NCAA Football News

Notre Dame Football: Realistic Expectations for the Fighting Irish's 2016 Season

Setting expectations for Notre Dame Fighting Irish football's 2016 season is one of college football's more perplexing tasks, given the team's uncertainty at quarterback.

Unlike most programs, though, the Fighting Irish must decide between two respectable options to lead the offense.

But is the best decision the right-hander or the southpaw?

Head coach Brian Kelly and his staff face an intriguing decision, especially because Notre Dame's scoring attack must carry the 2016 squad. Defensive troubles could be headed to South Bend.

Additionally, the Fighting Irish have a smaller margin for error because of their independent status. A midseason loss could doom Notre Dame and its aspirations for a national championship.

 

Expectations for the Offense

We know that the quarterback will provide a running threat, but we don't know his name.

DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire are battling for the starting job. They pulled away from Brandon Wimbush but not each other during spring practice, as expected.

However, the competition could be so tight throughout fall camp that a clear-cut starter doesn't emerge. That possibility would leave Kelly in a position to simply make an educated guess.

"I think I'm going to have to make a judgment call," Kelly said, according to Evan Sharpley of 247Sports. "There will be a time when I'm going to have to say, that's our quarterback, let's go with him, we're all in, and let's move forward. They are both that good; I already know that."

Kizer—who might hold the smallest of edges post-spring—has the most experience, while Zaire won the starting job heading into the 2015 season. Either way, the Irish will boast a dynamic quarterback and the nation's best backup.

Protection won't be an issue with Mike McGlinchey (LT), Quenton Nelson (LG) and Sam Mustipher (C). Once the right side is settled, Notre Dame will have a formidable unit to open running lanes for Tarean Folston, Josh Adams and (in a lesser role) Dexter Williams.

The primary question is who will catch the ball.

Versatile wideout Torii Hunter Jr. appears headed for a standout season. The same cannot be said for fellow veteran target Corey Robinson, whose football future as of this writing is unknown.

Otherwise, the Irish will rely on talented but inexperienced pass-catchers to replace Will Fuller, Chris Brown and even C.J. Prosise. Equanimeous St. Brown, Durham Smythe, Corey Holmes, Alize Jones, C.J. Sanders, Myles Boykin and Kevin Stepherson are among the names expected to contribute.

The biggest factor in determining the effectiveness of the offense will be how productive can Kizer or Zaire make the receivers.

Notre Dame finished top-35 of both scoring and total offense rankings last year. Considering the losses at skill positions, matching that standing is an acceptable target. Surpassing it would be a compliment to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford.

 

Expectations for the Defense

Put simply, there isn't as much as excitement surrounding the defense. Notre Dame's secondary should be strong, but what matters most is winning the line of scrimmage.

And that's far from a guarantee in 2016.

Even with Sheldon Day, Romeo Okwara, Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt, the Irish ranked 72nd against the run. Unless the four players "weren't that good," Notre Dame should regress defensively this year.

Their replacements are talented, yes. But if they were interchangeable, players like Nyles Morgan wouldn't have watched from the sideline all last season. Rapid development is paramount for the new starters and top rotational pieces.

Additionally, there's the unknown of those defenders grasping defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme, which—right or wrong—is often labeled overly complicated. Kelly disagrees with that assertion, per Nick Ironside of 247Sports.

We don't have any scheme issues. Maybe we had some tendencies, but there aren't any scheme issues that we're concerned with. ... You look at what you're doing and you want to see how other teams perceive you and how other teams are looking at you and how other teams are attacking you, and then it gives you a great perspective on how you move forward.

Despite Notre Dame's struggles creating pressure, the defensive backfield withstood aerial attacks. It was one of 28 groups nationally to surrender less than 200 yards per game.

Defensive backs Drue Tranquill and Shaun Crawford had season-ending injuries last year but return alongside Cole Luke, Devin Butler and a frustrating yet talented Max Redfield. Among others, Devin Studstill, Nick Watkins and Nick Coleman fill out the secondary.

Still, the Irish notched just 24 sacks—16 of which came from departed players—and finished 110th at forcing turnovers. Can that improve without Day commanding double teams, Okwara disrupting off the edge and Smith roaming at linebacker?

 

Perfect Schedule for a Playoff Run

The concerns on defense are real. Thanks to a favorable schedule, though, Notre Dame just needs VanGorder's unit to survive. Kelly essentially said as much.

"Play the defense necessary" is not synonymous with "dominate and be elite."

That's not a jab at the Fighting Irish. Take the Oklahoma Sooners, for example, which reached the College Football Playoff with a top-40 defense, while the Alabama Crimson Tide, Clemson Tigers and Michigan State Spartans were each 26th or better.

Like in March Madness, Notre Dame's biggest goal will be to survive and advance. Fortunately for the Irish, most of their toughest games are in South Bend.

Notre Dame hosts Michigan State, the Duke Blue Devils, Stanford Cardinal, Miami Hurricanes and Virginia Tech Hokies. The major road contests are the Texas Longhorns, Syracuse Orange Men, North Carolina State Wolfpack and USC Trojans. While the schedule isn't easy, a home-heavy slate against top competition is ideal.

The offense will be productive enough to keep Kelly's team in the CFP conversation. However, whether or not the defense performs well enough against MSU, Stanford, Miami and USC will determine if the Irish earn a spot in the championship tournament.

Because without a conference title at stake, Notre Dame likely needs to finish the regular season undefeated.

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan to Host Satellite Camp at Ohio State Pipeline This Summer

Earlier this week, 247Sports' Luke Stampini reported Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was attempting to crash an Ohio State satellite camp stop at one of the Buckeyes' recent pipeline programs, St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

While both the Wolverines and Buckeyes staffs will indeed work camps at the South Florida powerhouse this summer, their dates at the school will come on different days.

St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Roger Harriott told Bleacher Report that Michigan will work a camp at his school June 3, while the Buckeyes staff will be in town to do the same June 16. Neither Michigan nor Ohio State was able to confirm its planned presence at the camps, per NCAA rules.

According to Harriott, the Wolverines staff will work its camp alongside Syracuse and Stetson, while the Buckeyes' camp will include Mississippi State, Arizona, Boston College and Florida Tech. Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and Boston College's Steve Addazio each worked on Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer's staff during his time at Florida.

Asked why Ohio State and Michigan will be in attendance on different days, Harriott said that's just the way their schedules happened to shake out.

Interest in the fertile recruiting ground of South Florida isn't surprising, especially at St. Thomas Aquinas, which has sent both Joey and Nick Bosa and defensive back Damon Arnette to Columbus in recent years. Trevon Grimes, a 5-star wideout in the 2017 class, also possesses strong interest in the Buckeyes and is favored to land at Ohio State, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

Grimes also possesses an offer from Michigan, as Harbaugh has made a more concerted effort to recruit the back-to-back defending 7A Florida state champion since arriving in Ann Arbor. St. Thomas Aquinas 3-star receiver Josh Palmer has been predicted to land at Michigan, per 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections, and South Carolina commit and 3-star running back Kyshaun Bryan also has a Wolverines offer.

Michigan's plan to hold camp at St. Thomas Aquinas—the Wolverines' second scheduled stop this summer, per the Detroit Free Press—is a further indication of Harbaugh's attempts to make inroads at the Sunshine State power.

"They're going to go where the players are," said Bleacher Report recruiting analyst Sanjay Kirpalani. "This is a step in them essentially going to the top programs down there and finding those types of kids and letting them know, 'Hey, we're coming to recruit your school. We're here, regardless of whether we've had success there in the past or not.'

"They're getting that brand name fresh in the mind of those kids in the South Florida area."

While Ohio State and Michigan won't cross paths at Aquinas, both are expected to be in attendance at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit in June, as each has done in past years. Whether they'll eventually cross paths elsewhere on their respective satellite camp tours remains to be seen, but it won't happen at St. Thomas Aquinas this summer.

 

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. Recruit rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Power Ranking College Football's Best 2016 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

Will they throw the ball or keep it and run? And will we be able to stop them either way?

This is what goes through the minds of college football defensive coordinators as they prepare for the top dual-threat quarterbacks, those who are so dangerous that any game plan to slow them might end up having the size and complexity of a Stephen King novel.

Though the dual-threat passer still hasn't become the status quo at the professional level, it remains a staple of quarterback play in college. Most FBS teams are steering in this direction, as eight of the top 100 rushing tallies in 2015 were by QBs, and a dozen passers had at least 157 carries last season.

