NCAA Football News

Early Predictions for Big Ten Football's 2016 Stat Leaders

With the 2015 season in the books and national signing day less than a week away, it's never too early to start looking ahead to the 2016 campaign.

Next season, the Big Ten will look a lot different than it did a year prior, with several of the conference's stars now pursuing their dreams in the NFL.

With so many established players headed to the professional ranks, the Big Ten should see an emergence of new players sitting atop its stat totals by season's end. Some familiar names will remain, but for the most part, 2016 will be about the Big Ten's newest crop of stat-sheet stuffers.

Who will replace Carl Nassib as the Big Ten's sack leader or Ezekiel Elliott as its leading rusher? That remains to be seen. But here's an early guess at which players will lead the league in several key categories in the coming year.

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Legendary Georgia QBs Offer Advice to New Bulldog Freshman Jacob Eason

ATLANTA — Jacob Eason stepped foot on Georgia's campus this January as the 5-star, hot shot, early enrollee quarterback who is the key to head coach Kirby Smart's quest to lead Georgia to its first national championship since 1980. 

He's "the man" in Athens now, which comes with the responsibility of being humble, responsible and visible—three traits that are tough for any blue-chip quarterback directly out of high school.

Neither Greyson Lambert nor Brice Ramsey did much to inspire confidence in Dawg Nation in 2015 in Georgia's 10-3 campaign that resulted in former head coach Mark Richt getting canned after 15 years at the helm.

Whether it's as the starter right out of the gate against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game or as a reserve who moves into a more prominent role as the season progresses like former Bulldog Matt Stafford, Eason has the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Former Bulldog quarterback D.J. Shockley was in a similar situation when he signed with the Bulldogs in 2001. The dual-threat star from College Park, Georgia, was Richt's first commitment in December of 2000. Instead of being thrust into the spotlight, Shockley redshirted in 2001 and was a changeup quarterback for three seasons behind David Greene before leading the program to the 2005 SEC title as a senior.

"He's going to come in with so much hype, everybody on the outside is looking at him like he's the savior," Shockley told Bleacher Report. "He's going to be the next Stafford, or whoever people want to compare him to. The biggest thing for him to do is to just be one of the guys. Don't be too high profile. Don't try to be anything extra than who he is."

That's easier said than done for a high-profile quarterback, though.

By definition, quarterbacks are the de facto leaders of football teams. Finding a way to fit in and be one of the guys while also leading a group of 84 other college students—most of whom are older and more experienced—means finding the right balance.

"Take charge of the huddle, but let the upperclassmen take charge of the team," said Buck Belue, co-host of the Buck and Kincade Show on WCNN 680 The Fan in Atlanta, and quarterback of Georgia's 1980 national championship team. "Nobody's expecting him to lead as a freshman. You take charge of the huddle, because that's what quarterbacks are supposed to do. But you let the juniors and seniors take charge of the team."

For hot-shot prospects, that means eating a big slice of humble pie.

"It'll come when they start practicing," Shockley said. "It'll come when they all get together with the whole team and everybody's working out. When things don't go well, that's what's going to humble him. I remember coming in the same way. I was always picked first and never had to worry about anybody who was more talented or athletic than me. You get to college, and you see guys who are just as athletic, just as talented and you have to work a little bit harder.

"For him, he's one of the most humble and down-to-Earth kids I've ever talked to. He's going to realize the competition that he sees and the talent around him, that this isn't high school and that he can't do some of the things that he used to."

On the field, that means more discipline, more focus and more respect for opposing defenses.

Eason completed just six of his 13 passes in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this month for 71 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. That pick (4:50 mark of the video below) was in the end zone late in the game on a play that college quarterbacks can't make.

"You can't make the bad play worse," said Belue. "I saw a play in the All-Star game where the guard swung and missed on the defensive tackle, [Eason] is in the pocket trying to throw it downfield. The defensive tackle is coming at him, and Eason not able to step up into the throw, it sails, and gets picked off by the safety. That's just a good example that there are going to be some bad plays, but don't make them worse."

Managing struggles—prolonged struggles—is the biggest hurdle for young quarterbacks to overcome, and the most important lessons come from those struggles.

"It's going to happen," said Shockley. "To come in here and say that he's going to blow it up, that's far-fetched. Especially in the league he's going to be in, he's going to have those struggles. When he comes in and has to deal with adversity, that will make him better. Him being around a coach like [head coach] Kirby Smart and [offensive coordinator] Jim Chaney—guys who have been around and know how to teach young players and understand how to put players in position to succeed, that's invaluable."

Off the field, it could be even more challenging for Eason.

In a town like Athens with plenty do after hours, the spotlight shining as bright as possible and smartphones transforming everybody into news media, staying on the straight and narrow off the field is something Eason has to do.

"He has to pick his times," Shockley said. "He can't just be out all of the time. Regardless of if you're a highly touted recruit or not, the quarterback of the University of Georgia is going to get looked at more than anybody else. He has to understand the position that he's in. He has to understand that there's going to be a microscope on him everywhere he goes. He has to behave accordingly.

"A lot of teammates are going to be looking at him to see how he acts when he's out and how he carries himself, and that's when he has to pick the guys he surrounds himself with."

One of those teammates is roommate and fellow early enrollee Ben Cleveland, a 6'6", 319-pound offensive tackle from Toccoa, Georgia.

"Let's say he's at some sorority social or talking to a girl and her boyfriend comes up and wants to take a swing at him," said Belue. "He doesn't need to be getting in the middle of all that stuff. Just make sure Ben Cleveland's nearby."

Eason has the spotlight of the college football world on him, and if he shines this offseason, it could become even brighter when the Bulldogs open the 2016 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta vs. North Carolina.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is 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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Projecting Every Power 5 College Football Team's Breakout Player for 2016

We know who the returning stars are in college football, but what about the ones we've yet to discover? They're out there, waiting for the chance to take on a bigger role or live up to the potential they showed as high school recruits.

Their time will come in 2016, when they could end up being their team's breakout player.

We've selected one player from every power-conference team (as well as from major independents BYU and Notre Dame) who are poised for a big 2016 season.

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Georgia Football: Bulldogs' Top Remaining Recruiting Targets for NSD 2016

This is it. This is the final full week of recruiting before national signing day takes place Wednesday. Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart and his staff have been working hard to get the top recruits in the country, and the Bulldogs currently have the ninth-best class according to 247 Sports Team Rankings.

