NCAA Football News

Butkus Award Watch List 2015: Full List Released

The Butkus Award is given annually to the top linebacker in college football, and as evidenced by the preseason watch list released Tuesday, there is no shortage of candidates to take home the prestigious honor in 2015.  

A list of 51 potential winners was revealed Tuesday on the Butkus Award's official website. Here is a full rundown of the linebackers who are expected to vie for the crown this season:

Eric Kendricks won the award last season with UCLA before getting selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings.

The Butkus Award, which is named after legendary Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, has been in existence since 1985. Many eventual NFL stars have won the award, including Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas, as well as current standouts such as Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers and Von Miller of the Denver Broncos.

While this year's field is wide open, to say the least, the favorite may be Notre Dame junior Jaylon Smith. He is the only returning Butkus Award finalist from last season, and he is coming off of a campaign that saw him rack up 89 tackles and two sacks.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller feels as though Smith is a special talent, and he compared him to a former Butkus Award winner:

Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus likes Smith's skill set, but he also believes there is plenty of room for improvement:

If Smith doesn't emerge as the winner, then UCLA's Myles Jack could make it two Bruins in a row. The junior linebacker also spent time at running back last season; however, he is expected to make the bulk of his impact on the defensive side of the ball in 2015.

Arizona's Scooby Wright is another top contender to keep an eye on after a breakout sophomore season. As pointed out by Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, Wright was actually far more effective than Smith in 2014 when it came to forcing opposing offenses into negative plays:

Even though Wright was absolutely fantastic last year, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez expects even bigger and better things in 2015, per ESPN.com's Ted Miller: "I think Scooby will be a better player next year than he was this year. You've got to have the mentality he has. He still has an edge about him. He still has a chip on his shoulder."

Provided Wright continues to improve as Rodriguez suggests he will, it will be extremely difficult for any other linebacker to wrestle the Butkus Award away from him.

Like Wright last year, there are always several linebackers who somewhat unexpectedly develop into stars, so it is entirely possible that someone entirely off the radar will emerge in 2015.

The Butkus Award race promises to be competitive all season, and that will make the eventual winner stand out that much more when the honor is ultimately handed out.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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What a Rejuvenated, Confident Steve Spurrier Means for South Carolina

HOOVER, Ala. — SEC media days serves as the Super Bowl for "talkin' season," and South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier raised the trophy on Tuesday.

The "head ball coach" addressed the masses at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel, and one thing became abundantly clear: He's rejuvenated.

Spurrier clearly was frustrated with last year's 7-6 record, which included several late losses in which his Gamecocks threw away leads late.

"We won three of the last four. Somehow or another, won a game down in The Swamp, very fortunate, and then beat Miami in a Bowl game," he said. "So we got rejuvenated. We got new life. We were 7-6, same as Tennessee and the same as Arkansas, and I think they're sort of celebrating big seasons last year. So we were celebrating also."

He celebrated, but also made changes. 

Jon Hoke was brought in to work alongside co-defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and will serve as the primary play-caller for the 2015 Gamecocks defense. The arrival of Hoke and an increased focus on communication and coaches fitting specific roles should prevent the inconsistency of last season, in which they finished next-to-last in the conference (432.7 YPG).

"We've got good coaches, but for whatever reason, we just didn't communicate," he said. "We can play a lot better defensively, and I think everybody's going to see that this year. So that's given all of us, I think, an extra life there at South Carolina."

Is a quiet Spurrier a dangerous Spurrier?

That remains to be seen, but last season's struggles have forced him to adjust and refocus his approach.

That's something that worked for him in the past.

Known for his fun-and-gun offense when he arrived in Columbia, Spurrier elevated the program to never-before-seen heights using a more conservative approach and won 11 games for three straight seasons from 2011-2013—the first three 11-win seasons in program history.

"I was asked recently at a booster club, how come you seem to run all the time on first down now? My answer was we need to stay on the field. If we're going to win, we've got to stay out there and not only drive for touchdowns, but we've got to consume some clock," he said.

Coaches change, schemes change and the game evolves. Spurrier is a glaring example. 

An Independence Bowl win over a mediocre Miami team doesn't resonate on the national scale, but it was something that he desperately needed after his Gamecocks—who were picked to win the division at media days last year—failed to live up to expectations.

"You didn't see me after the Miami game, Independence Bowl? I think that was the most fired up all of us were, because we went Page 4 of 5 from losers to winners," he said.

He's also proof that age is just a number.

"Like I told people, I breezed right through age 60, breezed right through 65, and I'm going to try my best to breeze right on through 70," he said.

The 2015 season isn't one of Spurrier's last chances for success at South Carolina before he hits the golf course on a more regular basis—it's another chance for Spurrier to do what he does best: hit the reset button.

That may or may not translate to another SEC East title, but it certainly signals that the head ball coach is going to stick around for a little while.

Besides, his golf game would probably frustrate him more than those late losses last year did.

"Golf game's not near what it used to be."

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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SEC Media Days 2015: Jeremy Johnson Proving He's Face of Auburn's 2015 Team

Jeremy Johnson wasn't supposed to be in Hoover, Alabama, on Monday.

SEC media days aren't for players like him. The conference's head coaches are normally picky about who represents their program at the annual event, mostly bringing seniors and multiyear starters to face the media masses.

Of the 42 players scheduled to be at SEC media days this week, only five of them are quarterbacks. Four were the starters at their respective schools last season.

And then there's Johnson, who has only had two starts in his collegiate career. The first one came against FCS opponent Western Carolina in 2013, and he played the entire first half of Auburn's 2014 season opener against Arkansas for a suspended Nick Marshall.

But even with his limited amount of starting experience, Johnson entered the frenzy in Hoover on Monday afternoon as Auburn's only offensive representative.

"I brought three of our leaders with me today," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "Our quarterback, Jeremy Johnson, a guy that's been a backup for two years, handled himself extremely well. Now he's in the starting role. We feel very good about where he's at, and [he's] really a leader of our team."

"Leader." It's a label the 6'5" quarterback from Montgomery, Alabama, wears well.

His teammates have constantly raved about his leadership capabilities from the moment he stepped onto Auburn's campus. As a true freshman in 2013, he took charge of Malzahn's offense and playbook during a battle for the starting quarterback job.

Johnson lost out to Marshall, but the way he performed in that fall camp stuck out to Malzahn.

"His coaches and his teammates have a lot of confidence in him, and he's earned that," Malzahn said. "I really appreciate the way that he responded to not being the starter the last couple of years, when he could have started for the majority of the teams, and the way he's really responded is really something special."

Now it's time for Johnson to completely take over the offense as the No. 1 quarterback on the Plains.

The intense pressure and spotlight of being a starting quarterback in the SEC—especially one who plays for an offensive guru such as Malzahn—cranked up Monday for Johnson.

