NCAA Football News

SEC Football: 16 Most Anticipated Games for 2016 Season

The 2016 slate of college football games involving SEC teams includes some of the biggest rivalries in the country and some of the games that will shape the College Football Playoff picture.

Whether it's Week 1, Week 13 or somewhere in-between, you're bound to find a game every week that means something very important.

Which games are the most anticipated of the 2016 season? Our 16 best games based on national importance, division championship implications, bragging rights and revenge are in this slideshow.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 5-Star LB Tracking Schools That Keep His Mom Informed

The month of June could be one loaded with recruiting news this year. With on-campus camps, nationwide satellite camps and unofficial visits on tap for multiple athletes, the headlines in recruiting could see a major uptick.

There are many athletes looking to finalize their college plans before the start of their senior season. On the other hand, there are those athletes using this time to further gain research on programs in order to make an informed decision in time for national decision day. And then, there are the already committed athletes using the summer season to put on their recruiter caps and help land some of the best uncommitted targets around.

Here are some updates on some of the nation's top athletes.

 

Best way to recruit 5-star Browning? Keep mom updated

Here's the good news for colleges: 5-star linebacker Baron Browning is still wide open and entertaining all opportunities.

For someone claiming 40 offers, that's a big deal.

"People are still trying to see where I'm at, but I'm really neutral," said Browning, a one-time Baylor commit and the nation's No. 2 outside linebacker and No. 14 overall player in the 2017 class representing Kennedale, Texas. "I'm just chilling; I don't have any favorites. Right now, I'm focused on finishing strong and competing this summer."

Browning, who will participate at The Opening next month in Beaverton, Oregon, is monitoring every school interested, and part of the monitoring process involves the happiness of his mother, DeKisha Browning. For Baron, it's simple: Make a good impression with mom, score high marks with him.

Currently, Ohio State has been the school to impress Browning's mother the most. Browning said head coach Urban Meyer and linebackers coach Luke Fickell have been very good at making Browning's mother a major part of the recruiting process.

"Of all the schools recruiting me, they're the only school that's really tried to talk to my mom," Browning said of Ohio State. "Coach Meyer and Coach Fickell have made sure to keep my mom in the loop with everything. My mom said it's her favorite school, because they're the only ones who keep in touch.

"With my mom, she wants to know if her baby will be OK wherever I go. When I was on my visit [at Ohio State], Coach Fickell made sure I sent pictures while I was there. They wanted her to know everything I was doing."

Ohio State is a trip Browning said he plans to make with his parents during the program's Friday Night Lights camp next month. Browning added that he'll be at Notre Dame this week for the annual Irish Invasion, and he'll make upcoming trips to Michigan and Florida State.

As for a decision, look for him to finalize his college plans before January.

"I thought I was going to make [a decision] soon, but I'm just not ready," he said. "It may happen around November, because I still want to graduate early. There's no exact day right now, but it'll happen."

 

Florida QB commit targeting 3 for 2017 class

It was a productive weekend for 4-star Florida quarterback commit Jake Allen. After competing at the Elite 11 Finals, Allen now sets his sights on building a Gators 2017 class that has room for improvement.

Allen, from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is one of two 4-star pledges in the class, the other being wide receiver Daquon Green. Allen said he is targeting three athletes who will give the class a major boost—three athletes who are expected to challenge for immediate playing time wherever they end up.

"I've got to have Kai-Leon Herbert, Alex Leatherwood and Donovan Peoples-Jones—two great tackles and another great receiver to work with," Allen said. "Kai is an extremely athletic tackle. I know he'll protect me. I played my sophomore year with Kai [at Cardinal Gibbons High School], so I know he'll have my back.

"Donovan's off the charts with his athleticism. I want a guy like that going up to get the ball. Plus, he'll run by people. Alex is a freaking wall. I know he loves the game, and I know that dude isn't afraid of anyone."

Leatherwood, a 5-star offensive tackle, is an Alabama commit who keeps Florida on his list of schools. A Pensacola, Florida, resident, Leatherwood reportedly took an unofficial visit to Florida over the weekend. Herbert, a 4-star tackle, is a player who has had Florida a front-runner for a long time.

The wild card will be Peoples-Jones, a 5-star receiver who is looking at Florida, as well as Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida State and Alabama, among others. Peoples-Jones is the nation's top-ranked receiver in the 2017 class.

"I definitely want them all on my team," Allen said. "We can do some things."

 

A half-dozen offers for interior OL Emmanuel

For Waxhaw, North Carolina, 3-star interior lineman Dmitri Emmanuel, having a half-dozen offers—compared to some having several dozen offers—can be viewed as more of a blessing than a curse. Emmanuel has been able to give his six offers—North Carolina, Wake Forest, Charlotte, Syracuse, Boston College and Old Dominion—a thorough review.

The winning school will get a fast-rising interior lineman who can play both guard and center effectively.

"I'm very lucky to be in this situation in the first place," Emmanuel said. "A lot of people aren't able to get some of these colleges, so it's really an honor for me. I'm still waiting on a couple more schools before I decide anything, but looking at all the schools right now, I'd say I have a pretty good offer list."

Emmanuel, whose first offer was from Old Dominion, said he hears from Wake Forest, North Carolina and Charlotte the most. He visited Wake Forest over the weekend for a one-day camp and is scheduling a visit to Tennessee this week for a day camp.

Additionally, Emmanuel said he is looking at attending an upcoming satellite camp in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring Penn State, Florida and Appalachian State. He also will take in on-campus camps at Syracuse and Virginia Tech next month.

"I'm just looking for a place that I can call home," Emmanuel said. "I want to be somewhere where my family and I will think is best for me the next couple of years. I want a place with a good tradition and someplace where I can bond with teammates."

 

Wazzu QB commit hoping to call twin a teammate

Wilsonville, Oregon, 3-star quarterback Connor Neville committed to Washington State on April 2 and has been on a nonstop prowl to recruit new talent for the Cougars.

Neville said he's got his eye on a few targets, including California 3-star athletes Nick Pickett and Chris Brooks and Sherwood, Oregon, 3-star hybrid outside linebacker David Morris, a recent Oregon State commit whom Neville would like to see playing safety for the Cougars.

Neville said he is a fan of the direction of Washington State's 2017 class, but there's one person he would be elated for head coach Mike Leach to take a shot on. It's someone Neville may know better than anybody.

"My brother is slowly starting to blow up," Neville said of Jonny Neville, Connor's twin and a 6'4", 200-pound wide receiver who can also line up as a flex tight end in the right system. "When I got my first offer from Boise State, I told my mom that one day, Jonny's going to blow up more than me.

"Washington State said if he did good at their camp, they'd probably offer. He's been working really hard, and he's one of the hardest workers I know. Him getting a Washington State offer would be awesome."

The brothers have chemistry on and off the field. They connected regularly as juniors on the field, leading Wilsonville to a 10-2 record. Per MaxPreps, Connor threw for 3,110 yards and 37 touchdowns. He completed 199 passes, and Jonny caught 45 of those for 813 yards and 13 touchdowns.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R 5th Down: Ohio State's New Throwback Jerseys and More

Editor's Note: Bleacher Report's 5th Down captures the top social media college football stories of the week. As this long, bitter offseason continues, we'll focus on moments from the schools, coaches and players that kept us entertained as we wait for actual college football to make its highly anticipated return.

 

1. First look at a centennial throwback for Ohio State

A recruit's father somewhat spoiled the surprise for Ohio State's newest alternate uniforms, which are throwbacks to the Buckeyes of 100 years ago.

During 5-star cornerback commitment Shaun Wade's visit to Columbus over the weekend, Wade's father posted a picture of a new uniform to FacebookAndrew Lind of the Tidewater News later confirmed that the uniform in Wade's picture was Ohio State's alternate for the 2016 season.

According to Alex Gleitman of 247Sports, the uniforms resemble the ones worn by Ohio State around the time of its 1916 conference championship—the first in the Buckeyes' illustrious football history. 

This look is a return to the trend of Ohio State alternate uniforms that were based on great Buckeye teams of the past but have sleeker, modern updates. Last year, the Buckeyes went with an all-black look for their alternates.

