NCAA Football News

Miami and Mark Richt Could Be Surprise ACC Coastal Contenders

Saturday afternoon, Miami fans got their first extended looks at the Mark Richt era, and they had to like what they saw.

Although the Hurricanes’ spring game, which was played before 15,000 fans in Fort Lauderdale due to ongoing renovations at Sun Life Stadium, was far from perfect, Richt’s new players showed that Miami’s on-field renovation could come together quicker than expected.

With talented Brad Kaaya at quarterback and tough defensive back Corn Elder leading the defense, even a banged-up Hurricanes group flashed potential that could make Miami contenders in the wide-open ACC Coastal Division this fall.

“I thought there were good things on both sides of the ball,” Richt told ESPN’s Andrea Adelson following the game on ESPN3’s broadcast. “I thought guys played hard to the end.”

That wasn’t always the case under Al Golden. Miami officials finally had enough of Golden last fall, and they canned him the day after a program-worst 58-0 home loss to Clemson. Richt, a South Florida native and former Miami quarterback, fell in the Canes’ lap after being fired at Georgia. He brings new energy and new life to a roster that sorely needs a boost.

Golden did leave him some significant talent. Start with Kaaya, the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2014. He is a great fit for Richt’s pro-style, multiple-back system. Last fall, his touchdowns slipped from 26 to 16, but his passing yardage rose from 3,198 to 3,238, and his interceptions fell from 12 to five.

Saturday, he looked sharp and threw a trio of touchdowns for the Orange team. A pair went to emerging tight end Christopher Herndon IV, and the last, with 10 seconds left, went to wideout Braxton Berrios. That capped an excellent two-minute drill.

“It takes more than one guy, but he’s a great player, a great person, very coachable and teachable,” Richt said of Kaaya. “I love how he’s been responding to everything.”

With leading receiver Stacy Coley out nursing an injury, Berrios (healthy after battling a knee injury suffered in the 2015 season opener all season) showed he can be a No. 1 receiver. Meanwhile, returning 1,000-yard rusher Joseph Yearby also flashed his talent as a lead back, helping an offense that Richt said “was just about out of skill players” by game’s end.

Elder also made several nice plays on Kaaya throws and proved he can be a star for a defense in need of one.

There were some negatives—Richt wasn’t pleased afterward following a poor snap on the final extra point.

“In the end, we didn’t have a whole lot of gas left,” he said. “We’ve got to finish better in general. Get tougher mentally and finish better.”

While it’s hard to extrapolate opinions from a spring game that Richt designed to be vanilla (first-team offense versus second-string defense and vice versa, for the most part), the Hurricanes have pieces to contend in the ACC Coastal immediately.

North Carolina will be the likely favorite to defend its 2015 Coastal title, but the Tar Heels are replacing quarterback Marquise Williams with backup Mitch Trubisky. Beyond them, the division is wide open.

Both Virginia and Virginia Tech are breaking in new coaches in Bronco Mendenhall and Justin Fuente (who's replacing the retired Frank Beamer), respectively. Georgia Tech is rebounding from a 3-9 season. Duke could be without quarterback Thomas Sirk (who sustained a torn Achilles in winter workouts), and Pitt, under second-year coach Pat Narduzzi, could also push for the title.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes return 16 starters from an eight-win team. They have a favorable schedule, hosting Florida State and North Carolina while traveling to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Richt’s work is far from done, but this is a team that could certainly challenge for the Coastal championship and, at long last, make a trip to the ACC title game.

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Ohio State Football: Winners and Losers from Buckeyes' 2016 Spring

A record of 100,189 spectators came out to see Ohio State wrap up spring practice with its annual spring game, and the Gray team came out victorious with a 28-17 win over the J.T. Barrett-led Scarlet team. 

It was an important camp for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, who are undergoing a near-complete overhaul after losing eight starters on each side of the ball from last year's team. And with injuries to key returning players such as Noah Brown and Tyquan Lewis, there was an enormous youth movement in Columbus this spring.

Which players and position groups are entering the summer with positive momentum, and which still have some ground to make up before fall camp starts? 

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USC Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

The 2016 USC spring game is underway at the Coliseum.

Pac-12.com has a live stream of the action. Bleacher Report is providing updates and highlights throughout the scrimmage.

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Ohio State Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The Gray team defeated the Scarlet team 28-17 Saturday in Ohio State's annual spring football game in front of a record-breaking crowd at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. 

