NCAA Football News

Michigan Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

Expectations around Michigan football varied last year, but the college football world has a clear idea of what Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines are capable of accomplishing in 2016.

The Maize and Blue will rely on an elite defense to guide a championship chase—one that has College Football Playoff potential.

However, Michigan needs to overcome a few weaknesses along the way. Although the starting lineup remains mostly intact, a couple of vacancies are at critical spots. But as long as the Wolverines address those needs, they'll compete for a title.

 

Strengths

Experienced Players Under NFL and Veteran Coaches

An imperfect yet significant statistic is the number of returning starters.

On offense, Michigan brings back four linemen, two wide receivers, a tight end and its leading rusher, as well as other notable reserves. Defensively, the Wolverines return most of the contributors up front and in the secondary.

Tight end Jake Butt and cornerback Jourdan Lewis earned second-team AP All-America honors. They, along with wide receiver Jehu Chesson and then-defensive back Jabrill Peppers, received first-team All-Big Ten nods.

*That number includes Peppers, who has since moved to outside linebacker but will contribute as a nickelback in 2016.

But utilizing the right players is only half the battle. Led by Harbaugh, Michigan's staff is loaded with NFL experience and longtime college coaches.

Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch create the game plans. In 12 of 13 games last season, it was good enough to win. Defensive coordinator Don Brown led Boston College to a No. 1 defensive ranking in 2015.

Six of the seven remaining assistants—Greg Mattison, Brian Smith, Tyrone Wheatley, Michael Zordich, Kevin Tolbert and Jay Harbaugh—were in the NFL either immediately or shortly before going to Ann Arbor.

When you combine veterans with veterans at a power-conference program, the result could be a championship.

 

An Elite Defense

Michigan boasted the nation's No. 4 defense in 2015. The unit could be even better this season.

Potential first-round NFL draft pick Chris Wormley registered 14.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last year. Along with him, Taco Charlton starts at defensive end. Bryan Mone and either Ryan Glasgow or Maurice Hurst Jr. will man the middle.

Rashan Gary, the No. 1 prospect in the 2016 class, headlines the reserve unit. Chase Winovich and Matt Godin round out the rotation.

The defensive line can help atone for some struggles at linebacker, which needs to replace three starters. Plus, Peppers' move to "Sam" linebacker lessened the burden on career reserves. Ben Gedeon is the undisputed "Mike," and Mike McCray is the favorite to start at "Will."

Plus, they can be confident in the last line of defense. Lewis headlines a strong secondary that returns four rotational players in Channing Stribling, Jeremy Clark, Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill.

 

Weaknesses

Uncertainty at Quarterback

What we know: Jake Rudock graduated, opening a five-man quarterback battle. Brandon Peters and Alex Malzone trailed off during spring practice, essentially as expected.

That leaves Wilton Speight, John O'Korn and Shane Morris vying for the job. However, the prevailing thought is Morris—despite his physical tools—just isn't quite on the same level as his competition.

"He has a tendency to let one mistake turn into two or three, which really makes it tough to completely trust him," MLive's Nick Baumgardner said of Morris. "He wanted to redshirt last season, which pushed him down the depth chart. But he also slid down the chart because Speight passed him after Jake Rudock won the starting battle."

So, will it be Speight or O'Korn?

The former initially spent 2015 as the garbage-time quarterback to preserve a redshirt season for Morris. But midway through the year, Speight ascended to No. 2 on the depth chart and led a game-winning drive on the road against Minnesota.

Since he doesn't have a strong arm and isn't particularly mobile, the "game manager" label will follow Speight. Granted, that might be all the Wolverines need to succeed in 2016.

When considering raw talent, O'Korn—who sat out last year after transferring from Houston—is the more appealing option. He has a stronger arm and is a legitimate scrambling threat, but O'Korn needs to protect the ball.

Though a soft nonconference schedule to begin the campaign will aid Michigan's new starter, a late-season gauntlet awaits Speight or O'Korn. Fall camp will determine the winner of this battle.

 

Run Blocking

Without question, the Wolverines offensive line made enormous strides last year compared to 2014, especially in pass protection. However, the unit seldom controlled the trenches in the running game.

Experience and continuity under Drevno should result in further improvement. The only new projected starter is Grant Newsome.

"They're a year older, so once they're comfortable with me, they understand what I'm teaching and what I expect from them," Drevno said, per Orion Sang of the Michigan Daily.

Simple rushing averages often don't tell the whole story. Advanced stats from Football Outsiders are better metrics.

Standard downs are defined as first down, 2nd-and-7 or fewer, 3rd-and-4 or fewer, and 4th-and-4 or fewer. Michigan trudged to a 2.75-yard average, which ranked 88th nationally. Only 34.8 percent of the Wolverines' rushing attempts gained at least five yards when five yards were available. Of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, that ranked 107th.

The reason for optimism? Only 17.3 percent (No. 33) of the carries were stopped at or before the line of scrimmage. With four returning starters, that percentage should drop—a good thing.

But saying it on paper is easier than consistently winning in the trenches.

 

Secret Weapon

Bryan Mone, Defensive Tackle

Peppers is the ultimate weapon. He'll start at outside linebacker, can play any spot in the secondary, will contribute on offense and could return kicks. But everybody knows about Peppers.

Mone, however, might sneak onto the national radar. The defensive tackle is already squarely on the coaches' minds.

As a freshman in 2014, Mone appeared in all 12 games and managed nine total tackles. Last season, though, a broken ankle ended his campaign before it began.

Mone probably won't be the featured player. Wormley and Charlton should put up shiny numbers and grab most of the attention. In all likelihood, though, those stats will be a direct result of the 6'4", 320-pound Mone clogging the middle.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Opening 2016: Power Ranking Every 7-on-7 Team

BEAVERTON, Ore. — Perhaps no event at The Opening, an annual invite-only showcase held at Nike's world headquarters, demands as much attention as its star-studded seven-on-seven tournament.

Action gets underway Saturday morning and continues through Sunday afternoon, with six teams competing for a title. This tournament challenges athletes to rise up against premier peers or risk embarrassment at the expense of opponents.

Each team is equipped with two Elite 11 quarterbacks, who will split reps in an effort to chase down MVP honors. They'll operate alongside running backs, receivers and a tight end, lined up across from linebackers and defensive backs.

Every roster is loaded with talent from across the country, but considering our assessment of regional camps and past high school performances, here's how we rank these six squads. 

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SEC Football: Freshmen Who Will Explode in 2016

The college football world knows about established stars like LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and Florida defensive back Jalen Tabor.

There are more stars on the horizon.

There are several true freshmen and redshirt freshmen in the SEC who are stepping into situations that can help vault them into stardom in 2016.

Which freshmen will explode in 2016? Our picks based on talent, scheme and opportunity are in this slideshow.

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How Brett Favre's Influence Helped Myles Brennan to Elite 11

Still more than a year away from his first collegiate football season, Myles Brennan is already receiving a Hall of Fame education at quarterback.

A monstrous junior campaign left little doubt Brennan is the most impressive high school quarterback prospect in Mississippi, propelling him toward heightened interest on the recruiting trail. Along the way, his journey led to the front door of a football legend.

Revered NFL quarterback Brett Favre, a native of nearby Kiln, Mississippi, felt it necessary to place eyeballs on the up-and-coming local standout. His brother, Scott, whose sons have also played for perennial contender St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis, set the stage for a quarterback connection.

“Scott Favre called me and said, ‘Brett wants to know who is this kid Myles Brennan? Is he as good as the headlines? Is he really throwing for this many yards?’ Brett wanted to meet him to see what Myles is all about," Brennan's father, Owen, told Bleacher Report.

Owen relayed the message to his son, who initially shrugged it off as a joke.

"I told my dad to stop messing with me," Myles sai

Favre, a 2016 NFL Hall of Fame inductee and three-time league MVP marveled at Brennan's accomplishments just like many in the region. The 6'3", 180-pound prospect passed for 11,045 yards and 117 touchdowns during the past two seasons in head coach Bill Conides' high-powered aerial attack.

Just months removed from a 2015 season that featured four games with at least 400 passing yards—including a 550-yard, seven-touchdown assault in the state semifinal, per MaxPreps—Brennan had a difficult time wrapping his head around the latest development in his football career.

“He didn’t believe it about Brett," Owen said. "No way did he think I was telling him the truth, but then I said tomorrow afternoon at 2 o’clock we’re driving up to Hattiesburg (where Favre resides) to throw with him. Then Myles got serious.”

Favre has kept an eye on St. Stanislaus for years, following the emergence of his nephew as team leader. Dylan Favre set state records for single-season passing yards and touchdown tosses in 2009 before signing with Mississippi State.

Brennan broke both those marks in 2014 as a sophomore (5,797 yards and 64 scores) and is now in the process of mentoring St. Stanislaus freshman Max Favre, another nephew of the NFL icon.

"I can tell he looks up to me right now but one day it’s going to be his time to shine," Brennan said about the latest Favre to hit high school turf in southern Mississippi. 

With Brett Favre's fingers on the pulse of an impressive program, there's little surprise Brennan landed on his radar.

“Brett has come to our games to watch and he’s very connected with people at the school but I had never met him before," Coach Conides said. "Then it kind of comes through the grapevine that Brett wants to meet Myles and we were fortunate enough to schedule a meeting.”

This interaction occurred in Hattiesburg at Oak Grove High School, where Favre served as offensive coordinator during a 2013 state title run. Accompanied by Conides and his father, Brennan suddenly found himself under the tutelage of an all-time great.

“Brett never said a word about himself or his pro career, he made it all about Myles," Owen said. "I think that just put Myles totally at ease and he realized they were just there to talk football and get better. Myles immersed himself.”

Favre surveyed the scene as this celebrated young quarterback worked through drills. The hype, it seemed, was indeed warranted.

"He was very positive the whole time and didn't really criticize anything I did," Brennan said. "He liked the velocity and the footwork. The most important thing he pointed out was to stay focused mentally. Mental preparation is so important, whether it’s watching film or studying the playbook. Brett was always afraid to underprepare as a player, so he’d overprepare and look for every little tendency. That’s something I hope to take away from him.

"It's definitely a privilege and I felt honored to throw for one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever go through the NFL. That's a lot different than throwing in front of a scout or recruits. It was special that he wanted to see what I can do."

Conides, who constantly works to sharpen Brennan's quarterback attributes throughout the year, was proud of the first impression his pupil made on the soon-to-be Hall of Famer.