Not all of those dual-threat quarterbacks are still in the college game, but those who return still make up a strong group. We've ranked the best of them heading into 2016, based on their past production and what's expected this season.

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Heisman Handicapper: Ranking the Top 15 Candidates Post-Spring Games

It's never too early to talk Heisman Trophy. College football's most famous award commands a chunk of the news cycle all year long, as every star player wants a shot at becoming a legend.

The surefire favorites and the dark horses for the 2016 edition of the Heisman are starting to come into a little more focus in the wake of spring camps all across the country.

Some players' supporting casts are starting to look better than expected. Others are starting to prepare for what will be tougher schedules.

In this edition of the Heisman Handicapper, let's break down the top 15 candidates coming out of spring games in college football and hand out some early odds.

These aren't the same odds you'll find from the experts in Las Vegas. These are our own odds based on past performance, potential for 2016 and other factors such as strength of schedule and health concerns.

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Michigan Football: Realistic Expectations for the Wolverines' 2016 Season

Expectations for Michigan football's 2016 season could hardly be higher, since the Wolverines are projected to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The only way projections really can increase in boldness is by tabbing Jim Harbaugh's club as a lock to reach the four-team championship tournament.

However, that wouldn't be a realistic forecast.

Barring significant injuries to key players, Michigan will be an excellent team. While that statement isn't exactly breaking news, several top programs share a similar outlook.

But in terms of what the Wolverines can control, though, whether or not they survive the back-loaded schedule will be the difference between a Big Ten title with a likely CFP berth and falling short to a rival yet again.

 

Expectations for the Offense

The first half of the 2015 slate revealed an offense that simply did enough while the defense carried Michigan. Only against BYU did the Wolverines offense control an opponent from the opening whistle.

That should change this season.

Michigan returns four starters on the offensive line, which struggled in run blocking last year. But the 41-7 Citrus Bowl victory over Florida—a defense peppered with NFL-caliber talent—showed a unit capable of owning the trenches.

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive, right tackle Erik Magnuson said the win boosted the O-line's morale:

That game was, I think, big just for our confidence. [Florida's] an SEC school, they had a really good defense, good stats and all that type of thing. And for us to go in there and put together a game like we did, I felt like we really played well. That built our confidence a lot. And now we've got to build on it.

If Ben Braden (LG), Mason Cole (moving from LT to C), Kyle Kalis (RG) and Magnuson (RT) improve this summer like they did during three weeks of December bowl practices, it will hardly matter that the Wolverines probably won't have a star runner.

Still, there's no Heisman Trophy candidate emerging from this backfield.

De'Veon Smith is a two-time leading rusher but not a dynamic player. Drake Johnson—assuming he recovers after getting hit by a forklift—could be a better option, although he only managed 54 carries in 2015 despite a wide-open job.

The wild card is Ty Isaac, who looked explosive during the spring game. However, the former top recruit hasn't come close to his perceived potential, and an April scrimmage certainly doesn't provide a definitive answer as to whether 2016 will be Isaac's year.

Michigan also must break in a new quarterback to replace Jake Rudock, a sixth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. That competition is unofficially narrowed down to Wilton Speight and John O'Korn.

Fortunately, the winner won't lack weapons. Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh and Jake Butt—159 combined receptions, 2,154 yards and 14 touchdowns—headline a formidable pass-catching group.

Speight or O'Korn must develop the chemistry Rudock lacked with that trio—particularly Chesson as a deep threat—for a sizable portion of last season.

In 2015, the Wolverines finished 50th and 69th in scoring and total offense, respectively. While comfortable top-50 marks are sensible predictions, a top-25 attack nationally is their ceiling.

Should Michigan's defense matches expectations, though, the Maize and Blue won't require anything more than that.

 

Expectations for the Defense

It seems ridiculous to even consider the notion that the 2016 defense could be even better than 2015. After all, the Wolverines had an elite unit last year.

Nevertheless, improvement is actually quite likely.

Willie Henry and Mario Ojemudia—who missed the final eight games anyway—are the primary departures from the defensive line. But Maurice Hurst Jr. is a rising star at defensive tackle, and 5-star Rashan Gary will arrive this summer.

Chris Wormley is a potential first-round pick, Ryan Glasgow was a powerful run-stopper when healthy in 2015 and three notable pieces—Taco Charlton, Chase Winovich and Matt Godin—complete the unit.

Behind the stout defensive front lies Michigan's possible weakness. Jabrill Peppers' move to linebacker, combined with first-year coordinator Don Brown's attack-minded scheme, has helped eliminate some concerns after losing three starters, however.

True freshmen Devin Bush Jr. and Elysee Mbem-Bosse figure to join the rotation, but Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News noted that Brown is comfortable with that prospect.

While spread offenses gave the Wolverines some trouble in 2015, Peppers' hybrid-like spot gives them a faster group of linebackers without sacrificing the secondary.

Instead, Peppers' position switch allows Michigan to play its top 11 defenders. Jourdan Lewis is a lockdown outside corner, while Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark are starting-caliber talents. Dymonte Thomas (FS) and Delano Hill (SS) are penciled in, too.

Tyree Kinnel will be the non-Peppers backup safety, while prized recruits David Long and Lavert Hill should earn immediate snaps.

Now, the Wolverines don't have a perfect defense, as evidenced by a mere 12 takeaways last year. But the primary reason for hope is that Boston College forced 23 under Brown.

Considering the talent level in Brown's system—and barring a streak of injuries—anything worse than a top-10 defense in Ann Arbor would be stunning, especially following a tremendous 2015 campaign.

 

The Road to Indianapolis, the Playoff

Michigan will ease into the regular season, beginning its championship pursuit by hosting Hawaii, UCF and Colorado. Make it 3-0.

Although facing Penn State and Wisconsin is a tough way to start Big Ten action, the Wolverines host both foes. Conference play continues at Rutgers and home to Illinois, so a 7-0 record heading into the gauntlet is both attainable and probable.

Then it gets tricky.

Michigan State's offense won't match its performance under Connor Cook, but the Spartans defense will be trouble. MSU has earned seven victories in the last eight matchups, and the rivalry heads to East Lansing this year.

A potential respite awaits Michigan the following week when Maryland's mediocre offense comes to Ann Arbor, but former U-M defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will lead a stingy Terrapins defense.

Next up is the big question mark: Iowa on the road. Are the Hawkeyes for real? Or will they return to playing average football? That question will be answered well before November 12, but not now.

The Wolverines shouldn't repeat a high-scoring tilt with Indiana, but four of the series' last five meetings were shootouts. Perhaps that trend will continue.

Last but certainly not least is The Game. Ohio State—which owns an 11-1 record against Michigan since 2004—must reload its roster but will have an established identity at this point.

After a 7-0 start, Michigan's CFP aspirations will depend on beating top conference opponents away from the Big House while not overlooking a pair of pesky programs. The Wolverines figure to remain in the hunt for a conference title and CFP berth until the final weekend in Columbus.

What happens then...well, that's anyone's guess.

 

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from CFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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SEC Football: Ranking Top 2016 Nonconference Games

The SEC now requires that all members have at least one Power Five nonconference game per year, and the matchups in 2016 are nothing short of spectacular.

The regular season is loaded with incredible games, including Alabama's season opener versus USC in Arlington, Texas, the Battle at Bristol between Tennessee and Virginia Tech in Week 2 at Bristol Motor Speedway and traditional nonconference season finales like Florida vs. Florida State that always mean a lot.

Which nonconference games are the best? Our top 10 are based on novelty, location and what they could mean to the College Football Playoff scene.

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Big Ten Football Q&A: Who Has the B1G's Hardest Schedule in 2016?

With the NFL draft having came and passed, spring football officially in the rearview mirror and the start of fall camp still three months away, we've officially reached the dead period of the college football calendar.

But between satellite camp battles, Ohio State's owning of the NFL draft and the rarely quiet recruiting trail, the Big Ten has yet to go into hibernation just yet.

With that in mind, let's get to our weekly conference Q&A. This week, we'll tackle the toughest schedule in the conference, Rutgers' potential under its new head coach, the state of the Rutgers defense and Ohio State's backup quarterback spot.

As always, you can send your questions to me each week on Twitter @BenAxelrod.

Let's get started.

 

Imagine starting the season with one of the biggest games of college football's opening weekend, one that will be played in an NFL stadium against an SEC favorite returning 96 percent of its offensive production and 88 percent on defense, according to SB Nation's Bill Connelly.