"I’ve never seen this many cameras in my life," Johnson said Monday, according to the Opelika-Auburn News' Tom Green. "But I’m really just cherishing this moment and opportunity right now."

Much like a certain former Auburn quarterback with a similar frame, Johnson flashed a big smile as he took question after question Monday.

Pressure? What pressure?

"I don’t feel pressure at all," Johnson said, per Green. "I’m here to play football. I don’t feel any pressure at all. All I can do is control what I can control, and that’s just get better each and every game."

And while he had that Cam Newton-like smile on his face, he made sure to brush off any on-field comparisons to the Auburn icon.

"Cam is Cam, and not me," Johnson said, according to Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples. "I don't compare myself to Cam that much."

Johnson also saw firsthand a popular criticism of his skill set that is beginning to creep into radio talk shows and preseason predictions for the Tigers.

A reporter squarely asked Johnson, who was a 4-star pro-style quarterback at Montgomery's Carver High School, if he could run—a key component of Malzahn's offense with Newton and Marshall. In Johnson's limited action at Auburn, he's only had 11 carries for 40 yards and one touchdown.

"A lot of people who haven’t seen me run, they might be a little surprised," Johnson said. “The people who did, won’t. Whatever the defense gives us, we’re going to take."

Malzahn and some other Tigers vouched for Johnson's running ability.

"Nick Marshall was one of the better zone-read quarterbacks in recent history," Malzahn said. "Jeremy has the ability [to run the zone]. ... He can make every throw that you ask him to do, but he's a better runner than people think.

"We didn't ask him to run the past couple of years, but he's a big, athletic guy. He probably runs a 4.6 [in the 40-yard dash]. So he will allow us to call all of our offense."

Johnson's place now as the leader of Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense has already garnered some hype that he could be the first Auburn player to win the Heisman Trophy since that quarterback he doesn't want to be compared to this year.

According to Odds Shark, Johnson currently has the seventh-best odds to win the famous award. He's ahead of quarterbacks such as Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Ohio State's Cardale Jones and Michigan State's Connor Cook.

But now, Johnson is only focused on winning one thing—football games.

"Really, I just don’t get too caught up into all of that right now," Johnson said, per Green. "All I can do is control what I can control each and every game and let all the individual accolades come with winning, because if you don’t win, you don’t get the individual accolades."

Hundreds of reporters and dozens of cameras won't compare to the pressure Johnson will face from SEC defenses week in and week out, but it was a start.

And the new face of Auburn football looks ready to handle everything that comes with the territory.

 

All quotes obtained from SEC Network's broadcast unless otherwise noted. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

De'Andre Johnson Discusses Bar Incident in Good Morning America Interview

Just over one week after his dismissal from Florida State's football program due to striking a woman at a Tallahassee bar on June 24, quarterback De'Andre Johnson expressed regret for his actions in an interview with Good Morning America.

According to SI.com, Johnson apologized while flanked by his mother when Michael Strahan asked him about the situation, saying: "There's no explanation for that. I totally should have walked away. I am ashamed of that. I'm sorry. I apologize to the lady in the incident, to her family, to my family, to my mother. I know I wasn't raised that way. If I could do it all over again, I would."  

The team indefinitely suspended the 19-year-old freshman initially. But head coach Jimbo Fisher subsequently dismissed him from the program July 6, as seen in this official press release that Andy Staples of SI.com relayed:

That decision came after footage of the incident surfaced. As seen in this video, courtesy of the Tallahassee Democrat, Johnson punched a woman during a confrontation (Warning: Video contains graphic content):

Although Everett Golson and Sean Maguire will vie for Florida State's starting quarterback job in 2015, many viewed Johnson as a potential candidate to take the reins under center beginning in 2016. That is no longer the case after his dismissal.

While it is entirely possible he will get a second chance elsewhere, the Jacksonville, Florida, native's football future is very much in question.

According to Saffid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat, five Florida State players have been subpoenaed in the case, which has a court date later this month. Johnson was charged with misdemeanor battery, pleading not guilty on July 2.

Apologizing for his actions is a step in the right direction for the freshman, but he will be an extremely risky proposition for other programs until he proves this incident was a one-time transgression.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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The Biggest Takeaways from USC Recruits Performances at 'The Opening'

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Fans of the USC Trojans will look at The Opening as a great week from a recruiting standpoint. The Trojans added two commits to its budding 2016 class and moved up five spots to No. 5 in the latest 247Sports football recruiting team rankings.

The Opening, however, was more about future teammates bonding than anything else. Here are some of the takeaways involving USC commits and targets.

 

New commits fill needs on offense, defense

The newest Trojan commits, 4-star receiver Trevon Sidney and 4-star safety C.J. Pollard, are more important than just another two additions to the 2016 class.

Pollard is not only USC's first safety pledge of the class but also USC's first defensive back commit. At 6'1" and 180 pounds, he's big and physical enough to play safety, but he also is quick and savvy enough to play cornerback if necessary.

"I'm going to play safety, but I'm down to play whatever position they put me," he told Bleacher Report. "I'm even down to play nickel."

Sidney's commitment meant USC scored its highest-ranked offensive pledge. He is the nation's No. 11 receiver and the No. 84 player overall.

"Since I'm a receiver, I want to build up on our receiving corps," Josh Imatorbhebhe said. "[Sidney] is going to definitely help us."

 

No quit in the future Trojans

Team Lunarbeast won the seven-on-seven national championship. Several USC-bound teammates were a part of the squad.

Lunarbeast lost its first four games but took advantage of a double-elimination, bracket-play format to not only turn things around but ultimately win the title. Linebacker Daelin Hayes said some called the turnaround "a Cinderella story."

He then suggested foreshadowing.

"Hopefully, this is nothing more than a preview of SC," he said.

In other words, Hayes is suggesting there is no quit in him or his teammates—a characteristic that could get them far with Steve Sarkisian and the USC coaching staff.

 

Martin selling the USC product

Offensive tackle Frank Martin II tries to keep in touch with as many USC commits as possible. He also tries to sway as many USC targets as possible.

It's because of this that he has an inside track on a lot of athletes. When Pollard and Sidney committed on Thursday and Friday, respectively, he admitted that he had an idea of which school they would choose.

Martin said one of his jobs as a USC commit is to sell the program. He feels it's something he does well.

"If you want to play with the best and be with the best, come to SC," Martin said. "If you're not afraid of competition, come with us."

Martin added that he has two players in particular who he'd love to call college teammates in 2016.

"I would love to see [wide receiver] Tyler Vaughns commit," he said. "I'd also like to see [LSU defensive end commit] Erick Fowler flip."

