60-meter dash and overall times in hurdles made the cut in this update (more recent times held more weight than old high school ones).

As Chris Huston of Heisman Pundit wrote in his similar columns from 2005 to 2014, there's no difference between "football speed" and "track speed." Speed is speed, and some players just do a better job of harnessing that speed on the football field than others. Some readers will disagree, and that's fine. But track times are the best way to objectively rank the fastest without a lot of opinion or guesswork. 

Now, let's take a look at this summer's updated list of the 25 fastest players who will play in 2016, ranging from speedy incoming freshmen to experienced veterans of the gridiron and the track. If you notice a missed time or an inadvertently left-off player, let me know in the comments section below.

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Oregon State Rape Victim Brenda Tracy to Speak to Baylor Football Program

Brenda Tracy, who two years ago told her story of surviving a gang rape by four football players, including two from Oregon State, will speak at Baylor University.   

Per Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, Tracy said that Baylor's acting head football coach, Jim Grobe, contacted her about speaking at the university: "I had talked to Coach Grobe. He's possibly going to invite other teams to come. I said, 'Yeah, invite as many [athletes] as you want.'"

Last month, Tracy spoke with Nebraska's football team, where Mike Riley is now the head coach. Riley coached Oregon State's football team when Tracy told police she was the victim of a gang rape in 1998. 

Per Nicole Auerbach of USA Today, Tracy shared the message she delivered to the Nebraska players:

I told them, "At one point I hated this man (Riley) more than my rapists. ... We talked about how it's OK to say sorry. It's OK to be accountable. It's OK to stand up and say, 'I didn't do something right,' or 'I did something wrong,' and move on from there. Sometimes when you wrong another person, all they really want is an apology."

Tracy made her story public when she told it to John Canzano of the Oregonian in November 2014. In May, as the Baylor sexual assault scandal was at its apex, she told Dodd the school needed to "get rid of everybody and shut down the football program for one year. I think they need to start over."

Baylor did take action by firing former head football coach Art Briles, reassigning president Ken Starr and letting athletic director Ian McCaw resign after ESPN's Outside the Lines released documents it obtained that detailed "largely unknown allegations of sexual assault, domestic violence and other acts of violence involving several Baylor football players."

Dodd noted that Tracy has also met with NCAA President Mark Emmert in an effort to get stronger legislation passed to prevent student-athletes involved in sexual assault from being able to play sports again during their collegiate careers.

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Michigan and Notre Dame Announce Home-And-Home Football Series

The long-running college football rivalry between Michigan and Notre Dame came to a screeching halt last season, but it will resume in 2018 and 2019 with a home-and-home series. 

Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated provided the schedule for the upcoming renewal of the feud between the Wolverines and Fighting Irish on Thursday:

Michigan currently leads the all-time series 24-17-1.

Michigan and Notre Dame's rivalry began in 1887, and prior to last season, they had clashed every year from 2002 through 2014.

Per Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News, it is likely that the new schedule between the teams will result in them playing each other in back-to-back years before taking two years off.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is hopeful the gap doesn't get any bigger than that:

Ideally, if we're just taking a step back and looking at it, we don't want a gap. It doesn't make sense to have a huge gap. There were other factors that forced that gap, that was the impending move to the ACC, the uncertainty of what the landscape of college football looked like and two ADs that were not on the same page. That has all changed. We have stable ground. We have two coaches who want to play. I think we're moving more toward something that makes sense. 

We want to play.

The Irish have been perennial contenders during Kelly's tenure, while the Wolverines are very much on the rise toward becoming one of college football's premier programs once again under the leadership of head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Although it hasn't been continuous, Michigan versus Notre Dame is one of the oldest and most storied rivalries in college football.

The fact that both teams are trending toward being in the College Football Playoff picture for a long time to come adds even more intrigue to the conflict, and it should make their meetings in 2018 and 2019 among the most highly anticipated games on the schedule.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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College Football's Top Go-To Wide Receivers for 2016

A go-to wide receiver is a quarterback's best friend, and the 2016 college football season will feature several targets who can shoulder a heavy burden on offense.

In clutch moments, a program's signal-caller will often identify this receiver as the first option. Of course, that might also mean the quarterback becomes fixated on the wideout throughout the game.

Whether or not heavily relying on one target is a good thing depends on an offense's style, but these are 10 of the best, regardless.

Overall production, targets, team target share and completion percentage each factored into the list, which includes most of the nation's premier non-power-conference receivers.

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No. 1 WR Donovan Peoples-Jones Making Statements On and Off the Field

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Being the nation's top-ranked wide receiver and the No. 6 player overall in the 2017 class is something Detroit's Donovan Peoples-Jones appreciates. But it doesn't motivate him. Rankings never have.

When Peoples-Jones is asked about his Top 10 national ranking and his 5-star rating, he rarely speaks of the subject with fanfare. He is well aware that he's a benchmark for other wide receivers and a target for defensive backs looking to prove themselves.

He also is a firm believer in actual performance over what's seen on paper.

That's what motivates him—transforming potential energy into kinetic energy and parlaying his efforts into something greater than him.

"It's a blessing and honor to be ranked so highly, but I have to realize that rankings are just temporary measurements," Peoples-Jones said. "Rankings don't matter unless you put in the work to solidify the ranking. I've got to keep working my hardest."

That's also what's frustrating him, at least for this week. A nagging hamstring injury has sidelined Peoples-Jones from much of The Opening activities thus far. He's hoping to be ready in time for seven-on-seven competition later this week.

The Cass Tech High School standout put rankings and ratings in perspective: If he truly is the No. 1 receiver in the 2017 class, he wants to be judged on what he does daily and not on what is said about him through evaluation.

Whether or not his actions will be temporarily on hold the rest of this week is still to be determined.

                                                                                                                                                     

Find flaws, correct flaws

Peoples-Jones may be his own worst critic—and that's not a bad thing, as he expects perfection each time he steps on the field. As a junior, he caught 39 passes for 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns. That's an insane 25.9 yards-per-catch average.

He has 23 reported offers but announced a top 10 via Twitter of Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC back in January. He said on Monday that those schools are still in play to ultimately land him.

Per Zach Abolverdi of SEC Country, Peoples-Jones is planning to take an official visit to Florida.

"The process is what you make of it," he said. "I've had a lot of people who have helped me out with the process. They told me to enjoy it while it lasts and to enjoy every minute of it."