Now imagine that's the easy part of your schedule.

That's exactly the predicament Wisconsin finds itself in entering 2016, where its season-opening showdown with LSU at Lambeau Field will be just a warm-up for what has to be one of the most daunting conference slates in Big Ten history. Not only did the Badgers draw the Big Ten East's three best teams—Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State—as its cross-divisional opponents, but the Badgers will face them in three consecutive games to start league play, with only their Oct. 15 battle with the Buckeyes coming at home in Madison.

And that's not all.

After having already faced LSU, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State in the first half of its schedule, Wisconsin's Big Ten West opener just so happens to come against reigning division champion Iowa—in a road game at Kinnick Stadium, nonetheless.

Add it all up, and the Badgers will open Big Ten play with four games against teams that combined for a 46-8 record in 2015, with three of the four matchups coming on the road. Even after that, games against Nebraska and Northwestern will hardly be gimmes, although by that point it may not even matter for Wisconsin as far as Big Ten title contention is concerned.

Who has the toughest schedule in the conference?

The answer's the Badgers. And there's not even a close a second.

 

This is a tough spot for me, because on the one hand, I like Chris Ash as a coach. Just look at the way he transformed the Ohio State defense from what it was in 2013 to being national championship-caliber in 2014, and it's easy to see why Rutgers tabbed the former Buckeyes defensive coordinator as their new head coach.

But as much as I think Ash has the potential to be a great head coach one day, it's hard to imagine him finding that success with the Scarlet Knights—at least not immediately.

With a roster still in flux, Rutgers' 2016 schedule is hardly favorable—which it rarely will be while playing in the Big Ten East. With a cross-divisional against Iowa being added to annual matchups against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights would likely need to win six of their remaining eight games in order to become bowl-eligible in the coming year.

After going 4-8 a year ago and with no clear-cut answer at quarterback, that's going to be tough to do against the likes of Washington, New Mexico, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Penn State. A three-week stretch against the Hawkeyes, Buckeyes and Wolverines to start Big Ten play will be particularly difficult and could ultimately derail Ash's debut season in Piscataway.

On the bright side, I've liked a lot of what Ash has done four months into his new job from a program-building standpoint, and with a commitment from 2017 4-star offensive tackle Micah Clark, he could be headed for long-term success.

I just don't see that showing up early in 2016, however, as the Scarlet Knights will likely need to take at least one step back before making even greater progress forward.

 

While former Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is now at Maryland, his replacement in Ann Arbor is actually former Boston College coordinator Don Brown, not Wolverines defensive line coach Greg Mattison.

But as far as Michigan's defense, which ranked fourth in the nation in total defense a year ago, is concerned, I actually expect the Wolverines to only improve in the coming year.

Although the hiring of Greg Schiano at Ohio State stole the headlines, Jim Harbaugh's tabbing of Brown was one of the more impressive moves in the Big Ten this offseason. The Eagles laid claim to the nation's top-ranked defense in 2015 and improved each season since Brown arrived in 2013.

With Brown's blitz-heavy approach, Michigan's defense will be aggressive, and Jabrill Peppers' move to a linebacker role could be a game-changer in the Big Ten in the coming year. The player Brown last used at Peppers' new position, Matt Milano, totaled 17.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in 2015, and his three outside linebackers before that—Josh Keyes, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Sio Moore—are each playing in the NFL.

Add that the Wolverines will possess one of the nation's top corners in Jourdan Lewis and a defensive line that now includes the nation's top prospect in Rashan Gary, and there's no reason to believe Michigan will take a step back on defense in 2016. Durkin was impressive—there's a reason he now finds himself as a head coach—but the Wolverines still have the talent, and possibly the coordinator, to build on an already impressive start on the defensive side of the ball in the Harbaugh era in Ann Arbor.

 

Well, with this week's news, as first reported by Eleven Warriors' Eric Seger, that Collier will "most likely" miss the 2016 season with a torn ACL, the chances of the redshirt sophomore ever becoming an Ohio State starter have only gotten slimmer.

And they weren't all that big to begin with.

Coming out of the spring, Joe Burrow had seemingly locked up the Buckeyes' backup job behind J.T. Barrett, and Collier would have found himself in a battle with true freshman Dwayne Haskins for third-string duty had he remained healthy. That's not a great spot for a player entering his third year in a program, with head coach Urban Meyer only adding talent at quarterback with each recruiting class.

Collier's ceiling was always comparable to former OSU backup Kenny Guiton, who served as Braxton Miller's primary understudy and even managed to put together a few memorable moments throughout his final two seasons in Columbus. But Guiton was never the type of talent you'd feel comfortable with if you had to rely on him as a long-term starter.

Collier is similar, having landed with the Buckeyes as a safety signing after Meyer and his staff waited it out for too long in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes of 2014. There's nothing wrong with that; "program players" have a place at most schools, even if it's unlikely they'll ever contribute on the field for an extended period of time.

With his recent injury, the door for Collier to do just that appears to be closing. At this point, his status moving forward is up in the air and will depend not only on his recovery, but what happens in the Buckeyes backfield in his absence in 2016.

 

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. Recruit rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Georgia Football: Could Bulldogs Use 2-QB System in 2016?

GREENSBORO, Ga. — The three-man battle taking place at Georgia among senior Greyson Lambert, junior Brice Ramsey and true freshman early enrollee Jacob Eason will be one of the major storylines of the offseason, thanks to the 5-star hype Eason brings in, the coaching change from Mark Richt to Kirby Smart and the need for the Bulldogs to stretch the field.

There's no question that Eason is the future, but could "the present" be a two-quarterback system, at least in the opener vs. North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta?

"I think you play the guy who gives you the best opportunity to win," Smart said at the Chick-fil-A Challenge in Greensoro, Georgia, on Monday. "I think you make that judgement during the game with how guys are playing and how they've played the 28 practices prior to that. I'd be open to that. Certainly, it's not something that's beneficial for the overall program. But if one guy is not playing well, you have to be willing to do that."

If the Georgia quarterback battle bleeds into the season, that takes away No. 1 reps from the eventual winner during fall camp—when it's imperative for quarterbacks to grow. Is Smart worried about that perhaps hampering Eason's development?

"I don't think so, because they all get equal reps," he said. "You can get three quarterbacks during summer ready to play. They kind of take care of themselves as far as reps go. The better they play, they more they get."

Going up against a North Carolina defense that finished third in the ACC in pass defense (188.6 yards per game) last year and boasted Broyles Award finalist Gene Chizik as its coordinator, the Bulldog quarterbacks have a big challenge in front of them in Week 1. 

It sounds like Eason will see the field in some capacity in his first game in the red and black. Whether that means as the starter or the first guy off the bench remains to be seen.

A big part of that equation will be summer workouts, when the three quarterbacks will be charged with leading throwing sessions and seven-on-seven workouts.

"It's hard to evaluate them in the summer toward fall, because we obviously aren't out there when those guys are getting to throw and do things," Smart said on the SEC East coaches teleconference on Wednesday. "I challenged each one of them in our exit interview to be a leader, be organized and structure things."

The last time Georgia used a two-quarterback system prior to last year—when Lambert and Ramsey rotated early before Lambert took over full time—was in 2006, when Matthew Stafford was a true freshman in the Classic City.

In that season, Joe Tereshinski opened the season vs. Western Kentucky as the starter, with Stafford and Joe Cox rotating in throughout the first half of the season before Stafford took over as the full-time starter on Oct. 21 vs. Mississippi State. Stafford finished the season with 1,749 passing yards, tossing seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but established himself as the future of the program down the stretch with wins over Auburn and Georgia Tech.

Smart could be following the same path with this cast—which is a mirror image of that group.

Lambert is the veteran who can manage a game, but with limited upside. Like Cox, Ramsey was a highly touted recruit who hasn't seen much time under center. Like Stafford, Eason is the 5-star stud with the weight of a fanbase resting on his shoulders.

After facing the Tar Heels in the 2016 opener on one of the biggest stages in college football, Georgia gets Nicholls State and a road trip to Missouri prior to the trip to Oxford to take on Ole Miss in Week 4. 

Smart testing the waters in September to find out who can handle the offense and just how ready Eason is for the SEC sounds like a reasonable option for the 2016 Bulldogs. 