 

Imatorbhebhe: 'Iron sharpens iron'

Wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe took several valuable lessons from The Opening. The one he appreciated most involved the level of play that must be needed to compete against players equally talented or better.

"They say iron sharpens iron. We all got better," Imatorbhebhe said. "We're here as the best playing against the best. A lot of this, I feel like I can take with me to my high school."

Imatorbhebhe committed on May 18, via Bleacher Report. He left The Opening as one of the athletes many talked about. Imatorbhebhe participated in the Nike Football Rating Championships, and his incredible vertical jump of 47.1 inches was a topic of discussion.

 

The Opening: Bonding time

Several USC pledges called The Opening experience "bonding time." A few commits hadn't met each other, so the trip to Oregon was the perfect opportunity to get to know athletes they would ultimately see on a regular basis.

"To come out and ball with my future teammates was great," 4-star all-purpose back Melquise Stovall said. "I never had the chance to spend time with some of the guys; I really got to know them. It was a great experience to see everyone click and really see the future."

Hayes and Imatorbhebhe were roommates at The Opening. With Hayes from Michigan and Imatorbhebhe from Georgia, the opportunities to get to meet each other are few.

The week proved to be more than seven-on-seven football and skills training.

"I didn't know him personally at first," Hayes said of Imatorbhebhe, "but I had a chance to get to spend a few days with him, and we meshed. And seeing how we meshed on the same team, it was just a great opportunity."

 

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

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10 Once-'Hot' College Football Coaches Who Have Lost Their Luster

Do you remember when Dennis Franchione was one of the hottest commodities in coaching?

Though its sounds like a joke today, Coach Fran had enough hiring power to convince TCU (1997), Alabama (2001) and Texas A&M (2002) to hire him.

What we smugly know now, with wisdom gained only through the passage of time, makes us laugh at the thought of Franchione being hired at Florida or Oklahoma.

But 15 years ago? Not so much.

That’s the thing about coaches—even when we’re aware of the tarnishing process, it’s not until a couple of years later that we realize how ill-fitted a guy was for a certain job or even the role of head coach.

The 10 guys highlighted here are the best recent examples of coaches who were hot commodities on the market only to come tumbling back down the charts. Success could have meant an NFL job, sustained employment at a big-time school, a head role at a bigger college program or the opportunity to become a head coach for the first time.

They are the antithesis of Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll and David Shaw—coaches who either lived up to the hype after they moved up a level or were able to cash in on successful runs as a coordinator.

Begin Slideshow

10 College Football Coaches We'd Want to Play for the Most

There are a litany of colorful characters within the college football coaching profession. 

Every fan of the sport has a select few whose team they'd love to play for. This piece will attempt to name the 10 head coaches universally thought of as favorites. 

There are criteria for any member's inclusion on this list. The act of winning football games—as well as the current trajectory of the said program—enters the equation first and foremost. The likability factor is integral, as is the excitement a coach can bring via personality or scheme. 

Lastly, the act of developing talent at a high level surely matters. 

 

Honorable mentions: Dabo Swinney, Jerry Kill, David Cutcliffe, Mark Richt, Butch Jones, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, David Shaw, Steve Spurrier, Dana Holgorsen, Bill Snyder and Mike Gundy 

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The Biggest Takeaways from Texas Recruits' Performances at The Opening

BEAVERTON, Ore. — There was one Texas Longhorns commit and a handful of targets at Nike World Headquarters last weekend for The Opening and the Elite 11 competitions.

If Texas fans have their way, a few of those uncommitted players will be wearing burnt orange in 2016.

Texas currently has six 2016 commitments, which means there is plenty of room for head coach Charlie Strong and his staff to build the class. Here are some notes from The Opening, focusing on Texas targets who were competing—as well as the one commit in attendance, who participated in the Elite 11.

 

Buechele proves himself as a competitor

If nothing else, 4-star Texas commit Shane Buechele made one thing clear all week.

He's a pretty good quarterback—maybe even better than advertised.

Buechele, the lone Texas commit at The Opening, nearly walked away with the Elite 11 MVP award Friday evening. Although he didn't win the MVP award, he was named as a member of the Elite 11, a prestigious club featuring the nation's top 11 quarterbacks.

In short, Buechele had a mission, and he achieved his goals.

"I just wanted to show that I can compete," he said.

On Monday, Buechele won the Golden Gun competition, a drill testing accuracy, strength and endurance where a quarterback attempts to hit targets from various yards away. After winning, he found himself atop the Elite 11 ladder Tuesday:

He remained atop the ladder Wednesday:

He remained on top Thursday:

And entering the final day of competition, Friday, Buechele still was on the top of the ladder:

It wasn't until early Friday evening when he was finally unseated from the top spot by Shea Patterson, as the Ole Miss commit led the Lunarbeast seven-on-seven team from an 0-4 start to The Opening seven-on-seven national championship.

Buechele had an outstanding week. It was the kind of week that gave Longhorns fans plenty of excitement for the future.

 

A "Shark" sighting at the NFRC

There were several big names at The Opening—several big names...and a shark.

Uncommitted 4-star outside linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch showed his worth by competing as one of the 10 finalists of the Nike Football Rating Championships. Nicknamed "The Shark," McCulloch recorded a rating score of 138.30 in the preliminary round and then a score of 132.54 in the finals.

For the day, McCulloch, who measured at 6'2 ½" and 229 pounds, had solid marks in the 20-yard shuttle (4.0 seconds), the power ball toss (42.5 feet) and the vertical jump (38 inches). He also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds.

So what's next? McCulloch told 247Sports' EJ Holland that he will be at Texas' Under the Lights event Saturday after cancelling an unofficial campus visit in June. McCulloch, who is considering Texas, told Holland that he plans on spending time with Strong and his staff in an effort to get to know them better.

McCulloch also said he plans on watching film in an effort to see where he can fit in the Texas defense.

"They want to go to more of a 3-4 defense, but they don't really have the personnel for it," McCulloch told Holland. "The staff said that they really want to get me and a couple of other guys. They see me out there as an outside linebacker."

 

Texas in top three for ATH Wallace

One thing about Christian Wallace is clear: He doesn't lack in personality or enthusiasm.

When Wallace, a 4-star athlete, wasn't hyping up his team or initiating high-fives in drills and in seven-on-seven competition, he was enjoying the moment of being at The Opening. He even had a chance to go from competitor to roving reporter:

"It's been great. It's a blessing to be here," he said of The Opening. "Overall, it's the best football experience I ever had."

Now that it's over, Wallace said he's looking to finalize his college plans. He is down to three schools: Texas, Mississippi State and LSU.

"[Texas] has a great coaching staff," he said. "I feel like I'll fit in that system well. Mississippi State is the same—plus, it's the SEC. LSU, that's just like a dream school."

Wallace said he'll most likely commit in late August before the start of the 2015 football season.