One year after setting the national spring game attendance record with 99,391 fans at the Horseshoe, OSU upped the ante Saturday with 100,189 on hand to witness the exhibition, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.

That prompted head coach Urban Meyer to show his gratitude on Twitter:

Junior quarterback J.T. Barrett entered the game with all eyes on him, but he struggled with two interceptions for the Scarlet team, while freshman Joe Burrow put up 196 yards and three scores through the air for the Gray squad.

As seen in this GIF courtesy of Ohio State Buckeyes on Twitter, the players were pumped and ready to play after a long offseason:

That included Meyer, who entered the contest with a positive outlook, as evidenced by this video via Ohio State on BTN:

Emotions ran high prior to the start of the game, as a moment of silence was held for late Ohio State and New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, as seen in this video provided by Big Ten Network:

Eric Seger of ElevenWarriors.com offered a look at the helmet decals Buckeyes players wore in memory of Smith:

After being mired in a quarterback controversy with Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller over the previous couple seasons, Barrett stepped onto the field as the unquestioned starter Saturday and got his spring off to a positive start on the first drive.

He completed six of his seven attempts for 40 yards, and kicker Sean Nuernberger finished it off with a 43-yard field goal to out Scarlet on top 3-0:

The defense stepped up on the ensuing possession, however, as sophomore safety Malik Hooker intercepted Barrett and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to give Gray a 7-3 advantage:

Things started to snowball for Barrett after the initial interception, as he was picked off once again on the next drive by sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

That gave the Gray offense a short field, and they took advantage of it when Burrow found a well-covered Torrance Gibson for an 18-yard score to extend the lead to 14-3:

Gray continued to pour it on as the second quarter progressed with Burrow leading the way. The native of The Plains, Ohio, connected with Gibson for another touchdown on a two-yard shovel pass after setting it up with a 52-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Terry McLaurin:

By virtue of that play and several others made by Burrow Saturday, ESPN.com's Austin Ward suggested that his spot behind Barrett on the depth chart was safe:

Scarlet managed to gain some momentum back ahead of halftime, as freshman running back Mike Weber cashed in from two yards out to make the score 21-10 in favor of Gray entering the locker room:

That momentum carried over into the second half, as Weber found pay dirt once again from eight yards out in the third quarter, which allowed Scarlet to cut the deficit to 21-17:

Gray attempted to respond, as Burrow and the offense moved into Scarlet's red zone, but sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker made what was unquestionably the play of the day.

With Burrow under pressure, Baker went up and pulled in a ridiculous, one-handed interception to prevent Gray from extending the lead:

That gave Scarlet an opportunity to possess the ball and potentially drive for the go-ahead score, but Hooker played hero once again by intercepting sophomore signal-caller Stephen Collier for his second pick of the day.

Burrow then capped off his big day and provided the dagger in the fourth quarter when he hit McLaurin for a long touchdown to go up 28-17, which was ultimately the final score:

While Barrett's performance may prove to be the biggest story coming out of the spring game, there is still plenty of time for him to right the ship before the start of the 2016 season.

The play of Weber was particularly encouraging, as he rushed for 38 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries and looks to be a strong option to replace Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.

Both of the Buckeyes' defensive units led by co-coordinators Luke Fickell and Greg Schiano made some big plays as well, especially in terms of defending the passing game, which is a good sign for Meyer's team.

OSU has lost just two games over the past two seasons, and while it will be forced to replace a number of high-profile players in 2016, its depth of talent was on full display Saturday.

Meyer is as good as they come in terms of recruiting players and fitting them into his system, and based on many of the performances on both sides of the ball, the Buckeyes figure to be contenders in the Big Ten once again during the upcoming season.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Notre Dame Football: Winners and Losers from Fighting Irish's 2016 Spring

For the Fighting Irish, this spring has seemingly been all about the quarterback battle—and for good reason. Notre Dame has two experienced starters returning this year, and like Ohio State's quandary a season ago, we're departing spring practice without a very clear picture.

Brian Kelly structured the 2016 Blue and Gold Game to provide a game-like atmosphere, designed to give one quarterback an opportunity to separate himself from his "opponent" for the starting role.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), that didn't happen.  In fact, both quarterbacks played fairly well.

So, realistically, we're no closer to an answer today than we were when spring practices began a few weeks ago.

But the quarterbacks weren't the only storyline to emerge from South Bend this spring.  Let's go over all the winners and losers from Notre Dame's 2016 spring.