“Brett watches Myles throw and he says, ‘Wow, there’s nothing I can point out that he really needs to work on. He’s got it,'" Conides said. "But then he offered to do anything he could to help, whether it was mental stuff or watching film together or talking about his experiences. I think he walked away very impressed with Myles.”

That mid-winter workout remains the only one between Brennan and Favre. However, it was only a launching point.

"Brett said he just wants to be part of this journey," Brennan said. "He doesn’t often see highly recruited athletes come out of the area. He has a lot of local pride and so do I, so it's really something special.”

While many retired superstar professional athletes ultimately end up settling into high-profile media or business gigs in large consumer markets, Favre elected to keep things simple back home. The community continues to embrace him wholeheartedly two decades after he led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl victory.

“We’re extremely fortunate that Brett is from this area," Owen said. "We live about five miles from where he grew up in Kiln, where they have a big sign that says, ‘Welcome to the Home of Brett Favre.’ He’s a local legend but he can go wherever he wants around town and no one will bother him because this is his home. He’s one of us.”

Brennan followed up his initial workout at Oak Grove with multiple visits to Favre's home in Hattiesburg, which must have felt like a small slice of heaven for the 17-year-old football junkie.

"He has a whole football field in his backyard and a theater room to break down film," Brennan said. "It's a pretty awesome setup that any quarterback would love."

Sitting together in front of the big screen, Favre and Brennan shared offensive philosophies and pizza slices. Drawing from a 20-season professional career that featured matchups against defensive stalwarts such as Brian Urlacher, Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp, Favre unloaded a wealth of knowledge upon his eager guest.

"It's a completely different perspective because he's seen it all at every level," Brennan said. "He pointed me in the right direction with what to look for and how to handle so many situations. It's just a different level of intensity in preparation and I know not many young quarterbacks get to experience that."

At times, their conversation shifted away from formations and schematics.

“Brett has given him invaluable advice about the quarterback position," Owen said. "Not only on the X’s and O’s on the field, but how to handle the recruiting attention, about the kind of man you’re supposed to be and what a team is looking for in a leader.”

Sessions with Favre and day-to-day diligence with Conides helped put Brennan in position to earn an invitation to national Elite 11 finals June 3-5 in Redondo Beach, California. Competing alongside 23 other top college quarterback recruits, he needed to be extremely sharp in order to join the Elite 11 fraternity as one of 12 invitees to The Opening, an acclaimed national showcase held July 5-10 at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

“You can prepare, prepare and prepare, and do all the right things leading up to that moment, but it’s a matter of how you perform when the lights come on," Conides said.

Brennan proved ready for prime time, drawing parallels to the newest No. 1 NFL draft pick.

"He’s a super impressive kid," Elite 11 head coach and Super Bowl champion quarterback Trent Dilfer told Luke Stampini of 247Sports (h/t 247Sports' Shea Dixon). "We always try to do these comparisons now because we have kind of a large sample size of guys playing college football and in the NFL. He has [Jared] Goff-like qualities. The look is kind of similar and the frame is kind of similar, but he’s got more twitch than Jared."

When the dust settled after three arduous days of action in Southern California, Brennan punched his ticket to Beaverton, where he'll compete for Elite 11 MVP honors. Event alumni include Goff, Jameis Winston, Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck.

"It's an honor and I feel like I went out and earned it," he said. "I prepared for this a long time. ... I'm always trying to attack defenses anytime there's an opportunity. My goal is to make the other team pay for every mistake, so that makes preparation so important."

Brennan, who committed to LSU on April 23, is currently rated No. 18 among pro-style passers in composite rankings but has the makings of a top-10 positional talent in the 2017 recruiting class. That's promising news for Tigers fans who've witnessed the team's downfield efforts sputter in recent years.

"He could be the pocket passer they’ve never had and really lift that offense to a different level in the SEC," Student Sports president Brian Stumpf said during Bleacher Report's Elite 11 reveal broadcast

Brennan will further prepare for his collegiate future this fall, when St. Stanislaus transitions from an uptempo attack—which Conides described as, “When the ref puts the ball on the ground, we’re going"—to a more methodical approach that requires him to operate in a huddle and under center with greater frequency.

“That’ll make [LSU offensive coordinator] Cam Cameron happy," Conides said. "From day one, he’s probably the most coachable kid I’ve ever encountered. ... He’s a quarterback, plain and simple. And when it comes to the position of quarterback, it is the most scrutinized position in the entire world with the exception of probably the President of the United States. It’s incredibly nuanced.”

Brennan already boasts mind-boggling stats, coveted physical stature and an Elite 11 skill set. With a legend like Favre now part of his support staff, few quarterbacks in this class claim a comparable career trajectory.

“I don’t see a ceiling to be honest with you," Conides said. "Where he wants to go is completely up to him. Does he want be a great college quarterback? Does he want to be a first-round draft pick? I know for a fact he wants to play in the NFL. All Myles needs to do is to continue with what he’s worked for on a daily basis. Quarterback is his job and that’s what he wants out of life.”

Brennan takes the job seriously and aims to further establish understanding in this department through future sessions with Favre. He anticipates upcoming interactions before autumn and said they've discussed the possibility of playing a round of golf together in the near future.

“Hopefully I’ll always be able to pick up the phone and call him, whether it’s these last months of high school or moving on to college in years to come," Brennan said. "If I hit rock bottom and need some support or guidance, obviously I have my family, but it’s huge to have someone like Brett who has been through it all before and can share what he learned along the way.

"He was the kind of quarterback I dreamed and aspired to be. Now all these years later I’m getting to build a relationship with him, which is so unreal."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Football: Freshmen Who Will Explode in 2016

The start of the college football season is officially fewer than two months away and buzz is already building for another exciting year.

That rings especially true in the Big Ten, which will return several top stars and prominent teams in 2016.

But while we're already aware of the likes of J.T. Barrett, Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis and Desmond King, the coming season will bring a new crop of players for fans to get to know. And with the conference adding some of the nation's top recruiting classes this past year, many of the league's new stars will likely come in the form of true freshmen.

With that in mind, here are some new names you need to know in the Big Ten for 2016.

Some you may have already heard of, while others you're less familiar with, but by season's end, don't be surprised when these freshmen who are ready to explode make their impacts felt.

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Tennessee Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

With less than a month remaining before the beginning of fall practice and not even two months until the 2016 season starts, Tennessee football head coach Butch Jones has a pretty good idea of what players and positions he'll have to ride to produce a banner season.

While the weaknesses may take a little longer to define on a veteran-laden team, every team has them. Those that have the players who emerge to make up for those deficiencies are the teams that surge to the top.

The Volunteers have the players in place to do that—but will they? For the first time in Jones' four-year tenure, there are no excuses. The program may not be completely rebuilt yet, but there are more than enough pieces in place to win big now.

Tennessee fans expect no different.

For better or worse, the pressure will be turned up in 2016 following a nine-win season a year ago that could have been much, much better. Just how high are the expectations and the desire to win now on Rocky Top?

The SEC Network's Tony Barnhart suggested last week that Tennessee fans are the third-hungriest in all of sports to get back to championship-level competition behind the Chicago Cubs and New York Knicks following a question posed to Twitter by ESPN's Peter Burns:

Those are bold words, but there are lofty expectations, without question. How Jones, his staff and the leadership on the team respond will go a long way in determining just how far the Vols can go.

Let's take a look at the Vols' strengths, weaknesses and some secret weapons that could come from nowhere to help propel UT to the top this year. There may be a lot of questions surrounding the Vols, but for the first time in a while, answers appear to be in place.

 

Strengths

Clouds of dust

Plenty of questions remain about Tennessee's offensive balance—and the Vols undoubtedly must do a better job of being versatile in offensive coordinator Mike DeBord's second season. But one thing that is unquestioned is the dominance of the Vols' running attack.

From 6'4", 240-pound bruiser junior Jalen Hurd, who is an every-down monster, to athletic speedster Alvin Kamara to dual-threat, run-first quarterback Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee has a ground game that is the envy of the majority of college football teams.

Throw in sophomore John Kelly, who got the opportunity to shine this spring while Hurd and Kamara rested, and the Vols are even stouter than they look on paper.

When this offense needs the tough yards, it has the seasoned vets to turn to. Last year, no matter how good the opposing defense was, they produced.

For the season, the Vols averaged 223.7 yards per game on the ground—second-best in the SEC. The 2,908 rushing yards marked the second-highest total in school history.

By now, you know that the triumvirate of Hurd, Kamara and Dobbs are good. But maybe you aren't aware just how good. The stats above should be enough indication, but the headlines won't go the Vols' way the way they have for Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette until the wins come in bigger bunches.

Hurd would get his due if that happens.

"He's not an attention-seeker," UT running backs coach Robert Gillespie told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg. "Anybody would want the respect that's due, but he's not going to beg for it. His work should speak for itself."

It should. All that success Tennessee has on the ground needs to translate in championships. That's what the Vols are counting on this year: Give it to the Big Three, and let them carry the Vols as far as they can go.

 

Shoop scheme fit

Following last year's pucker-factor losses to Oklahoma and Florida, it's hard not to pin the "conservative" tag on Jones, but that tag loosened a bit this offseason when he made the bold move to can defensive coordinator John Jancek.

The assistant had been with Jones dating back to his time at Cincinnati, and he'd not done a bad job at all in Knoxville. But he wasn't an elite coordinator. Jones saw the opportunity to lure away a great coordinator in Penn State's Bob Shoop, and he seized it.

Not only was that a surprising move for the loyal Jones, but it was one that proved he's determined to win big now at high costs. Shoop's statistics prove he's an elite coordinator, but that wasn't the only reason he was a great hire.

He was perfect for the personnel currently on Tennessee's roster. That's why the Vols have the chance to be special this year on that side of the ball.

The first image that comes to mind in recalling Jancek's shortcomings last year is the fourth downs against Florida, but that wasn't the only mind-boggling move. Why didn't he bring the house against Oklahoma redshirt freshman offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.? What about that puzzling game plan against Arkansas?

How does a defense with as much talent as UT last year give up big play after big play to Bowling Green and Georgia?

It just didn't bring the heat enough. That won't happen under Shoop, who loves to pressure quarterbacks. That should be music to the ears of Vols such as Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Derek Barnett, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Quart'e Sapp, Kyle Phillips and others built to blitz.

Shoop told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown just what UT fans can expect from the '16 defense:

I've never met a blitz I didn't like. We like to come after you. We're going to be aggressive. We're going to be in your face in all situations. We like to challenge every route. I'm a big believer in that's what you do nowadays in football. You watch the two teams that played in a Super Bowl. That was a clinic in an aggressive style of defense right there.