The throwbacks will certainly be eye-openers in today's college football landscape, but they're still sharp. Whenever Ohio State wears these this fall, it'll be a visually appealing blast from the past.

 

2. Jim Harbaugh's simple satellite camp salutation and impressive jersey collection

In addition to his war of words with Alabama head coach Nick Saban and anyone else who dares to cross him, Jim Harbaugh is keeping himself quite busy with Michigan's huge number of satellite camps.

And in true Harbaugh fashion, he isn't doing things the normal way.

At a camp last week, Harbaugh introduced himself to new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart—who was the target for one of his numerous Twitter barbs earlier this offseason—as just "Harbaugh."

Harbaugh made his peculiar greeting to Smart and coached the camp in Atlanta while wearing a Hank Aaron baseball jersey (Harbaugh even met with Aaron in Atlanta as well as Michigan native and retired pro wrestler Scott Steiner, creating the most surprising collection of individuals in football camp history).

Instead of going shirtless like he famously did last summer, Harbaugh is going with a variety of jerseys on this year's satellite camp tour:

When he led a satellite camp in Florida with one of his former Stanford assistants, USF head coach Willie Taggart, he wore one of the Bulls' bright alternate jerseys with Taggart's name on the back:

Harbaugh saved the best of the week for last. On Sunday, he rocked an Allen Iverson Philadelphia 76ers jersey that was tucked into his famous khakis during a camp at Old Dominion, which is located in Iverson's home state of Virginia:

We're hitting the grueling stretch of the offseason with three months to go, but Harbaugh is showing no signs of slowing down. There's no telling what he'll say—or wear—next as Michigan continues its barnstorming tour of the country.

  

3. Deshaun Watson gets dunked at Elite 11 Finals

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is usually on the right side of an accurate bullet pass. But during this weekend's Elite 11 Finals, the 2015 Heisman finalist had to pay the consequences of another quarterback's impressive throw.

Watson, a coach at the high school quarterback competition in California, sat on the dangerous ledge of a dunk tank as 3-star recruit Jake Haener took aim. The California native fired a beautiful ball from an impressive distance that hit the target perfectly, causing Watson to splash down below:

The dunk tank toss was part of what was an impressive opening day for Haener, who was one of the lesser-known recruits at the event. According to Luke Stampini of 247Sports, Haener "threw the ball with great velocity and accuracy from start to finish" and picked up a scholarship offer from Florida Atlantic.

Haener doesn't have an offer from a Power Five school yet, but he'll have a chance to turn some more heads across the country after his dunking of Watson went viral.

 

4. Former Alabama RB Kenyan Drake approves of Ole Miss' new field

In 2014, Kenyan Drake suffered a gruesome leg injury on Ole Miss' artificial turf field. But after making a full recovery and helping lead Alabama to a national title, the former Tide running back can joke about a big change coming to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

After the Ole Miss Athletic Foundation tweeted a picture of a new grass-field installation at the Rebels' stadium, Drake sent out his appreciation of the switch:

It's good to see that Drake, who was selected in the third round by the Miami Dolphins in April's NFL draft, can draw some humor out of his unfortunate injury. Drake's ankle injury was one of the worst-looking of the last few years in college football, but he's back to burning up the field with his trademark speed.

If anything else, Drake's tweet gave Alabama and Ole Miss fans some more fuel for their rivalry fire ahead of the Rebels' quest for three straight wins over the Tide later this fall. 

 

5. You can already see the field outline for the "Battle at Bristol"

Here's a great sign that college football is getting closer: Satellite images show field preparation for one of 2016's biggest neutral-site contests.

As Andrew Holleran of College Spun pointed out, aerial shots from Google Maps of Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee currently show field lines at the famous race track. Tennessee and Virginia Tech are set to play in the first "Battle at Bristol" on September 10:

Holleran also noted the speedway sits 150,000 fans in its grandstands, and there's enough room around the football field for even more seating.

The unique matchup between the Volunteers and the Hokies should completely smash attendance records for a college football game, and these images serve as a reminder that we're getting even closer to kickoff.

 

6. Will Muschamp's dry humor is still on point

New South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp knows it's good to be able to crack jokes about yourself from time to time. 

At the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, this past week, Muschamp stole the show with a few great one-liners. When he was asked about facing former employer Florida in an SEC East showdown later this year, Muschamp kept it real:

The defensive-minded head coach had major issues with offense during his time with the Gators, and Gamecock fans are hoping those won't be repeated in Columbia. Muschamp has a simple plan to make sure that doesn't happen again:

According to James Crepea of AL.com, Muschamp was also asked about a joke he reportedly told about how one gets a graduate degree from Auburn, where he served as a defensive coordinator for the second time last year. He didn't totally deny it:

For a coach who is mostly known for his fiery personality on the sidelines, Muschamp's wit is underrated. It's not at the level of his legendary predecessor at South Carolina, but who can compare with such greatness?

 

7. Pitt QB Nate Peterman joins the trick-shot parade

The offseason of trick shots from college quarterbacks continued across Memorial Day weekend with several Big 12 passers tossing balls to receivers on jet skis. 

Later in the week, new Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman submitted his own highlight reel of trick shots with the help of head coach Pat Narduzzi:

Peterman's tape stands out because of the landmarks around Pittsburgh and the wide variety of tricks he uses. He throws balls over a fountain and off a bridge—celebrating the latter with a perfect cannonball into a river—before knocking water bottles off a teammate's head and pinging passes off goal posts.

The former Tennessee quarterback even gets his wife involved in the action, perfectly striking a soccer ball that she rainbow flicks into the air.

The video ends with "To Be Continued," so keep your eyes peeled for more of this Panther passer this offseason.

 

8. Colorado DC Jim Leavitt needs to work on his belly flops

Let's go from cannonballs to belly flops as the summer starts to heat up across the country. Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt could use more work in the latter category.

The former USF head coach posted a video of his attempt in the finals of a belly flop competition, and things did not go well at all:

(Shout out to the girl sitting closest to the pool after Leavitt hits the water. She has the perfect reaction to the lopsided splash.)

Leavitt also tweeted a photo of the aftermath, and you can almost see the disappointment in his submerged face:

A defensive coordinator such as Leavitt should know you just can't lead with your head anymore. Come on, Coach.

 

9. And, finally, ULL players endure the toughest wall sit of all time

Imagine doing a classic wall sit. Feel the pain starting to build up in your legs as times drags on forward. Put yourself in some tough early summer heat, too.

Now imagine doing this wall sit with a weight plate on your lap. And if that's not enough, picture your strength and conditioning coach standing on that plate.

For several members of UL-Lafayette's football team, that insane exercise was a reality, as strength and conditioning coach Lew Caralla walked across the Ragin' Cajun players' laps. 

The pain is evident in the expression of the player getting stepped on—the fifth from the left. The one immediately next to him is already bracing for what's about to come. 

Caralla doesn't look like a big guy, but those sits have to be insanely tough. Hopefully all of that will pay off for the Cajuns this fall as they look to bounce back from what was a rare losing season in 2015.

 

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report, and he wants to see Jim Harbaugh wear a DeMarcus Cousins jersey when Michigan is in Boogie's hometown of Mobile, Alabama, later this week. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Burning Summer Camp Questions for 2016 College Football Season

If you’re missing college football, take heart. We’re less than three months away from the beginning of the 2016 regular season, which kicks off on Friday, August 26, when Cal takes on Hawaii in Sydney, Australia, and gets going in earnest for everyone else the following week.

In reality, however, the game has become a year-round sport between recruiting, spring football, league meetings, expansion speculation and Jim Harbaugh subtweeting opposing coaches on his Twitter feed. There’s no break, and there’s always time to speculate about what lies ahead.

That’s what we’re doing here. Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest burning questions that will set fans’ minds ablaze this summer as we prepare for the 2016 season.

Have an opinion? Let us know in the comments!

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Tennessee Football: Recapping the Biggest 2016 Offseason News So Far

Just because it's been a relatively quiet couple of months for the Tennessee football program doesn't mean this offseason has been devoid of big news. As a matter of fact, it's been just the opposite.