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Spring Game Shows Brian Kelly Officially in Best-Worst Position for QB Battle

Brian Kelly entered Notre Dame’s spring game hoping for separation between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire in their battle to become the Fighting Irish’s starting quarterback.

He didn’t get it. Instead, Notre Dame’s head coach continued to stare at a difficult choice Saturday as his team wrapped up spring practice with a 17-10 Blue squad win in the Blue-Gold game. Both Kizer and Zaire flashed solid skills while running the offense, and each showed signs that the competition will carry into fall practice.

Kelly is in the best-worst position possible as summer begins. He has two talented quarterbacks on his roster but no sign that either has made a move forward with four-plus months until the 2016 season opener against Texas.

“They did a nice job,” Kelly told NBC Sports Network’s Jac Collinsworth on the telecast following the game, “but I don’t think anyone separated themselves.”

That’s a distinct contrast from last spring, when Zaire beat out incumbent Everett Golson to become the Irish’s starter. Golson transferred to Florida State, leaving Zaire as the man until he broke his ankle in the second week against Virginia.

Kizer stepped forward, leading Notre Dame to a 10-win season and Fiesta Bowl berth while throwing for 2,884 yards with 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Zaire’s return to health this spring left Kelly with a quarterback quandary.

Ideally, one signal-caller would have made a name for himself Saturday. Instead, both showed they were competent in running the offense. Neither played after halftime, and Kizer’s Blue team outscored Zaire’s Gold team 10-7 in the first half.

Kizer completed 10 of 17 passes for 113 yards with 22 rushing yards, while Zaire went 6-of-15 for 120 yards passing with 18 rushing yards and a 12-yard rushing touchdown, per stats from the NBCSN broadcast. 

“They’re managing the little things, getting guys lined up right, making sure they get into the right protections,” Kelly said on the broadcast. “I think both have done a good job. Both have handled themselves well. I don’t think anything earth-shaking has happened.”

If anything, Kizer was slightly more consistent. He completed his first five passes, including a nice play-action throw to incoming freshman Kevin Stepherson. Kizer finished a touchdown drive with a read-option handoff for a score and showed comfort in the offense by audibling out of a pair of plays in favor of successful quarterback draws.

Meanwhile, Zaire completed just one of his first five passes but led a strong second-quarter drive that covered 92 yards, throwing for 79 yards on the drive. He had the day’s best pass, a deep throw that receiver Torii Hunter Jr. hauled in for a 50-yard gain, and he finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run.

So what does Kelly do now? Both Kizer and Zaire have shown they can win as the starting quarterback, but only one can be the starter.

When he makes the choice (as he inevitably will), Kelly also runs the risk of forcing a transfer. Zaire has two years of eligibility remaining, while Kizer has three years left. Of course, 2015 showed the value of having two quality quarterbacks on the roster.

Kelly's track record shows he is not concerned about waiting until deep in preseason practice to pick a starter. He could also learn from what Fiesta Bowl opponent Ohio State and Urban Meyer went through in a similar situation last fall.

Meyer and the Buckeyes agonized between J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, picking Jones as the starter for the opener against Virginia Tech.

Jones started seven games, but the offense sputtered at times under his control. He finished with 1,460 yards with eight touchdowns against five interceptions, while Barrett, who claimed the job by season's end, had 992 yards with 11 touchdowns against four interceptions. This spring, the job is Barrett's after Jones left early for the NFL draft. 

Kelly said in reference to that situation "So I'll make sure that doesn't happen to us," per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We'll have an identity. We'll know who we are."

The decision, whatever it winds up being, should work out well for a Notre Dame offense that is replacing seven starters. It’s just a matter of making that decision.

For Kelly, that will be the toughest part.

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Notre Dame Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire enjoyed stretches of strong play as the quarterback competition heated up during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish's annual Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. In the end, Kizer's Blue squad earned the 17-7 victory. 

Kizer displayed a better overall understanding of the offense, which doesn't come as a surprise given the experience he gained last year, but Zaire held his own with dangerous playmaking ability. But it was the defense that stole the spotlight throughout most of the contest.

With that in mind, let's take a deeper dive into some of the top storylines to emerge from the Fighting Irish's 2016 spring game. 