 

Seven-on-seven helps ILB Jackson

Some may say the seven-on-seven scene isn't designed for linebackers. Dontavious Jackson would rather turn lemons to lemonade.

Instead of focusing on the disadvantages linebackers may face in seven-on-seven competition, the nation's No. 4 inside linebacker focused on how the competition could be beneficial for linebackers like him—particularly in a setting like The Opening.

"It's the quickest of the quick and the fastest of the fast," Jackson said. "It makes my motor fast and my feet better. It helps me with my coverage and my speed.

"It's been amazing. All the people coming out to watch, just to play seven-on-seven, it's been amazing."

Jackson, a 4-star prospect, reported just south of 60 offers but has a mental list of about a dozen schools that he is focusing on. The Longhorns may or may not be a part of that list.

"In my head, there's about 11 or 12 [schools] that I'm really considering, but I can't really give that away right now."

He then smiled and said, "Just know Texas might be in it."

If Texas is a part of that group, look for the Longhorns to try to close the deal. He's established a solid relationship with Strong as well as freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson.

"I talk to [Strong] a lot, probably a couple times a week," Jackson said. "He's kind of like a father figure to me. We talk about a lot of things, sometimes not even about football."

 

Longhorns "No. 2" for LSU commit

If it means anything, LSU commit Erick Fowler still has Texas on his brain.

To what extent? That's the question.

Fowler, a 4-star defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid, told Bleacher Report that, although he is solid with his commitment to LSU, Texas is "my No. 2 [school]," and he still keeps in touch with several members of the coaching staff.

How that is interpreted depends on the reader, but Fowler did give words to the LSU fans.

"I'm still committed to LSU," he said.

Fowler was impressive in one-on-one competition during the lineman challenge. Despite being one of the smallest linemen at 6'1" and 233 pounds, he used his quickness in drills to frustrate offensive linemen.

 

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

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The Biggest Takeaways from Oregon Recruits Performance at The Opening

BEAVERTON, Ore. — The Oregon Ducks see more than 160 elite recruits invade the Pacific Northwest on an annual basis, as prospects travel to The Opening showcase held at Nike's world headquarters. It's an exclusive event hosted in Beaverton, Oregon, which is located less than two hours away from campus.

The action took center stage July 6-10 and featured noteworthy Ducks news, along with a smattering of fans who attended in Oregon apparel. The program is flying high following a 2014 season that featured a Heisman Trophy winner and national title game appearance.

We kept our eyes on Ducks-related developments during the week in Beaverton, focusing on a few key storylines.

 

Ducks Bag A Pair of Blue-Chip Prospects

Oregon enjoyed two key recruiting victories Thursday, landing 4-star commitments from Jared Mayden and La'Mar Winston. The duo decided to announce their respective collegiate intentions on national television while attending The Opening.

Winston, considered the Ducks' top in-state target, selected Oregon over Pac-12 rivals Stanford, Washington and UCLA. The 6'½", 200-pound playmaker is a Portland product and rates 18th nationally among outside linebackers in composite rankings.

He tallied 31 tackles, three fumble recoveries and seven touchdown receptions last season, per MaxPreps. Winston could ultimately contribute in the defensive secondary as a nickel contributor.

Mayden, a Texas standout, was more of a wild card while approaching his final decision. Aside from Oregon, the list of favorites featured Florida State, Michigan, UCLA, Florida, Alabama and Ohio State.

Rated 11th nationally among cornerbacks, Mayden was ultimately motivated to join the Ducks' class after a nationwide search for an ideal opportunity.

"We did a lot of traveling and had a lot of conversations with a lot of good coaching staffs to find that right fit for Jared. It was important to him and to us," Katrina Salles, Mayden's mother, told B/R's Damon Sayles.

He tallied a career-best 55 tackles in 2014. His commitment pushed Oregon to 12th overall in composite class rankings.

 

Ducks Getting Defensive?

Oregon garnered the national reputation of an offensive juggernaut during its ascension to Pac-12 powerhouse, launching former head coach Chip Kelly to stardom and putting Marcus Mariota in position to win a Heisman Trophy.

However, things continue to trend toward more balance on the Ducks roster. Oregon signed 5-star Hawaii defensive end Canton Kaumatule in the 2015 class, and he looks like an immediate impact player in Eugene.

The program already holds four 4-star commitments on defense this cycle, highlighted by in-state standouts Winston and Brady Breeze, who is the nephew of former Ducks starter Chad Cota.

"It's not very consistent that Oregon is going to produce a bunch of defensive stars in its home state, but this year is a bit different," said Andrew Nemec of The Oregonian. "[Secondary coach] John Neal has done an outstanding job recruiting defensive backs, so it's not a huge surprise to see them land Mayden.

The key for Oregon is to start consistently signing stud defensive linemen who can help the team get more physical up front."

The Ducks are working to do just that, evidenced by a Monday visit from 5-star Louisiana defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence.

Among this group of incoming talent, Mayden is most likely to earn early reps. He's physically developed and projects as a player who can line up at either cornerback or safety.

 

Taking Care of Business on Home Turf

Oregon chose to sign just one player rated among the state's top-10 prospects during the past two recruiting cycles, but the program is taking a different approach this time around. 

The Ducks claim commitments from the top three in-state recruits. Head coach Mark Helfrich holds pledges from Winston, Breeze and tight end Cameron McCormick, utilizing homegrown commodities to advance the class.

"Some years there are only one or two guys in the state that are at the level Oregon looks for. If they don't fit what the Ducks do, the team may just pass on them," Nemec said. "When Oregon wants an in-state guy, they tend to get him, especially with Oregon State taking a step back. This year the clean sweep of the top three local targets is huge."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Media Days 2015: Highlights, Comments and Twitter Reaction from Monday

The 2015 Southeastern Conference media days kicked off Monday, with several notable coaches, players and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey providing plenty of news to digest.

Sankey opened the press function by quoting Bob Dylan to show off his interesting personality and declaring the conference's superiority, per the SEC Network:       

Perhaps most interesting was Sankey's ability to communicate a strong message across multiple platforms simultaneously, as Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel noticed:

It almost wasn't necessary for reporters to be present for Sankey's remarks in that context. Once Sankey was finished with his rather entertaining orations, it was the Auburn Tigers' turn to hold court with the media.

ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the question marks surrounding the most important position for the teams' opening SEC media days:

A lot of hype surrounds new Tigers quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who garners comparisons to former Heisman Trophy winner and current NFL star Cam Newton. Johnson tried to dismiss such analogies by stating, "Cam is Cam and I am me. We are different people with different talents," per ESPN's Joe Schad.