Heading into a 2016 that could signify a return to competing for championships for the Volunteers, college football analysts around the country who firmly have UT in their preseason top 25s have fostered a ton of hype. Some of those even predict the Vols to be in the top 10.

None of that matters until you prove it on the field, UT coach Butch Jones told the Knoxville News Sentinel's Grant Ramey (via GoVols247):

"We're talking to our football team about owning the expectations—owning their attitude, owning their style of play, owning their work ethic," Jones said. "That's something that we talk about."

They aren't doing anything to diffuse those in Knoxville, Tennessee; that's for certain.

Despite all the positive publicity from the on-field talk, the looming Title IX lawsuit and allegations were something the program dealt with throughout the winter months. Though the headlines have died down since then, the suit hasn't gone away.

Coach Butch Jones made a couple of major coaching moves this offseason, and the Vols also received some big news when three key components to this year's team elected to return for another season on Rocky Top.

It's been a particularly newsy offseason for the Vols. Let's recap some of the biggest topics swirling around the program.

 

National love

If you haven't heard rival Tennessee fans grumbling about all the publicity the Vols are getting from basically everybody who puts out way-too-early top-25 polls, you haven't been listening.

You can't type a tweet out there without hearing a derogatory comment from a Georgia, Florida, Alabama or (insert UT rival here) fan regarding how the Vols are the kings of offseason hype but fail to produce once the games start.

As always, a quick search for "Tennessee hype" in the Twittersphere returns a barrage of comments from the hilarious ones to those in the "can't share here" department:

Nevermind the talk about the Vols falling short of expectations under Jones isn't true.

As a matter of fact, despite UT blowing the Oklahoma and Florida games a season ago, the Vols finished right where they were expected to. Each season, they've hit right about the predicted mark.

Bleacher Report colleague Barrett Sallee tried to set the record straight over social media, even though it did little to quell the discussion: 

Regardless of whether or not the hype is warranted, it's there.

B/R's Brian Pederson put the Vols seventh in his post-spring practice poll stating: "Butch Jones' work to beef up the roster has paid off in the form of upperclassmen projected to start at most positions after having to rely heavily on freshmen the previous few years. He was also aided by the return of draft-eligible players such as linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton."

FoxSports.com's Stewart Mandel had a similar assessment regarding UT, saying the Vols are eighth in his preseason ranking, while ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach had them rolling in at 11th.

There's a reason the nation is in love with the Vols, who have depth, talent and stars galore. Now, they've got to live up to the hype.

 

Title IX lawsuit update

Not all the headlines have been so positive on Rocky Top, however.

Eight "Jane Doe" plaintiffs filed a joint lawsuit against the university accusing UT of creating a hostile sexual environment that led to assaults and that the school was favorable toward athletes accused. Alleged incidents involving football players were cited multiple times.

At one point back in the winter, it seemed you couldn't go a day without more news coming out in what had to seem to UT like a death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts campaign to release news regarding the Title IX lawsuit in a slow, steady but painful trickle.

It has since died down a little, but the university has not settled out of court, and it is still out there.

The recent nasty Baylor situation that led to the ouster of the school's athletic director and head coach Art Briles brought the Tennessee situation back into the news where Jones had to defend his program publicly yet again.

At the SEC spring meetings last week, Jones made some comments refusing to compare the two situations, per the Knoxville News Sentinel's Dustin Dopirak:

I'm not into comparisons. All I can speak on is the University of Tennessee. I feel strongly as does everyone in our organization that we've done the right things. I'm proud of the culture that we've built. We've tried to do everything the right way from everyone in our organization. I feel strongly about what we have at the University of Tennessee, what we've build and what we will continue to build as well.

Most recently, UT responded to the allegations against it, accusing the plaintiffs of "irrelevant and incorrect (if salacious) allegations intended to inflame the passions of journalists and sports fans alike," according to the Tennessean's Nate Rau.

Just last week, the Associated Press (h/t WDEF.com's Rick Nyman) reported the Title IX lawsuit vs. Tennessee has been scheduled for May 22, 2018, so what does that mean for the Vols?

On the field, possibly not much if there are no new bombshells. Jones suspended everybody from the football team mentioned in the suit, and there are no known current Vols involved. Jones could see his name dragged around again, but that hasn't happened in months.

If UT decides not to settle out of court, the potential for this becoming an ongoing situation is there. So, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens from this moving forward. The Vols obviously hope it stays dormant in the news like it has the past couple of months.

 

The big three

There are a lot of really good players on Tennessee's roster in 2016, but to just talk about talent would be doing a disservice to the three players who elected to come back to Knoxville rather than begin NFL careers.

Reeves-Maybin, Sutton and running back Alvin Kamara all have incredible leadership skills that allowed all three of them to be recognized this spring as permanent captains.

Yes, junior receiver Marquez North declared for the draft (and wasn't selected, signing a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Rams), but the biggest news for UT was the fact all three of the players who came back were essentially irreplaceable. That's not just on the field, either.

Reeves-Maybin is a stalwart and a tackling machine from his outside linebacker position, but he also has emerged as a vocal leader who took that role when Curt Maggitt was injured a season ago. Getting him back is massive, and even though he's battling a shoulder injury now, he's expected back by season's start.

Sutton was one of the main guys who called the post-Arkansas loss players-only meeting last year that turned around the season. Not only does he have shutdown potential at cornerback, but he's also a special teams weapon and a strong leader in his own rights.

Finally, Jalen Hurd may get most of the headlines as Tennessee's running back workhorse, but Kamara almost certainly has an NFL career ahead of him, too. He's fast, versatile and can catch passes out of the backfield with the best of them. Not only that, he's grown up a ton since his days at Alabama.

The trio, along with quarterback Joshua Dobbs, were bestowed the honor during the spring-ending Orange & White Game, and Kamara told the Daily Beacon sports editor Jonathan Toye that they all see it as an extra (positive) burden to help the program return.

"We look forward to being captains this season," Kamara said. "I think we all see it as a challenge. We have to be better and hold ourselves to an even-higher standard. This is the first time Coach Jones has done this—named a permanent team captain—so it is a lot of pressure, but it is good pressure."

Having the leadership of those three guys returning is pivotal for Tennessee.

 

Shoop to the rescue?

Perhaps the biggest news this entire offseason was the three key players returning as noted above, but a close second is the addition of championship-caliber defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, whom Jones lured away from Penn State.

Shoop looks like he's ticketed for a head coaching gig sooner rather than later, but if the Vols can get at least a couple of seasons out of him, it would be considered a great hire. Getting a marquee assistant such as Shoop is coming at just the right time for UT.

Not only do the Vols have a ton of quality players returning on the defensive side of the ball, but they also have the type of guys who can run his fast-paced, blitz-happy scheme.

Reeves-Maybin, defensive ends Derek Barnett, Jonathan Kongbo, Corey Vereen and Kyle Phillips as well as speedy freshman linebacker Quart'e Sapp and several versatile defensive backs could wreak terror on opposing quarterbacks. 

Jones paid Shoop $1.15 million to lure him away from Happy Valley, and there was one reason alone why he did it.

Shoop knows, too, according to Gridiron Now's Jimmy Hyams: "Make no mistake," Shoop told Hyams, "when he hired me, he said, 'Your job is to get us from nine wins to 11 in a hurry.'"

The goals are higher with Shoop aboard, and he's brought some swagger with him. Here's a recent tweet that will make UT fans feel all warm and fuzzy, per former Vol and Knoxville radio show host Jayson Swain:

Former UT coordinator John Jancek didn't do a poor job the past three years, but Shoop is a next-level coach with a track record of producing upper-echelon defenses. The Vols also went out and got former Miami assistant and interim head coach Larry Scott to lead the tight ends.

Scott is another really good coach with strong recruiting ties who is already making an impact in Knoxville. But Shoop is the big-time headliner.

If he makes that big of an impact at Tennessee right away, the Vols could wind up with a special season.