 

Quarterback Battle

Irish head coach Brian Kelly stated coming into the spring game that trying to get a good read on the quarterback situation was crucial. He explained they set up the rosters as evenly as possible in order to give both players a fair opportunity, as relayed by Benjamin Padanilam of the Observer:

Both of them want to be the starter, badly. … I made them both live, so they're going against each other. I'm doing it for a reason because I want them to be in a competitive situation where we can evaluate. We split the squad, we tried to get them balanced as best we could and let this be one more evaluation tool for both of these guys in this game. It's important to them.

Kizer, who had 31 total touchdowns last season, made a statement right out of the gate. He led the Blue squad to a scoring drive on its first possession of the game, completing all four of this throws, including a couple nice touch passes.

The junior showed a nice understanding of the offense, too. He audibled into a quarterback run on a third down during the Blue team's second drive, which resulted in him splitting the defense between the spread-out tackles and running for a first down.

Mike Vorel of ND Insider pointed out Zaire's group finally started to move the ball once the quarterback started to create more looks for the defense by using his running ability:

It ultimately allowed him to match Kizer's touchdown drive with one of his own. Zaire connected on three of his four throws on a march that started inside the Gold team's own 10-yard line. He beat the defense over the top twice, including a nice high-arching throw to Torii Hunter Jr.

He capped off the drive by running the ball in from 13 yards out, as the program spotlighted:

Jim Naveau of the Lima News provided the final stats for both players:

All told, neither quarterback made any massive strides in the competition Saturday. If Kizer came into the spring with a slight advantage based on his play last season, he likely leaves the marquee offseason practices in the same position.

Zaire will probably need to set himself apart when practices resume ahead of the season if he's going to earn the starting job. The biggest thing he can take out of the spring game is to not restrict himself by taking the creativity out of his game.

 

Defensive Standouts

Although most of the focus coming into the game was on the quarterbacks, it was the Notre Dame defenders who looked a step ahead at the end of spring ball. They allowed just 24 combined points and looked solid at every level.

No player stood out more frequently than Max Redfield. The senior safety, who lined up with the Gold team, was all over the place making plays, both in run defense and pass coverage. His only mistake was a missed tackle on the Blue team's first score, but it was obviously a costly one.

Junior defensive tackle Daniel Cage also put together a strong showing for the Gold side. It's a position where the Irish are still looking for players to step up, and he made a great case to at least get an extended look heading into the season.

Notre Dame Football showcased one of his key plays:

On the flip side, Devin Studstill was highly impressive for the Blue defense. The freshman wasn't particularly highly touted coming out of high school—a 3-star prospect, ranking No. 482 in the 2016 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings—but he looked primed to make a quick impact.

The most important thing for a young safety is understanding their role within the scheme. A lot of them get lost out there in the early going. But the early enrollee looked comfortable and showed a nose for the ball coaches love to see from defensive backs.

A spring game isn't nearly enough to draw any definitive conclusions, of course. That said, the staff probably came away from the spring game with at least some positive vibes on the defensive side of the ball after ranking 45th in yards allowed last season.

 

Quick Hits
  • Dexter Williams scampered into the end zone from 17 yards out for the first touchdown of the contest. The sophomore ran with authority every time he touched the ball. That includes breaking two tackles on a scoring play, as Notre Dame Football highlighted:
  • Hunter appears ready to claim a more active role in the offense following the departure of Will Fuller, a possible first-round NFL draft pick. The wideout was able to create separation on a consistent basis, and the team put his best effort of the day on display:
  • John Chereson and Justin Yoon both missed field-goal attempts in the second half. Chereson did make a short kick right before halftime, and Yoon made 88 percent of his field goals last season. But missing a couple of kicks in a low-pressure situation could be a minor cause for concern.
  • Notre Dame appeared to emerge from the game without suffering any serious injuries. Although the coaching staff wants to see players fighting for playing time, doing so without suffering any health setbacks is the biggest thing at this time of the year.
  • Reserve quarterback Montgomery VanGorder wrapped up the scoring with a short-yardage run. If there's one thing the defense certainly must improve before the regular season, it's containing those inside runs by QBs, as the Irish illustrated on the score:

 

Postgame Reaction

Afterward, Kelly joked that the game ball ended up going to punter Tyler Newsome with the offenses struggling to find consistent success, per Irish Sports Daily.

The head coach was happy with the way Zaire moved Saturday after suffering a broken ankle that brought a premature end to his 2015 campaign, as noted by Irish Illustrated:

As for the competition, JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago provided the coach's comments on the situation, and it doesn't sound like either quarterback pushed himself firmly ahead of the other quite yet.