Prior to the start of his junior season, Peoples-Jones made history at The Opening last year, becoming the first underclassman to win the Nike Football Ratings Championship. His ratings score of 149.49 was produced by impressive numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.42 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle (4.0 seconds), the power ball toss (42.4 feet) and the vertical jump (43.5 inches).

Even after earning his second consecutive invitation to The Opening in May, Peoples-Jones always has found ways to improve his game. And while it's his highlights that garner the majority of the attention, it's the flaws—and the heavy desire to correct them—that make him the elite athlete.

Correcting the errors from last year—or last month, or even last week—and then seeing the results from the tweaking holds more weight than any ranking to Peoples-Jones as a football player. Making plays to put his team in a position to win is something he enjoys doing.

Damon Griffin, one of the wide receivers coaches at The Opening, has watched the 6'2", 192-pound receiver emerge into a player who isn't afraid of growth. He remembers Peoples-Jones at last year's The Opening and sees a definite change in the athlete.

"He's a proven fact that you need technique. That was one of the reasons why I was excited to see him in comparison to last year," said Griffin, a two-time all-Pac 12 wide receiver selection at Oregon who played college ball from 1994-98 and spent four years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and St. Louis Rams.

"You could tell there was some fear then, and everything was kind of big for him, especially the complex things going on that didn't allow him to be the type of player he can be. He had all the athletic tools, but he needed to be a lot more technically sound."

Griffin has never been one to mix words, particularly with athletes who he sees potential in. Peoples-Jones took the constructive criticism to heart and made himself one of the most respected, coveted recruits in the 2017 class. He is the top-ranked receiver nationally over studs like Joseph Lewis, Tyjon Lindsey, Trevon Grimes and Tennessee commit Tee Higgins.

Additionally, Peoples-Jones plays with more confidence. He describes himself in three words.

"Strong, big, athletic," he said. And when asked if there was a defensive back who could keep him in check, he simply answered, "No, sir, I don't think so."

                                                                                                                                                  

Wins off the football field

Peoples-Jones receives plenty of love on the field, but it recently has been his off-the-field moves that've garnered the most attention. In April, shortly after the NCAA voted to ban satellite camps, he took to social media to voice his opinion on his displeasure with the decision. He stressed that he was a product of satellite camps and spoke highly of Sound Mind Sound Body, a camp he first began attending in middle school.

"I can't stress enough how much this camp has developed on and off the field," Peoples-Jones said in the message via Twitter. "This camp has taught me very essential life lessons that have helped solidify my foundation today."

Peoples-Jones' mother, Rozlyn Peoples, did her part in the manner by setting up an online petition to fight the NCAA's decision. The petition was just south of 15,000 supporters.

The NCAA's decision was on April 7. Three weeks later, the NCAA Board of Governors voted to overturn the decision on satellite camps. Peoples-Jones knows that it wasn't just his actions that forced the veto, but he also knows that his words didn't hurt the cause.

“We've taught a different discipline and work ethic and honor and humbleness, and it's done well for his character," his mother told 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong in October 2015.

Academics and a Christian-based faith also are a major part of his character. Peoples-Jones is an A student in the classroom, and he has an interest in the medical field upon graduating. As for his religious background, Peoples-Jones displayed what he called "God's work" on June 18.

"I'd just reached 10,000 followers [on Twitter], and I was just thinking of a way to spread positivity down my timeline," he said. "What better way to spread positivity than to have people tweet out Bible verses for a follow-back?"

He announced his proposition via Twitter, and the request received several responses. He even picked up a few new verses to use for motivation and spiritual gain.

"It was all about spreading the word," he said.

His favorite Bible verse is Luke 13:24, which can be paraphrased as living a good, prosperous life in the presence of Jesus Christ, as many will attempt to live and not be granted spiritual happiness.

Peoples-Jones is constantly focused on working to turn as many wrongs into rights as possible, and those words are perfect examples of the testimony he walks. Once he chooses a college to attend, that football program will see the kind of individual he is—as a wide receiver and as a person.

Currently, Michigan is the team to beat in Peoples-Jones' recruiting, according to prognosticators around the country. The Wolverines are trending in his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions.

And what is Peoples-Jones looking for in a winning program?

"No. 1, it's about academics," he said. "I want to go to a school with a good medical program and study sports medicine. No. 2, I want to play with the best, whether that means the best coaches or the best players. No. 3, I want to be in a comfortable environment."

 

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

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SEC Extra Points: What to Make of the Current SEC Championship Odds

Media days are just around the corner, fall camp is a month away and we are inching closer to the kickoff of the 2016 college football season.

Las Vegas and offshore oddsmakers have you covered.

Bovada (via Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk) released its odds to win each SEC division as well as the SEC Championship Game, and there are a few surprises in there:

The first thing that jumps out to me is the lack of love for defending SEC East champion Florida.

The Gators have 18-1 odds to win the SEC title? The same odds as Auburn and worse odds than Texas A&M? 

Really?

I'm not into giving unsolicited gambling advice. But here's some unsolicited gambling advice—throw a few bucks on Florida with those odds.

Head coach Jim McElwain and Co. have one of the best defenses in the country that includes stars like lineman Caleb Brantley, linebacker Jarrad Davis, safety Marcus Maye and cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson.

That's a foundation that Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss—all with better SEC title odds than the Gators and with more difficult paths to the SEC Championship Game out of the SEC West—simply can't boast.

That's not to say that those three SEC West teams won't be competitive. They will be. But Florida has a much better foundation to build off of, an easier path to Atlanta and has already tasted that success in McElwain's first year as a head coach

Do the Gators have questions? 

Of course. 

The offensive line was an abject disaster down the stretch last year, Kelvin Taylor was a reliable running back and the quarterback situation is still somewhat of a question heading into the 2016 season. But the struggles of the line last year should help the youngsters grow; the trio of Mark Thompson, Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett should be able to shoulder much of the load on the ground, and Luke Del Rio looked solid in the spring game when he completed 10 of 11 passes and tossed two touchdowns.

But it seems like the failed Treon Harris experiment during the final eight games of 2015 has left a sour taste in the public's mouth, which seems hesitant to buy into the Gators. Don't fall into that trap. They'll be the primary contender to presumptive favorite Tennessee in the SEC East. If they get to Atlanta, they'll only be 60 minutes away from cashing in on those long odds.