That’s good considering the Bulldogs lost a handful of recruits when Mark Richt was fired, but they have a chance to move up the rankings Wednesday if they can finished strong. Smart is still going after a few recruits who have yet to make a decision, and if things go their way, the Bulldogs will have a very strong class heading into the 2016 season.

Here’s a look at the Bulldogs’ top remaining recruiting targets for national signing day.

 

DT Derrick Brown 

The Bulldogs already have one top defensive tackle recruit committed in Julian Rochester. But they have been after Derrick Brown for a very long time.

Brown, who is from Buford, Georgia, is listed as the top-ranked player in the state according to 247 Sports. At 6’3’’ and 317 pounds, Brown has the size to be a nose tackle in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme.

According to Keith Neibuhr of 247 Sports, Brown recently took an official visit to Athens. However, he has also taken official visits to Alabama and Auburn.

Brown reportedly has those three schools listed as his final three, as reported by Neibuhr, and he will make a decision Wednesday. If Georgia loses him, that would be a huge blow to the UGA coaching staff.

With Signing Day just around the corner, get to know 5-star DT Derrick Brown. #Get2theGame@amfamhttps://t.co/DTGEuwsXQ5

— Scout Recruiting (@scoutrecruiting) January 27, 2016

 

ATH Demetris Robertson

Another recruit the Bulldogs have been pursuing is Demetris Robertson, who is listed as the No. 1 wide receiver in the country according to 247 Sports.

Robertson is from Savannah, Georgia, and he’s expected to play wide receiver at the next level, which is an area of need for the Bulldogs.

Kipp Adams of 247 Sports reported Robertson will take his official visit to Georgia the weekend after signing day. He is also scheduled to meet with Notre Dame on Thursday, and he could also take an official visit to Alabama or Stanford.

Smart, along with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and receivers coach James Coley, spent time with Robertson on Tuesday, which led to him making the decision to visit Athens. If he were to sign with UGA, he would have a chance to play right away.

 

#Florida#Gators commit Feleipe Franks finds five-star Demetris Robertson deep. #ArmyBowl@RivalsMike@RivalsWoodyhttps://t.co/qZyjDccnDZ

— Rivals.com (@Rivals) January 5, 2016

 

OT E.J. Price

Offensive tackle is a huge need for the Bulldogs, and they are targeting in on E.J. Price, who is listed as the eighth-best offensive tackle in the country according to 247 Sports.

Adams reported that Price will be in Athens this week for his final official visit. However, Price is considering taking an official visit to Alabama or Michigan.

“I met with Coach Jim Harbaugh yesterday," Price said. "He came up, and I told him I was going to consider coming there. I met with Coach Kirby Smart yesterday. After my visit with him, I was more comfortable with him, and Coach Sam Pittman. I look forward to getting up there and meeting the rest of the staff."

Pittman likely loves what Price brings to the table. At 6’6’’ and 311 pounds, Price has the size to play left tackle, which is likely where he will play if he commits to Georgia. In fact, Price said the Bulldogs “need [him] at left tackle." That makes sense, considering they have lost John Theus to graduation.

#UAAllAmerica EJ Price wins first rep against Antonneous Clayton. Clayton wins second. #UAAllAmericahttps://t.co/LBoeBYqlcc

— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) December 29, 2015

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Why Derrick Brown Is the Most Important Target Remaining for the Tennessee Vols

Peachtree Ridge High School 4-star safety Nigel Warrior may be the highest-profile prospect remaining on Tennessee's recruiting board because of his family ties to the Volunteers. But another Georgia star is even more vital to UT's immediate success.

Derrick Brown—a 5-star defensive tackle from Lanier High School in Buford—is scheduled to take his final official visit to Knoxville this weekend, and UT needs to make a huge impression on him to get him to sign over the likes of Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi State. 

Not only is Brown an elite prospect who possesses unique athleticism for a 6'4", 317-pound trench battler, but he is also one of the most college-ready linemen in the class. Considering he plays at the very position where the Vols need more depth, that makes him the player who can turn a good class into a great one.

With less than a week remaining until national signing day, Tennessee appears right in the thick of the race for Brown. 

There was a bit of confusion on Thursday when 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr reported Brown had a top three of Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee followed by Brown refuting that he'd actually named a trio at the top.

Regardless of his top three or a top five, the Vols are in the mix. With a chance to woo him and wow him this weekend, it would be unwise to write off coach Butch Jones in luring him to UT.

That would be massive for the Vols if it happens.

Yes, UT struck the DT jackpot in the 2015 recruiting cycle when the Vols landed Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie. While defensive tackle is one of the most difficult positions to play right away in college football, both of those guys accomplished that feat.

Beyond them, though, Tennessee doesn't have a ton of depth and talent at the position. The Vols certainly don't have the rotation that championship-caliber teams possess.

In 2016, Danny O'Brien will be a senior, and Kendal Vickers will be a redshirt junior. Quay Picou hasn't yet shown he's a viable option on the interior, which means a player of Brown's ilk almost assuredly will step right in and earn meaningful reps as a true freshman.

As UT has proven over the past two years, a team can never have too many DTs. In 2014, the Vols played with virtually a three-man rotation. Last year, Owen Williams, Vickers and McKenzie had to pick up far too much slack when Tuttle went down with a season-ending injury against Georgia.

Simply put, the Vols need more able bodies on the interior.

They've already signed one player in JUCO transfer Alexis Johnson, who should replace Williams in the rotation, but he's the only defensive lineman they've got in this entire class.

Without Brown, UT may strike out at defensive tackle the rest of the way, and a team never wants to go a full cycle without a high school lineman. There are still a few other options on the board who could fill that void, but many of them are long shots.

Brown represents UT's best remaining hope to get another tackle. If they don't sign him, the Vols may be forced to sign as many as five defensive linemen in next year's haul.

The big-time big man from Lanier isn't just coveted because of Tennessee's major need at the position; he's also an elite prospect who would be not only adding a great player to UT's class but also subtracting one from another SEC rival. 

That's always an underrated aspect of recruiting.

By his sophomore season, Brown could slide into a starting role or at least get as many snaps as Tuttle or McKenzie.

With his size, athleticism and strength at the point of attack, he's the perfect weapon to have at the 3-technique in new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's system, and it would be a major coup to get him.

Most experts think UT is a long shot to land him on signing day, when he's scheduled to announce at 3 p.m. in front of a national audience on ESPN. Though Georgia is still the favorite on the 247Sports Crystal Ball, most of the late predictions have gone to Auburn due to his relationship with Rodney Garner.