 

All quotes and 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. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Highlights and Analysis from 2016 Elite 11 Finals

REDONDO BEACH, California — After viewing 24 of the nation’s top quarterbacks in the 2017 class for the past three days, the pressure is now on Elite 11 head coach Trent Dilfer and his staff to whittle that list to the lucky 12 who will punch their tickets to The Opening next month.

The Elite 11 finalists will be revealed exclusively on Bleacher Report at noon ET (9:00 a.m. PT) on Monday.

Dilfer spoke on how challenging it will be to cut the list by Monday morning. 

“It’s the best group of passers we’ve ever had," Dilfer told Bleacher Report. "It’s not even close because of their command of the football, in general. It speaks volumes to their high school coaches and the programs the come from and the people they work with. It’s a gifted group for sure.” 

Among the helping hands available to the Elite 11 staff were college counselors such as Clemson All-American passer and Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson.

Watson, who made the Elite 11 in the 2013 class, was also impressed with the way the 2017 class acquitted themselves this weekend. 

“As a whole, there’s great vibes here," Watson said. "There’s no negative energy here. Everyone is motivated and pulling for each other. They’ve established a great bond and friendship with each other so it’s been a great atmosphere. That’s the main thing I will take away from this weekend with these guys.”

With the on-field activities now completed, what were the main takeaways from the 2017 Elite 11 Finals? 

Let’s take a look at some of the main storylines to emerge from Los Angeles this weekend.

 

Tide Pledge Makes a Splash

One of the more intriguing quarterback talents in the 2017 cycle is 4-star Alabama pledge Tua Tagovailoa.

The 6’1”, 215-pound Hawaii native wowed in posting the best performance in the pro day workout on Saturday.

He backed it up in the seven-on-seven workout on Sunday, which certainly caught Dilfer’s attention. 

“Tua made the biggest jump in two weeks that I’ve ever seen,” Dilfer said. “When I saw him two weeks ago in Oakland, I honestly was concerned that he couldn’t function in this type of setting. Not that he wasn’t great in pads, but I just don’t think he’s been put in these type of situations. But he thrived. You can make the argument that he had the best three days of anybody [here]. It blows my mind how much he’s improved in the last couple of weeks.” 

While he’s rated the nation’s No. 2 dual-threat passer and the No. 58 prospect overall, Tagovailoa put to rest any concerns about his ability to scare defenses with his arm talent at the next level. 

In terms of arm strength, mechanics and accuracy, Tagovailoa put together a consistent body of work that cemented his standing as one of the elite prospects in the 2017 cycle.

 

Surprise, Surprise 

Tagovailoa wasn’t the only quarterback who flashed on the radar of the Elite 11 staff and onlookers in attendance. 

In fact, a pair of 3-star passers were among those who stood out in the pro day session and the seven-on-seven workouts: LSU commit Myles Brennan and Syracuse pledge Tommy Devito.

As noted above, Brennan was the runner-up to Tagovailoa in the pro day workout. On Sunday, he shook off an early interception with a strong touchdown pass on a post route.

“I can’t control those types of things," Brennan said. "Dr. Mike [Gervais], he’s talked to us through this whole Elite 11 process about keeping positive thoughts no matter what. The next play, I let it go and came back with a really good ball on the post. You can’t let bad plays affect what you do on the next snap.” 

Brennan notes that he never flinched even when it didn’t look like a trip to the Elite 11 Finals was in the plans for him earlier in the spring. 

“I just believe in the process," Brennan explained. "I’m not the highest-rated kid and I don’t have all the stars. The regional process, I didn’t get invited right away. Three weeks later, I got it. Same thing here. I didn’t make the Elite 11 when they did the rankings the first day, but I made it the second day. I just continue to bust my butt and believe in the process and I’ll live with the results.”

Similarly, Devito entered the weekend as the lowest-rated passer at the event. He acknowledged that element gave him all the motivation to make a statement that he belonged with the nation’s elite on the biggest of stages. 

“It was motivation to show everyone I shouldn’t be the lowest-ranked guy here," Devito told Bleacher Report’s Tyler Donohue. "Rankings just don’t matter. It does stay in the back of my head and it’s helped push me to come out here and compete with these guys. People are used to the big name kids, but a lot of people don’t look at the smaller kids. They just stick to the ones they know, but hopefully that will change after this weekend.”

 

Big Guns Validate Credentials 

While Dilfer made it a point to note that he doesn’t look at rankings entering the event, there were a handful of passers who arrived in Los Angeles with plenty of fanfare.

In fact, all seven quarterbacks rated among the nation’s Top 100 players overall were in attendance—including Tagovailoa.

Among the other big names who backed up their billing were 5-star Michigan pledge Dylan McCaffrey, 5-Star Clemson commit Hunter Johnson, 5-Star Tate Martell and 4-star Stanford pledge Davis Mills.

McCaffrey, who drew praise from the coaching staff for his poise and leadership, said the experience was beneficial in letting him know what he needs to continue to work on.

“I just have to keep working," McCaffrey said. "I think there is a lot of room for improvement for all of us that are out here. That’s what it takes to succeed at the next level and I just want to be the guy that takes what I’ve learned here and use it to help me continue to grow as a player.”

Meanwhile, Mills—who was rated No. 1 on the lists that were distributed on Saturday and Sunday morning—drew praise from Dilfer for his consistency over the weekend.

The Atlanta native said he tried not to worry about his place atop the standings during the weekend.

“I didn’t try to think about it too much," Mills said. "They posted the list the first morning and I just tried not to think about it. I just tried to compete against myself and push myself to be better with every drill and event we did next. I guess that carried over and helped me show the coaches what I can do. It worked out well, I think.”

Overall, between McCaffrey, Johnson, Martell and Mills, the top end of the class seemed to meet the expectations placed upon them entering the week.

 

Clemson Connection

Johnson and fellow 4-star Clemson pledge Chase Brice seized the unique opportunity in getting the chance to learn from the player they could eventually replace for Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney.

For his part, Watson made sure to keep a close eye on both future Tigers.

“[Brice and Johnson] are going in there together and that’s something that makes me really proud," Watson said. "They are pulling for each other. It’s cool to have these guys out here going through what I went through and sharing my advice and my story with them. I’ve also been able to relate to them what I’m going through at Clemson and what they may see when they get there. They have been taking it in and embracing it.”

Brice said he’s soaking in Watson’s words and advice considering the success he’s enjoyed on the college level.

“It’s been awesome to learn from him for me and Hunter," Brice said. "To see where he’s been and the success he’s had, he shared his journey through Elite 11 last night in his confessional. He’s had so much success on the field and he’s on track to graduate in December, so for him to speak with us and teach us, it’s just been a really neat thing. He’s keeping us updated with the coaches at Clemson.”

Watson was impressed with what he saw from both players, and he plans on continuing to be a resource that is available to them whenever they need him.

“I think they will be successful in life and if they stick with their choice to be Clemson Tigers, I will always be here to answer their questions and give advice to them whenever they need me," Watson said. "My line is always open for those guys.”

 

Other News and Notes

Watson wasn’t the only big name who helped Dilfer and his staff throughout the weekend.

Among the other college counselors were California quarterback Davis Webb, USC quarterback Max Browne and Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer. 

Additionally, Elite 11 alum and the top overall pick in April’s NFL draft, Rams quarterback Jared Goff, participated in an exercise designed to prepare this year’s class for interview sessions similar to the ones that take place at the NFL combine. 

While Goff was a first-round pick this year, another stud from the Pac-12 who could earn potentially that designation next year is rising USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

The Trojans All-American arrived Saturday with a handful of his teammates to be on the receiving end of passes from the quarterbacks in their simulated pro day sessions.

In addition to vying for a spot in the Elite 11, Martell was busy figuring out his next home on the college level. 

On Friday, he announced his Top 6 and made another cut a day later in tabbing California, Colorado, Ohio State, UCLA and USC as his five finalists. 

It wasn’t all about competition and intensity for the finalists this weekend. There were a handful of activities that allowed them to let loose.

Among the highlights of the weekend was the opportunity for the quarterbacks and counselors to sink Watson as he sat in a dunk tank.