Edward Aschoff of ESPN noted how Jim Thorpe Award watch list defensive back Jonathan Jones touted Johnson for his throwing ability:

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn certainly wasn't shy to speak his mind either. In addition to proclaiming the SEC West the best division in the country, he had the highest praise for new Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, per ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf:

In my opinion, he is the best defensive mind in all of football, not just college football. His approach, his energy, his enthusiasm for the game, he just has that presence around him that he gives all the coaches confidence. He's got the 'it' factor.

[...] The big thing for Will is execution, playing extremely hard, giving 100 percent, flying to the football, being responsible for your position and just playing with that edge. Our guys in the spring really started to take on Will's personality, and that's a good thing.

The notion that players are gravitating toward Muschamp seems fortified by the playful impersonation Tigers linebacker Kris Frost did of the man who call the shots on his side of the ball, courtesy of WRBL Sports' Dayne Young:

Muschamp had been the head coach at SEC rival Florida, but with the exception of an 11-2 mark in 2012, he didn't live up to expectations.

Former Colorado State coach Jim McElwain is Muschamp's successor to lead the Gators program. McElwain is bringing more of an offensive flavor to Gainesville with a pro-style system.

Even with a steep learning curve, McElwain is expecting a lot out of his freshmen offensive linemen, per ESPN's Mark Schlabach:

Part of the reason Florida fans should be excited for 2015 is the new energy McElwain brings to a stagnant offense, along with how good the defense ought to be with the likes of Vernon Hargreaves III in the secondary.

SEC Network logged how confident Hargreaves is in his own skills:

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports praised the way Hargreaves carried himself:

Adam Silverstein of OnlyGators.com recorded McElwain's kind words for Hargreaves:

...The way he practices, the way he thrives in competition, and not only that, the way he takes care of himself in the classroom and other things that go along with being successful in life. Growing up the son of a coach, he obviously has been around it, and I think that that is huge.  I'll tell you, here's the best thing: he's fun to watch practice. The guy loves it. That's what I think separates some of the guys at times is the ones that really, truly go out there and compete every day to perfect their craft.

Vanderbilt also featured at the kickoff of SEC media days, which had to delight those in attendance because of how quotable Commodores coach Derek Mason tends to be.

Mason didn't disappoint ahead of his second season with the program. Sporting News' Matt Hayes documented Mason's candid answer about what he found out the hard way in his maiden year at the helm:

Commodores linebacker Nigel Bowden alluded to how rising sophomore running back Ralph Webb is taking charge of the team ahead of the 2015 campaign, per Aschoff:

Webb ran for 907 yards and four touchdowns last season, providing Vanderbilt with some hope on offense, though the competition will obviously be tough as the program continues to build and recruit top-tier talent.

VandyFootball made note of the optimism radiating from Mason at media day:

Just one year removed from a 0-8 conference record, Vandy may not want to get its hopes too high, but Mason seems to have his players headed in the right direction in Nashville, Tennessee.

If McElwain can get his players to buy in more than Muschamp could for much of his Florida tenure, there's reason to believe the Gators could see massive improvement right away. The supremely talented Hargreaves will almost certainly leap to the NFL for the 2016 draft, so Florida ought to capitalize on what it has now to compete in the SEC East.

After making the national championship game two years ago, Auburn's 8-5 mark and .500 conference record showed just how difficult it is to stay on top in the nation's toughest conference. A lot of weight is on Johnson and a revitalized Muschamp to push the Tigers back among college football's true elite.

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Biggest Takeaways from Day 1 of SEC Media Days

The first leg of SEC media days is in the books. What were the main takeaways? 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee answers that question and more in the video above.

 

 

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FSU President John Thrasher Meets with Football Team Amid Arrests, Controversy

After two Florida State Seminoles football players were charged with misdemeanor battery in separate incidents a few days apart, FSU President John Thrasher spoke to the team Monday to repeat the standards expected of it at the school.

Thrasher wrote an open letter, which read in part:    

In light of recent off-field incidents, I reiterated to our players that they simply cannot put themselves in situations that reflect poor behavior or cause harm to others. They must remember that playing football for FSU is a privilege, not a right. The actions of a few have the capacity to do serious damage to the reputation of our entire university. I told them their coaches, the Athletics administration and I will do all we can to support them and help them learn the values we expect them to uphold. But they will be held accountable for their actions.

On June 30, the Florida State Attorney's Office charged De'Andre Johnson after he struck a woman at a Tallahassee bar in June. Video of the punch was released to the media. Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher dismissed Johnson from the team on July 7.

Over the weekend, ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach reported FSU running back Dalvin Cook was also charged with the same crime after allegedly striking a woman outside a Tallahassee bar on June 23. Cook is also suspended from the team indefinitely.    

Public scrutiny of the Florida State program increased during Jameis Winston's sexual assault investigation in 2013 and the state attorney's subsequent decision not to charge him with a crime. The New York Times' Walt Bogdanich wrote an in-depth examination of the investigation carried out by university officials and local authorities.

Bogdanich and Mike McIntire then collaborated on a piece for the Times which further scrutinized how the Tallahassee Police Department handled potential crimes involving Seminoles football players.

"Recent events at Florida State University involving members of my football team have brought a lot of attention to the school and program," Fisher said last Friday in a statement, per Jim Henry for USA Today. "It is important to me that our fans and the public be aware that I do not tolerate the type of behavior that was captured on video and that was most recently alleged. We will do better. I will not tolerate anything less."

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SEC Media Days: Can Muschamp's Defense Lead Auburn to a National Championship?

The Auburn Tigers are looking to revamp the defense under new coach Will Muschamp to keep up with the Tigers' fast-paced offense.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Barrett Sallee and AL.com Auburn sports beat reporter James Crepea break down some of the Auburn inside buzz. 

How good can the Tigers be in 2015? Check out the video, and let us know.

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B/R Exclusive: 5-Star OT Greg Little Decommits from Texas A&M

Greg Little, the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle and the No. 2 overall player in the 2016 class, has decommitted from Texas A&M.

Bleacher Report was told of the news Monday afternoon. Little's mother, Terry Lacy-Little, confirmed the news.

"At the time he committed, he knew that was the place he wanted to be," Little's mother said regarding Texas A&M. "Fast-forward [to now], he felt it was too early in the process to commit. Because this is such a life-changing event, he feels he has to go through the recruiting process to evaluate where he wants to go."

Little verbally committed to the Aggies as an incoming junior on June 20, 2014. The decommitment gives the 17-year-old, 5-star standout a chance to explore all of his options.

Declining to comment on the record regarding his decommitment, Little did reconfirm he has 27 offers. He doesn't have a public list of schools as of yet.

Little was one of more than 160 athletes at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, last week for The Opening, and he left Oregon with the offensive lineman MVP award. Little won the majority of his one-on-one battles and offered entertaining matchups against his good friend, defensive tackle Rashan Gary, the nation's No. 1 overall player.