The other primary thing that jumps out is the expectation for LSU to bounce back from two subpar seasons for head coach Les Miles

There are plenty of reasons for that buzz, including the return of several key defensive players, the presence of new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and Heisman Trophy contender Leonard Fournette at running back. But LSU has its detractors—present company included—who aren't buying into this team being much different than last year's squad due to a rigid and ultraconservative offensive philosophy.

What isn't debatable, though, is that the high expectations that exist nationwide for the Tigers puts even more pressure on Miles—who nearly lost his job last November when his crew dropped three games and fell out of the national title race.

Would 9-3 with a loss to Alabama and no SEC West title keep Miles safe? At this point, I'd lean toward "no" due in part to the fact that those 7-2 odds to win the SEC title have raised expectations to a point where last year's late-season fade route is almost an afterthought this offseason.

Lastly, Vanderbilt should absolutely not be the least likely team to win the SEC East and the SEC title.

In fact, it shouldn't be anywhere near the cellar.

The Commodores finished fourth in the SEC East last year, boasted a defense that finished fourth in the nation in red-zone touchdown percentage (38.78 percent) and sixth in third-down defense (28.16 percent).

With a solid defense, a 1,000-yard rusher in Ralph Webb who accomplished that with virtually no help from his passing game and a newly established starting quarterback in Kyle Shurmur heading into fall camp, the Commodores aren't the worst team in the SEC. At worst, they're the fourth-best team in the East heading into the season.

   

It's Settled

Tennessee settled the sexual assault lawsuit brought forth by eight women for $2.48 million, according to Nate Rau and Anita Wadhwani of the Tennessean. According to the report, that figure includes legal fees.

As a result of the settlement, head football coach Butch Jones, athletics director Dave Hart and other administrators will not be deposed or face questioning for various aspects of the case. While the settlement doesn't put to rest the Title IX aspect of the case, it does put one huge aspect of the scandal in the rearview mirror and eliminates a few of the possible distractions that could have popped up this year for the Vols.

For Jones, that's important, because from a pure football perspective, he'd be the primary person associated with the football program who conceivably could be distracted during the ongoing case. 

The question I have for Tennessee is why did it come to this?

In the grand scheme of things, $2.48 million isn't that much money for a $126.6 million athletic department when you subtract legal fees and divide it among eight people. The plaintiffs also released a statement acknowledging that the university "has made significant progress in the way they educate and respond to sexual assault cases." If that's what it took to settle the case, why did Tennessee take so long to provide those concessions and let this drag on essentially all offseason?

Tennessee has rightfully been cast in an extremely negative light by the case during a year in which sexual assault allegations—particularly the Baylor case which resulted in the dismissal of head coach Art Briles—have been at the forefront of the national conversation.

The program could have saved itself a lot of national embarrassment by taking action a long time ago.

   

Sudden Depth

When former Oklahoma running back Alex Ross signed with Missouri last month as a graduate transfer, it was a welcome addition at a position that the Tigers desperately needed immediate help.

Why? At the time, it looked like junior college transfer Natereace Strong wouldn't make the required grades until January.

Yeah...about that.

According to Gabe DeArmond of PowerMizzou.com, Strong has qualified academically and enrolled at the school. 

Suddenly, Missouri's ground attack seems to be in good hands with Ross' home run-hitting ability and Strong—a 6'1", 210-pound former 4-star prospect at Hinds Community College—who is a pure all-purpose back that can handle the work between the tackles. 

Will it lead Missouri back to a bowl game?

That hinges on the offensive line's ability to protect and quarterback Drew Lock taking the next step. But Strong's presence on the roster provides a little stability to a position that desperately needed it about a month ago.

   

Year of the Linebacker

While the quarterback position might be at its most depressing state in recent memory, the linebacker position is the polar opposite.

NFL.com's Lance Zierlein ranked the top linebackers to watch during the 2016 college football season, and his list contains a distinct SEC flavor. His rankings were as follows: Florida's Jarrad Davis (No. 1), Alabama's Reuben Foster (No. 4), Tennessee's Jalen Reeves-Maybin (No. 5), Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham (No. 6) and LSU's Kendell Beckwith (No. 9).

The SEC boasts half of the top 10 linebackers in the country—without including Arkansas' Brooks Ellis, Mississippi State's Richie Brown, Alabama pass-rusher extraordinaire Tim Williams, Auburn graduate transfer T.J. Neal, Texas A&M's Otaro Alaka or Georgia's Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy.

I could list more, but I think you get the point.

While many will peg this as the "year of the running back" in the SEC with guys like Fournette, Georgia's Nick Chubb, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd, Auburn's Jovon Robinson in the fold, it's actually the "year of the linebacker."

And that battle isn't even close.

     

Quick Outs

  • Ryan Krasnoo of Sports Illustrated reported on Wednesday that, as a result of Michigan renewing its rivalry with Notre Dame, the Wolverines will be forced to cancel its scheduled home date with Arkansas. While it's great for the sport to have Michigan and Notre Dame square off, it would have been nice to see Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema return to Big Ten country. 
  • Auburn and Southern Miss announced games in Auburn on Sept. 29, 2018, and Sept. 26, 2020. While many will peg this as a "cupcake," the Golden Eagles were 9-5 last year and somewhat of a regional rival that would love nothing more than to knock the Tigers off. It's a solid out-of-conference matchup in seasons in which Auburn is still waiting to fill the Power Five mandate that the SEC requires.
  • Alabama linebacker Adonis Thomas, a redshirt freshman and former 4-star prospect from Lawrenceville, Georgia, will leave the program in search of more playing time, AL.com's Matt Zenitz reported. Thomas wasn't listed on my Bleacher Report colleague Christopher Walsh's post-spring depth chart projection, and would likely have been relegated to special teams work in 2016. Thomas is too talented to ride the pine, so it's no shock that he's seeking greener pastures. When you win five straight recruiting national titles like Alabama has, sometimes you can't keep all of your prospects happy.

   

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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Why Satellite Camps May Not Be for Ohio State and Urban Meyer Moving Forward

GENEVA, Ohio — Once he had settled into his new gig as the tight ends coach at UNC-Charlotte, Dean Hood approached Urban Meyer with a proposition.

"I told Urban, 'Why don't you come and do a camp at Charlotte," Hood recalled on Wednesday at his annual youth camp outside of Ashtabula, Ohio, which he co-hosts alongside his childhood friend, Meyer.

The Ohio State head coach wasn't interested.

"I'm tired of those satellite camps," Meyer responded. "I already do this many."

"Yeah," replied Hood. "But we can hang out for a day."