All that edge-rushing talent plus Shoop's frenetic pace could be a championship combination, and it could take a pretty good defense to being a great one in a short time. All the elements are in place.

 

Talent/experience mix

So much has been made of all the Vols' talent, and they've got an abundance of it.

A bigger reason for the excitement, however, should be just how many snaps they've got returning. This isn't just an exciting team; it's an experienced one. According to Phil Steele's experience ratings, the Vols are third nationally behind Kent State and Charlotte with 76.9 percent experience points. 

No matter how complex the rating is to calculate, the bottom line is this: UT has a lot of players returning who've played a lot of football.

Guys like Reeves-Maybin, Dobbs, Hurd, Kamara, cornerback Cameron Sutton and defensive end Corey Vereen, among others, have started a lot of games. 

Even players like junior Todd Kelly Jr. told CampusInsiders.com's Mark Nagi how important it is for him to show leadership qualities to the younger players:

Throughout his tenure in Knoxville, Jones hammered home points about forgetting the losing culture that permeated the program and planting seeds of winning. It seems there are a lot of players on this team who understand that, and it should pay huge dividends.

Once some upperclassmen called a players-only meeting following last year's loss to Arkansas, things changed. Just how much? Everybody will have to find out this year if the Vols can carry over the winning mentality.

 

Weaknesses

Passing inconsistency

There isn't just one thing that's broken about Tennessee's passing game; there's a lot.

That aspect of the Vols offense isn't in disrepair, and DeBord, Dobbs and others have set out to fix it this spring and offseason. But just how much better can Tennessee be in the throw game in 2016? The answer to that question may wind up determining how good the Vols can be.

A season ago, Dobbs' passing statistics weren't horrible. He completed 59.6 percent of his passes for 2,291 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. But there were few dynamic plays, and there were even fewer big completions downfield.

Defenses could draw a 10-yard circle to defend, and they didn't have to fear being burned by the long play. That must change.

Dobbs' consistency issues and accuracy struggles were prevalent at inopportune times, such as in losses to Oklahoma and Alabama as well as the second half against South Carolina. At times, he couldn't even hit the routine passes, stemming from his inability to repeat his mechanics.

On top of that, Tennessee couldn't rely on a dependable receiver. Injuries, inconsistencies and just downright poor play have plagued the Vols during Jones' (and passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni's) tenure, and those deficiencies are being felt both on the field and in recruiting.

Tennessee lost local 5-star receiver Tee Higgins to Clemson this week (committing in an epic B/R video), and though he didn't mention the passing game in particular, the Vols' struggles in that area couldn't have helped. 

But if Dobbs can turn around the passing game, there's still time for Higgins or other star receivers to see the turnaround. It would also be huge for UT's on-field product. Dobbs told VolQuest.com's Brent Hubbs he believes the offense will progress the second year under DeBord:

This will be a big jump I think just seeing similar things on the field. Obviously, you don't know what you are going to get till the first game and really the first season together. As the season progressed we got a lot better. This off-season watching a lot of film together, spring was huge and fall camp will be huge. All of that will definitely help us for this season.

Again, elements are in place for Tennessee to turn this weakness into a strength. Dobbs is a senior, and there is more diversity in the receiving corps with a mixture of bigger guys (Preston Williams, Jeff George and Josh Malone) along with some new speedsters like Latrell Williams and Marquez Callaway.

Maybe UT can turn around its passing fortunes.

 

Defensive tackle depth

One of the Vols' biggest needs from now and the start of the season is finding some more capable bodies who can flesh out the interior of the defensive line.

Following the suspension of prized JUCO signee Alexis Johnson and the Vols striking out in signing any high school defensive tackles in the '16 cycle, there is a dearth of big bodies at tackle. Some of those aren't totally healthy yet, either.

Shy Tuttle was hurt last year against Georgia and hasn't been back on the field since. He may be ready by the start of the season, but that may be a bit ambitious. Kahlil McKenzie, Danny O'Brien, Kendal Vickers and Quay Picou are all capable players, but they've got to stay healthy and put up big numbers.

Beyond them, Tennessee doesn't have anybody who is a definite tackle.

The nation's top-ranked JUCO player, Jonathan Kongbo, is listed on the latest official roster as being 6'6", 270 pounds, so even though he has the ability to be a dynamic pass-rusher, it's possible Kongbo could shift inside and be a force on the interior much the way former Vols and current NFL star Malik Jackson is. 

Also, could somebody like Andrew Butcher bulk up enough to move inside? At a listed 275 pounds, it's a possibility. Dimarya Mixon at 260 pounds seems a bit light, but he played on the inside some as a true freshman.

So, there are options. But how many of them are legitimate ones? Also, Johnson hasn't been booted from the team, but it's uncertain whether he's missed too much time with the team to be a factor even if he's reinstated.

What isn't in question is the Vols need some more depth at tackle. They've got some impact players there, but they need some others to provide quality snaps so the top rotation players don't get too fatigued late in games. That's why the Vols have to build depth this preseason—and fast.

 

Secret Weapons 

Preston Williams

After this spring, Williams—Tennessee's 6'4", 209-pound sophomore wideout—isn't quite a secret around the SEC.

Everybody recruited him, first of all. Secondly, he got tons of headlines during spring drills with a breakout performance that had his coaches, teammates and anybody who watched a practice raving.

Jones told RockyTopInsider.com's Daniel Lewis that Williams made "tremendous strides" this spring, which is a big reason why he liked the overall unit's progress. Following a spring game where George showed out, B/R's Barrett Sallee tweeted that he liked the thought of that duo's ability:

With Williams' length and ability to stretch the field, he could be a major X-factor in Tennessee's offense, and if he teams with Malone to provide the Vols a duo of real weapons, they could change the fortunes of the passing game.

He may be the biggest piece of the offensive puzzle for Tennessee.

 

Rashaan Gaulden

This is the second consecutive year Vols fans have been ultra-excited about the Nashville-area defensive back who many thought was underrated coming out of Independence High School.

After being a special teams weapon as a freshman, Gaulden won the spring's breakout award prior to last season and was poised to be the team's starting nickelback when he broke a bone in his foot in the preseason that cost him the entire year.

All he did this past spring was switch positions to safety and beat out Micah Abernathy for the starting job alongside Todd Kelly Jr. In the process, he excited his coaches.

Though UT has a ton of talent on the back end, and star prospect Nigel Warrior will join the fray, too, Gaulden has the potential to be a special piece of the defense in his redshirt sophomore season. Not only can he be an exceptional blitzer, but he may be the team's best tackler in the secondary.

He's ready to make up for lost time, too.

"I'm very eager," Gaulden told Brown this spring. "I've always had that itch on my shoulder to where no matter what kind of adversity I went through, I was going to come back twice as strong as (when) I went down before. Right now I'm trying to prove to them that I haven't lost a step since my injury."

When teams point out the Vols' talent on defense, Gaulden isn't a name that normally comes up. That won't take long to change.

 

Quart'e Sapp

Finally, the biggest wild card on the list is a guy who probably won't even start.

Redshirt freshman Sapp is a lightning bolt of an outside linebacker who got the opportunity to earn a lot of reps this spring when Reeves-Maybin went out with a shoulder injury. All he did was turn everybody's head and then lead the team in tackles in the spring-ending Orange and White Game.

Sapp is a player with huge upside who is perfect for Shoop's speed-based scheme. You can put him in positions to get after the quarterback, and even if he doesn't know quite what he's doing yet, he can make a big impact.

He's just the kind of player Shoop will get the most out of. He's definitely a guy to watch for with UT this fall because of his speed, instincts and tackling ability. He may be a bit undersized, but he won't be underused.

 

All information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered at CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cal Faculty Petitions to Suspend Coach Damon Harrington's Contract Renewal

Faculty members employed by the University of California at Berkeley have petitioned the school to suspend the renewal of Damon Harrington's contract as the football team's strength and conditioning coach.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Nanette Asimov, the petition cropped up after an investigation by the paper reportedly revealed the school didn't do a thorough or impartial job evaluating potentially harmful practice conditions.

The San Jose Mercury News' Katy Murphy reported the San Francisco Chronicle discovered that "a 2014 inquiry into allegations of reckless conditioning practices that may have contributed to the death of a Cal football player was flawed and led by investigators with ties to athletics department personnel."

The school's investigation reportedly absolved Harrington of wrongdoing after he put players through a hill-climbing drill that resulted in the death of walk-on defensive lineman Ted Agu in February 2014.

However, the school admitted it was liable for Agu's death in January, per the San Francisco Chronicle's Kimberly Veklerov. In April, Veklerov reported the university paid Agu's family $4.75 million per the terms of a wrongful-death lawsuit settlement.

According to Murphy, Harrington is also alleged to have provoked a locker room attack on Fabiano Hale in 2013 that left the running back unconscious.

"If there is any truth to the allegations in the San Francisco Chronicle, condoning such behavior of its employees is out of keeping with any university that is accountable to its students and concerned to protect their safety and welfare," the petition reads. "We, therefore, call for further independent investigation before renewing Harrington's contract."

Asimov reported that Harrington's contract expired Friday, although it's not yet clear if the school has committed to renewing it.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

Ohio State entered last season as the runaway favorite to repeat as national champions and the first-ever unanimous No. 1 in preseason AP poll history. But after losing 16 starters to graduation and the NFL, there are a lot more questions than answers heading into the 2016 campaign.

Head coach Urban Meyer has his team ready to reload, however, as the Buckeyes have signed the Big Ten's top recruiting class in each of the last five seasons. 

With fall camp set to kick off next month, what are Ohio State's strengths, weaknesses and secret weapons?

 

Strengths

A Clear-Cut QB to Build Around

Ohio State's roster was absolutely loaded last season, primarily at quarterback with championship-caliber options such as Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett in the fold.

And oddly enough, that cluster of talent was actually the Buckeyes' biggest downfall in 2015.

When Miller transitioned to wide receiver, Jones and Barrett battled for the starting spot and the coaching staff split reps between the two for most of fall camp. With each bringing a different style of play to the field—Jones had the cannon arm to get the ball down the field, and Barrett had the precision to spread the defense out and the speed to burn it on the ground—the Buckeyes were unable to establish an offensive identity and chemistry.

With Jones and Miller off to the NFL, though, that won't be the case this year. Barrett, the fourth-year junior who's seen just about everything during his time in Columbus, got to enjoy his first spring practice as the unquestioned leader of both the offense and the team. 

That fact alone gives Ohio State's 2016 team an edge over last year's squad, as Meyer will be able to build his offensive attack around Barrett throughout the entire offseason. 