"I want to go against the best," Little told Bleacher Report about lining up against Gary last Wednesday. "I feel if I don't go against the best, I'm just wasting my time. He's the best, so I want to go against him. We're real close, so it's cool."

At 6'6" and 318 pounds, Little is one of the most technically sound offensive linemen in the country. It's Little's technique and pad level that made former NFL defensive lineman Shaun Smith suggest that Little "may not make the 53-man roster, but he'd make a practice squad somewhere, right now."

Little's accolades are impressive. He was named a MaxPreps Junior All-American, a second-team USA Today All-USA pick and an Associated Press Texas Class 6A first-team all-state selection as a junior.

Additionally, he's never lost a varsity high school football game. He was the left tackle for quarterback Kyler Murray, who is now a freshman at Texas A&M but finished his high school career 43-0. Little was a starting tackle for two of Murray's undefeated years.

 

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

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The Biggest Takeaways from the Performance of Michigan Recruits at The Opening

BEAVERTON, Ore. — The recent recruiting surge at Michigan thrust Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh into the national spotlight months before his first game in Ann Arbor. The program currently sits eighth overall in composite 2016 class rankings, fresh off 15 commitments in a five-week span.

Naturally, there were plenty of Michigan-related storylines to monitor at The Opening, an annual prospect showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. The event, held July 6-10, featured more than 160 of America's top high school talents.

Bleacher Report was live on the scene to document all the action and speak with players. Here's the latest buzz surrounding Michigan.

 

Brandon Peters Lands Among the "Elite"

Indiana quarterback Brandon Peters helped build positive momentum for the Wolverines' 2016 recruiting efforts in early April when he committed during a campus visit. The 6'5", 205-pound passer picked Michigan over fellow favorites LSU, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

He received one of 18 invitations to the Elite 11 national finals, which are held along with The Opening. Peters, one of six finalists committed to a Big Ten program, took part in a week-long challenge that tested athleticism, arm endurance, accuracy, competitiveness and football IQ.

Led by Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer, the coaching staff selected Peters as one of the competitors to gain status as one of the Elite 11:

Peters, rated eighth nationally among pro-style passers in composite rankings, threw for 3,740 yards, 42 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during the past two seasons at Avon High School. He expressed excitement about the rapid growth of Michigan's class.

"It just shows you how recruits feel about Coach Harbaugh and the whole coaching staff," Peters said. "It's got people really interested in the program. I'm happy to be a part of this and glad I could represent the class out here at the Elite 11."

He also showed off some athleticism, finishing with the fourth-best 40-yard dash time (4.81 seconds) among quarterbacks at The Opening. Past Michigan-bound Elite 11 qualifiers include Devin Gardner, Matt Gutierrez and Ryan Mallett.

 

Michael Onwenu Flexes Muscles in Trenches

June was a huge month for Michigan's offensive front, as 4-star linemen Michael OnwenuDevery Hamilton and Erik Swenson joined impressive Brady Hoke-era holdover Erik Swenson in the class. Onwenu went to Oregon, working against the country's most intimidating defensive linemen.

The 6'3", 365-pound prospect punished opponents throughout much of the week. Fittingly, his best rep came against a Buckeye.

Onwenu and Ohio State defensive end commit Jonathan Cooper enjoyed a competitive back-and-forth battle during stretches of the event, culminating in this powerful effort by the Wolverines pledge:

It's a moment caught on video that probably made an appearance in Michigan's football facilities. Can't you just see Harbaugh watching this on repeat?

 

Michigan in the Mix for Multiple 5-Star Defenders

Harbaugh has helped enhance the program's national recruiting reach, and that quickly became apparent in Oregon. The Wolverines seem to be in solid position to secure visits from two of the top defenders in SEC territory.

Lyndell "Mack" Wilson and Ben Davis, both 5-star linebackers from Alabama, expressed interest in traveling to Ann Arbor. Although they are each seen as Crimson Tide leans, neither player plans to announce a decision before national signing day, leaving the door open for other possibilities.

Davis believes he knows four of his five official visits—Florida State, Auburn, USC and Alabama—but admitted things could change. He identified Michigan among universities under consideration.

Wilson was a bit more concrete with his feelings toward the Wolverines.

"[Michigan] wants me to come up and visit. It’s probably going to be hard for me to come up like that, so I’ll probably have to take an official up there," he said. "I just want to see the academic program and how the players bond with the coaches. I want to see who they have in front of me and what type of playing time I’d have if I go there."

Top overall 2016 prospect Rashan Gary is already very comfortable with the situation in Ann Arbor. Chris Partridge, who coached him at Paramus Catholic last season, now serves on the Michigan staff, and Gary has spent multiple visits in Ann Arbor since Harbaugh arrived.

“They treat us like family. Coach Partridge knows how my mom is and knows how I am, so our visit was smooth," Gary said. "He showed us everything we needed to see.”

The dominant defensive tackle expects to unveil a top-five list before the start of his senior season.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. B/R analyst Sanjay Kirpalani also contributed to this piece.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Florida Football: Gators' 2015 Season Rests on Success at O-Line, Not QB

Jim McElwain's presence at Florida has cast a brighter spotlight on the quarterback position in Gainesville.

The new offensive-minded head coach has been tasked with helping bring the Gators attack, especially its inefficient passing game, back to championship form. The starting quarterback battle between Will Grier and Treon Harris will continue into the fall as Florida looks for major improvement at the position.

Florida has finished 12th or worse in the SEC in passing yards per game in each of the last three seasons. Gator quarterbacks haven't combined for at least 20 touchdowns through the air in a season since Tim Tebow's final collegiate campaign in 2009.

But during his first SEC media days appearance, McElwain placed the utmost importance not on the quarterback, but another unit—the offensive line.

"Kinda how [the offensive linemen] grow is kinda how we're gonna grow," McElwain said. "We're gonna probably have to reflect back to maybe a bit of our NFL roots—get that core seven or eight guys that can maybe swap some spots."

McElwain views the offensive line as the most essential part of the entire offensive rebuilding effort at Florida this year. It's hard to win games without great play in the trenches, and the new head coach made that clear Monday.

Excellence in those trenches has been hard to come by recently for the program. Florida's offensive line didn't exactly pave the way toward success in 2014, as the offense ranked 96th nationally in total yards per game.

According to Football Outsiders' line yards statistic, the Gators were one of the worst teams in the country last season for offensive line performance on standard rushing downs.

To make things worse, four of Florida's starters on 2014's front five either graduated or left early for the NFL draft. The Gators will enter the 2015 season with the third-fewest combined offensive line starts in all of college football.

Fears grew in McElwain's first spring camp at Florida, as only eight scholarship offensive linemen were cleared for contact drills, limiting what the team could do in practices and the annual scrimmage.