After a few rounds, 3-star quarterback Jake Haener stepped up to the plate and got the job done.

“Dunking Deshaun was kind of cool,” Haener said with a laugh. “That was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”

 

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Recapping the Biggest 2016 Offseason News so Far

From signing one of the country's best recruiting classes to sending a historic crop of talent to the NFL draft, it's been a busy and eventful offseason for the Ohio State Buckeyes football program.

The Buckeyes entered the quiet season with a loud and convincing 44-28 win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, and since then, head coach Urban Meyer has been busy prepping his team for a pivotal 2016 season.

Here are the biggest storylines out of Columbus so far this offseason.

 

9 Underclassmen Declare for NFL Draft

Almost everyone expected non-seniors such as Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Michael Thomas and Cardale Jones to forgo their final season of eligibility, but Ohio State led the nation when an incredible nine underclassmen making an early jump to the NFL.

Players who were considered fringe prospects at this stage in their career—namely wide receiver and Jalin Marshall and safety Tyvis Powell—fueled that number. And high-level players such as linebacker Darron Lee, safety Vonn Bell and cornerback Eli Apple complemented them.

Much like the fans, Meyer wasn't surprised by many of those decisions, but he didn't expect to lose nine non-seniors, according to Austin Ward of ESPN.com:

Nine is a lot. Nine's a lot. The four or five [is more manageable]. One year at Florida we had 12 players send in their paperwork, and you're like, 'My goodness.' I mean, it's what we do when you recruit like that.

I've been in scenarios where you don't have a lot of conversations about the NFL because you don't have that caliber of players. This was over the top.

 

Buckeyes Sign Nation's No. 4 Recruiting class.

Something that will help Ohio State get past that mass exodus of talent to the NFL is the incoming talent from its latest recruiting class.

Meyer again showed why he's one of the best recruiters in college football, securing late commitments from 4-star standouts Dwayne Haskins (quarterback), Keandre Jones (linebacker), Binjimen Victor (wide receiver) and Malcolm Pridgeon (JUCO offensive tackle). Those four joined a group that was headlined by 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa in a class that ranked fourth nationally.

That late push helped Ohio State secure the Big Ten's top recruiting class for the fifth straight year, despite a furious rally from Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. And when the ink dried on national signing day, Meyer was adamant that his new crop of freshmen would make an immediate impact.

"This class, I would anticipate a lot of guys playing," Meyer said, according to Tim May of the Columbus DispatchHe later added, "I hope 18 of them play."

 

Young Guns Emerge in Spring Camp

With so many early departures to the NFL, Meyer and Ohio State were left with 16 vacancies in the starting lineup, in addition to a number of key reserves.

That created a sense of urgency in the program during winter conditioning and spring camp, and a number of young players elevated their game and showed they're ready for the spotlight.

It could be a particularly big year for Ohio State's 2015 recruiting class, which had most of its members take a redshirt season last year. Torrance Gibson looks primed to take a big step at wide receiver, defensive linemen Jashon Cornell and Robert Landers should factor into the rotation and running back Mike Weber looks like the next great running back to follow Ezekiel Elliott and Carlos Hyde.

But it's not just the redshirt freshmen. The Buckeyes got a huge boost from true freshman wideout Austin Mack, who emerged as the breakout star of spring practice, according to B/R's Ben Axelrod. 

 

The Historic Draft Class

All of those early entrants into the NFL helped Ohio State make NFL draft history last month. 

Three former Buckeyes were taken in the top 10, headlined by Joey Bosa, who was taken No. 3 overall by the San Diego Chargers. Elliott went right after, going No. 4 to the Dallas Cowboys, and cornerback Apple sneaked into the top 10 when the New York Giants selected him. 

Left tackle Taylor Decker and Lee gave Ohio State five first-rounders, and with five other players going before the end of Day 2 (Vonn Bell, Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller, Nick Vannett and Adolphus Washington), Ohio State set an NFL draft record with 10 players selected in the first three rounds.

When the final name was called, Ohio State had 12 players drafted with Jones going to the Buffalo Bills and Joshua Perry going to the Chargers in the fourth round.

 

The Hot 2017 Recruiting Start

On the heels of signing the country's No. 4 class in 2016, Meyer and the Buckeyes have their sights set higher in 2017.

Ohio State got off to a fast start, using the College Football Playoff run in 2014-15 to gain pole position for this recruiting cycle. Meyer secured a pair of 5-star commitments from Josh Myers and Shaun Wade within two weeks of beating Oregon for the title, but the Buckeyes have kept that momentum rolling all the way through the 2015 season and into the '16 offseason.

Ohio State has secured a trio of verbal pledges from 4-star standouts Antjuan Simmons  (linebacker), Haskell Garrett (defensive tackle) and J.K. Dobbins (all-purpose back). The Buckeyes have a firm grasp on the No. 1 ranking for 2017, and with targets such as 5-star safety Jeffrey Okudah, 5-star quarterback Tate Martell and 5-star wide receiver Trevon Grimes on the board, they could keep their hold on the top spot. 

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Blue Bloods with the Hardest Path to the Playoffs

Tradition-rich college football teams bear the burden of high expectations every season. All those blue-blood programs will strive for excellence, but unfavorable schedules will affect several in 2016.

First, though, what exactly is a blue blood? A history of victory is of the utmost importance. Consequently, this list uses the top-10 winning percentages in college football history as the selection pool.

Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas, USC, Nebraska, Penn State and Tennessee were the teams considered for this list.

Factors used to narrow the list include the perception of a team—or, more simply, how good do we expect the roster to be—and the overall difficulty of the schedule, especially away from home.

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4-Star QB Kellen Mond Breaks Down Top 3, Deciding Factors in Recruitment

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — To say that the last few months have been hectic for 4-star quarterback Kellen Mond would be putting it mildly.

Since the start of the new year, he’s adjusted to an offseason transfer from his native Texas to Florida prep power IMG Academy.

Days before departing for the Elite 11 Finals in Los Angeles, Mond backed off a long-standing pledge to Baylor in the wake of the off-field problems that led to the firing of former head coach Art Briles.

He’s since identified three programs as his new list of favorites: Auburn, Ohio State and Texas A&M. 

Mond spoke with Bleacher Report and dished on the attractions to those three programs.

Auburn Tigers: “They are my No. 1. I have a great relationship with the offensive coordinator, Coach [Rhett] Lashlee. I also have a lot of respect for [head] Coach [Gus] Malzahn because of how he runs his offense, and I feel like it fits my skill set very well.”

Ohio State Buckeyes: “They are my No. 2 right now. I have a lot of respect for head coach Urban Meyer and what he’s done with quarterbacks and how he’s kind of groomed a lot of them to go toward the NFL. I definitely feel like he can help me become a great quarterback.”

Texas A&M Aggies: “They just got a new offensive coordinator in Coach [Noel] Mazzone. I plan on getting down to A&M sometime in June to see what they are about. I would like to see how I fit into their offense and get a feel for what it's like in College Station.”

Mond has taken recent visits to Auburn, Florida and Ohio State in the last two months. In addition to visiting the Aggies, he also noted that return trips to Auburn and Ohio State are possible later in the summer.

For now, he’s focused on trying to earn a spot in the Elite 11 and punch his ticket to The Opening in July.

“It’s definitely a great experience out here. I get to compete against some of the best quarterbacks and also learn a lot from the coaches here,” Mond said. “[Elite 11 head coach] Trent Dilfer is one of the best who played in the NFL for a long time, so he definitely knows his stuff, so I respect him for that.”

Another perk of the trip is the opportunity to compete with and learn from a player he admits he’s studied closely in the offseason: Clemson All-American and Elite 11 counselor Deshaun Watson.

“[Deshaun is] someone I feel like I can study and take pointers from because we’re both really lengthy and have strong arms and can be accurate with the ball down the field,” Mond explained. “Yet we have good footwork and can make plays with our feet. I think a lot of the intangibles he has, I have them too. So I’ve kind of tried to model my game after his.”