 

An Anchor in Each Defensive Unit

The Buckeyes lost first-round draft picks at every defensive level last year with the early departures of defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee and cornerback Eli Apple. The unit also lost five multi-year starters, so co-defensive coordinators Greg Schiano and Luke Fickell have a huge rebuilding project to finish before the season opener.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the defense has an impact starter returning in each unit.

On the defensive line, Ohio State has weak-side defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who emerged as an excellent counterpunch to Bosa and led the team in sacks last year. At linebacker, All-Big Ten standout Raekwon McMillan is back, who led the team in total tackles last year and has already been voted a team captain. And in the secondary, Gareon Conley is primed to step into the lead cornerback role vacated by Apple.

No defensive coordinator in the country wants to replace eight starters, but having a potential superstar back at each level makes that challenge significantly easier. 

  

Weaknesses

Inexperience

Despite how well Ohio State has recruited in recent years, there's no hiding the devastating impact of losing eight starters on each side of the ball. It wasn't just starting production that was lost, though—the Buckeyes also lost a number of key reserves, as college football expert Phil Steele pointed out. 

In his breakdown of teams with the most game-time experience, the Buckeyes ranked dead last nationally heading into the '16 season.

"At the bottom of the list is Ohio [State]," Steele wrote on his website. "They were devastated by the NFL draft, losing 11 key players. "

That lack of experience could cost the Buckeyes early, as they have one of the toughest nonconference matchups of the year with a road trip to playoff-contender Oklahoma in Week 3. 

With one of the country's youngest rosters, Ohio State will have to overcome one of the best teams in college football on its own field.

 

Injuries

With so much roster attrition, Ohio State needed all of its returning firepower to be ready to go heading into a pivotal spring camp. That didn't happen, though, because a number of players who are expected to be key contributors this fall were rehabbing from injuries.

That was especially true at the wide receiver position, where Noah Brown, Corey Smith, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson were all limited in spring practice. They were joined by defensive players such as Lewis, Marshon Lattimore, Erick Smith and Cam Burrows.

The mass exodus of talent to the NFL paired with so many injuries this spring had Meyer searching for answers.

"This is uncharted waters for me too," Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "With 11 guys out, that's the thing that kicks you in the teeth."

If those players aren't ready by the start of fall camp, Ohio State will miss pivotal time it needs to build chemistry ahead of the season opener. 

 

Secret Weapon

Torrance Gibson

Ohio State fans got used to seeing a star quarterback at wide receiver when Miller made his move to the perimeter. Torrance Gibson, the highly-recruited 4-star quarterback who was a part of Ohio State's 2015 class, is looking to continue that tradition this fall.

Gibson made a similar transition as a true freshman last year in an effort to see the field, as opposed to sitting behind Jones, Barrett and third-stringer Stephen Collier at quarterback. But he was buried in the wide receiver unit as well and took a redshirt.

With a year under his belt, though, he looks primed to make an impact on the outside.

That was on display during Ohio State's spring game, when he hauled in a team-high six catches for 50 yards and two touchdowns. It was one of his better days in an up-and-down spring camp.

"He shows some flashes," Barrett said of Gibson, according to Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod. "He's got hot and cold days. Some days he's hot and he's catching everything, and some days he can't catch a cold. Being that it's a new position, I think sometimes he lacks that confidence."

If Gibson comes along this summer and in fall camp, the Buckeyes can factor him into the wide receiver rotation. And as a decorated high school quarterback, they can dial up the lethal wide-receiver pass that helped them beat Alabama in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship.

 

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Opening 2016: Biggest Takeaways from Day 1

BEAVERTON, Oregon — Tuesday marked the first day of The Opening as the first wave of players shuffled into the Portland area for the weeklong competition at Nike’s World Headquarters.

In a change to the event’s format, all quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends arrived at the beginning of the week, whereas it was just passers in previous years who arrived early.

A late afternoon, light practice session served as the first time the players hit the field, but there was plenty of news surrounding the beginning of the event.

What were the biggest takeaways from the event on the first day of action? 

Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting nuggets from Day 1 of The Opening.

 

5-Star WR Locks in 3 Official Visits

Among the headliners of the event is 5-star receiver Joseph Lewis—who rates as the nation’s No. 2 pass-catcher and the No. 11 player overall in the 2017 cycle.

He’s accompanied in Oregon by a pair of teammates from Hawkins High School in Los Angeles in 4-star athlete and Arizona pledge Greg Johnson and 2018 receiver Jalen Hall.

Lewis remarked on the feeling of being here with two of his close friends.

“It’s a really good experience because most people don’t get this opportunity,” Lewis told Bleacher Report. “We just want to come together and work and just enjoy this experience and get better.” 

The 6’1 ½”, 207-pound California native is also preparing for the final moments of his recruiting process.

On that front, he’s identified three programs who will get one of his coveted official visits in the fall.

“Some of my official visits, I’m going to Nebraska, Arizona and Oklahoma. That’s about it that I have in mind right now. The rest, I will plan out [soon],” Lewis said.

Additionally, backyard powers UCLA and USC are in the mix with the local standout.

In particular, he’s struck up a bond with Trojans offensive coordinator Tee Martin.

“It’s a really cool relationship. I was just talking with Tee Martin earlier. It was a really good talk,” Lewis noted.

Lewis said a final decision could come either at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl or on national signing day.

However, there will be a few factors that play a big part in his decision.

“Somewhere I’m comfortable and somewhere my mom thinks is a good place and where my coaches do too.”

 

(Warning: Video contains NSFW lyrics.)

Lindsey Set to Visit SEC Powers This Month

Another explosive playmaker who will command attention this week is 5-star receiver Tyjon Lindsey.

The 5’8 ½”, 180-pounder is nearing the home stretch in his recruitment considering he’s scheduled to announce his commitment on August 22. 

Among the schools on his short list are Alabama, Auburn, Nebraska, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon and USC.

Lindsey’s last trip was to Nebraska last month. He visited a majority of his finalists in the spring.

However, he’s locked in plans to make a long trek to the southeast to visit two more of his finalists.

“I just finalized my dates to visit Alabama and Auburn. I’m visiting Alabama July 15-16 and Auburn on 17-18. It’s a one-way trip, and I’m hitting up both schools while I’m there,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey notes that a return trip to one of his favorites could also be in the works.

“Those are the main schools. I probably want to see Ohio State again. I’m taking all of my visits now. I’ve been planning it out and checking it with my list,” Lindsey said.

The Golden State standout reported a 3.5 cumulative GPA with plans to major in journalism or sports broadcasting. In addition to academics, his decision will hinge on a few important factors.

“It’s about comfort. It’s also about the difference between want and need. Most schools can just want somebody to fill a spot and just to say we have this person,” Lindsey explained. “The deciding factor will be finding the school who needs me and wants to get me on the field and help me become a better man. It’s not just about football. It’s about the lifetime after football.”

 

Georgia QB Pledge Reacts to DE Robert Beal’s Commitment 

The fireworks have already begun with respect to players announcing their college choices at the event.

Georgia is one of the early big winners after they landed a pledge from 5-star defensive end Robert Beal.

Four-star Georgia quarterback commit Jake Fromm was all smiles after he learned of his newest future teammate who will be joining him in Athens.

“That’s awesome. He’s another guy I’m going to have to deal with in practice,” Fromm said. “He’s going to be coming after me, but that’s awesome. He’s a great talent and a high character guy. We’re building this Georgia class to a level it should be at.”

The news came as a surprise to him.

“To be honest, I was shocked when I saw the video. It’s incredible news,” Fromm said.

Upon arriving at the event, Fromm made sure to greet receiver and Bulldogs target Jeremiah Holloman.

The big-bodied receiver is just one of the guys Fromm admits he will be pitching to cast their lot for new Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart.

“Jeremiah and [4-star] Nico Collins are two great receivers. Definitely, Cam Akers too. He’s a great guy and a great player. I’m just trying to get these guys to get on board with us,” Fromm said.

 

Clemson QB Pledge Excited to Work With Fellow Tigers

It’s hard to wipe the smile off the face of 5-star quarterback and current Clemson commit Hunter Johnson these days.

The nation’s top-rated pro-style passer in the 2017 cycle and the No. 17 player overall in the 2017 class couldn’t hide his enthusiasm after the event’s first workout concluded.

“It’s great. It’s the perfect setting with perfect weather. It’s awesome to be around all these top athletes. It’s a good feeling,” Johnson said.

He’s also giddy at the thought of working with a pair of receivers he will be throwing to in college: 5-star Tee Higgins and 4-star Amari Rodgers

“It’s very exciting. Those two guys are going to make my life a lot easier. I was ecstatic to hear the news about Tee committing. I just can’t wait for us to get there,” Johnson said.

As an added bonus, he will get to work with current Tigers All-American quarterback Deshaun Watson—who along with BYU’s Tanner Mangum and Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs are three college counselors already in town for the event.

It’s becoming a habit for Johnson and Watson to bump into each other on the summer camp circuit, and Johnson admits he’s relishing the opportunity to learn from the current face of the Tigers program.

“It’s awesome. This is actually like my fourth time being around him this summer, just seeing him at different camps,” Johnson said. “That is helping us build a good relationship, which is pretty cool.”

Watson has also given his potential future successor some words of wisdom about the right mindset to take in preparing for the jump between high school and college.

“[Watson] just told me about when he came in during his freshman year. He just came in with a mindset that he wanted to play and he did that. I just want to come in with an open mind and be ready to go when I get there.”

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Settles Sexual Assault Lawsuit: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The University of Tennessee has reportedly settled a lawsuit brought against it by eight female plaintiffs who accused the school of improperly handling sexual assaults involving student-athletes. 

According to a Tuesday report from the Tennesseean's Nate Rau and Anita Wadhwani, the school will pay the eight women a total of $2.48 million, which includes attorney fees, per the terms of the settlement.    

While the school "agreed to the appointment of a special independent commission to review the response to sexual assaults at all universities within the UT system," it "did not admit to 'guilt, negligence or unlawful acts,'" according to Rau and Wadhwani. 

In February, Rau and Wadhwani reported a lawsuit had been brought against Tennessee after a group of plaintiffs alleged that the university displayed "deliberate indifference" regarding complaints of sexual assaults. 

The filing specifically alleged school chancellor Jimmy Cheek, athletic director Dave Hart and head football coach Butch Jones were indifferent to sexual assaults and rapes and strayed from imposing disciplinary action. 

"Like many institutions we are not perfect, but our goal is to continue to be the best we can be at creating awareness, educating, and preventing discrimination and abuse in any form, and to continue to be equally prepared when it does happen and to deal with it promptly, sensitively, fairly and effectively," Cheek said in a statement Tuesday, per Rau and Wadhwani. 