Still, it's hard for anybody (such as 247Sports' Barton Simmons and ESPN's JC Shurburtt) to talk about where Brown may go without mentioning Tennessee.

Only one of the 33 predictors have him playing his college days in Knoxville, and that person is writing this article. 

But Jones has closed strongly every year he's been at UT, and with Brown's genuine interest in Tennessee, the Vols getting the last visit and this setting up to be a big weekend, they have a chance to sway him. 

"I just love Tennessee, man," Brown told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan recently. "I just love being up there in that environment itself. But when you just sit down and actually talk football, that’s good as well."

Those may wind up pretty words for a team that finishes second. 

But with Brown and his family heading to Knoxville this weekend, getting to spend time with Shoop and seeing how they fit in not only with the staff but also with the players and the city, it sets up for the steal.

It's going to be a two-day audition to get four years of a future star's services in Knoxville, and given Tennessee's needs, Brown has the potential to be one of the biggest sweepstakes in Jones' tenure on Rocky Top.

Win his commitment, and the Vols take another step toward building elite depth all over the field. Lose out, and defensive tackle will continue to be a spot where UT is in a precarious position with injuries.

Warrior is a flashy potential superstar in the defensive backfield who could follow in the footsteps of his All-American father Dale Carter. Tyler Byrd is another DB with a huge upside. Jonathan Kongbo and Landon Dickerson would provide rankings boosts and star quality at their respective positions.

All those guys would be great additions to Tennessee's recruiting class.

But getting Brown in orange would pay dividends beyond rankings, beyond name recognition and beyond boosting Jones' already-sturdy recruiting rep. He'd give Tennessee a player who could be on the field at meaningful moments right away during a year when the Vols expect to compete for important things.

Tennessee can still sign a strong class without Brown being part of it, but if the Vols get him, it would immediately elevate the 2016 group of commitments to the same plain as the past two seasons.

And he would help the Vols continue to take steps toward competing for championships.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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

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Ohio State Football: Senior Bowl Standouts Highlight What Could've Been in 2015

Ohio State Football should have been in the 2016 College Football Playoff.

The Buckeyes entered the season primed to defend their title, coming in as the first-ever unanimous No. 1 in AP history. Head coach Urban Meyer boasted the most loaded roster in college football, with 16 of his starters likely set to be taken in this year's NFL draft.

After Ohio State opened its 2015 campaign with an evisceration of Virginia Tech, the tantalizing potential was almost palpable.

But that potential materialized too late.

It took a perfect storm to keep that Ohio State team out of the playoff—a lingering quarterback battle that hampered the offense, historic and unachievable expectations, a torrential downpour against Michigan State and a questionable offensive game plan that mysteriously excluded one of the best running backs in school history.

All of those elements collided and netted Ohio State a defeat it shouldn't have suffered, and it left the team on the outside looking in at college football's biggest stage.

The Buckeyes sat and watched the Spartans get obliterated by an Alabama team they were worthy of playing.

That was obvious on New Year's Eve, but it's becoming more evident as former Buckeyes stars show out at Senior Bowl practices.

 

The Cotton Bowl That Should Have Been

 

It's obvious that Ohio State didn't deserve a berth in the playoff. It lost that right when it fell to Michigan State, giving head coach Mark Dantonio's squad its deserving spot in college football's final four.

But it was clear once the Buckeyes finally lost a game, they regained the edge they lacked all year and finally looked like the team everyone expected. They thoroughly embarrassed a motivated top-10 Michigan team, handing head coach Jim Harbaugh his worst loss of the season in a 42-14 thrashing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Five weeks later, it bulldozed Notre Dame in a convincing 44-28 win in the Fiesta Bowl.

On the eve of their showdown with the Fighting Irish, the Buckeyes tuned in to watch the Cotton Bowl between Alabama and Michigan State.

"I think we would have definitely done a better job," former Buckeyes safety Tyvis Powell said on Thursday, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "I was shocked [the Spartans] didn't score a point. It is what it is. It was very disappointing."

Would the Buckeyes have fared better? Would they have been able to top the rolling Crimson Tide after they hit their late-season stride?

Former Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett thinks so, according to Casagrande.

I didn't get to watch much film on them, but I know it would have been a hell of a game. (Alabama) might have done a little better this year than they were last year. And I think the way we played in the last couple of games, we could have played against any team in the country. I know it would have been another war like it was the year before. So it would have been interesting to see.

The Buckeyes would have certainly given Alabama's defense more to work against. With Ezekiel Elliott, who torched the Tide for 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns last year, and J.T. Barrett finding a groove at quarterback, Ohio State would've been able to spread the Tide—similar to what Clemson did in the title game.

Those questions will linger in the 2015 Buckeyes' minds forever.

 

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

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Eric Cuffee to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star DB Prospect

Class of 2016 4-star defensive back recruit Eric Cuffee announced on ESPNU's Recruiting Nation on Thursday night that he will be attending the University of Texas, which ESPN.com's Max Olson confirmed. 

KCEN's Jessica Morrey shows Cuffee just moments after announcing his decision:

Playing both cornerback and safety at Waco High School in Texas, Cuffee is the 28th-ranked corner in the nation, per 247Sports' composite rankings.   

At 5'11 ½", 188 pounds, Cuffee won't be the largest defensive back to be patrolling the secondary at Texas, but he makes up for it with some quick feet that will allow him to stay with a lot of receivers.

He's physical and is able to throw his weight around well, whether it comes to tackling or stunting a receiver on the line of scrimmage.    

Like many recruits, he will need to continue to develop his play recognition. While those quick feet are great for covering receivers, they'll be even better when he's able to break toward the backfield on running plays. 

According to 247Sports, Cuffee is the first defensive back Texas has acquired out of the class of 2016. 

Cuffee is joining a Texas team that in 2015 was tied for 73rd in the nation when it came to pass defense. The Longhorns allowed over 250 passing yards in five of their 12 games last season and recorded 13 interceptions, which tied for 42nd nationally. 

He will have an opportunity to learn under some of the team's best, including Dylan Haines, who led the Longhorns with five interceptions last season. 

Texas also returns Holton Hill, who was second on the team with three interceptions in his freshman year. 

Having those two around for Cuffee to work under could be vital for the defensive back to develop into a force in the Big 12 for Texas.

For a Longhorns team that hasn't experienced a winning season during Charlie Strong's first two seasons, building a contender is crucial for the head coach to keep his job in the future. Hopefully for Strong, getting Cuffee is the first step in the right direction. 