Mond, who plans to enroll early, hasn’t finalized a timeline on when he will make a decision. However, Mond, who carries a 3.1 GPA with goals of majoring in criminology in college, has identified some parameters that will help him pick his ultimate landing spot at the next level.

“I just want to see which school can help me reach my full potential and help make me the best quarterback I can be,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to get to the NFL, but I understand that it’s not always promised that you will get to the NFL. So I really want to make sure I get a great education, and all three of those schools can provide that as well.”

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Malcolm Askew to Auburn: Tiger Land 4-Star Athlete Prospect

Malcolm Askew, one of the top athlete prospects in the class of 2017, is headed to the Auburn Tigers after developing into a force at McAdory High School in McCalla, Alabama. 

Rivals.com's Jeffrey Lee first reported the news of Askew's decision. 

"It’s just the relationships I have with the coaches," Askew said of choosing Auburn, per Lee. "I've talked to Coach (Gus) Malzahn, Coach [Kevin] Steele and Coach [Wesley] McGriff numerous times now on campus and on the phone. The relationships are getting stronger and they talk to me about family. It’s a great family feel there, too."

The 4-star speedster is the 202nd-ranked player in 247Sports' composite rankings, and he graded out No. 10th among all athlete prospects in the class of 2017. Among recruits in the state of Alabama, Askew clocked in at No. 11 overall. 

The big question now is which position the 5'10.5", 183-pound athlete will play in college after spending time at receiver and cornerback in high school. 

"I’m leaning more toward DB because of the longevity," Askew told Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani in March. "Defensive players usually last longer playing the game in comparison to offensive players, and that’s why I’m leaning toward defense right now."

Askew elaborated on that stance in a separate conversation with Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue

"The NFL loves guys who can play man-to-man coverage, play on an island," he said. "I feel like I can be that type of guy. I think my best credentials will be on defense in the future."

With aspirations of one day lining up as a shutdown cornerback at the professional level, Askew appears motivated to parlay his athletic prowess into being one of the nation's most dangerous defenders when he suits up for Auburn. 

 

Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every 2016 1st-Year Coach's Biggest Offseason Question

In the pressure-filled world of college football, the coaching carousel is always busy, but it was especially hectic this offseason. A number of FBS programs decided that they weren’t happy with their current leaders, which led to something of a domino effect. Scandal and new athletic department leadership also played a role, and 28 programs ultimately changed head coaches.

This season’s new head coaches take over programs in various states of success. Some are set up to win immediately, while others are clear rebuilding jobs. They all have questions surrounding their first seasons in charge, though. Here’s a look at the biggest question facing each first-year head coach this fall.

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5-Star QB Tate Martell Talks Top Contenders, Hopes for Oregon Offer

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — Nearly four years after Tate Martell received his first collegiate scholarship offer, the coveted quarterback arrived at Elite 11 finals Friday still searching for the right fit.

A middle school commitment to Washington didn't last through sophomore year, while an eight-month pact with Texas A&M ended last month. Now approaching his senior season at Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School, Martell seems to have found some clarity in a lengthy recruitment.

"I think I've got it all figured out now," he told Bleacher Report hours before the first Elite 11 practice session. "I don't know exactly where I'll be, but I know exactly what I want."

He revealed a top-six list Friday morning, eliminating Miami from the group of favorites he shared just three days ago:

Academics and campus life are unsurprisingly key priorities for him in this process, but one element looms largest.

"I need to have a really good connection with the head coach, quarterback coach and offensive coordinator," Martell said. "That's huge. That's the biggest thing for me."

While things started in strong fashion with Texas A&M after his August pledge, the situation began to deteriorate during the winter when the program and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital parted ways. 

This drastically altered his rapport with the Aggies, as Martell's dad, Al, detailed during a discussion with Adam Gorney of Rivals.com:

It was different with [new Aggies offensive coordinator Noel] Mazzone with the whole communication. Mazzone had been there two weeks for our visit in January, he had been there maybe all of 10 days, so I get it. If the guy didn’t want to talk a whole lot, he’s still feeling out his job and his co-workers and his staff and where he fits in. 

I get that but when you go out a month later, for two days on that trip, didn’t talk to him once and then when we were there in March for their scrimmage, again, we were there for four days and not once did Mazzone ever talk, and I was five feet from him. Not a handshake, not anything.

Spavital landed at Cal in February and will coordinate the Golden Bears attack. This immediately placed the program on Martell's radar and momentum has grown since.

"I wasn't even looking at Cal before Spav was there, and now it's probably going to end up as one of my top three schools with him being there," he said. "I have a great relationship with him, plus Cal is such a good school. That's obviously a good spot when you look at the depth chart. It's definitely high on my list right now."

Martell, rated No. 1 overall among dual-threat quarterbacks in 2017 composite rankings, also has significant interest in an alternative Pac-12 university. However, one of America's most prized passers continues to wait for that offer.

"I'm still hoping Oregon offers me, but we'll see," he said, noting there's been consistent contact with Ducks coaches. "It's not like that's definitely where I'm going if they offer me, but it would be a great place to look at."

Another trio of Pac-12 programs remain the picture with Colorado, UCLA and USC featured in his top six. Martell, a Southern California native, is intrigued by the possibility of returning home for college.

Shortly before his commitment to Texas A&M, he told B/R the Trojans were essentially battling with the Aggies during the final stretch of decision-making efforts. Though Steve Sarkisian—who first collected Martell's commitment at Washington—is no longer the head coach at USC, much of the staff remains intact, and there's an inherent appeal to the program, according to Martell.

"USC is always kind of a Southern California kid's dream school. That's where you want to go," he said. "They've been recruiting me for a while, since the beginning of my sophomore year, and I've had a good relationship with them. It's back home, so it would be easy for my whole family to come see me play."

Proximity is also a positive for UCLA. The Bruins landed No. 1 overall 2015 quarterback recruit Josh Rosen, who enjoyed an outstanding freshman season last fall. Martell could envision a situation in which head coach Jim Mora is able to bridge his offense between two blue-chip talents.

"Josh would probably stay for one year and then leave for the NFL after that," he said. "So I would just have to sit behind him, and that's not a bad situation because he'll probably end up being a top-10 draft pick if he stays on the path he's on right now."

Cal is the Pac-12 leader in Martell's 247Sports crystal ball with 21 percent of experts' predictions. Ohio State leads all schools with 39 percent of signing day projections and hosted him on campus earlier this year.

"It's a great program, and everyone understands how successful Urban Meyer has been, especially with his offense," Martell said. "There's a lot to like about Ohio State."

The Buckeyes boast impressive young quarterback talent behind starter J.T. Barrett, who could return to Columbus in 2017. Expectations are building for second-year passer Joe Burrow and incoming freshman Dwayne Haskins, an Elite 11 finalist, was a premier recruit in the 2016 cycle.

Ultimately, Martell aims to select a school that presents him a realistic shot at immediate starting duties.

"I want to go to a spot where I have an opportunity to compete as a freshman," he said. "That's really important. A place where I can compete to play early and develop with coaches who can prepare me for the NFL."  

Martell is 28-0 as a starter at Bishop Gorman, totaling 5,145 passing yards, 1,037 rushing yards, 86 total touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He'll enter the 2016 campaign as a major contender for National Player of the Year.

On the recruiting radar since seventh grade, his sights are firmly set on concluding a lengthy journey in decisive fashion.

"I wouldn't say I'm burnt out with this process, but I'm definitely ready to find the right place for me," Martell said.

 

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. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jim Grobe Comments on Baylor Football Program, Coaching Staff, More

Baylor Bears interim head football coach Jim Grobe addressed reporters Friday for the first time since he assumed the post in place of Art Briles, and he expressed a desire to reform the program's culture in the weeks and months ahead.  

For starters, according to the Tribune-Herald's Brice Cherry, Grobe said there will be a zero-tolerance policy for misbehavior in light of an investigation led by Pepper Hamilton, LLP that said the school failed "to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence." 

"Winning is very, very important, but not at the expense of character and integrity," Grobe added, according to BaylorProud on Twitter

"Playing is not a right," he said, according to Cherry. "Going on the field is not a right. If you're not going to be a good citizen, you're not going to play for [Baylor University]."