 

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

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

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Ohio State Football: True Freshmen Who Need to Make an Instant Impact in 2016

Ohio State will field a very young team when it kicks off its 2016 campaign against Bowling Green this September, and with so many holes in the current depth chart, true freshmen Austin Mack, Michael Jordan and Nick Bosa have a big opportunity to make an impact this fall.

The Buckeyes, who are replacing eight starters on each side of the ball, wrapped up spring practice last month and are bracing for summer conditioning and fall camp. That's when head coach Urban Meyer and the coaching staff will cement their depth chart and determine who will see the field for a potential Big Ten title and playoff run.

Those championship aspirations will be easier to achieve if these three players acclimate to the collegiate level right out of the gate.

 

Austin Mack, Wide Receiver

Ohio State lost the players responsible for over 80 percent of its receiving yards in 2016 with the graduations and early departures of wide receivers Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall, running back Ezekiel Elliott and tight end Nick Vannett. 

In desperate need of perimeter playmaking ability, Austin Mack could provide a huge boost to a depleted wide receiver corps in 2016. 

The former 4-star wideout graduated high school early to take part in winter conditioning and spring practice, and that extra time paid off for both him and Ohio State. Mack showed an exceptional tenacity and work ethic during workouts, and that extended to the field when spring camp opened.

He was so impressive that he had Meyer envisioning big things in the fall.

"Austin Mack is going to play next year," Meyer said, according to Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod. "It's two days and I know it's too early to say that, which I have a tendency to over-evaluate guys and get too excited about them, but he's doing fantastic."

The wide receiver room will get a bit crowded when Noah Brown, Corey Smith and Curtis Samuel work their way back into full speed, but Mack did enough to prove he has what it takes to compete at this level. 

 

Michael Jordan, Offensive Guard

It takes a special kind of talent for a true freshman to win a starting job before the season starts. The intricacies of the pass- and run-blocking schemes, paired with the increased physicality from the high school level, make for a very difficult transition.

It usually takes a year for young linemen to adjust, but Michael Jordan, the 4-star standout from Canton, Michigan, has made quick work of getting up to speed.

Like Mack, Jordan enrolled early to participate in spring drills, and that's where he made his surprising surge up the depth chart. After lining up at tackle in high school, Jordan transitioned to the interior as a potential backup for Demetrius Knox at right guard. 

But instead of settling in as a reserve, he created a position battle and got the best of Knox by the end of spring.

New Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa talked about Jordan's unexpected rise, according to Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com.

I don't know how to put that in words, because I wouldn't have expected that. We knew he was a talented young man, but until you get out here and the speed of the game, and how he adjusts to the speed of the game, he's adjusted really quickly.

For a freshman who should still be in high school, who graduated early to be here at this level of football, doing the things he's doing? I'm surprised and impressed at that.

 

Dwayne Haskins, Quarterback

This time last week, Dwayne Haskins wouldn't have appeared on this list, but one stroke of bad luck shows how important he is to Ohio State in 2016.

News broke on Wednesday that third-string quarterback Stephen Collier tore his ACL and would miss the 2016 season. That injury will likely thrust Dwayne Haskins into the third spot on the depth chart behind J.T. Barrett and Joe Burrow.

Meyer heaped high praise on the 4-star quarterback on national signing day, who's more in the mold of Cardale Jones as a pocket passer than a dual threat like J.T. Barrett.

But Ohio State fans are well aware of how important it is to have depth at the quarterback position. In 2014, the Buckeyes were down to their third quarterback in Jones when they hit the postseason, and all he did was beat Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon on the way to the program's first national title since 2002.

Unless disaster strikes, Ohio State won't need to call Haskins' number this fall, unless it's at the tail end of a blowout. But the Buckeyes know better than any team in the country that having three game-ready quarterbacks can be the difference between a championship run and a late-season collapse. 

 

All recruiting information via 247 Sports.

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

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Joe Paterno Was Allegedly Told of Jerry Sandusky Sex Abuse by Child in 1976

Former Penn State Nittany Lions head football coach Joe Paterno was allegedly informed by a child about sexual misconduct by defensive assistant Jerry Sandusky all the way back in 1976, according to details of a court order released to PennLive.com's Charles Thompson.

The documents, which are part of Penn State's ongoing insurance case regarding Sandusky settlements, say "a child allegedly reported to PSU's head coach Joseph Paterno that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky."

Paterno—who died in 2012, two months after being fired by Penn State amid the Sandusky controversy—maintained he had no knowledge of any previous acts. An investigation uncovered that former assistant Mike McQueary approached Paterno and claimed to have seen Sandusky molesting a child in a Penn State shower. Paterno reported the events to his superiors, but the incident was never reported to authorities.

The court order released Thursday indicated there were additional reports of misconduct by Sandusky in 1987 and 1988. One such incident allegedly found its way to Penn State's athletic director at the time, Jim Tarman. It's unclear if Tarman, who retired in 1993, ever took action. 

"There is no evidence that reports of these incidents ever went further up the chain of command at PSU," Judge Gary Glazer wrote, per Thompson.

Sandusky was perhaps Paterno's most loyal assistant during his tenure at State College. He began as a defensive line coach in 1969, served as a linebackers coach from 1970 to 1976 and then was the defensive coordinator from 1977 until his retirement in 1999. Paterno and Sandusky won two national championships and went undefeated four times together.

The Sandusky scandal all but ruined Paterno's national reputation. Once viewed as a bastion of what is good about college sports, he has been pilloried despite protests from his family. Wick Sollers, the attorney from the Paterno family, released a statement Thursday denying the former coach acted inappropriately, per Thompson:

Over the past four-and-a-half years Joe Paterno's conduct has been scrutinized by an endless list of investigators and attorneys.

Through all of this review there has never been any evidence of inappropriate conduct by Coach Paterno. To the contrary, the evidence clearly shows he shared information with his superiors as appropriate.

An allegation now about an alleged event 40 years ago, as represented by a single line in a court document regarding an insurance issue, with no corroborating evidence, does not change the facts. Joe Paterno did not, at any time, cover up conduct by Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno remains major college football's winningest coach with 409 victories. The NCAA reinstated 111 of his wins in 2015 after having taken them away as part of sanctions against Penn State following the Sandusky scandal.

Paterno was never charged with a crime.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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Kirby Smart Is the Biggest Threat to Knock Nick Saban, Alabama from Atop SEC

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Had there been a glass of water involved, University of Georgia coach Kirby Smart could have done a spit take earlier this week when asked about a comment he made during national signing day.

"I said it would be fun?” he blurted about recruiting against his former boss, Nick Saban, during the Southeastern Conference spring coaches teleconference with reporters. “Oh man, I hope I didn't say it would be fun.

"I don't look forward to that because I know Nick does a great job in recruiting. He's very relentless. He does a really good job, and they have a great product to sell, so it’s a tough one.”

Actually, the same could have been said the other way around, as for years Smart has had the reputation of being one of college football’s best recruiters. He had the advantage of doing so for arguably the sport’s best coach and helped create Alabama’s ongoing dynasty but now brings the same enthusiasm to his alma mater.

That’s going to be a problem for Alabama, the reigning national champions and first repeat SEC champions in nearly 20 years.

While Saban likes to say, “I sort of end up driving the bus” to describe his program, Smart was the closest thing he ever had to a co-pilot. At minimum, the new head coach was in the front seat for most of the past decade after having initially been hired to be someone who could be developed and move up the ranks. 

Smart definitely did that, having signed on at LSU in 2004 as a defensive backs coach and followed Saban to both the Miami Dolphins in 2006 and Tuscaloosa in 2007, where a year later he became the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator.

In 2009, he won the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, and three years later, he earned a similar honor from the American Football Coaches Association.

But of all the assistant coaches Saban’s had over the years, Smart’s the one who came closest to thinking the same way, which was a big reason for Alabama’s consistent defensive success during an era that saw radical changes to the game.

Anyone who wants to understand Saban’s attention to detail only needs to go back and watch the final couple of minutes of the 2011 title game against LSU, when Alabama was ahead 21-0 and reserve linebacker Alex Watkins jumped offside. Even though the outcome was no longer in doubt, he went ballistic along the sideline.

About an hour after the game ended at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a reporter asked Saban if the competitive fire still burned as hot as when he was a player or graduate assistant. What do you think?” he deadpanned, drawing laughter from the room.

“To me that's probably the greatest feature I've learned or will take with me when I become a head coach, is you have to be demanding,” Smart said just before Alabama destroyed Notre Dame for the 2012 title. “You have to be able to confront people if they're not doing their job or not doing it the way you want it. It's hard sometimes. Just like asking these players to be leaders to go in front of their peers and challenge a guy, that's tough, and these guys have done it. 