Meyer was catching on.

"That's a solid point," he relented.

The future of satellite camps remains very much up in the air—both from the standpoints of their legality in college football and overall cost-effectiveness for programs—but when it comes to the Buckeyes, it may take special examples like Hood's proposal for Meyer to make an exception moving forward.

After dabbling in the practice a year ago with a single camp in Florida, Ohio State expanded its efforts this summer throughout the month of June. But thus far, Meyer remains skeptical of the benefits.

If anything, he seems to see more harm than good.

"It's been tough," Meyer admitted. "You worry about our staff, you worry about burnout. At some point, when do you get to watch your kids play baseball? I know what I'm going to do: I'm going to watch my kid play baseball. I want our coaches to do that."

That may seem like a departure from Meyer's stance on satellite camps from the spring, when he joined Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh in the fight to keep the practice legal in the midst of what was ultimately a three-week ban that was both placed and lifted in April.

Back then, the three-time national champion head coach was adamant about college coaches being allowed to attend camps on other campuses, given how he used to benefit as the head coach at Bowling Green from being able to evaluate players at camps like Ohio State's.

But from that perspective, Meyer's viewpoint hasn't changed.

"It's a must for the non-Power Five [schools]," Meyer said. "We have the Ohio State camp and all the MAC schools are there. And they say there were over 100 scholarships offered in that camp alone, because not everybody can play at the Ohio State level."

What has changed, however, appears to be Meyer's stance on larger programs—like his own—setting up shop at camps across the country, promoting their brand and, yes, recruiting. Call it a case of keeping up with the Joneses, but as Michigan expanded its reach to nearly 40 camps, Ohio State increased its camp presence this summer as well, although admittedly on a smaller scale.

According to Meyer, the Buckeyes only attended "three or four" off-camps in June, but Rivals.com's Ryan Donnelly tracked at least nine summer stops for Ohio State staff members, including multiple trips to Florida and Texas, as well as camps in New Jersey and Georgia, in addition to hosting its own traditional camps in Columbus.

Last year, the Buckeyes first dipped their toes in the satellite camp waters with a trip to Florida Atlantic's campus in Boca Raton, while the annual Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit has been a summer staple for Meyer throughout his time at Ohio State.

Listening to Meyer, the lighter load certainly sounds like his preference—although he's never been one to let hard work stop him from doing what's best for his program.

"You have to do what you have to do to stay up in the world of recruiting," said Meyer. "But there's also an element of freshness with our staff, too. Those are all things we're going to evaluate, because this is really the first year we've done it in earnest."

When Meyer does do his evaluations, he may ultimately find the rewards don't outweigh the risks.

After all, even without the initial aid of satellite camps, the Buckeyes have managed to lay claim to the nation's top-ranked class throughout the majority of the 2017 cycle.

And despite its prominence on the satellite camp circuit, Michigan has seen minimal returns on its investment thus far, with June's worldwide tour drawing immediate commitments from just four total prospects over the course of the Wolverines' 2017 and 2018 classes.

Even in Michigan's 2016 class, the overall impact of Harbaugh's first "Summer Swarm Tour" was minimal.

"The satellite camps were a little overblown," Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell told Bleacher Report of the Wolverines' efforts. "They did get some players from those satellite camps, but they aren't the highest ranked players in their class. It wasn't this sweeping success that a lot of people think it was."

To satellite camp or not satellite camp?

For Meyer, the answer may be a happy medium, which includes his traditional stops in Cleveland and Detroit, in addition to cherry-picking trips to talent-rich states like Florida and Georgia. After all, the Buckeyes' 2015 trip to South Florida appeared to help in the recruitment of 5-star receiver Trevon Grimes, who 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections currently peg as an Ohio State favorite.

But continuing to follow the now-nationwide Sound Mind Sound Body tour across the country or adopting a June schedule that even remotely mirrors Michigan's? That certainly seems out of the question.

For now, Meyer will continue to weigh the pros and cons, but it already appears he's favoring less instead of more when it comes to satellite camps.

That is, unless a trip to Charlotte to see his buddy is involved.

 

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 and class ratings courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

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Is Christian McCaffrey or Leonard Fournette College Football's Best Back?

They’re so talented, yet so different. Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey are unquestionably college football’s top-two tailbacks, but their differences make them intriguing. As both enter their junior seasons, they’ve dazzled fans with their skill sets.

Fournette, LSU’s star back, runs with power and violence. McCaffrey, Stanford’s versatile superstar, moves with speed and agility and has tremendous versatility. As we prepare for 2016, it’s easy to see that, barring injury, they’ll be the top-two runners in America; after all, they’re the top returning rushers following Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry’s dash to the NFL.

But which runner is better? Fournette or McCaffrey? Their differing styles make it hard to choose, but here’s a look at which back will be college football’s best this fall.

As it turned out, all Christian McCaffrey needed was a chance. Two years ago, he had just 42 carries for 300 yards in a rather middling Stanford rushing attack. He showed promise near that season's end, carrying 11 times for 64 yards in a rout of UCLA and averaging 8.1 yards on seven carries in a Foster Farms Bowl romp over Maryland.

His 2015 debut was inauspicious (12 carries, 66 yards in a 16-6 loss to Northwestern), but once McCaffrey hit his stride, he never looked back. He rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 of Stanford’s final 12 games (rushing for 94 yards in a 38-36 win over Notre Dame). It’s no coincidence that the Cardinal went 11-1 in that stretch, won the Pac-12 and demolished Iowa in the Rose Bowl to cap the season.

He finished the year with 2,019 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. McCaffrey also led Stanford in receptions and receiving yards with 45 catches for 645 yards and five touchdowns.

Oh, and he was also a standout special teams player. He averaged 8.6 yards on 15 punt returns (including a 66-yard score) and 28.9 yards on 37 kick returns, including a 98-yard touchdown.

The 45-16 Rose Bowl rout of Iowa was a perfect showcase for his skills. On the opening play from scrimmage, McCaffrey took a screen pass 75 yards for a touchdown. He added a 66-yard punt return score and rolled up a bowl-record 368 all-purpose yards, with 172 on the ground and 105 through the air. He became the first player ever to surpass 100 yards rushing and receiving in a Rose Bowl game.

McCaffrey led the nation in all-purpose yardage and finished second behind Henry in the Heisman Trophy voting, with his Rose Bowl tour de force giving voters a reason to regret their choice.