According to the report, the school's administration and the athletic department will each pay 50 percent of the settlement. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Single-Season and Career College Football Records That Could Be Broken in 2016

As long as college football players continue to get bigger, faster and stronger, the records established by their predecessors will keep on getting broken.

Every year, there are a handful of single-season and career records that fall by the wayside at the FBS level, the result of the latest batch of standout college football players topping the efforts of those before them. This past season we saw Stanford's Christian McCaffrey lay waste to Barry Sanders' all-purpose yardage mark, while Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds established new career marks for rushing and total touchdowns. Oh, and Wake Forest's Alex Kinal set a new standard for career punts.

Those were just a few of the records set in 2015, and another batch of benchmarks are likely to be established this fall at both the national and conference levels. We've picked out a few of the ones that are most likely to fall in 2016.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Teams with Most Commits on the Opening 2016 Roster

The Opening is a premier recruit showcase, but the event also indirectly serves as a feature for college football teams that have received verbal commitments from several top prospects.

In 2016, one program will have a stunning 10 representatives, while six others reached five. It shouldn't be a surprise that the eight teams highlighted are each ranked in the top 10 of the 247Sports composite team rankings.

Plus, this list doesn't include uncommitted prospects or targeted players who are currently pledged elsewhere.

When we look back on The Opening 2016, the following teams will likely include even more members of the showcase roster.

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Maxwell Award Watch List 2016: Full List and Bleacher Report Favorites

It's time to watch the watch lists, college football fans.

On Tuesday morning, the Maxwell Football Club released the first two major watch lists for the 2016 season—the Maxwell Award and the Bednarik Award.

Similar to the famous Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell is given to the "player of the year" in college football, and it's been dominated by quarterbacks and running backs. Of the 90 names that make up the Maxwell's first massive watch list, more than 70 of them play in the backfield.

Here is the full watch list for the Maxwell Award, which contains nearly every returning offensive star of note in the Power Five conferences and some "Group of Five" programs:

Before getting to the list of favorites for the 2016 Maxwell Award, let's take a look at some trends since 2000 for this player of the year honor.

Back-to-back doubles: From 2000 to 2006, no player won both the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award in the same year. That ended with Tim Tebow's dual victories in 2007, and Cam Newton grabbed both awards in 2010. There weren't any double winners from 2010 to 2013, but the last two Heisman winners—Marcus Mariota in 2014 and Derrick Henry in 2015—received the Maxwell as well.

Gotta get to NYC: While the Maxwell and the Heisman voters haven't always seen eye-to-eye on who is the best, the Maxwell winner is usually a finalist for the Heisman. Each of the last 16 Maxwell Award winners finished in the top three of the Heisman vote, with 2011 to 2013's winners all coming in second place. Picking a favorite who is expected to make it to the Heisman ceremony is a safe bet.

Lean toward the veterans: Tebow has been the only underclassman to win the Maxwell Award since 2000 when he did it in 2007. If there's a close race between a star freshman or sophomore and veterans for the major awards, look for the Maxwell to go with the older player. In 2012, senior Manti Te'o won the Maxwell over freshman Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, and AJ McCarron did the same against Jameis Winston in 2013.

It's an arms race, mostly: Since 2000, only three non-quarterbacks have won the Maxwell Award—Larry Johnson, Te'o and Henry. Last season, it appeared to be Henry versus Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey for college football's best honors, with Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson lurking in third. But if a quarterback is more in the mix this fall, he historically has the upper hand.

Play for a contender: The first half of the 2000s had winners with a wide range of win-loss records by season's end. However, since Tebow's 2007 win, the Maxwell has gone to a member of a team that had at least 10 wins and made it to a BCS/New Year's Six bowl game. Six of the last eight winners have played for the national championship.

Keeping all of those trends in mind, let's take a look at several front-runners for this year's Maxwell Award.

 

The Favorites

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

While Leonard Fournette has passed Watson in the preseason Heisman odds boards, per Bovada (via SEC Country), the Clemson quarterback might be the best bet for the Maxwell Award this year. Watson checks all of the boxes—upperclassman, expected Heisman finalist, quarterback, star player for a title contender—and he could be in line for some ridiculous numbers in 2016.

Last year, he became the first player in FBS history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in a single season. This year, he'll be back with almost all of his supporting cast intact, plus the return of star wide receiver Mike Williams, who missed almost all of Clemson's 2015 run to the national title game with a neck injury.

 

LSU RB Leonard Fournette 

On the other hand, this looks like another "Year of the Running Back" in college football, and Fournette is the torchbearer for it. Fournette looked like he was going to have a clean sweep of the major awards for two-thirds of the 2015 season, but a bad night against Alabama derailed his momentum.

In 2016, Fournette will have an experienced cast of playmakers around him, plenty of preseason hype and a date with Alabama inside Death Valley. He's the most talented player in the country and will be itching to prove it this fall after a late-season slide in 2015.

 

Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield 

Baker Mayfield had a real shot at landing in the Heisman Trophy finalist circle last season, as he was among the best nationally in almost every major passing category while leading Oklahoma to a College Football Playoff berth. The Sooners will be favorites to repeat at Big 12 champions, and Mayfield will be motivated to get the awards recognition he lacked last fall.

Mayfield can spread the ball around to star running back Samaje Perine, big-play wide receiver Dede Westbrook and experienced Penn State transfer Geno Lewis. More eye-popping numbers against a schedule that is downright brutal in the front half would make Mayfield an ideal Maxwell candidate down the stretch.

 

Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey

If the Maxwell wants to go with a "career achievement" lean this season, McCaffrey could snag the award. He came in second to Henry for the Heisman last season despite breaking the all-time FBS record for all-purpose yardage in a single season. 

It will be extremely tough for McCaffrey to match what he did last season for Stanford, especially without the assistance of star quarterback Kevin Hogan. But if McCaffrey can post another incredible season of all-purpose yardage and keep Stanford in championship contention, there's little chance he'll leave 2016 empty-handed in terms of major awards. The Maxwell would be just the trophy for him.

 

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett 

More preseason Heisman love is building up for J.T. Barrett, who came off the bench to help lead Ohio State toward a Big Ten championship and CFP berth in his freshman season. Last year, Barrett proved he should've been the starter all season long for head coach Urban Meyer by leading the Buckeyes to a 4-1 record as the primary quarterback.

Barrett is one of only six returning starters for Ohio State in 2016, and he's surrounded by a loaded group of exciting but inexperienced playmakers. If Barrett can keep his strong play from 2014 and late 2015 going with a brand-new supporting cast, award voters from all over the country will fall in love with his chances.

 

The Wild Cards

Florida State RB Dalvin Cook: Dalvin Cook doesn't have the same Heisman buzz from last season as Fournette or McCaffrey, but he is the most explosive back in the entire country. Florida State has the weapons to contend for a national title in 2016, and a healthy Cook should lead the way.

Georgia RB Nick Chubb: If Nick Chubb can return from his devastating knee injury and continue to put up the ridiculous numbers he had late in 2014 and early in 2015, he'll be an easy call for awards contention. A healthy and effective Chubb could mean a Georgia team contending for an SEC title in head coach Kirby Smart's first season.

Notre Dame's Starting QB: Whether it's DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire, Notre Dame will have a dual-threat signal-caller with great experience to lead it into the 2016 campaign. The Fighting Irish have the overall talent and the schedule to make a run at a College Football Playoff berth, and the buzz that the starting quarterback in South Bend would get if that happened would be through the roof.

Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly: Chad Kelly put up near-record numbers for the SEC in his first year at Ole Miss, leading the Rebels to another upset over Alabama and a New Year's Six bowl victory. The offense around him doesn't have the same amount of returning firepower, but a more experienced Kelly should be one of the best quarterbacks in the country in 2016.

Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs: How's this for an award campaign? Senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs leads Tennessee to its first SEC Championship Game since 2007 and gets the Volunteers into playoff contention with a fantastic year of dual-threat stats. If that happens, watch out for this veteran Vol.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R Behind the Scenes: Inside Look at the Elite 11 'War Room'

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — It's 11 p.m. on the first day of the Elite 11 Finals and Trent Dilfer and the Elite 11 coaching staff are huddled inside a small conference room on the second floor of the Belamar Hotel.

He sits at the end of the table with a handful of his trusted staff members, and they are all staring at a dry-erase board that will prove to be their ultimate battleground over the next 48 hours.

On that board are magnetic placards with 24 names—one for each of the finalists. The first 11 are gold, and the rest are black. Gold signifies that those players would earn a coveted Elite 11 slot, while the names listed in black are on the outside looking in. 

The names on the magnets will be moved, dissected and put through the ringer with his staff as the Elite 11 Finals competition—which took place June 3-5—plays out.

The stakes are high for Dilfer and the staff to identify the top 12 players of this group for many reasons.

Perhaps at the top of that list is the camp's reputation. Among the camp's alums include this year's top overall NFL draft pick and current Rams passer, Jared Goff, current Clemson All-American Deshaun Watson, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and current Colts star Andrew Luck to name a few. 

As a bonus for the campers in attendance at this year's finals event, Watson—along with California's Davis Webb, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and USC's Max Browne—was on hand for the event as a college counselor.

Additionally, the event's new format means the top 12 earn a trip to The Opening—which is an invite-only showcase that pits the nation's top talent against one another at Nike's headquarters—in July. 

Dilfer spoke on that challenge following the competition's final event Sunday.

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

Just how did Dilfer and his staff select the finalists who will be on display at The Opening?

Bleacher Report was granted access inside the war room for all three days after on-field activities in the Elite 11 Finals competition were completed.

The three late-night-into-early-morning sessions featured intense debates and heavy deliberations that led to the selection of the 2016 Elite 11 class.

 

While the Elite 11 coaching staff is equipped with more than 20 volunteer coaches, only five of its members were present for selection meetings. They are: 

  • Joey Roberts: Elite 11 Director of Scouting
  • Trent Dilfer: Elite 11 Head Coach 
  • Yogi Roth: Elite 11 Host and Director of Elite 11 Documentary
  • Brian Stumpf: Elite 11 President
  • Matt James: Nike Director of Grassroots Football

Rounding out the six-man decision-making staff was B/R college football analyst Michael Felder. 

Dilfer sits at the head of the table, which is a fitting spot considering he's the leading voice to initiate each discussion. 

James and Stumpf have been involved with Student Sports for more than 17 years. Dilfer leans on their experience and opinions when seeking the temperature of his analysis among the rest of the room.