“Coach Saban does it and it flows down into our organization. He's been a great asset to me, and I'll take a lot of things with me if I ever get the opportunity.”

Put those traits together, and there’s only one final ingredient needed for a college coach to be successful, and that's location, which applies to both name recognition and recruiting.

Even though it hasn’t claimed a crown since 1980, Georgia is on the short list of programs that could, if not should, be in the title hunt every year. Moreover, the state has such an impressive level of talent that if Smart is able to lock down the borders and keep more of the top prospects from going elsewhere, he’ll have an instant national power.

According to the NFL, during opening weekend of the 2015 season the most players on active rosters were, in order, Florida (204), California (203), Texas (181) and Georgia (114). Georgia was also third on the list of NFL players per capita (one per 84,979 residents).

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs had 34 players in the league, which was impressive but nowhere near the program’s potential, as the majority of top prospects had gone elsewhere. Via the 247Sports' composite rankings, Georgia landed just two of the top 10 in-state players in its most recent recruiting class, which is typical.

When Alabama visited Sanford Stadium during the 2015 season, and left with a resounding 38-10 victory, the Crimson Tide roster boasted 14 players from the Peach State, including Kenyan Drake, Dillon Lee, Geno Matias-Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, Dakota Ball and Adam Griffith

Granted, Smart wasn’t considered the primary recruiter for all of them, but he was considered Alabama’s front man in the state and seemingly had connections everywhere. It helped lead to signing Blake Sims, Austin Shepherd, Nick Perry and Shawn Burgess-Becker.

Some of his best in-state signings have included Reuben Foster, Marlon Humphrey and Rashaan Evans. 

"It's not me against him," Smart said about Saban. "It's very rare that Georgia and Alabama are the only two teams recruiting a kid. If we’re on a kid, everyone on the SEC is. It's never me against Saban, and I have too much respect for him to say that anyway. I never felt that way.”

Nevertheless, the two programs went head-to-head over numerous players in the 2016 class, and from here it’ll probably only get harder for Alabama to pluck players from across the border. Saban considers anything within a five-hour drive to be prime recruiting territory, and both Atlanta and Athens are well within that radius.

That’s why Smart’s the coach Alabama should be the most concerned with—maybe not this year but definitely down the road—and helps explain Saban recently telling CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd: “Personally, Georgia, if it’s not the best job in the conference, it certainly should be.”

Yes, LSU’s Les Miles won a national championship and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn did as an offensive coordinator. Yet until proven otherwise, Saban clearly has the upper hand against them.

Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss has won two straight against Saban. However, the Crimson Tide bounced back and won the SEC West in both cases.

Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has already shown he’s a very good coach at Florida, which, like Georgia, is annually among the top programs in the nation when it comes to football revenue. But Smart’s the better recruiter.

Even though Smart has yet to be a head coach during a game and Saban's still undefeated against his former assistants, that'll make a difference over the long haul and at least in part come at Alabama’s expense.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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A.J. Dillon Displays Freak Athleticism, Will Be 'All-Purpose Back' at Michigan

Athletes like A.J. Dillon don't go unnoticed very long when it comes to the college football recruiting scene.

Although the 2017 prospect admits that his native New England region isn't exactly a spot that routinely comes under the microscope for high-level coaching staffs, he managed to land on the radar for several of America's most marquee programs.

"People kind of sleep on the area because they don't think we play against good competition," Dillon, a junior at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts, told Bleacher Report.

For a second straight spring, the running back dismissed that notion while in attendance for The Opening's New Jersey regional event. He returned to New York Jets facilities Sunday and repeated as high-scorer in combine-like testing procedures that measure vertical jump, shuttle run, power-ball toss and the 40-yard dash.

Standing 6'1", 239 pounds, Dillon clocked a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash and a 4.29 in the shuttle. His athleticism (38.3-inch jump) and strength (40-foot toss) were also on display, earning him SPARQ (speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness) ratings MVP honors for a second-straight year.

This phenomenal effort helped Dillon secure a coveted invitation to The Opening national finals held in July at Nike's world headquarters:

His intimidating blend of size and speed attracted scholarship offers from across the country. Nearby Boston College began recruiting him as a freshman, and Dillon ultimately focused on five schools as finalists this spring.

After weighing opportunities at Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia and Wisconsin, he announced intentions to play at Michigan on March 28:

After a visit to Ann Arbor less than a week shy of his decision, Dillon determined that the Wolverines presented a perfect fit.

"Michigan has the three As—atmosphere, athletics and academics," he said. "It's one of the best public schools in the world. It has one of the most talked-about football programs because of what [head coach Jim] Harbaugh is doing and improving the team from five wins to 10 wins last year. Those people in Ann Arbor are supportive of all their athletic programs which really creates a sense of camaraderie." 

Considering Dillon's physical stature and freakish athletic traits, there's plenty of buzz about his ability to fill multiple roles in college. Some project linebacker as an ideal landing spot and, considering his consistent communication with Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown and linebackers/special teams coach Chris Partridge, there's a sentiment that's where he may end up at Michigan.

According to Dillon, that won't be the case.

"I'm going to be an all-purpose back," he said. "I'm not going to be just a third-down back or playing linebacker. I'll be lined up in different situations—carrying the ball, running routes and pass-blocking."

His high school career certainly points to immense promise in the offensive backfield.

Dillon, the grandson of former All-American Notre Dame Fighting Irish receiver and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Tom Gatewood, gained 1,887 yards on the ground last fall (10. 1 yards per carry). He rushed for 3,255 yards and 47 touchdowns during the past two seasons.

Rated No. 24 nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, Dillon is one of three Wolverines pledges who land in the top 50 of that list, along with O'Maury Samuels (No. 20) and Kurt Taylor (No. 47).

Michigan signed Kareem Walker, the No. 4 overall 2016 running back recruit, last cycle. He enrolled early and participated in the program's spring camp.

While Dillon acknowledged a crowded situation could be brewing in the Wolverines backfield, roster depth won't cause him to doubt his potential impact.

"At the end of the day, I do want to get the most touches I possibly can, but I believe the coaches are going to put us in the best situation to succeed," he said. "[Running backs coach Tyrone] Wheatley, who was a big back himself, and the rest of the staff know how they want to use us. I feel confident it's not going to be a situation where I'm sitting on the bench forever. We're all going to get touches in different areas."

Dillon fits the bill as a big, powerful back who could plow through defenses when weather turns nasty deep into the Big Ten Conference season. He believes several pivotal late-fall matchups await Michigan, and the 2017 class will be ready to step up when called upon.

"I can't even describe it or put it into words, but we all have this feeling that something special is going to happen there," Dillon said. "You've got a lot of great athletes all over the field in this recruiting class who are ready to get together and combine their talents at Michigan. There are more on the way too."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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Aaron Moorehead, Texas A&M WR Coach, Apologizes for Twitter Rant

Texas A&M wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead issued an apology Thursday for his late-night rant Wednesday, which was seemingly aimed at Tate Martell, who decommitted from A&M on Wednesday. 

"Last night, I made some impromptu comments on social media out of frustration and out of a true love for Texas A&M Football," Moorehead wrote on Twitter. "I want to apologize to all of the young men in high school who work so hard to achieve their dreams of playing college football & I wish them all well wherever they end up. 

"I also want to apologize to Coach [Kevin] Sumlin and the Aggie Family for not representing our university the right way. I need to do better and I will."

Moorehead, 35, sent out multiple tweets Wednesday night and into early Thursday morning bemoaning a lack of "loyalty." Many viewed his initial tweet as being aimed at touted quarterback Martell, who announced on Twitter he was reopening his recruitment. Martell joined an ever-growing string of quarterbacks to back away from the Aggies, as Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray each left the school after last season.

The 5'10" Martell is considered the nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterback and No. 33 player in the 2017 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. Moorehead denied his initial tweet was about Martell but added fuel to the fire by doubling down on his comments:

That only served to make things worse, as Moorehead's comments apparently cost the Aggies another recruit. Mannie Netherly, the 27th-ranked receiver in 247Sports' 2017 composite rankings, took to Twitter and announced he was decommitting because of Moorehead.

"After tonight I see what kind of person my 'future coach' is & I myself don't wanna play for someone like that so without further ado I would like to announce that I am decommiting [sic] from Texas A&M," Netherly wrote. 