Stanford director of sports performance Shannon Turley told ESPN.com’s David Lombardi that McCaffrey is Stanford's most unique player ever. 

“Christian is authoring his own binder,” Turley said. “He’s carving his own path. He’s unlike anybody we’ve ever had.”

Fournette arrived in Baton Rouge with the burden of hype. He was considered the nation’s consensus top recruit (247Sports), and he faced additional pressure as a New Orleans native playing for LSU, Louisiana’s flagship program.

2014 was an up-and-down beginning. Fournette managed just 18 yards on eight carries in his college debut against Wisconsin and didn’t get his first 100-yard game until the fifth week against New Mexico State, going for 122 yards and two scores.

He had five 100-yard rushing games, but he saved his best for last in the Music City Bowl against Notre Dame. Fournette carried 11 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns (including an 89-yard dash). He also returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in a 31-28 defeat, finishing his freshman season with 1,034 rushing yards and 10 scores.

That was good. 2015 was great. Even though LSU’s opener against McNeese State was cancelled by persistent thunderstorms, Fournette still rushed for 1,953 yards in 12 games, averaging 162.8 rushing yards per game. By comparison, McCaffrey played 14 games, averaging 144.2 rushing yards per game.

He reached at least 100 yards in 10 of 12 games, surpassing the 200-yard mark four times (against Auburn, Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and in the Alamo Bowl against Texas Tech).

Per Athlon’s Lance Dozier, Fournette had the third-most “explosive” runs (30-plus yards) in college football last season.

A seven-game stretch of 150-yard rushing games placed Fournette at the forefront of the Heisman Trophy discussion and thrust LSU into College Football Playoff discussion. However, when his team needed him most, Fournette was missing in action.

Alabama shut him down in a 30-16 defeat, yielding just 31 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. The following week, Fournette improved somewhat, going for 91 yards and a score on 19 carries in a 31-14 loss to Arkansas. The next week was more of the same; 108 yards on 25 carries in a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss.

Fournette wasn’t the same back, and he fell out of the Heisman race while head coach Les Miles nearly lost his job. He rebounded against Texas A&M and Texas Tech, going for a combined 371 yards and five touchdowns in a pair of victories.

As goes Fournette, so goes LSU. It’s also worth noting that as a freshman, he managed a combined 88 yards and no touchdowns on 26 carries in losses to the Crimson Tide and Razorbacks.

There’s no denying his raw talent and his ability to run around, over and through tacklers with a blend of power and speed. But Fournette’s track record in big games is a concern, and while he can catch balls out of the backfield (19 receptions for 253 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore), he doesn’t match McCaffrey’s marks there. He has also shown skills as a kick returner, but he didn’t return a single kick in 2015.

It’s a very close race, but McCaffrey’s wide skill base and overall consistency make him the nation’s best back. The best part, of course? We have all of 2016 to make a final decision, and that’ll be a lot of fun.

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Mackey Award Watch List 2016: Full List Released

The battle to become the nation's top tight end has officially begun. The NCAA released its watch list for the 2016 Mackey Award on Wednesday night, featuring a number of high-profile names and a few who should ascend to the forefront this season.

Michigan's Jake Butt, Alabama's O.J. Howard and Ole Miss' Evan Engram lead the charge in a solid group of pass-catchers who should be playing on Sundays a year from now. Clemson's Jordan Leggett, Virginia Tech's Bucky Hodges and Arkansas' Jeremy Sprinkle are among the notables on the full list of players, according to NCAA.com:

A day after being named the only tight ends on the Maxwell Award watch list, Butt and Howard are the prohibitive favorites here.

Butt emerged as a first-team All-American and All-Big Ten selection last season, setting a career high with 51 receptions for 654 yards and three touchdowns. He chose to return for his senior campaign rather than entering the 2016 draft, where he likely would have been picked within the first three rounds.

“I truly think that we can win it all,” Butt told ESPN in April, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. “I truly, truly believe that, and that’s where it starts. But it’s going to be one game at a time when the fall comes around. Just because spring’s over, we’re going to be working all summer just to improve our game. And Week 1, come Hawaii, we’ll be ready.”

Howard recorded 38 receptions for 602 yards and two touchdowns as a junior. Between Howard, Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart, the Crimson Tide have one of their most talented pass-catching corps in history. The tight end averaged the highest yards per reception among the three (15.8) and might wind up being the best pro among this class at his position.

"It was kind of a decision where I thought I have so much left on the table in college," Howard said of why he stayed at Alabama, per John Talty of AL.com. "How I can mature on and off the field. It really wasn't a hard decision at the end of the day. We thought about it a lot."

Engram saw his numbers take a dip from his sophomore to junior seasons, catching the same amount of passes but averaging 5.2 fewer yards per reception. His numbers were down in part due to improvements as a blocker, yet he's still a little slight for the next level. With Chad Kelly expected to take another leap under center in 2016, Engram should be in store for a bounce-back campaign.

Leggett was an underrated cog in Clemson's explosive offense last season. He caught eight touchdowns as a big red-zone threat as part of a 40-reception, 525-yard season. The ascent came seemingly out of nowhere, as Leggett more than doubled his receptions and yards from his first two years at Clemson.

Sprinkle will be hoping for a similar leap in performance as he replaces Chargers second-round pick Hunter Henry as Arkansas' primary tight end. He made 27 receptions for 389 yards and six touchdowns last season in a secondary role.

Hodges, meanwhile, will be hoping to build on solid freshman and sophomore seasons in a starring role. He put up 85 receptions for 1,056 yards and 13 touchdowns over the first two years at Virginia Tech, turning in nearly identical campaigns. If he hopes to catch the aforementioned guys ahead of him, it's time he realizes his immense potential.

The Mackey Award has typically resulted in a near-guarantee of playing on Sundays. Tim Stratton, the winner of the inaugural Mackey Award in 2000, is the only player not drafted after taking home the trophy. A majority of the others have been selected within the first three rounds. 

   

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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4-Star Nico Collins Explains Why Michigan Leads, Reveals 5 Official Visits

BEAVERTON, Oregon — The Michigan Wolverines continue to emerge as front-runners for one of the Southeast region's finest offensive talents.

Nico Collins, a 4-star receiver from Clay-Chalkville High School near Birmingham, Alabama, confirmed Michigan leads his recruitment shortly after a Wednesday morning practice session at The Opening.

The 6'5", 195-pound playmaker, one of 166 total athletes selected to compete through July 10 at Nike's world headquarters, admits things are rapidly moving in a positive direction with head coach Jim Harbaugh and company.