Felder brings a refreshing opinion outside of the Elite 11 bubble that is valued since he's thoroughly examined all of the prospects in attendance.

Roberts and Roth offer different perspectives.

Roberts will routinely play devil's advocate and prompt further discussion on topics that seem to have already reached consensus otherwise. However, he backs up his opinions with valid metrics.

While Roth doesn't speak with the frequency of the others in the room, his energetic tone adds thoughts on aspects such as the mental elements of playing quarterback and gauging "dude qualities"—his term for measuring a quarterback's "it" factor.

Dilfer opens the discussion late Friday evening to go over the criteria on which the coaches will base their evaluations. 

Three elements are found in their formula. Fifty percent of each individual prospect's grade will be based on their film and performance during their junior year. Twenty-five percent comes from their physical traits, and the remaining 25 percent comes from in-person evaluations—whether it be Elite 11 regionals or their performances during the weekend's competition itself.

They also dug deep to identify details such as level of competition in the film component, body type and hand size in their "physical trait" analysis and how their peers view them in the in-person analysis section.

Additionally, after the last regional in Seattle in late May, the Elite 11 staff created its own metric to rate the quarterbacks from No. 1 to No. 24 entering the Elite 11 Finals.

Included in their scores were data from tests that measured their athleticism, agility, arm strength and cognitive abilities.

The lower a prospect's number rating, the better. Case in point, Stanford pledge and 4-star passer Davis Mills entered the event with a score of seven—which landed him atop the Elite 11 board coming into the weekend.

Early in his opening remarks, Dilfer cautioned the staff to stick with the formula after Day 1.

"No matter how unimpressive they were today, it can't be more than 25 percent of what got them there in the beginning," the ESPN analyst said. "Because we're going to set a board tonight, and there will be massive movement. We can't make knee-jerk reactions based off one day in a driving-range environment."

The "driving range" comment signified that the staff viewed Friday as a warm-up day.

Still, as the room begins to survey what happened on the opening day, the itch to make moves is tempting based on the players who looked good and those who didn't.

A handful of minor shifts—no more than three spots up or down—are made among the Top 11. But the biggest debate at the end of the first evening centered on whether Alabama pledge Tua Tagovailoa did enough to enter the final 11 after an impressive first day.

Roberts points to their metric and the amount of work put into it as to why the board should remain the same with Tagovailoa on the outskirts of the promised land.

However, James is on the opposite side of the line.

"No one thought [Tagovailoa] could come in here and do what we saw him do today under center," James said. "We had a lot of off-platform stuff and other things, and none of us expected him to keep his discipline in those settings, but he did. After I saw him do what he did today, I want to go back and change some things."

The rest of the room agrees with him.

Tagovailoa is the only new face to crack the Elite 11 standings after Day 1.

It's 11:37 p.m. on Saturday evening when everyone settles into the second war-room session.

Overall, Dilfer and the Elite 11 staff are pleased with the group as a whole and how it handled a long and arduous day that began at 5:30 a.m. 

"Sometimes you get so deep in X's and O's, you forget that this can be like asking people to learn the 'Mandarin for dummies' in a day. We're asking them to do that and be able to read it, rehearse it, know it and own it," Dilfer said. "I know we ask too much of them, but we also find out a lot about them, and they find out a lot about themselves because we are asking them to do an impossible. It's pretty cool that they continue to exceed our expectations every year."

On and off the field, this was essentially a separation day.

Tagovailoa and 3-star LSU commit Myles Brennan—who finished at the top of the standings for the pro-day workout—were the day's biggest winners from the action on the field. 

Away from it, Mills, 5-star Clemson commit Hunter Johnson and 5-star Michigan pledge Dylan McCaffrey were the names buzzing among coaches and peers alike. 

In fact, when the staff asked all quarterbacks in attendance which passer they would choose to start a program with other than themselves, that trio accounted for 17 of the 24 votes. Seven other quarterbacks received one vote apiece.

Roberts recalls an anecdote from earlier in the interview session of the day with McCaffrey—one that brought instant laughter to the room.

"On the field and how [Dylan] conducts himself, I think that's why the other quarterbacks see him as an alpha," Roberts, also an ESPN NFL associate scout, said. "He's a stickler on details. We asked him about his family and growing up with athletes everywhere. We asked him why he played QB, and his answer was, 'Someone had to throw them the ball!'"

Two days of on-field work and a jam-packed day filled with workouts and interviews have provided them with enough ammo to make some changes to the board.

"I think there's a couple [in the first 11] for sure [who could move down]," Stumpf said.

James agrees.

Dilfer quickly moves to identify the top of the board so the discussion can refocus on the players fighting for an invite.

"These dudes aren't going anywhere unless something massive happens," Dilfer said as he sets up the top five.

Furthermore, he acknowledges that there's little drop-off from the guys rated in the middle of the board.

"I could see guys listed from 12 through 20 end up being just as successful as one through eight long term. This is the year that the ceiling guys aren't going to make it to The Opening, but we know if those guys get into a great situation where they redshirt and can learn behind a starter, mature a little bit and get to know himself better, he can win a national championship and be a first-round pick," Dilfer said.

Stumpf agrees, noting the examples of Kizer and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett as players who didn't make the Elite 11 Finals yet have still found success on the college level.

The discussion shifts to Tagovailoa's day—which had the entire room gushing about his performance.

Stumpf notes that there won't be an MVP named in this year's competition until The Opening. But if there were one for the weekend, the room was clear in its thought process.

"He's No. 1," Dilfer said.

Brennan is the next name brought up, as Stumpf reads the ratings where different members in the room had him coming into the event.

"Somebody had him at 16. Somebody had him at 24. Somebody had him at 13. Somebody had him at 15," Stumpf rattles off.

Dilfer admits he was one of the skeptics. His biggest believer throughout the process was James, something Roberts is quick to note.

"There were a few things about Myles," James said. "The first thing I love is his film. If you watch his film and you watch him throw the ball, he has a great base and knows how to finish his throws. He can make all of the throws. There was something about him that day [at the New Orleans regional] and on film that I really liked. I thought when you got him in this environment, we'd feel the same way."

For the final spot, the group tosses around three names before opting for 4-star Texas pledge Sam Ehlinger with the caveat that Sunday would be the ultimate barometer for him and the two left on the outside looking in.

"Yesterday was driving range. Today was Topgolf. Tomorrow is going to be 16, 17 and 18 at Augusta National," James surmises. "That's what is going to separate the pack."

Even though the staff had been working on finding the top 11, Stumpf was quick to note that the field will actually include 12 quarterbacks as the final war room took place Sunday evening.

Similar to college football conferences such as the Big Ten and Big 12, the Elite 11 is keeping its name due to tradition and brand recognition.

"At The Opening, we're going to have the Elite 11 MVP, plus the Elite 11 quarterbacks," Stumpf said. "We'll define that when we get up there and finish that competition. There will be an Elite 11 MVP named and the rest of the Elite 11 quarterbacks. We had 11 on the board. We were working with that through the week. Now, we will add the 12th man who will complete the group."

With the criteria laid out, the staff set out to crown the crop of passers headed to Oregon, and there were a handful of interesting debates regarding guys comfortably in the top 12.

For instance, Tagovailoa vaulted into the discussion for the top overall spot. The staff settled on him right behind Mills at No. 2.

"I think Tua at No. 2 is the right call. It's his reward for being this week's MVP," Dilfer said.

Mills, 4-star Jack Sears, 4-star Oklahoma commit Chris Robison, 4-star Georgia pledge Jake Fromm and 4-star Penn State commit Sean Clifford all took turns under the staff's microscope. Each of them survived mainly because their efforts over the weekend were mostly solid.

Of that group, Robison garnered the most praise for a sequence in his workout Dilfer observed while he was on the sideline grabbing a snack and a cup of Gatorade. 

"[Robison] was having a hard time with the guys around him. They dialed 'sluggo,' and Chris drops a freaking dime and the [receiver] drops it. I wanted to see how he would react. [Robison] immediately goes to the guy and said, 'Hey man, that's alright, shake it off. We'll get the next play.' He goes to him the next play, and he hits him perfectly. Chris told him, 'Now, you're back!' I was like, that's what we are looking for!"

Upon hearing that nugget, Roth interjects.

"He's definitely got the dude qualities."

The staff pondered whether it was more impressed with 4-star Ohio State pledge Tate Martell's stellar prep record and competitive demeanor or McCaffrey's intangible qualities and the way he naturally demanded the respect and admiration of his peers.

Felder pointed out that the staff had already praised McCaffrey's skills in that regard a day earlier, which led to an interesting debate around the room about potential versus production with the group as a whole. 

Still, neither player was in danger of missing out on an invite to Oregon, but the staff's banter was perhaps a sign of things to come at The Opening.

With Bleacher Report officially announcing the finalists a day later, the staff wanted to make sure it notified each prospect on Sunday evening where they stood.

However, two prospects—Brennan and Johnson—learned their status after the staff invited them into the war room.

Johnson was first up.

Dilfer led the meeting by notifying Johnson he tallied the most votes from his peers when the question about starting a program with one member of the group was posed. That set the stage for him to officially hand out the first invite to The Opening.

"This group thinks very highly of you not only as a player, but as a person too," Dilfer told Johnson. "We feel equally as high about you. So we're here to invite you to The Opening and welcome you to the Elite 11!"

An overjoyed and relieved Johnson thanked the staff and exited with a smile bright enough to illuminate the otherwise gloomy skies.

Brennan's meeting was up next, and Dilfer wanted the tone to be different. His plan was to grill Brennan and make him sweat a little bit.

When the lanky Mississippi native walked in, Dilfer asked him about his performance that day.

"I feel like I did well. I had a couple of bad throws, but that's going to happen," Brennan responded.

That prompted Dilfer to bring up film of an interception he tossed in his seven-on-seven workout.

Dilfer explains the read he made and the steps he should've taken to find an open receiver in the flats. Brennan nervously agrees.

After moments of awkward silence in the room, the ice is finally broken.

"Alright, well, you promised us you would make the 11…and you did!" Dilfer shouted. "I couldn't do it anymore. I tried, but I couldn't hold it."

Brennan excitedly shakes hands and thanks everyone in the room, media and film crew included, before leaving.

Tagovailoa and Brennan weren't the only big winners of the weekend. The staff was giddy over the performance of 3-star Syracuse commit Tommy Devito—who was the lowest-rated passer coming into the finals.

A day earlier, Devito finished that session on the outside looking in, with Dilfer predicting he'd find his way into the top 12 if he looked good on Sunday.