"I thought Kizer managed the game pretty darn good. I thought Malik did some pretty good things as well," Kelly said.

So the high-profile competition continues with spring ball in the book. Angelo Di Carlo of WNDU noted Kelly believes it probably won't get decided until late in fall camp.

 

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Georgia Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Black 3, Red 0—Early 2nd Quarter

We are underway in Athens for the Georgia Bulldogs' annual spring game as the Black squad takes on the Red squad.

You can watch the game live on ESPNU, but make sure to stay right here for the latest news, notes, scoring updates and analysis from G-Day. 

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LSU Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Purple 0, White 0. Currently in First Quarter.

With another grossly talented roster, the LSU Tigers are on the field for their spring game on the SEC Network hoping to sharpen up before making another run at a SEC West title.

Stay here for live reactions and updates from Tiger Stadium. Feel free to join the discussion in the comments section. 

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Alabama Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Alabama A-Day Game

Crimson 0, White 0

TV: ESPN

The 2016 A-Day Game is upon us, and there's plenty to talk about when it comes to Crimson Tide football.

This is Nick Saban's 10th—a full decade's worth—A-Day Game, so Saturday gives a small chance for reflection on Saban's evolving, ever-growing legacy with Alabama.

But there's still a quarterback battle and other positions that need to be decided for the defending national champions. So stay plugged in below to follow along with all the A-Day action.

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Torii Hunter Jr. Makes One-Handed Grab in Notre Dame Spring Game

Torii Hunter Jr.'s dad was an MLB outfielder. Can you tell?

The Notre Dame senior wide receiver reeled in a long pass from quarterback Malik Zaire during the team's annual Blue-Gold spring football game. Though the sick, one-handed grab made Hunter look a little more like Odell Beckham Jr. than his pops, it's clear making great catches runs in the family.

Hunter Sr. won nine straight Gold Gloves in his 19-year career and retired in 2015.

The younger Hunter is on a football scholarship at Notre Dame, but he joined the baseball team as—guess what?—an outfielder in 2015.

[Notre Dame Football]

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Edward Ingram to LSU: Tigers Land 4-Star OG Prospect

The LSU Tigers landed a major piece of their future offensive line Saturday by securing a commitment from 4-star guard Edward Ingram.

Ingram made the announcement on Twitter Friday night:

According to 247sports, the 6'4", 325-pound lineman is the No. 8 guard, No. 30 player from the state of Texas and No. 208 recruit overall in the class of 2017.

As seen in this tweet courtesy of Ingram, the DeSoto, Texas, native appeared to have a great time during his visit to Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

Per 247sports, LSU beat out a number of high-profile schools in its pursuit of Ingram, including rival Alabama Crimson Tide.

Head coach Les Miles' LSU teams are known for grinding out yardage on the ground and imposing their will on opposing defenses.

That should mesh well with Ingram's skill set, as he is a massive athlete who excels at mauling defensive linemen who are usually smaller and not as strong as he is.

Ingram already has the size and strength needed to be a stud guard at the collegiate level, and if he continues to develop in high school this season, then it isn't outside the realm of possibility that he could make an immediate impact in the SEC.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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William Poole III to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star CB Prospect

William Poole III, a 4-star cornerback prospect from Hapeville Charter High School in Atlanta, committed to play college football for Georgia on Saturday:  

Poole is the 12th-ranked player at his position, the No. 9 overall prospect out of Georgia and the 100th-best player in the class of 2017, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Despite being listed at only 176 pounds, Poole is 6'0" and has tremendous natural, functional strength even with a rather slender frame. He plays bigger than he is, evident in his aggressive brand of press coverage, which can easily frustrate opposing receivers.

Thanks to Poole's length and tenacity, he should have little issue making the transition to college. A lot of the little things that often make a big difference are what Poole does best. Some defensive backs struggle with open-field tackles, but Poole consistently pops out as a big but controlled hitter.

Seldom do playmakers get away from Poole's grasp whether it be after the catch or when he's defending the run. The youngster plays with no hesitation, shows excellent instincts and is quick to diagnose plays.

If a receiver gets lazy on a stalk block, one can bet Poole will blow right past him and make a play in the running game. Poole is also capable of closing fast on the ball and can flip his hips better than just about any cornerback prospect in the country.