Sumlin also addressed the controversy Thursday, indicating Moorehead's Twitter privileges may be on the outs, per ESPN.com:

Let me say this: I was made aware of it and I've addressed it with [Moorehead] and we're still working through it. He's taken responsibility for his actions and then we'll move on from there. Basically, that discussion has been had and obviously Aaron has taken responsibility for what he did. ... We'll see what happens from here on out.

Our policy has been if you abuse the privilege, you lose the privilege. I'll put it that way.

Apparently, that's what Moorehead gets for not following the first rule of Twitter: Never tweet. Now it appears he won't be able to. 

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The Best 2017 NFL Draft Prospect for Every Power 5 College Football Team

A few months away from the college football regular season, we already enjoy a relatively clear outlook on each power-conference team's best 2017 NFL draft prospect.

There will be late-rising and breakout players, but most of the following talents have starred at their respective programs for the last two or three years.

Remember, though, NFL franchises aren't looking strictly at stats, so a team's best prospect is not necessarily the biggest producer on a given roster. Additionally, the top prospect may not be a college's first product that's selected.

Ordered alphabetically, this list focuses strictly on draft-eligible players—which includes underclassmen.

Begin Slideshow

College Football's All-NFL Ready Team for 2016

The NFL draft has come and gone, meaning we can put aside—at least for a little bit—all of the projections about who from the college game will make it in the pros.

Yeah, not likely. The NFL just plucked away more than 250 of college's best players from the 2015 season, and already attention has shifted to the 2017 draft. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller is among many who have published way-too-early mock drafts for next year, and that's only part of the wave of projections related to the next crop of college stars who will soon be on their way to the pros.

Dislike it all you want, it's the reality of the relationship between college football and the NFL. We might as well embrace it however we can by putting together an All-NFL Ready team.

This list is comprised of current college football players who, based on their talents and measurables, would have been drafted quite early this past weekend if they were allowed to be picked.

We've picked one player from every major position, limiting the selections to those who were not eligible for the 2016 draft. That means no seniors or redshirt juniors, players who opted to return to school to improve their draft stock.

Being eligible for the 2017 draft isn't a requirement, though. If a freshman or sophomore is the best NFL-level talent at his position in college, then he'll be on this list over a junior.

Begin Slideshow

Hugh Freeze Comments on Laremy Tunsil's Alleged Texts with Ole Miss' John Miller

As more information about former Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil's alleged social media hack before last week's NFL draft comes out, Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze has broken his silence about the situation. 

Speaking to the media Thursday, per Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee, Freeze said he knows "nothing" about the information that came out last week. Freeze added he "was shocked living it in real time like everyone else."  

Per Sallee, Freeze also said the Ole Miss administration has been working aggressively to resolve the situation.

Per Daniel Paulling of the Clarion-Ledger, Freeze admitted that patience in a situation of this magnitude is more important than getting a quick answer:

I'm told we made a lot of progress, but the facts are always more important than speed in our public response, which are difficult for me sometimes because I want to respond. Our administration will continue to work with all the parties to get the answers and reach a conclusion as soon as possible, which we're hopeful that's coming quickly.

The big bombshell involving Tunsil and Mississippi last week involved an alleged text message conversation posted on Instagram in which he appears to be asking Ole Miss assistant athletic director for football operations John Miller for money, per Chelsea Gates of 120 Sports:

After being drafted by the Miami Dolphins with the 13th overall pick, Tunsil told reporters that he would "have to say yeah" when asked if he ever took money from a coach while playing for the Rebels, per Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

The NCAA suspended Tunsil for seven games in 2015 for receiving impermissible benefits. 

After Tunsil's alleged Instagram hack occurred, Mississippi issued a statement that it would "aggressively investigate and fully cooperate with the NCAA and the SEC" during the investigation, per Paulling.  

Freeze went on to say that he is "not in the process of the fact-finding. I’ll be quick to defend us when we know the facts. I don’t at the present time," per Sallee.

Mississippi has become a prime destination for recruits since Freeze took over in 2012, including having the No. 6 class in 247Sports' 2016 composite rankings. The situation involving Tunsil has raised numerous red flags, with more potentially to come after last week's social-media fiasco. 

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Expansion and Title Game Talk Are Not Worth It for the Big 12

The Big 12 survived the last wave of realignment in college football, and now the waters are getting choppy again.

Just when the conference was stable once again, it's toying with the idea of causing a storm that could put it at risk for its biggest loss yet.

Despite concerns from several of its coaches and its biggest charter member, the Big 12 has discussed expansion and the return of a conference championship game during meetings in Phoenix. 

The chain reactions that could easily arise from either move—the addition of two more teams and a championship game in football—would put the league at greater risk to the financial and competitive problems it's seeking to avoid with these changes.

According to Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports, analytics firm Navigate Research gave a presentation on Wednesday to the Big 12 that "concluded the conference would improve its playoff chances by 10 to 15 percent if it expands to 12 teams, drops from nine conference games to eight and adds a championship game."

Navigate ran thousands of season simulations and came up with that figure, which was more than twice the number Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby gave the league's athletic directors and head coaches earlier in the week, per Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.

On the surface, that sounds like a no-brainer for the Big 12. Navigate, whose past clients include ESPN, the NFL, Major League Soccer and the United States Olympic Committee, is a trustworthy source telling the league that it's mathematically better off if it expands.

However, that conclusion seems odd, given the sample size. After all, the College Football Playoff has only been around for two years. The playoff is selected by 13 individuals—who could vary from year to year, as we've already seen—and their own individual criteria.

As Matt Scalici of AL.com put it Wednesday, it's hard to project the actions of a two-year-old system:

Right now, with the 10-team round robin, the Big 12 is batting .500 when it comes to getting a team into the playoff. The league had a shot at being 2-for-2 in its current state if it had done the painfully obvious thing of declaring the Baylor Bears the champion in 2014 by virtue of the head-to-head win over the TCU Horned Frogs.

If that happened in 2014, in the words of Baylor head coach Art Briles (via ESPN Insider Brett McMurphy), there wouldn't be any expansion talk right now:

But the debate rages on, and it centers on the ideal of a "13th data point"—a conference title game like the other four power conferences have.

Get to 12 teams, split them into two divisions and bring back the old Big 12 Championship Game. The Big 12 would be on equal footing with everyone else in the race for the playoff. 

But of all conferences, the Big 12 should know that having a conference championship game can do more harm than good for a national title contender, as Peter Berkes and Jason Kirk of SB Nation wrote earlier this week:

The bones of many BCS contenders were scattered in the old Big 12 title game. Upsets between 1996 and 2010 cost the Big 12 four BCS title appearances and nearly put three others on ice.

Since the Big 12 ended its title game in 2010, the conference would've made a hypothetical Playoff in 2011 and 2012, in addition to 2015. That would be three out of five years, or exactly as frequently as the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12.

The memory of the 2014 snub is fresh, but this is silly. It might help sometimes, but there's also something to be said for sitting at home during conference championship weekend and letting other contenders be the ones taking the risks.

The danger of getting that 13th data point to appease a large committee made of humans is even greater if the Big 12 doesn't expand and still brings in a title game at 10 teams. New legislation passed in January allows the conference to do just that.

In a round-robin system though, that would mean there would be a weird rematch on conference championship weekend that already had a clear winner. Last year, that would've meant a rematch between the 8-1 Oklahoma Sooners and 7-2 Oklahoma State Cowboys, by way of the Cowboys' win over 7-2 TCU.

Beating Oklahoma State again wouldn't have made much of a difference for Oklahoma, who won by 35 on the final weekend of November. If anything, all the rematch would've done is opened up a chance at disaster. The Cowboys get their revenge in a title game, and no one goes to the playoff from the Big 12.

The round robin in its current state would avoid that, and several Big 12 coaches have already spoken out against the idea of expansion for similar reasons.

"Everybody wants to say you have to have expansion so you have a better chance of playing for a national title. They should try to play everybody every year," TCU head coach Gary Patterson said last month, per the Associated Press (via USA Today). "I like the model that we have now, even though it's tougher."

So while it's tough to definitively say that the conference would be better off in a playoff race with a title game, what is really behind the expansion efforts?

According to George Schroeder of USA Today, Bowlsby has said "if the Big 12 does nothing, it will be left behind financially by several other Power Five leagues."