Grobe reiterated that the thing he was most concerned with after reading the Pepper Hamilton report was the "lack of organization in dealing with problems," according to the Austin American-Statesman's Suzanne Halliburton

That issue was spelled out clearly in Pepper Hamilton's findings, which stated "the football program and Athletics department leadership failed to take appropriate action in response" to "reports of a sexual assault involving multiple football players."

With regard to personnel matters, Grobe confirmed all of Briles' assistants will stay on, per Halliburton. Grobe also confirmed the team will continue to run the same offensive and defensive schemes in 2016. 

On the recruiting front, Baylor's new boss said the program won't yet release commits from their national letters of intent, according to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman: 

On Wednesday, ESPN.com's Jeremy Crabtree reported seven of Baylor's 2016 recruits had filed for release from their national letters of intent.

However, the school isn't obligated to let them seek out other collegiate opportunities since formally signing a letter of intent bounds a player to the program "unless he doesn't meet admissions or eligibility requirements, he doesn't attend any institution for at least one academic year, the school has been charged with breaking NCAA recruiting rules, or he is released by the university."

According to Crabtree, Baylor has 30 days to respond to the release requests. 

Finally, Grobe—whose contract spans only the 2016 season, per Halliburton—expressed a desire to continue coaching in Waco if the team prospers under his guidance. 

"If things go well, I like Baylor," he said, according to Cherry. "I could see myself being here for a while. ... I would be blessed to have the opportunity to coach."

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama, Michigan to Work Satellite Camps Together: Comments and Reaction

Coaches from both Alabama and Michigan will attend a pair of satellite camps together next week amid verbal warfare between head coaches Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh about the use of such camps.

Sam Cooper of Yahoo Sports passed along the news. Old Dominion quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb confirmed Alabama's expected attendance at an ODU camp on Sunday. St. Frances Academy (Md.) coach Henry Russell noted that both Alabama and Michigan are expected at its camp on June 6.

It's unclear whether Saban and Harbaugh will cross paths at some point next week, though.

Harry Minium and Tom White of the Virginian-Pilot provided reaction from Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder, who noted that Alabama is holding its own camp with 600 players expected. He also stated that Harbaugh and Michigan, which is co-hosting the ODU event, had no problem with adding Tide coaches.

"Like I always do, I asked the school we're partnering with to get permission for another Power Five school to attend," Wilder said. "Like [Harbaugh] was with Wake Forest, he was fine with Alabama joining. He said, 'It's your camp, whatever you think is best for the kids is fine with us.'"

The exchange between the high-profile coaches began earlier in the week when Saban described satellite camps as the "Wild Wild West" due to the lack of standards. Brandon Marcello of SEC Country provided more of the Alabama head coach's thoughts on the subject:

Anybody can have a camp now. If they have a prospect, they can have a camp and then you're expected to go to that camp and then they can use you to promote their camp because Ohio State is coming, Alabama is coming, whoever else is coming. Somebody sponsors a camp, they pay them the money. What do they do with the money? And who makes sure the kid paid to go to the camp? I mean, this is the Wild Wild West at its best. There's been no specific guidelines relative to how we're managing and controlling this stuff. It's happening outside our normal evaluation window, which means we're taking time away from our players.

Harbaugh responded with a post on Twitter that generated a lot of buzz on social media:

Chris Low of ESPN.com provided Saban's response to that message: "That's his business. I don't really care what he thinks or tweets. I say what I think is best for college football and say what I think is best for the players and the kids. As I said [Tuesday], it's not about him or anybody else."

More than anything else, Alabama and Michigan attending the same camps showcases the importance of staying ahead of the curve on the recruiting trail.

Saban may not approve of the events, but he's not going to let Michigan get a leg up with potential recruits so long as they remain within the rules.

The NCAA Division I Council originally made a ruling to shut down satellite camps in early April. Paul Myerberg of USA Today reported that the NCAA Board of Governors reversed the decision less than three weeks later pending further recommendations, which are expected by Sept. 1.

In turn, the events will likely continue to generate massive interest throughout the summer.

Perhaps Saban and Harbaugh can get a chance to discuss their differences during one of them, even if it doesn't happen at the two camps their staffs will attend next week.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Position-by-Position Preview of Alabama's 2016 Roster

Although the University of Alabama football team is coming off its fourth national championship in seven years, something that’s never been previously done before during the modern era of the game, Nick Saban’s dynasty is showing no signs of slowing down.

After claiming his sixth straight recruiting title, per the 247Sports composite rankings, the Crimson Tide roster remains loaded, and even though Alabama has another brutal schedule in 2016, many are again considering it the team to beat even though no one knows yet who the starting quarterback will be.

Actually, there’s no proven player in the backfield, the offensive line is now suddenly a mess, and the entire defensive coaching staff minus Tosh Lupoi has been replaced, but many are predicting a third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Part of that optimism stems from what Alabama’s done over the previous nine seasons, including having the most consensus All-Americans (25), NFL draft picks (55) and first-round selections (18) of any college football program.

What can Saban do for an encore as he closes out a decade at Alabama? This group hasn’t done anything yet and has a tough opener against Southern California at A&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on September 3, but it has the talent to potentially win some more rings.

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Big 12 Unanimously Approves Conference Championship Game: Details, Reaction

The Big 12 will soon no longer be the only major football conference without a championship game, as its board unanimously voted in favor of implementing one. 

Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman was among the first to report the news. He also provided a comment from Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby regarding the timeline for the title game:

The Big 12 has not staged a conference championship game since 2010 because of the departures of Nebraska and Colorado, which left the league with fewer teams than required to hold such an event.

That rule is gone, as the Division I council voted in January to let conferences with fewer than 12 teams have a championship game as long as every team plays one another during the regular season, per Max Olson of ESPN.com.

Per George Schroeder of USA Today, the Big 12 is in line to generate a considerable amount of revenue via a conference title game:

Schroeder also reported it is unclear where the initial championship game will take place in 2017 assuming plans move forward as expected:

ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg provided television viewing information and potential venue plans as well:

The lack of a conference championship game may have prevented the Big 12 from putting a team in the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014. Although Oklahoma qualified in 2015, both Baylor and TCU missed out during the first season despite each losing only one game.

Had the Bears and Horned Frogs met in a conference title game, there is a strong chance the winner would have made it over the eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Big 12 has been at a disadvantage despite being stacked with talented teams, but that promises to change in 2017 since a championship game will put every major conference on a level playing field once again.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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SEC Spring Meetings Wrap Up: Satellite Camps, Discipline, Replay and More

DESTIN, Fla. — Four days on the Gulf Coast have come to a close, as the SEC closed up shop Friday on its annual spring meetings held at the SanDestin Hilton.

When it did, the future of satellite camps, player discipline, underclassmen paths back to college and collaborative replay came into focus.

What were some of the hottest topics to come out of the sunny panhandle of Florida? 

 

As The Satellite Turns

Another year, another four-day discussion involving satellite camps.

In what has become a spring meetings tradition over the last three years, talks of head coaches and staffs "guest-coaching" at the camps of other four-year schools, junior colleges, high schools and at third-party events dominated the discussion in Destin.

In the end, the SEC came out of spring meetings steadfast in its opposition to the practice, despite the fact that its coaches can—and already have—participated in satellite camps since the old ban was lifted on May 29.

"A range of conversation from them," commissioner Greg Sankey said. "I think, in a uniform voice, our coaches do not believe that a summer recruiting environment is healthy in this camp situation. We don't think these are part of recruiting. These are not instructional. There are videos and pictures out there that don't look very instructional to me."

So for now, the SEC will allows its coaches on the road this summer at their own discretion to participate in satellite camps but will leave the door open to shut it down.

"The dynamics that are developing will guide us," he said. "We're obviously more flexible with our rule. But I'm not certain that it will always remain that way for ourselves."

So stay tuned for more satellite camp talk, because it isn't going away anytime soon.

 

Expansion of the Serious Misconduct Rule

The SEC led the charge last spring when it introduced the "serious misconduct rule," which prevents potential transfers with a history of domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual violence from transferring into the program.