"There's a lot of stuff about Michigan" Collins told Bleacher Report. "That's an old-fashioned school...and the academics, they care about you after football, what you plan on doing after football. That, and football itself, plays a big role in that. ... The coaching staff, everything is just set up right up there."

Rated No. 13 nationally among receivers in composite rankings, he opted to go public about the Wolverines' spot atop his list after a May campus visit and ensuing conversations with his parents.

"They really loved it, and I really loved it," Collins said.

Collins claims more than 20 scholarship offers, including several from SEC and ACC squads. He never quite envisioned this much reciprocated interest between himself and a Big Ten team.

"I would never have thought [when I was] younger that Michigan, in the north, would be recruiting me right now," Collins said.

The Wolverines consistently targeted Alabama during the past two recruiting cycles under Harbaugh. Michigan currently carres a commitment from Yellowhammer State defensive back J'Marick Woods

Collins, who caught 60 passes for 1,103 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2015, described a family connection to the program and region during an April conversation with Shane Kinnee of The Wolverine Daily.

“I do have a lot of family in the state of Michigan,” he told Kinnee. “So that kind of helps out Michigan when they are recruiting me. My father having been a Michigan fan and from the state of Michigan plays a big role to me, but he knows it’s my decision.”

His evaluation of a potential future in Ann Arbor could alter dramatically at The Opening, where Collins continues to work alongside 5-star Wolverines quarterback commit Dylan McCaffrey as seven-on-seven tournament teammates.

He didn't undervalue the potential pull a premier passer could provide in his recruitment process.

"It plays a big part because that might be my quarterback the next three or four years," Collins told B/R. "He wants me there pretty bad, and I'm kind of loving Michigan. ... Having Dylan in my class at quarterback I know somebody will get me the ball."

While Wolverines fans ponder the possibility of a future duo, this pair will spend significant time together in Beaverton.

"It means a lot to me," Collins said. "I've talked to him every day in the hotel, just hanging out and talking to each other. We're building a relationship and getting kind of close to each other. Coming out here on the field, when it's time to shine, he's throwing the ball. Coming out here and hanging out with him is pretty fun."

McCaffrey, an Elite 11 finalist rated No. 2 nationally among pro-style quarterbacks, agreed these days at The Opening could prove pivotal.

"He's looking at me, seeing how I play, seeing if he can jell with me for the next four years, so I'm taking it like a tryout...like I'm getting evaluated by the top guys," he said.

McCaffrey is also joined on Team Hyper Cool by 5-star Detroit receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones—another primary Michigan target. Collins didn't dismiss the chance of an eventual reunion in Ann Arbor.

"It's a possibility...it can happen, really," he said. "It's a crazy duo. You don't know who to check. Me and him, you don't know who's going to get the ball."

Collins expects to use one of his five official visits at Michigan, spending the remaining trips closer to home. Planning is underway for alternative official visits to Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia.

The Bulldogs have made a strong impression since the arrival of first-year head coach Kirby Smart. Collins' multiple trips to Athens include the new regime's first spring game.

"I had to go up there and see what the new Georgia looks like after Coach [Mark] Richt left," Collins said. "What Kirby's doing with them, you know he's doing pretty good. He's got [5-star 2016 quarterback signee] Jacob Eason, [2016 Elite 11 finalist] Jake Fromm... those two are trying to get me up there to hang out with them."

Fromm identified the coveted Alabama pass-catcher as a priority target during Elite 11 finals.

"We gotta get Nico Collins," Fromm said. "He's a great receiver and one of those guys out there who can really make a big difference for us at Georgia."

Though Michigan leads, the Bulldogs are undoubtedly on Collins' mind.

"I could see myself there," he said.

Alabama provides serious competition within the SEC, though a crowded field of top-tier receiver recruits creates an interesting dynamic in Tuscaloosa. Devonta SmithJerry Jeudy and Jeff Thomas are fellow Opening competitors on the Crimson Tide's radar, and any could elect to take a spot in head coach Nick Saban's latest talent-laden class before Collins is prepared to pull the trigger.

Collins doesn't anticipate a commitment announcement until after he utilizes all five official visits. That could push a decision deep into the winter, though Alabama has made it clear this in-state stud is important for the long haul.

"[Receivers coach Billy Napier] said I'm a big priority for them," Collins said. "A big-sized receiver like me, on the outside playing the 'X' position. He said he's got a lot of big plans for me if I come. He really wants me to come, he’s saying how he could use me in different ways.”

Saban spoke with Collins last month, according to the receiver, and suggested he attend an upcoming BBQ event in Tuscaloosa. It remains to be seen whether Alabama will lock in another visit this summer.

Clemson is set to host Collins next week, while LSU is also under consideration as a preseason destination. Michigan may be the program to beat right now, but there's plenty of company in this widespread pursuit.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Brandon Martin Decommits from Auburn: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Class of 2017 JUCO 4-star wide receiver recruit Brandon Martin announced on Wednesday night he has decommitted from Auburn University:

His announcement came just five days after joining the school, per Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports.

Martin spent last season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where he never played a down at the school because he redshirted in order to get his grades up. Originally coming out of Prime Prep Academy in Dallas, Martin had signed with LSU, but wasn't able to attend the school due to his poor academic standing, according to Niebuhr. 

Per 247Sports' composite ratings, the 6'4", 205-pound receiver was ranked the No. 1 JUCO wide receiver prospect in the nation, the No. 2 overall JUCO recruit to come out of the state of Texas and the No. 6 overall JUCO player in the country. 

Despite his large frame, Martin's footwork makes him a solid route-runner and an even more difficult ball- carrier to bring down. 

He also uses his size to his advantage where he can simply shrug off would-be tacklers:

With Martin back on the market, there is a list of at least six teams that could be in contention to acquire the big receiver. 

Per 247Sports, he had previously received offers from Arizona State, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa State, Louisville and Mississippi State. So it's safe to say Martin will be hearing from a few possible suitors in the next few days.

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The Opening 2016: Biggest Takeaways from Day 2

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Wednesday was the second day of The Opening, and it was another day for the quarterbacks to get acquainted—and, in some cases, reacquainted—with wide receivers and tight ends.

Nike World Headquarters saw everything from talented football players to talented football players playing basketball. A morning session highlighted the day, and a slam-dunk contest featuring five athletes served as a solid break and precursor, of sorts, to a private afternoon session.