 

Stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

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Ric Flair to Attend Jim Harbaugh's Michigan National Signing Day Party

Michigan's national signing day party is about to be a Rolex wearin', diamond ring wearin', kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin', limousine ridin', jet flyin' affair.

The university announced Thursday that WWE legend Ric Flair will be a guest of head coach Jim Harbaugh for a celebrity-filled party on Feb. 3. Flair, who has a relationship with Harbaugh dating back to the coach's days with the San Francisco 49ers, will be part of Michigan's "Signing of the Stars" private event.

As noted by Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, those not in attendance can watch at home from the Players' Tribune website. Flair will be joined by NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, Michigan legends Desmond Howard and Denard Robinson and former coaches Mike Shanahan and Lou Holtz, among others. 

The party is a culmination of Harbaugh's, shall we say, brash recruiting tactics. He's planned a slumber party at a recruit's house and sat through a high school class with another. While the second-year coach has also drawn some criticism for his recruiting tactics, this Flair news falls way more on the silly/endearing side.

Harbaugh has been open with his love for professional wrestling and specifically Flair. He told the Stoney and Bill show (h/t Ashley Scoby of CBS Detroit) that he'd like to referee a match between Flair and Hulk Hogan and openly campaigned for The Big House to host WrestleMania.

“Why not the Big House?” Harbaugh said. “Why not? 140,000—I bet we could get in there for WrestleMania. They’re trying to break the attendance record at Jerry Jones’ stadium in Dallas. (There’s) a great Canadian presence in wrestling. Why not Michigan and the Big House?”

Flair is one of the most beloved performers in wrestling history. And even if recruits don't care about WWE Hall of Fame plaques, dude can talk his behind off. The 66-year-old Flair is one of the best promos the sport has ever seen and has proved he still has the goods while helping out his daughter Charlotte in a recent feud with Becky Lynch. His presence will surely make Michigan's national signing day memorable.    

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Ric Flair to Join Celebrity Cast for Michigan's 'Signing of the Stars' Event

Just call Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh the stylin', profilin', satellite-campin', sleepover-havin', tree-climbin', Ric Flair-invitin' son of a gun. 

Michigan announced Thursday afternoon that professional wrestling legend Ric Flair will be part of the Wolverines' "Signing of the Stars" national signing day event next Wednesday, Feb. 3. 

The Wolverines' official Twitter account first posted about the news, complete with a proper GIF of the Nature Boy himself:

According to the program's website, Flair will be one of at least a dozen celebrity guests at the event, which will be held on campus from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The announced celebrities so far are:

  • Ric Flair
  • Lou Holtz (former college football coach and analyst)
  • Mike Shanahan (former NFL coach)
  • Desmond Howard (former Heisman winner and Michigan football player)
  • Denard Robinson (NFL running back and former Michigan football player)
  • Todd McShay (football analyst)
  • Jon Jansen (analyst and former Michigan football player)
  • Jack Kennedy (musician and former Michigan football player)
  • Brad Keselowski (NASCAR driver)
  • Derek Holland (MLB pitcher)
  • Jessica Szohr (actress)
  • Josh Gracin (musician)

Flair and Harbaugh go back to the latter's time as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, when the wrestling icon gave a pep talk to the team prior to their NFC Wild Card Game against the Green Bay Packers in Jan. 2014.

The two have gone back and forth on Twitter since Harbaugh became the coach of his alma mater. Flair congratulated Harbaugh on Michigan's rout of Florida in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day:

A few days before that exchange, per Jordan Heck of Sporting News, Harbaugh told a Detroit radio show that he wanted Michigan Stadium to host a future edition of WWE's WrestleMania event.

Heck also noted Harbaugh agreed to a suggestion from one of the show's producers, which was for him to referee a match between Flair, his favorite wrestler, and Hulk Hogan.

Now Michigan is calling on Harbaugh's wrestling hero/Twitter pal to cap off what has been a wild recruiting cycle for the Wolverines.

Michigan is currently at No. 5 in 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings for the class of 2016, and the Wolverines are in the running for No. 1 overall player Rashan Gary and several other blue-chip targets.

Unfortunately for those of us who would love to see a 16-time world heavyweight champion at a college football signing day party in-person, the "Signing of the Stars" is invite only.

However, the event will be streamed on The Players' Tribune, which was founded by former MLB superstar Derek Jeter, who signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Michigan before his draft selection in 1992 by the New York Yankees.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Every Top 25 College Football Team's Current Top Committed 2016 Recruit

National signing day 2016 is less than a week away, and there are still a number of blue-chip recruits that haven't made their commitments yet. But while programs across college football try to land some splash players in the 11th hour, there are many more who have already made their intentions known. 

In the following slides for the final Associated Press Top 25 are the top commits for each class based on 247Sports Composite rankings. In addition, we tell you what the following prospects bring to their team—assuming they don't flip between now and signing day—and where they could land on the depth chart. 

Early enrollees and junior college transfers are noted when applicable. 

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Justin Wilcox Hired as Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator: Latest Details, Reaction

The University of Wisconsin announced on Thursday that it has hired Justin Wilcox as its defensive coordinator. 

Wilcox's defensive coordinator tour continues, as it is his fifth school in the past 10 years that he's held the position at.      

Most recently, Wilcox was at USC for two years before being fired in December of 2015 after the Trojans' loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. Before his stint in Southern California, Wilcox led the defenses of Washington, Tennessee and Boise State. 

Wilcox will be replacing Dave Aranda, who left Wisconsin for the defensive coordinator job at LSU at the conclusion of the 2015 season. 

Badgers head coach Paul Chryst spoke of his decision to bring on Wilcox, whose USC defense was ranked 65th in the nation last season, allowing a little over 400 total yards per game:

During my many conversations with numerous football people that I trusted, one name kept surfacing, Justin Wilcox. I am very happy that we were able to get a quality coach like Justin to join our staff. I think he's a great fit for Wisconsin and this program is a great fit for him. His addition makes us better. He has tremendous experience at some big-time schools and has coached some really good players. He does a great job putting his players in the best situations so they can be successful.

Joining Wisconsin is quite a reward for Wilcox. The Badgers' defense was ranked second in the nation last season, allowing just 268.5 total yards per game. That's a big step up compared to his USC defense. 

Wisconsin's defense helped them finish the season 10-3, including a win in the Holiday Bowl. Allowing just 20 offensive touchdowns last season, the prospect of taking over this kind of defense is just one of the things that excites Wilcox:

It is humbling to be able to work at a place with the personality and character that Wisconsin has. The biggest draws to the program were the opportunity to work for Coach Chryst and with the rest of the staff, as well as the student-athletes that Wisconsin has in the program. Everything about the culture and tradition of the program, from recruiting, to style of play, to development of players, was appealing to me. This is a special opportunity and I am excited to get started.