The problem is that none of the expansion candidates for the Big 12 right now are true heavy hitters. If the league wants to catch up financially to the likes of the money-printing SEC and Big Ten, then any pairing of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, UCF and UConn aren't going to make up the difference.

More members would also force the Big 12 to ask for more TV money from ESPN and Fox in a restructured deal. And live sports on TV isn't the money-making enterprise it was the last time realignment was a hot topic. As Mandel wrote in January, this could the worst time to start a network, especially with the lack of national fan bases in the current crop of expansion candidates.

Even worse, if the Big 12 pushes for expansion this summer, it could potentially lose its biggest member in Texas. According to Jason Williams of Cincinnati.com, Texas is reluctant to expand and is pressuring TCU and Texas Tech to vote "no" with it. 

Why? Per Williams, the Big 12 has talked about converting Texas' Longhorn Network into a bigger Big 12 Network with ESPN. Texas would still get more money than the rest of the league, but Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman says that the Longhorns would balk at that idea:

I still see no willingness on Texas’ part to fold the Longhorn Network into a Big 12 network, even if the league gives the Longhorns an extra $15 million share to cover its LHN income, because, the Texas source said, “we would get the same money, but lose our branding and having our own channel? Not very compelling. If we get rid of LHN, it will be to change conferences, in my opinion.”

If the Big 12 pushes to expand and tries to get Texas to give up its network for the greater good of the conference, then the biggest athletic program in the league could go elsewhere.

That would be a monstrous loss for the conference, and no combination of current expansion candidates can fill that gap.

So, as it stands right now, the Big 12 has these options on the table as it looks to come to a conclusion this summer:

  1. Expand to 12 teams and add a conference championship game, potentially angering Texas. This would improve the league's CFP playoff chances by only a few percentage points at best, as the power of the conference wouldn't dramatically increase with the addition of the current candidates.

  2. Stay at 10 teams and add a conference championship game. With the round-robin schedule, this could do more harm than good as it would create odd rematches at the end of the season for games that have already been decided (If there's a three-way tie, a conference title game isn't going to solve that problem, either).

  3. Remain at 10 teams and hold off on a title game. Several of the league's coaches have already voiced their favor of this system, and it didn't cost the conference a College Football Playoff contender last year.

The Big 12 isn't magically going to catch up to other leagues financially with the addition of a BYU or a Cincinnati. A conference title game isn't necessarily going to be a net positive, as its recent history suggests.

The league should listen to its coaches and stand still for now. Besides, it's just starting to get used to this whole "stability" thing.

 

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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4-Star QB Sam Ehlinger Trains with Future Rivals, Says Texas Is 'On Its Way Up'

Quarterback Sam Ehlinger refused to allow his pursuit of a shot at national Elite 11 MVP end in Texas.

After walking away from regional action April 3 in Houston without an invitation to attend Elite 11 finals, the Lone Star State standout set sights on a cross-country journey. Ehlinger, a Texas Longhorns commit from nearby Westlake High School, traveled alongside his mother to New Jersey last weekend and did his best to prove he belongs among America's premier passers.

"There's nothing better than competing against the best, so I wouldn't want to miss out on that opportunity," he told Bleacher Report.

Far away from home, throwing to a wide receiver group made up of complete strangers, the 6'1 ½", 215-pound gunslinger got it done:

"He built on a good performance in Houston and looked even better today," Student Sports president of sports Brian Stumpf said Sunday after extending the invitation.

Ehlinger will be joined in Los Angeles by 23 contemporaries who also aim to stake their claim as top quarterback prospect. He recently spent time training with two of those competitors, working under the tutelage of acclaimed quarterback coach Steve Clarkson.

Fellow coveted recruits Tate Martell and Shawn Robinson joined Ehlinger for the action, placing three of the country's finest offensive prospects in one drill:

Ehlinger is rated No. 6 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports composite rankings. Martell and Robinson sit at No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, on that list.

"It's awesome for the top dual-threat guys to get together, become good friends, compete and make each other better," Ehlinger said. "That's exactly what we did. I got to know them pretty well and they're really cool guys. I think that kind of experience pushes us all to improve."

Robinson is committed to TCU, a Big 12 opponent of Texas. Martell spent the past nine months pledged to Texas A&M but reopened his recruitment May 4 and will consider several suitors moving forward.

Given the potential of each passer and a high level of fanfare surrounding their recruitments, it wouldn't be a surprise to see this trio someday compete for postseason success and personal awards.

Ehlinger understands everything changes at kickoff regardless of the rapport they've established as high school stars.

"We're friends now and the goal is to help make each other more prepared for college," he said. "But once we get on opposite sides of the field, we're not friends anymore. It's going to be fun."

Unless Martell lands in the Big 12—a development that appears highly improbable at this point—Ehlinger is far more likely to stare across the sidelines at Robinson. The Longhorns' past two matchups against TCU were mighty ugly, as the Horned Frogs outscored Texas by a combined score of 98-17 in lopsided victories.

Despite recent struggles in Austin, Ehlinger feels things are trending in the right direction for a team counting on young talent to deliver. Head coach Charlie Strong, carrying an 11-14 record through two seasons with the Longhorns, will face mounting pressure if his program fails to make strides in 2016.

"It's the University of Texas and nothing can take that away no matter what," Ehlinger said. "Once Coach Strong turns it around, we're going to be good for a long time. It's going to happen this year. People are going to start to see this team is on its way up."

Offensive efficiency has been a primary concern throughout Strong's tenure, particularly when it comes to the Longhorns passing attack. Texas collected just 4,350 passing yards (174 per game) during the past two years, with 23 total touchdown tosses and 17 interceptions.

Freshman Shane Buechele, an Elite 11 finalist last summer, enrolled early in Austin for spring practice and figures to be a major factor behind center for years to come. Ehlinger has monitored the young playmaker's progress and looks forward to fighting for reps.

"Shane is a great player," he said. "He's very accurate, has an outstanding arm and I'm just going to feel blessed to be able to compete against him. He's going to make me better, I'm going to make him better. I believe in myself and I believe in him. The best man is going to play and I want to play at the University of Texas. Whatever is going to make the program better is what they're going to do."

Ehlinger, who has been working to recruit other top Texas prospects to the Longhorns' 2017 recruiting class, believes challenges such as the Elite 11 put him in better position to chase opportunities down the line.

"You learn every time you come to one of these events," he sad. "I've applied what they taught me in Houston—relaxing my upper body, focusing on consistency with my feet—and I did better with it. That's always the goal."

Ehlinger, who also holds scholarship offers from Florida State and Houston, has dominated since taking over as starter at Westlake. He torched defenses for 6,133 passing yards, 2,082 rushing yards and 103 total touchdowns during his sophomore and junior campaigns.

"He's obviously been as productive as you could want from a high school player on the field," Stumpf said. "Combined with the physical talent he showed today, it was a no-brainer for us to include him in that final 24 for Elite 11 competition in June."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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Schools to Watch for After 5-Star QB Tate Martell Decommits from Texas A&M

One of the nation’s elite quarterbacks is back on the open market, after 5-star passer Tate Martell decommitted from Texas A&M on Wednesday evening. 

The 5’10”, 203-pounder out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas had been committed to the Aggies since last August.

As SB Nation’s Bud Elliott detailed, the majority of the top quarterbacks in the 2017 class are already committed—which means that Martell figures to be a hot commodity since he’s one of the few marquee prospects left at the game’s most important positions.

Martell, who rates as the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback and the nation’s No. 33 player overall, had already stated his intention to take all of his official visits last month, as noted by Taylor Hamm of GigEm247.

Which schools are ones to watch for Martell now that he has officially reopened his recruitment?

Let’s take a look at a few schools that have already laid the groundwork to be major players in his recruitment.

 

California

When Martell originally committed to Texas A&M, his relationship with then-offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was a critical factor that led him to jump into the Aggies class.

However, as Brian Perroni of 247Sports notes, Spavital has moved on to become the offensive coordinator at California.

The Golden Bears offered Martell back in February, shortly after Spavital’s arrival in Berkeley.

The next step for the Bears is getting Martell on campus. Considering the success the Bears enjoyed with former passer and 2016’s top overall NFL draft choice Jared Goff, the combination of a quarterback-friendly offense and familiarity with Spavital could be the perfect combination to help lure Martell to Berkeley.

 

Ohio State

One program that was already making a push for Martell was Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State.

Martell took a visit to Columbus in late March, and head coach Urban Meyer and his staff laid out the red carpet for him, as detailed by Bill Kurelic of Bucknuts.