The 40-yard dash time Poole registered as a junior, per 247Sports, was a respectable 4.56 seconds. Although the time suggest Poole doesn't exactly boast elite speed, the highlights suggest he has swifter game speed—and his quick hips and abrupt change of direction skills help offset any disadvantage in that area.

With even five to 10 pounds added to his frame and a bit more explosiveness added to his arsenal through rigorous training at Georgia, Poole could really be a special college player.

All the tools are there for Poole to start as early as his sophomore year. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him in a situational role in the Bulldogs' secondary as a true freshman—or at least emerge as a special teams dynamo.

 

All recruiting rankings and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise indicated.

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CJ Thorpe to Penn State: Nittany Lions Land 4-Star OG Prospect

Penn State's 2017 recruiting class got a big boost on Saturday, as prized 4-star offensive lineman CJ Thorpe committed to the Nittany Lions.

Thorpe announced his commitment to Penn State on Twitter:

Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin already built a solid incoming class next season, getting commitments from five players before Thorpe. 

A Pittsburgh native, Thorpe's pledge to Happy Valley is a big win for Franklin because he's keeping a star recruit close to home. He's also a highly-regarded talent, ranked as the ninth-best guard and 248th-best player in 2017, per 247Sports. The site also lists him as the No. 7 prospect in the state of Pennsylvania.

Offensive line is also an area that Penn State has been lacking the last two years, though David Jones of PennLive.com did highlight some reasons for optimism heading into next season.

"The current line improved incrementally in '15, lowering its sack total in the second half and prying a few crevices for (running back Saquon) Barkley," Jones wrote. "Relative to '02, this season it has the advantage of an established running back but the disadvantage of an inexperienced quarterback."

Barkley, who was a freshman in 2015, will love having Thorpe blocking for him. The star guard excels in the running game, per Scout.com's Brian Dohn:

Thorpe is an absolute monster as a run blocker. He fires off the ball, has a plus initial punch, can scrape the defensive linemen and get to the second level. He pumps his legs, is physical, and ha a high motor. He plays with a low pad level and often overwhelms his opponent. He is solid is pass protection, but he needs to work on his kick step and remaining patient while sitting in his base.

Even with some necessary improvements needed as a pass-protector, Thorpe gives the Nittany Lions a star in a key area. Franklin's offense is predicated on a strong running game to set up the pass, so they have to be strong up front. 

Thorpe, who is listed at 6'3" and 318 pounds, is already a physical monster up front. He brings an intimidating presence and work ethic that the rest of his teammates will be able to feed off, as well as giving the Nittany Lions an attitude that can match fellow Big Ten programs like Ohio State and Michigan.

Recruit info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Tennessee Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

There were plenty of injured players who didn't play, but the Tennessee spring football finale was still a whole lot of fun for a SEC Network television audience as well as more than 67,000 fans who watched in Neyland Stadium.

The Orange team (defense) came out with a 70-63 win, but the score was secondary. Saturday was about individual development, and the Volunteers saw plenty of positive things from some guys who they'll depend on.

It all starts with senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who completed 5-of-9 passes but was sharp throwing the ball for the most part despite a receiving corps decimated by injuries. Preston Williams and Jeff George were impressive, and with Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd out, sophomore runner John Kelly impressed, too.

On defense, Quart'e Sapp and Corey Vereen shone, among others, and the Vols wound up with a lot of positives on a day where most of the biggest names didn't play all that much. Coach Butch Jones seemed impressed.

"We're starting to develop some depth," he told the SEC Network's Jerry Punch afterward. "We're still not there yet, but this will be a good teaching tool as we start to grow our identity for Team 120.

"It was really great for our younger players to get out here and compete in front of 67,000-plus."

 

ORANGE (DEFENSE) 70, WHITE (OFFENSE) 63, FINAL

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Texas Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Texas 21, Longhorns 7—Final

Due to bad weather in the Austin area, the Texas Longhorns have called their Orange-White Scrimmage at the half. The first-team offense finishes the game with a 21-7 win.

The running backs led the way for the Longhorns, with Chris Warren and D'Onta Foreman combining for 174 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries.

Those two did the heavy lifting, but quarterback Shane Buechele will be the talk of this one. The early enrollee looked the part in his debut, piling up 299 yards and two touchdowns while splitting time with the two offenses. Senior Tyrone Swoopes, on the other hand, struggled in throwing two interceptions and completing only 25 percent of his passes.