Wilcox and his defense will have an opportunity to endear themselves to their fans and head coach during the first week of the 2016 season when they take on LSU and its defense led by none other than Aranda. 

If they can take down a strong SEC team while limiting its big offensive stars like running back Leonard Fournette in Week 1, it could lay the groundwork for something special for Wilcox and Wisconsin in 2016.  

Stats courtesy of NCAA.com

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College Football Programs That Produced the Most 2016 NFL Pro Bowl Players

As college football fans focus on the stars of tomorrow in the final weekend of this year's recruiting cycle, some of the game's stars of the past will be lining up in Hawaiian paradise for the 2016 Pro Bowl.

While some may argue against the existence of the laid-back showcase each year, the event is an honor for many players who grind through 16-plus weeks of a season.

And even if you don't prefer the NFL game, the Pro Bowl can be a good way to catch up on the best of the best from your favorite school. Plus, it will be one of the last live football-like substances easily available on your various screens for quite a while.

Which college teams are the best represented in this year's record-size, fantasy-drafted Pro Bowl roster? Here are the 13 schools that have at least three alumni who were either first choices or late replacements.

Many of these names will be obvious for their many years of producing large numbers of NFL prospects. But there are a few less prestigious programs that may surprise you with their number of top pro players.

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Alabama's Reggie Ragland Is Having the Last Laugh

It was the morning after the CFP National Championship when, on very little sleep, Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban had to attend a press conference to accept the trophies for winning the national championship game and answer questions about what’s next for the program and his players. 

That’s when he made the comment about linebacker Reggie Ragland and the NFL draft that has already proven to be quite literally right on the money.

"Reggie Ragland last year had a second-round grade,” the head coach said. “I'm sure he'll be a top-15 pick this year. If you want to do the math on that, that's like a $12-to-14 million dollar decision."

It’s obviously been a great year for Ragland, who ignored the naysayers who claimed he should leave the Crimson Tide early and accomplished everything he hoped and more in 2015.

He led Alabama to its fourth national championship in seven years as it became the first program to repeat in the SEC since 1998-99. The league’s defensive player of the year even won the “Alabama Media Good Guy Award” from the Crimson Tide’s beat writers.

“I get to keep this, right?” Ragland said after seeing the plaque.

This week, it only took him a day to establish himself as the best linebacker at the Senior Bowl, even though he’s playing out of position at outside linebacker after lining up on the interior for most of his Crimson Tide career.

Actually, make that two days, as Ragland was so anxious to get to work and show his versatility that he showed up in Mobile on Sunday when a lot of players didn’t arrive until Monday. Those are the kinds of things that are getting noticed and helping his draft stock rise.

"I'm a Reggie Ragland fan,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. “He's going to step in on Day 1 and run somebody's defense. He's a top-20 pick all day long. He's 260 pounds, so the question is, can he play on third down, can he play the passing game? I think he can. Just because of his leadership skills, his toughness, I think he's going to be a three-down linebacker and a top-20 pick."

Similarly, NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah rates Ragland as the No. 10 prospect in the draft, and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. says he has "tremendous intangibles."

About the only thing Ragland didn’t do this past season was win one of the major national awards, although with the benefit of hindsight one has to wonder what some of those organizations were thinking.

Have you heard anything about Tyler Matakevich this week? He’s at the Senior Bowl too, practicing for the North team, and SI.com's Chris Burke doesn't even have him listed as the best player at his position.

Matakevich is the kind of player fans of blue-collar football can’t help but like. The most decorated athlete in Temple Owls history, he’s the school's all-time leading tackler with 493 and plays with a passion coaches wish everyone had. 

He and his team were a great story in 2015. Temple went 10-4, matching the program record for wins. It beat the Penn State Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941, played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish tough and knocked off the No. 21 Memphis Tigers.

He won both the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Award for defensive player of the year, but didn’t land the Dick Butkus Award for the top linebacker, which instead went to Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith.

But then you take a second look.

Matakevich helped lead his team to the top of the AAC East, a six-team division with no ranked teams, all of which ended the season with a loss. Temple lost to a good Houston Cougars team in the American Athletic Championship Game, 24-13, and then to the Toledo Rockets in the Boca Raton Bowl, 32-17.

Incidentally, it was the first career win for new Toledo head coach Jason Candle, who was promoted from offensive coordinator after Matt Campbell left for the Iowa State Cyclones. Former Alabama quarterback Phillip Ely closed his college career by completing 20 of 28 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns for the Rockets.

If you watched those games, the weaknesses part of Matakevich’s draft evaluation on NFL.com will not be surprising:

Play strength is very average. Can be engulfed by linemen on the second level and might not have the frame to carry more functional mass. Struggles to hold his spot in the grass against a good lead block. Gets in a hurry to flow downhill and runs himself into bad angles on the ball when the play spills outside. Needs to do a more consistent job of breaking down in space before attempting to tackle. Shifty runners turn him into an arm tackler. Had 32 missed tackles over the last three seasons. Gets caught up in trash near the line of scrimmage and can’t get free quickly. Play speed is average.

Smith was considered a much better pro prospect, even after blowing out his knee in the Fiesta Bowl. He’d been drawing comparisons to linebacker Derrick Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs and, along with Matakevich, was a popular All-American selection.

But only Ragland, the leader and captain of what many called the best defense in college football, was a unanimous All-American choice at linebacker.

Nevertheless, the Chuck Bednarik Award, which is voted on by the Maxwell Football Club out of Philadelphia, chose the hometown candidate—and perhaps didn't want a sweep of its major awards after Alabama running back Derrick Henry won its namesake honor—and the Butkus went to the player who had previously won its high school award, as Smith joined former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o as the only players to do so.

Yet Ragland still got what he desired most out of his senior season, both on and off the field.

“[I wanted to] be a student of the game even more,” Ragland explained during his Senior Bowl press conference. “Doing all the things as a kid growing up, you think about going to the college football awards, being a finalist for the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski, but if it weren’t for my teammates pushing me and my coaches pushing me to be that leader on the field, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. They knew I was frustrated from not playing and knew once I got my opportunity, I was going to run with it.”

In a couple of months, he’ll be running and laughing all the way to the bank.