"I love [Devito's] 10 ¼[-inch] hands. He's a thick-jointed kid. He's going to be big and powerful. He's not going to lose any juice as he gets big and powerful," Dilfer said. "He's got supreme confidence. In his meetings, me and Dr. [Michael] Gervais were taking notes, and we wrote the same thing on him. 'Decisive!!!' He has conviction. He's unwavering. Those dudes make it."

That left one slot that appeared to be Ehlinger's, at least according to the consensus of the room.

A surprised Roberts brings up another player who had been discussed extensively among the middle group of prospects fighting for one of the last spots.

Although Dilfer disagrees with Roberts' assessment, he brings up film of Sunday's workout on both players for the room to break down and discuss.

James points out Ehlinger's strength as a runner and how that is neutralized in this event.

"[Ehlinger has] worked a ton on improving as a passer," James explained. "The other thing that kid doesn't get a lot of credit in this thing is his ability to run the football. That's probably the best part of his game. I almost feel in seeing him play at the regional, seeing him with live bullets against Allen in the state championship. I feel like he plays better when it's live bullets."

Dilfer, with the film session almost over, interjects.

"He's dealing right now, though!"

After watching the other player's film, Dilfer is even more convinced his initial instinct was right.

"Do we still have an argument after watching the film of both [players]?"

Roberts, sensing his campaign losing support in the room, concedes.

"[They are] comparable in a sense, but it's fine. It's OK," he said.

With that, the 2016 Elite 11 class was set.

"So we got our 12 going to Oregon and competing for the MVP at The Opening," Dilfer said. "Davis Mills has been No. 1 every day, but I think we all agree that the gap has closed. He came in with a pretty substantial lead and held serve early on. He had a really good weekend, so there's nothing he did poorly. I think there are some great whites that are hunting him down to say the least. It should be really interesting." 

Dilfer is quick to point out that the 12 guys who didn't get invited will still be a part of the Elite 11 fraternity.

He and the staff also reiterated that this group has a number of guys who won't be making the trip to The Opening but have a great chance to outperform those headed to Nike's world headquarters at the next level.

Even though the process was grueling at times, he's pleased with the time, effort and dedication that his staff put in after a marathon trek around the country searching for the nation's top arms in the 2017 cycle.

As tough as identifying the guys who earned a spot in the Elite 11 class was, making the call to those who didn't made that feat appear easy by comparison.

Still, ever the optimist and philosopher, Dilfer delivers the bad news with advice and a different kind of invitation to the players whose journey through the Elite 11 process has come to an end.

"Every year, when I call the guys to tell them they didn't make it, I tell them, 'Please prove me wrong. Please call me and tell me how wrong I was when you win the Heisman or when you are drafted or win a Super Bowl.' I think we have some guys in this class that will do that."

 

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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What Did Jim Harbaugh Accomplish with Michigan's Second Satellite Camp Tour?

Jim Harbaugh's second Summer Swarm Tour came to an end with not a bang, but a whimper.

Due to concerns pertaining to the Zika virus, Michigan was forced to cancel its scheduled satellite camp appearance in American Samoa last week, per the Republican Party of American Samoa communications director John Raynar. With that brought an end to perhaps the most highly anticipated month in college football offseason history, although at this point, it'd be hard to say the Wolverines' unprecedented satellite camp tour was worth the hype.

For all the buzz that Harbaugh's monthlong worldwide journey generated from February through May, the only tangible results felt in June were the commitments of 4-star 2017 defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, 3-star offensive tackle Andrew Stueber, 2018 4-star safety Otis Reese and unranked offensive guard Jalil Irvin. That's hardly a haul worthy of the attention Harbaugh received for his fight to keep his controversial recruiting tactic alive earlier this year, with the NCAA initially banning satellite camps in April before reneging a few weeks later.

But success on the recruiting trail—especially for Harbaugh—isn't always rooted in instant return on investment. There's more to the process than just racking up commitments, and this year's Swarm Tour may be the perfect example of why.

In fact, if you ask the second-year Wolverines head coach about the primary purpose of his near-40-camp tour, he'd tell you it wasn't even recruiting-based in the first place. Harbaugh attempted to make that clear from the start with a mini-outburst toward reporters when recruiting-minded questions dominated an interview session following an outing at New Jersey's Paramus Catholic High School in early June.

"Everybody keeps saying, 'The obvious thing is this is about recruiting' and I disagree. I've disagreed with that premise from its first inception," Harbaugh said, per the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder. "It's not about recruiting. If it really helped recruiting that much, people would have been doing this. Because it's been around for 10, 20, 30 years. We're just enjoying the heck out of coaching, going around the football world."

Nevertheless, the positive publicity Harbaugh's unprecedented camp tour created certainly has a place on the recruiting trail—and he's certainly aware of it.

Why else would the former Michigan quarterback pander to each town he visited, wearing the jersey of a different local sports hero at every stop? The tactic gained such traction that websites devoted trackers and Twitter feeds often filled with pictures during what is often the quietest of times on college football's offseason calendar.

"I'm just a big fan of a lot of people," Harbaugh explained of his June attire choices, per Scout's Josh Newkirk. "And I'm a jersey guy. I like jerseys." 

And while it may seem silly for so much attention to be paid to a month that ultimately led to four commitments over the course of two classes and a smattering of viral pictures, it falls in line with the brand Harbaugh has built since arriving in Ann Arbor 18 months ago.

After all, no coach in college football has been talked about more than Harbaugh has since returning to his alma mater, his Twitter feed and over-the-top personality creating a steady stream of content in today's 24/7 headline world. Whether it's his public fight to keep satellite camps active or creating a celebrity-filled signing day spectacle, Harbaugh has found a way to stay in the spotlight more consistently than any other coach in college football.

"From a marketing and publicity standpoint, he is an absolute genius," Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell told Bleacher Report.

The recruiting results have followed.

In his first full cycle at the helm of the Wolverines program, Harbaugh parlayed his initial run of satellite camps and a 10-3 season on the field into the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class for 2016. Several of Michigan's signees in this past class either had their recruitments initiated or enhanced by satellite camps, including 4-star prospects in quarterback Brandon Peters, linebacker Devin Bush Jr. and cornerback David Long

The instant attention he received as well as his NFL pedigree also allowed Harbaugh to land the nation's top-ranked player in 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary, while also flipping former Ohio State commit and 4-star running back Kareem Walker.

There are still six months left until next signing day, but already Harbaugh is seeing similar success follow. The Wolverines' 2017 haul ranks fifth in the nation as well, while featuring 5-star quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, 4-star defensive end Luiji Vilain, inside linebacker Josh Ross and offensive tackle JaRaymond Hall.

As far as Michigan's second Summer Swarm Tour is concerned, outside of the aforementioned commitments of Solomon and Stueber, it appears to have had an insignificant direct effect on the class. And while connections made on the camp circuit could ultimately come back to work in the Wolverines' favor down the line, for now, Harbaugh's second satellite camp excursion appears to have possessed more sizzle than steak.

But the jerseys, the headlines, the sheer extravagance of the tour—which included a previous stop in American Samoa, as well as Australia—it's all a part of the process.

Perhaps Harbaugh was right—this wasn't all about recruiting and picking up commits on the surface.

But in the end in college football, it almost always is. And no coach in college football has proved more innovative in doing so in the past year-and-a-half than the one who just spent his June changing in and out of jerseys all across the world.

 

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. Recruiting and class ratings courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

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SEC Football Q&A: How Concerning Is the Injury to Georgia RB Sony Michel?

If you receive an alert from Team Stream regarding your college football team during the summer months, it's typically not good news. 

Georgia found that out on Monday when news broke that running back Sony Michel, who ran for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns in essentially two-thirds of the season as the No. 1 running back for the Bulldogs, broke his arm in an off-field incident Sunday night, according to Anthony Dasher of UGASports.com.

The specific circumstances related to the incident weren't released by the school, but Dasher reported that Michel suffered the injury in an ATV incident on Sunday night. The rising junior tailback underwent surgery on Monday. No timetable was given on how long Michel will be out, but it's safe to assume that he won't be at 100 percent when Georgia kicks off fall camp in August.

How concerned should Georgia fans be? Who can pick up the slack? Those questions and more are answered in this edition of SEC Q&A.

 

Michel was a role player for the first two-plus years of his Georgia career, but was thrust into the starting role when fellow junior Nick Chubb tore ligaments in his knee during the Tennessee game in early October 2015. Since that point, Michel posted four 100-yard games, had 20 or more carries in seven contests and finished the 2015 season averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

With Chubb still rehabbing from his knee injury, first-year head coach Kirby Smart was counting on Michel picking up right where he left off last year and providing a solid "1B" option as Chubb rounds back into form.

One of the likely contenders to step in at the running back spot for Georgia is true freshman Elijah Holyfield, who is the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. He rushed for 1,735 yards and 25 touchdowns in 14 games as a junior at Woodward Academy near Atlanta in 2014, according to MaxPreps.com, and followed it up with 1,069 yards and 21 touchdowns in nine games as a senior.

While Holyfield is talented and will certainly play a role this year, he won't be the every-down running back from Day 1.

Senior Brendan Douglas is a seasoned veteran who has rushed for 370 yards and two touchdowns over the last two seasons, Tae Crowder was one of the primary backs this spring behind Michel, and Shaq Wilson moved over from wide receiver during spring practice to provide depth for a unit that desperately needed it.

If Michel isn't 100 percent, it's far more likely that Smart will go with a running back-by-committee approach until Michel and Chubb prove that they're back, with Holyfield being a small part of that committee early.

Georgia's quarterback situation also plays into this quite a bit. 

With the running back position in a bind, it's more likely that senior Greyson Lambert—who started all but one game last season—will see more snaps early. Having experience in the backfield will take on more importance, and Lambert is more comfortable with the speed of the game than junior Brice Ramsey and true freshman 5-star Jacob Eason

The bottom line is that Michel's injury is the last thing that Smart wanted to hear heading into his first season in the Classic City. 

The stability that Michel brings to the table was vital to the success of the 2016 Bulldogs. With his status—along with Chubb's—in doubt early in the season, Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can't feel comfortable about anything in their backfield.

That makes the season opener versus UNC even more of a challenge, and can certainly play into how Smart approaches the quarterback battle during fall camp.

Georgia fans should be concerned. 

 

Without a doubt, it's Auburn's defense.

It seems like criticizing Auburn for mediocre defense has become more of an instinct than actual analysis over the better part of a decade, but that will change this year under first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele provided that there aren't any catastrophic injuries.