Be sure to check back later as we go over the winners and losers from spring football, and check out the box score over at SidearmSports.com.

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Ohio State Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Ohio State’s quest to reload and refocus for another run at the College Football Playoff in 2016 takes an important step on Saturday afternoon, when Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes take the field at Ohio Stadium for the annual spring game.

Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett is leading a youth movement for an offense that’s replacing do-everything running back Ezekiel Elliott and its top three pass-catchers. Defensively, junior Raekwon McMillan is set to anchor the unit at middle linebacker.

Game action is set to kick off at 1:30 p.m. ET and will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.

We’ll be watching the scrimmage, providing live analysis as the action unfolds.

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Notre Dame Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

2016 Notre Dame Spring Game

Blue 7, Gold 0—1st Quarter

Spring football is wrapping up for the Fighting Irish, and it's time for the annual tradition of the Blue-Gold Game that will hopefully erase the memory of the end of the 2015 season for Irish fans.

The Fighting Irish were seen as a College Football Playoff bubble team throughout most of last season, but they were knocked out of contention thanks to a last-second loss at Stanford in the regular-season finale.  Today, we'll find out what the prospects are for the 2016 version of the Fighting Irish.

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Why Boston College Safety Justin Simmons Could Crash the NFL Draft's 2nd Round

Without considering Jalen Ramsey as a safety prospect, the top safety spot remains unclaimed for the 2016 NFL draft process.

Boise State’s Darian Thompson seems to have assumed the top spot, but after a lackluster NFL combine, he’s far from a lock. Florida’s Keanu Neal earned an NFL draft invite, implying that he should be going high in the draft as well.

But Boston College’s Justin Simmons deserves to be in contention for the top safety spot. The former cornerback turned do-it-all safety offers natural ball skills, adequate and developing safety pickup coverage and efficient tackling that, coupled with top-flight athleticism, should merit Simmons’ place in the top overall safety discussion. He should be in the mix for a surprise second-round option.

 

BallSkillsandFinishingAbility

The trait of “ball skills” has always been a crucial part of defensive back evaluation, but it’s grown in importance over the last few years.

In the past, most teams saved third down as their passing down, so a dropped interception usually still meant a team was going to punt and possession would be changed. However, as the passing game becomes a more frequent three-down option, defensive backs need to be able to finish at the catch point, contest throws on multiple downs and, when possible, finish interception opportunities.

Ball skills are both developed and instinctive. Over his four-year career at Boston College, Simmons has bounced between cornerback and free safety, earning starts at both spots.

Along with that experience in multiple situations and attacking the ball from multiple foot platforms, Simmons offers that unique, instinctive timing to adjust subtly when the ball is in the air.

In the two plays below (shown together in one GIF), Simmons’ inherent timing and reaction in passing plays allowed him to snag two interceptions in the team's game against Notre Dame. While neither are a testament to all of the coverage upside he possesses, they highlight the ball-hawking upside he offers as a finishing center fielder.

More impressively, however, is Simmons’ footwork in center field coverage when he’s forced to read and react. Playing center field requires more than just hands or lateral quickness. It’s about gathering steps, staying low and balanced in coverage and, when the opportunity arises, exploding on a throwing window in the seams.

As in the play below, Simmons plays with a textbook pedal, the control to cross feet and anticipate the ball, and finish at the catch point for the interception with room to return.

 

AdequateYetImprovingCoveragePick-Ups

Still developing as a free safety, Simmons needs to improve his timing and man-pickup from his safety position. While he clearly has the footwork after playing cornerback, and he gets work as a slot corner (an area he can prove effective if need be), his work in pick-up coverage when aligned as a safety still needs improvement.

In the play below, you’ll see Simmons in a Cover 2 alignment and drop as he comes into the frame after the first cornerback stays put. 

Simmons stays low in his pedal and comes off just slightly delayed on the corner route. While he’s better suited as a Cover 3 free safety, he’ll need to work as a half-field safety in time.

It’s plays like this that he should anticipate and finish at the catch point rather than allow a catch, though it’s clear he narrowly missed an interception opportunity here and could see his footwork cleaned up quickly in the NFL.

 

ReliabilityasaRunDefender

Strong safeties are generally the safeties that offer the big hits, explosive tackles and dislodging plays on the ball-carrier that wind up in highlight reels.

But, generally, free safeties are relied upon to be the last line of defense, to finish with efficiency and reliability, not subject themselves to broken tackles.