It went a step further this year by expanding the transgressions that would apply to individuals who are interested in playing in the SEC from other four-year or two-year colleges.

Those new transgressions that are classified as "serious misconduct" include dating violence or stalking, or conduct of a nature that creates serious concerns about the safety of others. Students who have pleaded guilty or no contest to a felony involving serious misconduct after enrollment at another collegiate institution will not be allowed in.

The rule is still limited to transfers, due in part to the lack of access the conference and its member institutions have to the legal records of minors. 

"Do I anticipate continued dialogue on these issues? Absolutely," Sankey said. "The question will be asked, 'is that sufficient? Should we remain there?' It doesn't predict outcomes, but I envision that it will be a conversation topic moving forward. I never anticipated that we were done."

As a result of the rule not applying to incoming freshmen, 5-star Mississippi State defensive end Jeffery Simmons will be allowed to play this year in Starkville after undergoing a school-sponsored counseling and serving the one-game suspension that the school announced on Thursday.

"It's an institutional responsibility," Sankey said.

When asked if he was comfortable with the decision he elaborated, "I would not express comfort with a situation like that."

"As a conference, we are wrestling with issues like that in a public way," Sankey said.

 

Bowl Games Pay

Bowl games now pay off more for teams who make them.

The take-home pay for each team was raised by $25,000 plus travel allowance as determined by the SEC Executive committee. Those revenue distribution numbers are as follows (all figures are after allowable deductions):

  • $1,025,000 for teams that provide receipts which result in a balance of less than $1,500,000.
  • $1,300,000 for teams that provide receipts which result in a balance between $1,500,000 and $3,999,999.
  • $1,500,000 for teams that provide receipts which result in a balance between $4,000,000 and $5,999,999.
  • $2,025,000 for teams that provide receipts which result in a balance of $6,000,000 or more and all College Football Playoff games. If the team makes the College Football Playoff National Championship, it will receive an additional $2,125,000.

 

Do You See What I See?

The SEC announced last month that it will institute a collaborative replay system in games at SEC home stadiums, the SEC Championship Game and EverBank Field in Jacksonville for the Florida/Georgia games when they include conference referee crews.

How will it work?

The on-site replay official will have the authority to stop the games when needed (as has been the case in the past), to review plays that he or she deems need a second look. When that happens, that official will be in contact with three officials at the SEC's video center in its Birmingham, Alabama, headquarters. The group will collaborate on each call, with the on-site official having the final say, in the hopes of getting it right in a timely fashion.

"I think it's great," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "With everything that goes on, everybody—coaches, players, fans—want to get it right. The more eyes that are more on it and the more people who are able to review something, the better chance you have to get it right."

All SEC officials will be eligible to serve in the video command center on any given week, with the specific individuals being rotated based on assignments. One change is that longtime referee Tom Ritter will retire from his duties as the lead official on one of the SEC's primary crews; however, he will serve as a replay official.

It's a great move for the SEC to use the video center that's already in place to expedite the replay process. 

Make no mistake, it will expedite it.

When it's just one official in the stadium looking at replays, that person oftentimes will have discussions internally to make sure the call is right. With a crew available to look at it in real time, a consensus will likely be achieved quicker than it would with one replay official, limiting the unplanned breaks in action.

 

Grains of Sand

  • The SEC will continue to use an independent medical observer in the press box for all games that take place in SEC stadiums.
  • There was discussion on lifting the three-decade old ban on alcohol sales in general seating areas of SEC stadiums, but the ban will stay in place for now.
  • Fans in stadiums will now see the replay angles that are being reviewed by officials on stadium video boards in addition to broadcast angles. 
  • Suspended games will not be resumed if it is determined by the head referee and the commissioner (and/or his designee on site) that it can be reasonably completed by 1:30 a.m. local time. The commissioner does have sole authority to extend that deadline.

 

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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SEC Expands Serious Misconduct Policy: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

The Southeastern Conference announced changes to its serious misconduct policy Friday to strengthen the regulations concerning the acceptance of incoming transfers. 

Seth Emerson of SEC Country reported the updated rule, which originally prohibited transfer students who were convicted, pleaded guilty or pleaded no contest to sexual assault, domestic violence or "other forms" of sexual violence, still won't cover high school recruits.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee noted the changes include adding transfers who pleaded guilty or no contest to any "felony involving serious misconduct" to the prohibited list. Sallee pointed out other additions to the rule are stalking and "dating violence behavior that concerns safety to others."

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey stated schools are still allowed to make the decisions involving incoming freshmen with prior issues, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.

The news comes one day after Chip Patterson of CBS Sports reported Mississippi State confirmed the enrollment of 5-star defensive line prospect Jeffery Simmons, per 247Sports, despite a video being posted from March that showed him hitting a woman multiple times.

Athletic director Scott Stricklin posted a statement on the school's official athletics site, which also noted Simmons is waiting on a final decision about misdemeanor charges after allegedly trying to break up a fight between his sister and another woman:

Based on conversations our staff has had with school, community and church leaders in Noxubee County, this incident appears to be uncharacteristic of Jeffery. It's a highly unique circumstance to administer discipline to a student for an incident that occurred prior to that individual joining our university. However, it's important that Jeffery and other potential MSU students understand that these type of actions and poor decisions are not acceptable.

We expect the structure and discipline Jeffery will be a part of in our football program to benefit him. Jeffery will be held accountable for his actions while at MSU, and there will be consequences for any future incidents.

Sankey didn't take the idea of potentially including incoming freshmen in the serious misconduct policy in the future completely off the table. "We'll continue to talk," he said when asked about that possibility, according to the SEC Country report.

The SEC didn't provide a timetable on when to expect a final decision regarding the issue, though.

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Ken Starr Discusses Baylor Resignation, Art Briles, More

Following his demotion as president and resignation as chancellor at Baylor University, Ken Starr commented in an interview with KWTX on the sexual assault scandal that rocked the school.

Starr announced his resignation Wednesday in an interview with Outside the Lines (h/t ESPN.com), and he addressed the reasoning behind his decision in the interview, via KWTX.com: "That's why I resigned, as a matter of conscience, so I can call on the board of regents, who are good people and love Baylor, but they have continued to follow a policy that I had to follow as an official. But I urge them toward transparency, transparency."

An awkward moment occurred when interviewer Julie Hays asked him if he had seen an email with the subject line "I was raped at Baylor" sent to him by a former Baylor student who alleged she was raped at the school in 2010.

Starr initially replied, "I honestly may have. I'm not denying that I saw it," before communication specialist Merrie Spaeth interrupted the interview and had Starr change his answer, as seen in this video via KWTX News 10's Facebook page:

Starr's revised response upon returning to the interview was, "I honestly have no recollection of seeing such an email, and I believe that I would remember seeing such an email. The president of the University gets lots of emails. I don't even see a lot of the emails that come into the office of the President. I have no recollection of it. None," per KWTX.com.

Additionally, Baylor head football coach Art Briles was fired May 26, but Starr stood behind him and the winning program he built at the school:

Art Briles is a coach of second chance. Did he make misjudgments? I'll leave that to the board, the board has made its judgment. I am here to say coach Briles and this program are good. He's a good person, the program is a good person, [and] I'm going to vigorously defend it because I love these young men.

Briles has since been replaced by interim head coach Jim Grobe, while David Garland was named interim president in Starr's stead.

Along with those shakeups, several recruits have decommitted from Baylor following the scandal. 

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Notre Dame Football: Fighting Irish's 2016 Offseason Summer Checklist

Notre Dame football could hardly avoid injuries last year, and collective health is the primary storyline of the 2016 offseason.

Most everyone knows about Malik Zaire's situation, but spring practice brought new issues and ailments—one of which could end the football days of a potential starter.

While one college career might finish, though, the coaching staff will be working to start many others via the recruiting trail. One particular weekend could bring a flurry of commitments.

Off-the-field successes will soon become a secondary topic, though. Since Notre Dame has national championship aspirations in 2016, a new starter must have a complete understanding of the defense.

Without that, a healthy team might not be enough for a title.

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