 

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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Ohio State WR Braxton Miller Puts the Moves on DBs at Senior Bowl Practice

There's no doubt Ohio State Buckeyes receiver Braxton Miller has some wicked moves in his repertoire, and now that he's looking to showcase his skills for NFL scouts, it's time for him to put his best moves on display.

And that's bad news for defensive backs at the Senior Bowl.

On Thursday, the quarterback-turned-wideout showed he is more than capable of beating some of the best defensive backs in college football. You'd never be able to tell he's been playing the position less than a year based on these clips.

While the Vine above shows Miller doing a defensive back dirty, he also beat Northern Iowa's Deiondre' Hall for a touchdown at one point.

Warning: Video contains NSFW language.

Miller's moves have certainly made a good impression on Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk:

No matter how many times he's seen his teammate do stuff like this, Ohio State safety Vonn Bell is always a fan:

After seeing all of this, no wonder the Washington Post's Master Tesfatsion wrote that Miller's NFL draft stock is rising.

[Vine]

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Maty Mauk Dismissed from Missouri Football Program: Latest Comments, Reaction

Missouri head football coach Barry Odom announced Thursday that quarterback Maty Mauk has been dismissed from the program.  

David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune passed along the news, which comes after the signal-caller had been suspended three times since September.

Cassandra Vinograd of NBC News, citing school officials, reported the latest suspension came after a video surfaced that allegedly showed Mauk "snorting a line of white powder." He was punished twice during the season, with the second program-imposed ban ending his campaign.

Mauk provided a statement on his dismissal:

Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star provided a full statement from Odom about the decision. He noted the video in question is believed to have come from "a long time ago," but the quarterback still continued to violate team rules as of late despite meeting with the new coach in December:

I met with Maty Mauk this morning and informed him of my decision to permanently dismiss him from the football program. When I met with Maty back in December, I wanted to give him an opportunity for a fresh start, but I also made it very clear what our expectations would be moving forward. After gathering information and speaking with a number of individuals this week, it is clear Maty has failed to live up to those expectations by violating team rules in recent weeks.

As for the video appearing on social media this week, it is concerning, but we believe it is from a long time ago. However, Maty's failure to live up to expectations in recent weeks was the reason for this decision.

We believe it is in his best interest to focus on his personal life and his academic career at this time. We remain committed to helping him work through the challenges and earn his degree. Our hope is that he will grow from this and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors.

No further information about the violations was immediately released.

Mauk ended up appearing in just four games this season due to the off-field issues. He tallied six touchdowns and four interceptions in those contests.

The 22-year-old Ohio native had showcased potential over the previous two years with the Tigers. He combined to toss 36 touchdowns in 24 games between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

ESPN Stats and Info further highlighted his impact:

Mauk struggled to stay out of the negative spotlight, though. It left Missouri with little choice but to dismiss him from the program after the third suspension, especially with Odom taking over and trying to set a new tone for the future.

Freshman Drew Lock struggled in place of Mauk throughout the 2015 campaign. That means there will probably be an open quarterback competition featuring Lock, Marvin Zanders and potentially incoming recruits beginning in spring ball to fill the void.

 

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Schools to Watch After 4-Star Jordan Elliott Decommits from Michigan

The Jordan Elliott recruiting story gets more and more bizarre.

Last January, Elliott committed to Baylor. The Houston defensive tackle prospect decommitted in April. In May, Elliott decided to stay home and commit to Houston. He decommitted from the Cougars in September.

On Nov. 28, the 4-star athlete committed to Michigan following an official visit. On Wednesday, he reportedly decommitted from the Wolverines, according to EJ Holland of 247Sports.com. Calls and direct messages to Elliott were not returned Wednesday.

If you're counting, that's three schools committed to and three schools decommitted from in a year for Elliott.

Regardless, the story remains the same: Elliott is a Top 15 player at a very competitive position in the 2016 class. He was a U.S. Army All-American who made a lot of noise with his defensive presence in San Antonio earlier this month. More importantly, he's still very much a wanted target come national signing day.

So now the big question: Where to?

A few schools come to mind as Wednesday's signing day approaches. Two teams to watch represent the Big 12 and the Pac-12.

For now, it's no secret that Texas is a favorite to land Elliott. And while it's no guarantee the Longhorns will land him, you can bet that head coach Charlie Strong, defensive line coach Brick Haley and the rest of the coaching staff are going all-in to get the 6'3 ½", 306-pound tackle to sign. Texas currently only has one defensive tackle committed in 3-star Gerald Wilbon.

Texas only has 14 players committed but is hoping to have a monster conclusion by adding several 4-star targets around the state of Texas, including safety Brandon Jones, linebackers Jeffrey McCulloch and Dontavious Jackson and cornerback Eric Cuffee, who is expected to announce his decision Thursday evening. Elliott, like the others, is a wanted target in the Forty Acres.

Arguably the wild card of Elliott's recruiting is USC. The Trojans were supposed to be his first official visit back in September, but he canceled due to scheduling conflicts. Former Trojans defensive line coach Chris Wilson recruited Elliott to USC, but the Trojans let Wilson go in December. USC's defensive line now is led by coach Kenechi Udeze and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

USC only has 13 commits, and it's still looking for its first defensive tackle pledge of the 2016 cycle. A solid tackle such as Elliott to complement 5-star defensive end Oluwole Betiku could make for tons of problems for Pac-12 offenses. It should also be noted that Elliott has told Bleacher Report on multiple occasions that he's been a longtime USC fan.

Texas and USC are the exclusive teams to watch in the Elliott sweepstakes, but it's never a bad idea to look at the teams he committed to, prior to Michigan. Baylor has two defensive tackles committed in 4-star Bravvion Roy and 3-star early enrollee Jeremy Faulk. Houston is stacked at the position with three pledges, including 5-star stud Ed Oliver.

The next six days will be interesting, but you can bet that teams will be working hard to land Elliott, a player who can help a program at the next level.

 

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

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Playing for a Fallen Friend, 4-Star OT Tramonda Moore Nearing a Decision

Staying humble and appreciating everything earned. For Oklahoma City offensive lineman Tramonda Moore, his priorities are very simple yet immensely important.

With the help of hard work and humility, Moore not only has become a 4-star prospect and someone with 15 reported offers, but he also has worked to become the top-ranked player in Oklahoma in the 2016 class.

With less than a week away from national signing day, Moore is looking to transition from John Marshall High School and finalize his college plans. In-state schools Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are potential landing spots, as is reigning national champion Alabama. Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA are on the outside looking in.