But reinforcements arrived this summer in the form of seven offensive line signees from the class of 2015—including No. 2 overall recruit Martez Ivey—and two-time FCS All-American pick Mason Halter, a transfer from Fordham.

That reinforced depth along the offensive line has started to turn things around for McElwain and his offensive staff this offseason.

"I'm excited about that group," McElwain said. "I think we're about 15, 16 deep right now, and they've been working their tails off. We're excited for the opportunity."

Florida's new talent along the offensive line will be thrown into the fire early in fall camp, according to McElwain, as the Gators look for that "core."

"These guys are going to have opportunities to go take reps," McElwain said. "How you learn to play is sometimes by making mistakes. But you've got to get that opportunity. They're gonna have a lot of chances."

Before taking the main-stage podium in Hoover, Alabama, on Monday afternoon, McElwain gave reporters quite a Florida metaphor when talking about the young players on the offensive line:

It's a fitting term for the line and the rest of Florida's offense. The Gators attack should be similar to a roller coaster this year with ups, downs and plenty of speed.

How exciting—and successful—the entire offensive ride is for Florida in 2015 will come down to the development of a young line.

Buckle up, Gators.

 

All quotes obtained from SEC Network's broadcast. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.

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

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Cade Mays Commits to Tennessee: Vols Land 2018 Legacy Recruit

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones continued his raid of Tennessee Volunteer legacies in a big way on Monday when offensive lineman Cade Mays announced his intentions to play for UT via Twitter.

The 6'5", 305-pound lineman is the first commitment in the 2018 class for the Vols. The big, athletic lineman already had offers from some of the nation's elite programs, including Alabama, Florida State, Texas A&M and Clemson, among others.

Though it's hard to get excited about a pledge from a rising sophomore, UT has three huge things in its corner when it comes to keeping Mays' commitment.

First, his father, Kevin, was a standout lineman for the Vols from 1991-94. He began his career on defense before being moved to offensive guard during the coaching transition from Johnny Majors to Phillip Fulmer, where he became an All-SEC performer.

As they say in Tennessee, Mays' blood runs orange, and Jones has made a recruiting habit in his short tenure at UT of securing commitments from some of the nation's top prospects who have UT ties.

Jones already has signed seven Vol legacies in his three classes, a list that includes elite defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, safeties Todd Kelly Jr. and Evan Berry and linebacker Dillon Bates, among others.

Perhaps the biggest target in this year's cycle, safety Nigel Warrior, is the uncommitted son of Vols great Dale Carter. He has Tennessee among his current favorites.

Mays has a long way to go before he's officially a Vol, but that doesn't take away from the magnitude of his pledge. When there's a prospect of his size at his age with the interest from the caliber of schools who are after him, it usually means he's somebody who could become an elite, highly coveted player.

It helped UT that he plays for Knoxville Catholic, a school that recently produced UT lineman Kyler Kerbyson. Also, several UT coaches have sons who played for Catholic, including Jones, defensive coordinator John Jancek and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez.

Sticking with the family theme, Mays told VolQuest.com's Austin Price that the recent birth of his brother, Camp, made him realize he wanted to be close to home as well.

"With my mom just having a baby it made me realize I want to spend time with my family," Mays told Price. "There wasn't another school that I considered that could stand up to what Tennessee can offer. It's that simple."

Though UT's offensive line struggled mightily a season ago, Jones has addressed the needs in a big way during the past two recruiting cycles.

Drew Richmond, a 247Sports Top 100 player and composite 4-star, was the centerpiece of an offensive line class in 2015 that was stellar. Jack Jones, another 4-star tackle prospect, as well as Venzell Boulware, Zach Stewart and Chance Hall rounded out the class.

This year, the Vols already have a commitment from 4-star tackle Ryan Johnson.

Now Mays ensures that UT's offensive line recruiting will continue on the upswing as the Vols get ready to head into a couple of years in 2017 and '18 that could be banner seasons for the recruiting crop of in-state talent.

 

All recruiting information obtained 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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Predicting Every ESPN College GameDay Stop for 2015 Season

We're less than eight weeks away from the 2015 college football season, which means wall-to-wall college football every Saturday for several months. It also means starting our weekend gridiron binge with an event that's become as synonymous with the sport as marching bands, tailgating and big-man touchdowns.

ESPN's College GameDay will be in its 29th season this fall, traveling the country and camping out near one of the top games of each week. The three-hour preview show has established itself as sort of a wake-up call to prepare us for the busy day ahead, filling our brains with profiles, statistics, kooky signs, predictions and the image of a former coach donning a mascot head.

Almost as exciting as the show itself is where it will be each week, as having GameDay in town or on campus is considered a badge of honor in the college football world. Last year, the show visited 12 different schools and also made stops at several neutral sites between the opening week of the season and the College Football Championship Game in Arlington, Texas.

Where will GameDay go this year? Based on the scheduled games for each Saturday—games played on other days of the week aren't normally considered—and some speculation as to how the 2015 season will unfold, here's our prediction for the locale of every stop between Sept. 3 and Dec. 5.

Begin Slideshow

The Biggest Takeaways from LSU Recruits' Performances at The Opening

Given that LSU has the nation’s top-rated recruiting class, it’s fitting that the Tigers would have a large portion of their class on hand to participate in The Opening last week.

Seven current commitments and future Tigers made the trek to Beaverton, Oregon, to compete against the top prospects from across the country.

In addition to those prospects already in the fold, Les Miles and his staff are still pursuing a handful of players who were invited to the nation’s most prestigious summer camp.

Which players from the Tigers class stood out, and what storylines are developing for recruiting efforts moving forward?

Let’s take a look in this breakdown of LSU recruits who stood out at The Opening.

 

Franks Flashes Potential

"Potential" is a buzzword that can be dangerous to use with quarterbacks.

However, in the case of 4-star LSU pledge Feleipe Franks, it’s something to keep in mind when assessing his performance last week.

There were times when Franks looked the part of a 5-star quarterback and a prospect with a high ceiling at the next level.

He displayed improved mechanics and showcased a smooth delivery with good ball placement early in the week.

When factoring in his size (6’6”, 211 pounds) and arm strength, it’s easy to see why many are high on Franks and his long-term prospects at the next level. However, during the seven-on-seven portion of the tournament, he struggled with his decision-making, which resulted in his forcing balls into tight windows.

Consequently, he was supplanted as Team Super Bad’s go-to passer in favor of fellow 4-star Dwayne Haskins.

But, as Barton Simmons of 247Sports detailed, Frank's overall body of work last week was another step forward in his development. He showed enough glimpses of that potential to assure his place as the quarterback of the future for the Tigers.

 

Fowler, Roddy Impress at DE

LSU has a heavy need at the linebacker position in the 2016 cycle.