Wednesday featured roughly 40 athletes and was the last day before the rest of the 166 members of The Opening roster arrives in Beaverton. Here are some takeaways from Wednesday's action:

 

Nothing's changed: Martell about building Ohio State's class

The opportunity for quarterbacks to bond with wide receivers and tight ends two days earlier—something new to The Opening—is something quarterback Tate Martell is a big fan of, particularly as the nation's top-ranked dual-threat signal-caller.

The Ohio State 4-star commit has been connecting with recruiting targets old and new since first arriving in Oregon, and he's building chemistry on the football field in time for the upcoming seven-on-seven competition at The Opening. Martell on Wednesday was seen having fun with two targets Ohio State fans are well-aware of.

"I feel like I've gravitated toward Tyjon and Trevon a lot," Martell said of 5-star wide receivers Tyjon Lindsey and Trevon Grimes. "I think we're in a good position to land both of them, but we'll see how it turns out."

One thing about the previous workouts, Martell said, is that he's had a chance to bond with athletes who may not be considered targets to some. One guy Martell said he's looking to recruit is Joseph Lewis, another 5-star receiver who has been impressive since the start of The Opening.

"Hopefully we'll try to go after Joseph," Martell said. "He's such a good receiver. I think one of the only interceptions I've thrown in seven-on-seven was to Joseph playing safety. He's a baller, and obviously, I'd love to play with him at Ohio State. He's someone you would much rather play with than play against."

 

Can the SEC sway a Big Ten lean?

While Ohio State fans appreciate the work that Martell is contributing as a player-recruiter, some fans are hoping Grimes pulls the trigger and commits soon.

Grimes, representing revered St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, admitted that Ohio State is a leader, but there's one school that is doing a solid job in recruiting him and keeping him as a priority.

"Florida's really been on me," Grimes said. "My quarterback at my school [Jake Allen] is committed there. We have a great connection. The coaches are phenomenal, and the facilities are phenomenal. I have class with [Allen], and he pushes Florida to me. They definitely fulfill everything he's said about them."

Florida is in the running, but many believe it'll be tough to sway Grimes from Ohio State. Grimes is a heavy lean to Ohio State, according to his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions.

Grimes, who recently released a top six of Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and Miami, reiterated that he will make an verbal commitment on Aug. 24. Grimes added that he may cut his list to three schools in roughly three weeks.

"That's the start before my senior season," he said of the date. "I want to get it over with before my senior season so I can focus on my team and my school and winning another state championship."

 

Friends first, rivals later with QBs Robison, Ehlinger

Watching 4-star quarterbacks Chris Robison and Sam Ehlinger in Oregon has been a bit of comedic relief. The two are good friends, and they love cracking jokes on each other.

Their friendship happens to be enhanced with their college futures. Robison is an Oklahoma commit. Ehlinger is committed to heated rival Texas.

"We mess with each other and talk crap to each other about the rivalry, but at the end of the day, it's all fun and games," Ehlinger said. "We're out here competing against each other but also making each other better. I look forward to competing against him in the future."

Robison added: "Since we're both from Texas, and since people from Texas love being with other people from Texas, I think that bonds us. Even though we're going to be rivals, we're still going to be good friends, even through the rivalry."

The annual Red River Rivalry pitting the Longhorns and Sooners could be the major talking point between the two friends for the next few years. For now, the topic of discussion is The Opening, being a part of the Elite 11 and ultimately competing for quarterback MVP honors of the week.

Whatever happens, know that both athletes hold each other in high regard, and both are each other's biggest supporters.

"He's a dog. He can do anything on the field," Robison said of Ehlinger. "He can throw, he can run, plus he's a big dude. Off the field, he's a great person. You can talk to him about anything."

Ehlinger, in discussing Robison, said: "He's very fluid. He's like an artist; it's all artistic to him. He flows very well, and everything looks really good."

 

Impressive in workouts, TE Falo still wide open

At first glance, Josh Falo passes the eyeball test. At 6'5" and 227 pounds, he looks like the guy coaches would love to incorporate into their passing games.

Falo, the nation's No. 5 tight end, was hard to miss in Tuesday workouts, and he didn't disappoint on Wednesday. Falo claims 23 offers and said he's looking to trim his list soon.

"I was thinking about making a top 10 or top 15 before my season and then cut it down to a top five during the season," Falo said. "There might be a possibility that I commit during or after the season."

Falo said he isn't in any rush to make any major decisions and is enjoying the process altogether. He added that schools like Oregon, USC, Michigan, Colorado, Alabama, Nebraska, Auburn and Arkansas are the ones he hears most from.

"There are a lot of schools busting their butts to get me, and that means a lot to me," he said. "But at some point, I know I'm going to have to cut it to just one school."

Falo said he doesn't have a current favorite and is going to use the end of the summer to finalize his official visit schedule. His definition of a winning school is pretty cut and dry.

"I want a great football program and a great school for academics," he said. "I'm also looking at the environment and how the people are."

 

Superman rises: Reagor wins B/R Dunk Contest

The Bleacher Report Dunk Contest took place Wednesday afternoon, and Oklahoma wide receiver commit Jalen Reagor walked out of the gymnasium as the contest's winner. Reagor competed against wide receiver Devonta Smith, Wisconsin flex tight end pledge Jake Ferguson and the Clemson commitment duo of quarterback Hunter Johnson and wide receiver Tee Higgins.

Reagor competed in the finals against Smith, a springy athlete who opened the contest with an impressive double-pump slam through the legs. Reagor, however, captured the title with the help of his final attempt, a dunk over a Bleacher Report barrier.

Reagor may have further intrigued the judges when he put on a Superman shirt before attempting his final dunks. The Waxahachie, Texas, standout is the son of former NFL defensive lineman Montae Reagor.

 

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

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Urban Meyer Comments on Possible Underclass Combine for NFL Draft Prospects

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is formulating a plan with other coaches and the American Football Coaches Association that would allow college football's underclassmen, who are mostly juniors, to work out for NFL scouts without losing their NCAA eligibility, per Zac Jackson of Pro Football Talk. 

Meyer believes that these young football stars and NFL teams aren't getting proper information. For the players, it's whether to enter the draft. Those who are willing to take that leap of faith and then aren't drafted face the realization that they can't return to college on their football scholarship.  

For the teams, they aren't able to get too close to these prospects and get a full read on their potential.