But as Moore, a very wanted athlete at 6'6" and 330 pounds, inches closer to signing a national letter of intent, he finds more motivation to succeed for a fallen friend and John Marshall teammate—one he calls his "little brother."

On April 17, C.J. Davis died in an automobile accident. Known around his peers as "Cleato," Davis was a 16-year-old sophomore and a right tackle for John Marshall. More than 1,000 people attended Davis' funeral, according to the Oklahoman.

"I do all this for my little brother," Moore said. "It's hard work all the time."

Moore dedicated his senior season to Davis and even changed his jersey number from 55 to 54—Davis' number. At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this month in San Antonio, an event Moore defined as "amazing," he proudly ran out of the Alamodome tunnel during pregame introductions wearing 54.

Ask Moore, and he'll tell you that every play made was for Davis. And as he prepares for the next level, it won't take much for Moore to stay motivated.

"I'm pushing myself for Cleato," Moore said. "And I'm trying to wear his number in college, too."

Moore is the nation's No. 11 offensive tackle and No. 108 overall player in the 2016 class. He is versatile enough to play either tackle or guard at the next level. Moore was a consistent topic of discussion while at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, recording pancakes in practice and keeping the jerseys of his quarterbacks—Ole Miss enrollee Shea Patterson, Michigan enrollee Brandon Peters and Stanford-bound K.J. Costello—clean.

Where Moore chooses to play college ball is still a big question. He is trending to sign with Oklahoma on Wednesday, but he's said on multiple occasions that he's keeping all of his options open. That includes the schools that may be considered long shots.

"Really, it's just about the coaches," Moore said of choosing a school. "Every school, academically, you want to do well. Every school has pretty much the same thing. I'm just trying to go and find what's best for my future and what will help me on the field and help get me to the league."

Wherever Moore ends up, know that he will play each game as if he'll retire afterward.

It's what Cleato would have wanted.

"This is all for him," Moore said. "That's my little brother."

 

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

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Power Ranking College Football's 25 Fastest Players

Speed is becoming the name of the game in college football.

Wide-open offenses such as the ones at Baylor and Oregon are world-famous for being factories of lightning-fast players. Even the pro-style teams known for their powerful "man ball" styles like Alabama and Stanford are loading up on track-star talent at skill positions and all across their defensive backfields.

But who holds a legitimate claim to being the fastest in college football heading into the 2016 season? The most common way to measure speeds in football—times in 40-yard dashes—are notoriously unreliable thanks to various conditions and timing mechanisms.

A more accurate measure of speed is the fully automatic time system used in official track and field records from reliable sites such as the Track & Field Results Reporting System, Track & Field News and DyeStat. Many players who are considered some of the fastest in college football either run track collegiately or ran in high school.

In this countdown, I relied on recent, verified and mostly wind-legal times from the above sites in the 100 meters, which is the most common event among these speedsters. (More recent times held a greater weight than old high school ones when the numbers were close.) However, some track stars with elite numbers in other events, such as hurdles and relays, were eligible for special consideration.

Now, to be completely clear, this track-time method is the best objective way to pick the fastest players in college football. Some who didn't make the Top 25 could be faster than those inside the Top 25, but there's no real way to determine that without relying on opinion instead of the hard data. 

Notice a player with a verified 100-meter time that I left out? Want to suggest a player for the honorable mention category? Let me know in the comments below.

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Braxton Miller's Senior Bowl Showing Another Recruiting Tool for Ohio State

With a Super Bowl-high five players to set to play in the NFL's championship game, Ohio State has unsurprisingly used its heavy representation in the professional ranks as just another sales pitch on the recruiting trail.

One look at Urban Meyer's Twitter account shows a head coach who's clearly proud of his team's presence in the Super Bowl and isn't shy about letting any of his 369,000 followers know it.

But with two weeks sandwiched between the NFL's conference championships and the biggest game of the season, the Buckeyes have found another way to sell their program's ability to put players in the pros.

And it happens to come in the form of a player who just finished one of Columbus' most storied football careers despite finding his football future in doubt merely a year ago.

If you've been following coverage of the Senior Bowl from Mobile, Alabama, it's been hard to miss Braxton Miller's name in the past week. On several occasions, draft analysts and media members in attendance have taken to Twitter to rave about the progress of the former Ohio State wideout, who will play for the North team in Saturday's All-Star Game:

The fact that Miller is even in a position to be drafted—let alone potentially in the first two rounds of the draft—could be considered a success in and of itself, considering where the Huber Heights, Ohio, native's football fate stood just a year ago.

After a torn labrum in fall camp forced a second offseason shoulder surgery and brought his 2014 season to an end before it had even started, Miller's career as a quarterback—the position he had played at Ohio State for the first three years of his college career—appeared very much in doubt.

What's more, Miller was returning to a roster that already possessed quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, who had just co-piloted the Buckeyes to the first College Football Playoff National Championship.

Rumors of an offseason transfer for the 2015 season persisted, but there was no guarantee that Miller's shoulder would ever be healthy enough to play quarterback again.

As fall camp approached, the 6'2", 215-pounder had accepted that reality and announced to SI.com's Pete Thamel that he would be making the move not to another school but to a new position in the Ohio State offense as a wide receiver.

"This is the smarter thing for right now," Miller told Thamel of his transition.

It also may have been the smarter thing for the long term as well, as the former dual-threat quarterback also seemed to possess the most pro potential as a pass-catcher rather than a pass-thrower.

Miller's efficiency with his arm (career 59.4 completion percentage) had always been a question mark, while his ability with his legs and in the open field (3,315 career rushing yards and 33 career rushing touchdowns) had never been in doubt.

But outside of the Buckeyes' season-opening win over Virginia Tech, which saw Miller star in his new role as a wide receiver and Wildcat quarterback, the transition to his new position proved easier said than done.

Inconsistent play from a rotation of Jones and Barrett in the starting lineup didn't help, but by season's end, Miller had caught just 26 balls for 341 yards and three touchdowns, adding 260 yards and a score on the ground.

Perhaps more tellingly, Miller attempted—and completed—just one pass, which was more of a push than anything else, signaling that his future in football was indeed at wide receiver and nowhere else.

"Quarterback is in the past," Miller stated during media availability at the Senior Bowl, per WalterFootball.com. "I learned a lot playing quarterback."

While criticisms that Meyer and his staff misused Miller last season are fair, his breakout showing in Mobile is proof of a player who was prepared to star at wideout in 2015 but got lost in the shuffle due to extenuating circumstances.