Two players who could end playing linebacker in Baton Rouge—4-star Erick Fowler and 3-star Caleb Roddy—were both invited to The Opening. However, both players worked out at the event as defensive ends, and neither looked out of place.

In fact, Fowler appeared to be one of the most natural pass-rushers off the edge among the group assembled in Oregon.

He showed great quickness off the ball and the strength necessary to be effective against top-caliber offensive tackle. He’s versatile enough to play either inside or outside linebacker, but his play at end this week showed that his best position long-term may be at defensive end.

Roddy was similarly impressive. In addition to having the speed to beat tackles on the outside, Roddy displayed a nice package of countermoves.

His length and burst at the point of attack help him thrive in pass-rushing situations. Like Fowler, the LSU staff will have great flexibility in being able to line him at various positions.

The duo were also busy working as recruiters for the Tigers at the event. As for their sales pitch, Roddy kept it simple.

"It's the best football in America, by far,” Roddy said. “LSU has the best stadium, the best fans and the best environment. It's just the greatest place to spend your college career."

 

DB Class Lives up to Billing 

The anchor of LSU’s class is the wealth of talented defensive backs the Tigers have been able to land.

Tigers’ fans got a glimpse of the future as a pair of corner commits, 5-star Saivion Smith and 4-star Andraez Williams, lined up in the secondary for Team Super Bad.

Smith was limited by a groin injury during the event but was still able to display the traits that have helped him become one of the top overall prospects in the 2016 class. 

Perhaps his biggest strength is the instincts he displays when the ball is in the air.

Smith said he enjoyed the experience of getting to play with one of his future teammates in Baton Rouge.

“Me and Greedy (Williams) played on the opposite side of one another yesterday and today,” Smith said. “We are just getting to learn one another more. I feel like we are going to be very good in the future.”

Despite pledges from Smith, Williams, 4-star safeties Eric Monroe and Cameron Lewis and 4-star corner Clifford Chatman, the Tigers aren’t necessarily done in the secondary. 

Among the players in attendance whom Smith mentioned he’s trying to recruit for the Tigers are 4-star corners Trayvon Mullen and Kristian Fulton, plus 4-star safety Deontay Anderson.

Smith admits that he has enjoyed taking on the role of recruiter. 

“Guys like me, Feleipe Franks and Dylan Moses, we are recruiting players just as hard as the coaches do,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to do whatever it takes to bring a national championship back to Baton Rouge.”

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue also contributed to this report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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The Biggest Takeaways from Georgia's Recruits Performance at the Opening

With Student Sports' Brian Stumpf indicating that 14 players from the state of Georgia were in attendance at The Opening, the Georgia Bulldogs were among the teams who had several prospects of interest participating in last week’s event.

Between 5-star commitments in quarterback Jacob Eason and defensive tackle Julian Rochester, the Bulldogs were represented by two of the nation’s top prospects at their respective positions.

However, several players who remain uncommitted are high on the board of head coach Mark Richt and his staff.

Which players emerged as must-gets for Richt and what are the main storylines for Georgia moving forward?

Let’s take a look at some of the main themes involving the Bulldogs from The Opening.

 

Eason Has Up-and-Down Moments

Given that he carried the mantle of being the nation’s top-rated passer heading into the event, perhaps no player came to Oregon under more pressure than Eason.

There were flashes of brilliance from the 6’5”, 205-pounder during which he looked ready to validate that rating.

Early in the week, he appeared to be one of the favorites to win the Elite 11 MVP.

However, as the seven-on-seven portion began later in the week, Eason was largely on the sidelines as Team Fly Rush chose to play 4-star and current Texas commitment Shane Buechele.

As noted by Barton Simmons of 247Sports, the lack of opportunity for Eason later in the week doesn’t change the fact that he’s one of the most talented passers in the country.

Despite his struggles last week, Eason still managed to do some recruiting for the Bulldogs.

His main focus was finding some targets to throw to for when he gets to Athens.

“I’d say my top two are Demetris Robertson and Kyle Davis because they are on my team [Fly Rush],” Eason said. “But also, Mecole Hardman. He’s not on my team, but I’ll be working on him.”

 

WR Targets Shine

While Eason’s week didn’t go as smoothly as most expected, the trio of prospects he mentioned—Davis, Robertson and Hardman—had strong showings.

The 6’1 ½”, 218-pound Davis was named the MVP of the seven-on-seven tournament:

Davis showcased the ability to high-point the ball in the air and also some shiftiness in the open field despite being a bigger receiver.

Auburn and Tennessee join Georgia as schools who are making a strong push for Davis. However, despite Eason’s pitch, Davis remains open to all suitors.

“Everybody is coming at me about the same,” Davis said. “I’ve probably thrown with every quarterback out here. They are trying to get me. They are all my friends. I’m obviously open. I have no leader right now. I’m just doing my thing right now.”

Robertson, who had a strong showing despite dealing with a strained back, said that a pair of 4-star passers in Stanford commit KJ Costello and Maryland pledge Dwayne Haskins joined Eason in lobbying to get him on board.

However, the speedy 4-star athlete said he plans to wait until signing day, with five schools currently standing out to him.

“Stanford, Georgia, Alabama, FSU and Ohio State are my top five right now,” Robertson said.

On the other hand, Hardman—who was one of the main cogs that helped Team Lunar Beast win the seven-on-seven tournament—showcased his versatility by making plays on defense this week.

The 5’10”, 175-pounder displayed great burst and change of direction, as well as the ability to break on the ball in a hurry as a corner.

He said that he is open to playing on either side of the ball at the next level but admits the thought of teaming up with Eason intrigues him.

“Jacob Eason [is a] guy who is great with the ball in his hands,” Hardman said. “He’s a leader on and off the field and I have the utmost respect for him. I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks out here. To play with him would be great because you know he’s going to do great things.”

 

Warrior Makes Case as Nation’s Best Safety

While Hardman opened some eyes with his play on defense, a fellow in-state defender may have edged him out as the top overall defensive back at the event.

No corner or safety was able to get his hands on more passes last week than 4-star safety Nigel Warrior.

The 5’11”, 188-pounder racked up five interceptions and several additional pass breakups en route to being named the MVP of the defensive backs segment.

Warrior flashed great instincts, ball awareness and the type of range that few safety prospects exhibit in this setting.

Georgia is among the group of schools hoping to land the nation’s No. 4 safety prospect, but schools such as Auburn and Tennessee are making a serious push for him as well.

Warrior was able to visit Athens late last month, and he’s the type of safety who would thrive under Bulldogs defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Given that the Bulldogs need to add more talent, depth and athleticism in the secondary, Warrior’s performance in Oregon showed why he’s become a must-get for Pruitt and the defensive staff in Athens.

 

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

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