Simmons rarely shows off powerful tackling ability in coverage, though it’s certainly in his arsenal, particularly on shorter and underneath routes when he’s in position. 

In the play below, Simmons saw one of college football’s most dynamic running quarterbacks take off in the midfield on a 2nd-and-long play. With only Simmons separating Clemson’s Deshaun Watson from the end zone, the safety forced Watson to adjust laterally and was required to slow down. That gave Simmons the opportunity to get closer to the runner before engaging as a tackler and finishing the play.

Simmons' tackle not only prevented a touchdown, but it kept Watson in 3rd-and-long. It’s that efficiency and reliability that NFL teams should covet in Simmons as a midfield tackler.

Despite postseason draft buzz after a strong Shrine Game and NFL Scouting Combine, Justin Simmons still hasn’t merited much national discussion on his upside.

But just because he hasn’t earned press clippings or rumored first-round interest doesn’t mean Simmons isn’t worthy of a top-100 pick. In fact, by my grading scale and evaluation, Simmons is well worth a second-round pick and could be an immediate nickel and free safety option for an NFL team.

NFL teams covet versatility, athleticism and ball skills in their defensive backs. Simmons not only offers all three of those traits, but every reason to expect him to continue to grow at the next level.

While he may remain a sleeper at this point in the draft process, don’t sleep on Simmons meriting a top-100 selection and earning significant playing time early in his NFL career.

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LSU Spring Game 2016: Date, Start Time, TV Schedule, Live Stream and More

Spring has a different feel about it for Les Miles and LSU going into Saturday's exhibition.

Miles wanted change to breathe new life into the program and got it. Saturday marks not only the debut of a new-look 3-4 defense, but an offensive attack focused on the passing game, not elite running back Leonard Fournette.

In fact, Fournette won't be a major part of the show as the coaching staff attempts to keep him healthy ahead of the season opener against Wisconsin. Instead, Saturday is all about Brandon Harris' progress under center and how the new defense will fare against the best of the best in the SEC.

Given the implications on the conference as a whole, it's not a spring game to overlook on a weekend littered with them.

 

2016 LSU Spring Game

When:  Saturday, April 16, at 4 p.m. ET

Where: Tiger Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

The aforementioned Harris will get most of the attention going into Saturday's game, which makes plenty of sense.

Harris struggled mightily as a starter last year, completing just 53.8 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns to six interceptions, though he did add another 226 yards and four scores on the ground.

There's a new hope for Harris, though, as most of the reviews have been positive when it comes to his spring. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told Ross Dellenger of the Advocate that an alteration in practice approach has the offense taking a more aerial slant:

The Tigers are no longer relegating their walk-throughs to the run game like they used to. They’re walking through the passing game, too, Cameron said.

They’ve shifted their quarterbacks’ focus in practice from zone-read and other QB runs to tossing the ball from the pocket – just like they did in Cameron’s first season in 2013.

An emphasis on the passing game means plenty of targets for guys like Malachi Dupre (698 yards, six touchdowns last year), D.J. Chark or Jazz Ferguson to step up.

While an opening up of the playbook on offense is nice, it's the defense demanding the most attention Saturday due to the scheme change.

It's tough for any program to pull off such a change given the players on the roster were recruited for a different scheme. Just like that, ends such as Arden Key have to stand up and play linebacker and guys in the trenches have to get accustomed to new roles and responsibilities.

Not that the Tigers aren't loving the change.

"I like it already and we haven't even put a blitz in yet," linebacker Kendell Beckwith said, according to ESPN.com's David Ching. "I think it's going to be something special. We've got a lot of the base stuff in and we'll continue to build and go from there."

For defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, the scheme change has so far worked as intended, as captured by Glenn Guilbeau of USA Today:

This should show on the field Saturday, even if the Tigers keep it as vanilla as possible so they don't give too much away to opponents.

If the unit is more violent and having fun, though, it won't be hard to see how different layers of complexity added throughout the season could give SEC opponents fits.

Fun seems like the keyword around these Tigers, owners of an absolutely loaded roster ready to compete. Even Miles took to social media to end spring practices with a positive sign off:

Things come to a head Saturday, when folks get to stop hearing about how improved Harris looks, and actually get to see it instead. Ditto for hearing about the new defense as opposed to seeing it in action.

A program in need of change has it. Saturday will provide the first sign as to whether it's for the better. If it is, Miles and the Tigers are going places in the SEC and beyond.

 

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

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