Having not played wide receiver since his freshman season of high school prior to 2015, the two-time Big Ten MVP has starred as an outside wideout this week after primarily playing in the slot this past season.

Miller has superb ability as an athlete—he claims his goal for the NFL Scouting Combine is to run a 4.28-second 40-yard dash—but the type of progress he's shown this past week doesn't happen without the preparation of Meyer and his staff.

That's something the Buckeyes already appear to be pitching on the recruiting trail, if the pride they've taken in Miller's Senior Bowl showing on social media is any indication:

Only adding to the intrigue of Miller's big week is that this isn't just some workout warrior emerging during the start of the "silly season" that is the NFL draft process but rather one of the Ohio State program's most prominent players for the better part of the past half-decade.

Miller was one of the Buckeyes' best recruiting tools during his time on campus, having been pictured consistently posing with prospects during their visits to Columbus.

Only from now on, Ohio State will no longer be able to sell Miller's presence to prospects but rather his preparation for the pros.

And who knows? Maybe it won't be long before the Buckeyes are touting a Miller appearance in the Super Bowl to their targets on the recruiting trail.

Based on how he's performed this week, the former face of the Ohio State program seems to be on the right path for a successful career in the NFL.

 

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

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Which Dark-Horse SEC Running Backs Have Best Chance to Win 2016 Heisman Trophy?

Alabama running back Derrick Henry broke through that glass ceiling in 2015, rushing for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns en route to becoming the third running back this century to win the Heisman Trophy.

There will be several SEC running backs looking to catch on to that draft and attain that Heisman glory in 2016.

Of course, superstars like LSU stud Leonard Fournette, Georgia's Nick Chubb and Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will be mentioned prominently in the mix for the most prestigious individual award in American sports. Fournette chimed in tied with Stanford's Christian McCaffrey for second in early Heisman odds, via OddsShark.com, at 5-1, and Chubb—off of that brutal knee injury—is tied for sixth with Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook at 12-1.

But where's the fun in choosing the obvious running backs?

Let's go off the board with some dark-horse running back candidates in the SEC who could make a push for Heisman glory in 2016.

 

Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough

Was Henry frightening in Tuscaloosa? Yep, and his clone is coming at opposing defenses in 2016.

Bo Scarbrough tore his ACL last offseason and had a suspension to deal with early in the 2015 campaign. Those two issues made him a non-factor for the majority of the season. He only gained nine yards through the first nine games of the season but had a breakout game where he rushed 10 times for 69 yards and a score, and added 17 in mop-up work against Michigan State.

That's not a stat line that jumps off the page, I know.

But when you have a Mack truck like Henry rolling in the fourth quarter, you ride him.

Scarbrough, a 6'2", 240-pound rising sophomore, is similar to Henry with his size and speed and is stepping into a situation where he might be counted on to do exactly what Henry did.

In addition to Henry's departure, Alabama loses quarterback Jake Coker, center Ryan Kelly and will usher in a new right tackle. Sure, Scarbrough has to contend with sophomore Damien Harris for No. 1 carries. But a full season of work while healthy in the strength and conditioning program should transform Scarbrough into a monster in 2016. 

He's going to get a chance to win the job. When he does, he won't let it go.

 

Florida RB Jordan Scarlett

It was an up-and-down year for Jordan Scarlett as a freshman for the 2015 Florida Gators. The Fort Lauderdale native had 34 carries for 181 yards and one touchdown behind starter Kelvin Taylor, but was suspended for the Citrus Bowl against Michigan after being cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

He'll be a star in 2016.

With Taylor gone and dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris likely taking a back seat to a starting quarterback who's a better fit to head coach Jim McElwain's pro-style system (Luke Del Rio, Austin Appleby or Feleipe Franks), somebody needs to step up and be the workhorse in the Gator offense.

Scarlett can be that guy.

The 5'10", 198-pounder has breakaway speed, is big enough to take the pounding between the tackles and should have a better offensive line than the Gators had last season. 

While McElwain is known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, he turned Alabama castoff Dee Hart into a 1,200-yard rusher in 2014 and helped Kapri Bibbs top the 1,700-yard mark in 2013 while the head coach of the Colorado State Rams.

Scarlett will follow in their footsteps, become a star in 2016 and, if his team can remain in the national conversation into November, could jump into the Heisman conversation.

 

Auburn RB Jovon Robinson

For the first two months of the season, Auburn running Jovon Robinson was like Sasquatch. A mythical creature that you heard about through word of mouth but never really saw in real life.

That changed in November, when he rushed for 402 yards and two touchdowns in four games and finished the season with a 126-yard performance against Memphis in December in the Birmingham Bowl.

With fellow running back Peyton Barber off to the NFL, the path is clear for Robinson to become a bona fide superstar. Head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 13 1,000-yard rushers in 10 seasons as a college head or assistant coach, including Barber last year, and should take some pressure off of Robinson in 2016 with either the addition of a running threat at quarterback or an improved downfield passing attack.

As Allie Davison of Rivals.com noted on Twitter, the better Auburn running back from 2015 might be the one still playing college football in 2016.

The 6'1", 230-pounder is perfect for Malzahn's offense. He's patient, strong between the tackles, deceptively elusive in space and can be a force either in a more traditional offense with a pro-style quarterback or in a multi-dimensional system that utilizes the quarterback as the edge threat.

If Auburn is going to return to glory, it will be because of Robinson's success. Malzahn already sent one running back to New York as a Heisman finalist when Tre Mason made it in 2013, and don't count out Robinson following in his footsteps.

 

Texas A&M RB Keith Ford

Wait, who?

It seems like Keith Ford is the forgotten man at running back in the SEC, but the former Oklahoma running back is eligible at Texas A&M in 2016 after sitting out his transfer year in 2015.

Ford ran for 194 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries through three games in 2014 but missed the next five games with a foot injury. That opened the door for Samaje Perine to burst onto the scene for the Sooners, which relegated Ford to a backup role.

The 5'11", 215-pound former 5-star prospect from Cypress, Texas, has the speed of a home run hitter, the size to take the pounding in space and is in a situation with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone where the running game will take more of a precedent in College Station for the first time under head coach Kevin Sumlin.

Mazzone helped Paul Perkins top the 1,300-yard mark twice at UCLA, and Johnathan Franklin rushed for 1,734 yards in Mazzone's first season in Westwood in 2012.

He will split carries with James White early in his career, but the presence of Mazzone coupled with quarterback questions with either Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight or the relatively inexperienced Jake Hubenak should make the running game the focal point for the Aggies in 2016.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is 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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