There are a couple of other factors working in the Buckeyes’ favor with Martell.

For starters, Meyer already holds a commitment from 4-star defensive tackle Haskell Garrett—who is a teammate of Martell’s at Bishop Gorman.

Additionally, as Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports noted, they are also trending for 5-star wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey—who is another former teammate of Martell’s and one of his closest friends. 

While it’s unlikely Martell makes another quick decision, the Buckeyes have already built a strong foundation to pursue Martell in hopes of landing his pledge in the end.

 

Oregon

Similar to Texas A&M’s predicament of now searching for a quarterback, Oregon is searching for a quality passer after losing a pledge from 4-star signal-caller Ryan Kelley earlier in the week.

According to Justin Hopkins of DuckTerritory, Martell figures to be one of the main options that Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff turn to in hopes of filling that hole in their 2017 class.

Considering that Martell has racked up more than 6,000 yards of total offense and scored 86 total touchdowns over the last two seasons, the Ducks spread uptempo offense appears to be a perfect fit for Martell’s skill set. 

Getting him on campus in the coming months will be a priority for Helfrich and his staff.

 

USC

One of the first schools to offer Martell a scholarship back in September 2014 was Pac-12 power USC.

Also, the Trojans have yet to land a signal-caller in their 2017 class.

The Trojans are heavily in the mix with Lindsey, and that could play a role in Martell’s choice if he were to ultimately land at USC.

Similar to the Buckeyes having Garrett already in the fold, the Trojans currently hold a pledge from Gorman 4-star safety Bubba Bolden.

However, there’s a lot of work to do for head coach Clay Helton and his staff in order to become a serious player for Martell moving forward.

 

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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SEC Extra Points: Recruiting Debacle Won't Cool Kevin Sumlin's Hot Seat

While you were sleeping, Texas A&M's 2017 recruiting class crumbled.

First, there was the decommitment of 5-star quarterback Tate Martell—a dual-threat star from Henderson, Nevada, who had been pledged to the program since Aug. 20, 2015.

Immediately after the decommitment of the unquestioned star of the upcoming class, Aggie wide receiver coach Aaron Moorehead issued a subtweet that seemingly could be connected to Martell's announcement.

Later, he clarified that the tweet wasn't directed at Martell.

There was more damage to come though, because early Thursday morning, 4-star wide receiver Mannie Neatherly dumped the Aggies and specifically referenced Moorehead's tweets.

Later, 5-star uncommitted wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey announced that he'll no longer be considering the program.

If you hear loud noises coming from the Texas A&M football complex this morning, chances are it's from head coach Kevin Sumlin storming through the building, slamming doors and trying to get control of his program.

That's a big problem, because Sumlin enters 2016 on one of the hottest seats in the country after his quarterbacks struggled for a second straight year, the offense finished eighth in the SEC in yards per play (5.59) and former 5-star quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen decided to transfer during a two-week span in December 2015.

Sumlin has made some positive moves this offseason, including the hiring of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and the signing of graduate-transfer quarterback Trevor Knight. But the appearance of a program that's out of control is precisely what heated up his seat to "scorching" last December, and now he has something similar to deal with.

You can't have assistant coaches taking what should be private issues public on social media. Adults are supposed to be the adults in the recruiting business, and any adult should recognize that what they put out on social media is essentially a self-managed public relations outlet that should be managed as such (same rule applies for soon-to-be NFL draft picks like Laremy Tunsil).

A head coach has to have control of the message. Whether that's fair to Sumlin—who likely wasn't with Moorehead at 11:36 p.m. on Wednesday night when the first tweet was sent—really doesn't matter.

Sumlin has to have a set philosophy and guidelines on how his assistants are supposed to handle themselves on social media, since social media is now even more public than other events that coaches typically attend, like booster club meetings.

A program that is out of control is the last thing Sumlin needs, and the events of Wednesday night/Thursday morning give that impression yet again.

 

Blessing In Disguise

Former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley didn't exactly leave Butch Jones a loaded roster when Jones took over prior to the 2013 season, and building that depth has been Jones' top priority since signing on the dotted line.

The Vols will enter the 2016 season as one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the country, and injuries to several potential contributors created even more depth for Jones to work with.

"Even though we had 24 individuals out for the Orange and White game, that was a tremendous opportunity for other individuals to put their football identity on video," Jones said prior to an alumni event at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta on Wednesday. "We have what's called a 'football identity video' that's put together for every player in our program, and they are constantly putting their identity on that video."

One of the players who stepped up in the face of massive roster issues this spring is wide receiver Jeff George.

The 6'6", 190-pound junior college transfer looked like a red-zone force in the spring game when he caught four passes for 28 yards and caught a jump ball for a touchdown from Quinten Dormady. 

"I thought Jeff George—the way he concluded and ended spring—will really provide confidence and momentum moving forward this summer," Jones said. He's one of those individuals who is going to stay up here in the month of May."

The Vols return a loaded defensive front; stars at linebacker and in the defensive backfield in Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cam Sutton, respectively; a veteran quarterback in Joshua Dobbs; two stars in running backs Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd; and some talented wide receivers in Josh Malone, Josh Smith and Preston Williams.

Role players took on more responsibility this spring, and Tennessee's football program will be better for it.

 

No Pressure

Florida head coach Jim McElwain isn't one to shy away from having a little fun with the media. 

Whether it comes to discussing the golf game of reporters or his latest creations on the Big Green Egg (both of those things happened on Wednesday's teleconference), the second-year head coach of the Gators has established himself as one of the most enjoyable coaches in the conference in media settings.

He's also as self-deprecating as they come.

When asked if he cares that Tennessee will likely be picked to win the SEC East—a division McElwain won in his first season in Gainesville—he knocked it out of the park.

"I'm sure that they should be and should beat the heck out of us," McElwain joked. "We're just going to be lucky to show up."

This topic is going to be brought up quite a bit over the next four or five months. The Gators surprised the world by taking the division last year, but quarterback issues and the absence of proven playmakers outside of suspended wide receiver Antonio Callaway make it difficult to pick the Gators again.

In reality, football players and coaches live inside a bubble and only really care about offseason predictions when they get brought up outside the confines of the facility.

"I don't really get caught up in that," McElwain said. "Obviously, that's not my gig. We've got a lot of work here to do to get our organization in line, and that's the fun part—the preparation."

 

Change In Style

Gus Malzahn took more of hands-off approach in 2015—his third year as the head coach of the Auburn Tigers.

It didn't work.

The preseason No. 6 team in the country sputtered to a 7-6 record, which landed Malzahn on the hot seat. Something must change, and Malzahn is ditching the CEO approach in order to be more involved with the 2016 Tigers.

"There's a lot of moving parts to be a head coach in our league, and at my core I'm a football coach," Malzahn said on Wednesday night, according to James Crepea of AL.com. "That's what I do best, and so sometimes you can get distracted with other things, and I think the easiest way to answer that is, I'm not going to be distracted with the other things when the season gets here. And I'm going to coach football."

It couldn't hurt.

Malzahn had been much more hands-on with the offense during his entire coaching tenure up until last season and had success with all of them regardless of the style of his quarterback. Rhett Lashlee—a Malzahn protege—will still be the offensive coordinator and work directly with the quarterbacks, but a little more input from the architect of the tempo-based power attack couldn't hurt.

What's more, Malzahn—a former wide receiver at Arkansas and Henderson State—is breaking in a new wide receivers coach after Dameyune Craig left for LSU and former Tiger Kodi Burns stepped in. With youth all over the roster outside, some firsthand lessons from Malzahn could go a long way toward helping Burns evolve as a coach and the young receiving corps to develop.

 

Quick Outs

  • Tennessee tight end Neiko Creamer will seek a transfer, head coach Butch Jones said at the Hall of Fame on Wednesday. "Neiko has worked very hard. We're going to help him find a spot where he fits in and can go and help immediately." Creamer played in one game and didn't make a catch as a redshirt freshman in 2015.
  • Florida quarterback Treon Harris and wide receiver Antonio Callaway haven't been with the team since January, and there's been no movement on their suspensions. "Status quo," McElwain said.
  • Will Muschamp wanted to hire former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore as an adviser. But Lattimore's work with prospective student-athletes through the Marcus Lattimore Foundation made it impossible under NCAA rules. No hard feelings, though. "Marcus is still going to be a part of what we do," Muschamp said. "He's going to be a Gamecock forever."

 

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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