"It’s not a process that’s well done right now,” Meyer said. “There’s a rule that says the NFL can’t look at juniors. Well of course the NFL [scouts] are going to look at a junior. And they should look at a junior."

Of the 12 Ohio State players selected in the 2016 draft, seven were underclassmen. A total of nine Buckeyes underclassmen declared for the draft:

Meyer has spoken about this combine to University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who along with Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema expressed a desire to tap into the younger players' class back in May, via Jackson.

Meyer broke down the mission of this kind of workout session:

We’re going to try to get something where there’s a time those [scouts] can actually come in and they can work out the juniors. Because information is good. [The players] are getting their information somewhere, so why not get it from the experts — the scouts, the general managers, people who have the right information? They’re getting it from agents and they’re getting it from wannabes, and that’s not good information.

An open system that would allow this kind of event could eliminate a lot of mystery surrounding these younger players, which could cut down on potential busts.

It will give teams a chance to bring their best personnel and evaluators to formulate an opinion instead of building them off agents and people close to these prospects who are nothing more than glorified hype men. 

More importantly, it gives college players a second chance to return to college instead of risking it all for a shot at the pros that they might not be ready for. 

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Deon Jones to Maryland: Terrapins Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Maryland strengthened its secondary in a big way for the next few years on Wednesday after securing the commitment of 4-star recruit Deon Jones, per Rivals.com's Adam Friedman

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Jones is the No. 13 cornerback and No. 105 overall in the 2017 recruiting class. He's also the third-best player from the state of Maryland.

Counting the number of top schools that didn't offer Jones a scholarship is nearly as easy as keeping track of those who did. He had heavy interest from Clemson, Auburn, Ohio State, Florida State, Florida, Michigan State and UCLA, among others, per 247Sports.

Listed by 247Sports at 6'1", Jones has ideal height for his position. Being under 6'0" doesn't exclude a player from playing cornerback, but it can make his job a little bit harder, especially when he's covering taller receivers.

Jones' weight does present a bit of an issue. His 180 pounds stretched over his 6'1" frame could serve as a bit of a detriment when he looks to get physical with an opposing wide receiver. It's a problem he could easily remedy once he arrives at Maryland and the team puts him on a regular training regimen.

Strictly in terms of talent, Jones can be a potential all-conference or even an All-American cornerback at the next level.

He doesn't possess blinding speed but can quickly close on a wideout as a result of his short-yardage acceleration. For the most part, Jones excels in man coverage, smothering his opposite number.

Jones still has a lot of room to grow. Like most high school juniors—even those of the blue-chip variety—his technique leaves a little to be desired at times. He can also sometimes float out of position to the extent he takes himself out of the play completely.

There's no question, though, that Jones should become a tremendous cover corner in college. He has the physical tools you can't coach—height and reach—which make his flaws all the more manageable. A coaching staff can iron out most of the wrinkles in Jones' game.

Ideally, Jones will be allowed some time to grow upon joining the team. He could potentially be an auxiliary cornerback in nickel packages, but the Terrapins might want to let their home-state product learn as he goes with early playing time as a means of expediting his development.

 

Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Top Uncommitted QB Recruit Jack Sears Opens Up on Visits, Decision Timeline

BEAVERTON, Oregon — The lone uncommitted recruit in a talented 2016 Elite 11 class, Jack Sears understands college coaching staffs may be growing a bit antsy in anticipation of his pledge.

"Schools made it clear to me they're kind of waiting to see where I go before they pursue other quarterbacks," he told Bleacher Report. "They definitely want to figure things out, but I'm not feeling pressure." 

Rated No. 10 nationally among pro-style passers, Sears is in the final stages of sorting through options. He told B/R the plan is to announce his intentions sometime this month, in advance of one final summer training camp at San Clemente High School in Southern California.

"I want to get it done so I can focus on this senior season with my team," Sears said.

The 6'3", 200-pound prospect is currently competing for Elite 11 MVP honors at The Opening, an invite-only player showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton. It's the latest travel endeavor for Sears during a busy start to summer break. 

Since claiming a spot at The Opening at Elite 11 finals during the first weekend of June, his itinerary includes stops at Texas A&M, Tennessee, Duke and North Carolina. Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin added 4-star quarterback Kellen Mond to his class soon after that visit, giving Texas A&M two pledges at the position this cycle.

It was Sears' second time at Duke and Tennessee, allowing him to develop an expanded impression of each institution.

"The purpose of that second trip was about getting more situated and comfortable with the staff," Sears said. "I wanted to see what it's like to be a student and an athlete there on a day-to-day basis."

Utah is another out-of-state program that has caught his attention. Former San Clemente quarterback Travis Wilson started for the Utes in recent years.

Though Sears enjoys life on the West Coast, he would welcome a change of scenery if an ideal opportunity presents itself.

"Those schools are all different environments than Southern California, which is nice because college should be a separate experience from what you're used to," Sears said. "It was nice to meet the coaching staffs, get on campus and see how I would fit in there."

Closer to home, UCLA and USC remain in the mix. Both programs have yet to claim a quarterback commitment this cycle, hosting Sears multiple times along the way.

"They're both phenomenal schools with great coaching staffs and traditions," he said. "The question is, when I step on both campuses, where do I feel most comfortable? That's probably what it's going to come down to."

The Bruins claim all three commitment projections in Sears' 247Sports "crystal ball," though he presently has stronger personal ties to the Trojans. Sam Darnold, a 2014 Elite 11 finalist who was his predecessor behind center at San Clemente, is nearing his second season with USC.

"It's great having Sam there because I know I can trust him to give me his thoughts straight up," Sears said. "He always talks about how much he loves it there."

Aside from possible last-minute trips to USC or UCLA, he doesn't anticipate visiting any more schools before reaching a decision. He aims to use these remaining days of his recruitment to evaluate pros and cons for each situation.

"You have to make sure you're going to a school for the right reasons because a lot can change while you're there," Sears said. "The coaching staff can change, players can transfer out. It's kind of a cliche, but where can you see yourself going if you weren't playing football? That's what I try to follow."

Sears, who threw for 2,697 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2015, will refocus on recruiting after The Opening. While every other Elite 11 finalist identified his collegiate destination earlier in the process, he is completely content with his approach to this point.

"I like to go down my own path, and that's exactly how I'm handling the recruitment process," Sears said. "I know some quarterbacks have been committed for more than a year now, but I'm OK with taking my time while finding the right fit. I want to make my decision once, stick with it and have that be my home for the next four or five years."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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