When defensive end Carl Lawson was healthy last year, not only was Auburn's defense competitive, it was actually good.

The Tigers held Louisville scoreless in the first half of the season opener before Lawson went out with a hip injury, and gave up just 339 yards per game over the last five games with Lawson back. Included in that mark was a stifling performance against a potent Memphis offense in the Birmingham Bowl, in which the Tigers gave up just 205 yards and 3.01 yards per play to an offense that averaged 486.9 and 6.15, respectively. 

Lawson is back, along with defensive tackle Montravius Adams, a loaded front four that has depth and versatility, and a secondary that includes freshman All-SEC cornerback Carlton Davis and veteran safeties Rudy Ford and Tray Matthews. What's more, Auburn upgraded at linebacker when it lured T.J. Neal—he of 14 tackles for loss in 2015—away from Illinois as a graduate transfer to fill the void left by Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. 

Steele wasn't stellar as LSU's coordinator last year when his former Tigers gave up 347.2 yards per game (fifth in the SEC) and 24.3 points per game (10th). But Auburn hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in yards per game since 2007. Similar production with Auburn in 2016 should be enough to vault head coach Gus Malzahn's crew back into SEC West contention this year, provided that Malzahn's offense packs a little more punch than it did in 2015 when it gained just 370 yards per game.

If Lawson is in the lineup, the entire Auburn defense will benefit and it will shed the "punchline" label that has been attached to it ever since the start of the Gene Chizik era in 2009.

 

No, but it wouldn't surprise me if he came close to matching that production in 2015.

It seems like Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly's 2015 season in which he amassed 4,542 total yards—more than former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow gained during their Heisman Trophy years in 2010 and 2007, respectively.

Kelly will still be a force, has a coach in Hugh Freeze who has successfully game-planned around offensive line and rushing attack issues in the past, and has plenty of weapons around him that can help keep the Rebels in the SEC West conversation. But Ole Miss' concerns—offensive line and a consistent between-the-tackles rushing attack—haven't improved from last season, and the wide receiving corps—while talented—will be without star Laquon Treadwell.

Kelly will still put up video game stats and post a solid year, but can he gain 574 more yards and top Johnny Manziel's Heisman season of 2012? That's a lot to ask, and shouldn't be the expectation of Kelly this year.

Repeating last year's season, minus a few of the 13 interceptions, will be all Freeze needs from his senior signal-caller, and should be the expectation in Oxford.

 

It's the obvious answer, but it's also the right one. It's quarterback play.

Kelly will be fine, and Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs should be as well if his wide receivers help him out more. But as I pointed out last week, where are the rest?

When we vote on All-SEC quarterbacks next week at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, we're almost forced to vote for either LSU's Brandon Harris or Texas A&M's Trevor Knight as the preseason third-team quarterback.

That doesn't exactly shine a positive light on the state of quarterback play in the SEC.

If a few of the newcomers or players who struggled last year impress, the SEC will stay atop its perch as the unquestioned top conference in college football. If it doesn't, that moniker might be on less stable ground depending on what happens in other conferences.

With that said, it would take monumental efforts from the mid-tier teams of other conferences—specifically either the Big Ten or Pac-12—to come close to matching the depth that the SEC boasts from top to bottom. 

If that happens, or the SEC struggles again at the quarterback spot, I could see another conference making a push to remove that title from the SEC.

 

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

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

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Sony Michel Injury: Updates on Georgia RB's Arm and Recovery

On Monday, the Georgia Bulldogs confirmed running back Sony Michel suffered a broken left forearm in an accident Sunday, according to Anthony Dasher of UGASports.com.

Continue for updates.

No Timetable Given for Recovery Monday, July 4

Dasher reported Michel underwent successful surgery Monday and is expected to make a full recovery, though the team has not disclosed a timetable for his return to the field.

Citing sources, Dasher also reported Michel suffered the injury in an accident on an ATV, though "school officials failed to divulge any more details."

The injury is a major concern for Georgia, which relied heavily on Michel last season after losing starter Nick Chubb for the season because of a knee injury. Michel rushed 219 times for 1,161 yards with eight touchdowns, and the team expected him to form a dynamic duo with Chubb in 2016.

But with Chubb still not cleared to practice and Michel's return date unknown, one of the Bulldogs' strengths heading into this season is now a concern.

Dasher did report Chubb "is making great progress in his recovery," however. He could be ready for the start of the season, though Georgia won't want to rush him back.

That was less of a concern before Michel's injury, as the team knew it could rely on 2015's breakout performer in Chubb's stead. That made Michel the team's seventh-most important player for the 2016 season, according to Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

If something happened to Michel, don’t assume that Georgia could just trot out Elijah Holyfield and get the same upside, at least this year. And there would almost certainly be a steep drop-off from Michel to anyone not named Chubb. Georgia’s offense could survive this season without Michel. But in order to maximize itself this year, it needs not just a healthy Chubb, but a healthy Michel.

Elijah Holyfield may be next in line for touches out of the backfield, along with senior Brendan Douglas and freshman Brian Herrien. But Michel's injury is a major blow for a Georgia team that was hoping to rely on him heavily in 2016, regardless of Chubb's status.

Now, Georgia will be closely monitoring the status of its two best running backs heading into the season.

 

You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.

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Biggest Remaining Challenge Every Power 5 Coach Faces This Offseason

We're less than two months away from the start of the 2016 college football season, and within a few weeks teams across the country will be coming together to prepare for the upcoming campaign. By this point, there's really not much left that can be done until the players return to the field and preseason practice gets underway.

But college football coaches never stop working. There's always something that can be tinkered with, a new avenue to take in an effort to improve his team's chances. Every coach has some challenge that still remains on the agenda before the offseason ends and the real stuff begins.

We've identified what this task is for the head coach of every Power Five-conference team as well as those of top independents BYU and Notre Dame.

Begin Slideshow

Ultimate Guide to Nike's The Opening 2016

BEAVERTON, Oregon — It's time to head back to "football heaven."

The Opening, an annual showcase featuring 166 top high school prospects, gets underway July 5 at Nike's world headquarters. Premier athletes from across North America will make this pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest for an opportunity to solidify their status as celebrated collegiate recruits.

Action opens with quarterbacks and receivers operating in various offensive settings before players at every position enter the equation July 7, continuing to compete through July 10. Many of those in attendance carry dozens of scholarship offers—some arriving as early as middle school—and each was selected from thousands of competitors at 14 regional camps that spanned from February to May.

This invite-only event has developed into a coveted destination for future college football and NFL stars during recent years. Alumni of The Opening include 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, LSU standout Leonard Fournette and top-five 2016 NFL draft selections Jalen Ramsey and Ezekiel Elliott.

Bleacher Report will provide on-field updates throughout the week, including live video coverage, college commitments and scouting analysis. But first, let's help you prepare for what lies ahead, previewing an array of storylines sure to command attention in Oregon.

 

Expect Athletic Freaks to Shine in Spotlight

Before footballs begin flying around the pristine fields on Nike’s campus, we’ll get our latest glimpse at which high school stars have fully invested in physical training. The Opening staff will implement combine-like testing July 8, eventually leading to a showdown between top scorers in the Nike Football Ratings Championship.

These tests challenge prospects’ power, speed and agility in a highly competitive setting. The event is broken down into four phases—vertical leap, power ball toss, shuttle run and the 40-yard dash.

Last summer, rising junior receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones took the title with a cumulative score of 149.49 in the championship round. Now considered the country’s top prospect at his position, the uncommitted Cass Tech (Detroit) High School standout has his sights set on a repeat performance.

“I would like to go out there and reclaim my title,” he told B/R after becoming a two-time invitee in May. “I’m just going to have fun. This is a fun football event with the nation’s top prospects. We’re just all out there working and having fun with each other.”

Peoples-Jones, who is considering offers from Michigan, Florida, Ohio State and others, will face plenty of competition for the crown.

Michigan running back commits O'Maury Samuels (142.41) and A.J. Dillon (127.53), running back Cam Akers (141.33), Alabama receiver pledge Tyrell Shavers (138), cornerback Jaylon Johnson (132.41) and running back Darrian Felix (128.76) each posted top-10 overall rating scores during regional testing.

 

Elite 11 MVP Race Continues

Competition among lauded high school quarterbacks reaches a crescendo at The Opening, where 12 passers will vie for MVP honors. Hundreds attempted to make a strong impression in front of a highly experienced Elite 11 staff during the regional circuit, ultimately resulting in a field of 24 competitors at the Elite 11 finals June 3 to 5 in Los Angeles.

An intense three-day stretch in Southern California allowed coaches to whittle the process down to a dozen passers. Quarterbacks are analyzed and scrutinized based on a diverse package of components, ranging from fundamental skills, physical endurance and mental aptitude.

Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer serves as Elite 11 head coach. Alumni include No. 1 overall NFL draft picks Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford.

"It's an honor to make it to this point," LSU commit Myles Brennan said. "So many members of the Elite 11 fraternity have gone on to do great things. Everyone going to The Opening definitely had to earn their spot."

Members of the 2016 Elite 11 class punched their tickets to Beaverton, where further advanced and arduous drills await. Each seven-on-seven squad at The Opening is assigned a pair of passers for tournament play, where we witnessed recent MVP recipients Shea Patterson (2016 Ole Miss signee) and Blake Barnett (2015 Alabama signee) gain momentum and rise to prominence.

The latest collection includes quarterbacks from 10 different states, with multiple prospects representing Texas and Georgia. This group features the six top-rated passers in 247Sports' composite rankings, though a few dark-horse candidates could threaten preconceived notions and make a run at unanticipated positional MVP honors.

Jack Sears is the lone uncommitted recruit of this bunch, while potential future rivalries will be on full display. Among them are Sam Ehlinger (Texas) and Chris Robison (Oklahoma), Tate Martell (Ohio State) and Dylan McCaffrey (Michigan), and Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) and Brennan (LSU).

 

NFL Players Provide Perspective

The Opening is an outright awesome week for its participants, who not only have a chance to measure themselves against the best of their peers, but also look ahead with the help of professional players. The field is typically swarming with current NFL athletes who take on mentorship roles throughout the week.

During recent years, this group has included Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.

Expect more of the same in 2016, with Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott among confirmed guests.

The former Ohio State star and 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship offensive MVP expressed his enthusiasm for a return to The Opening on Twitter:

Retired NFL stars also tend to be prevalent in Beaverton. Legendary Auburn and Oakland Raiders running back Bo Jackson made an appearance in 2014, while three-time Super Bowl champion Willie McGinest (New England Patriots) is a member of The Opening’s defensive coaching staff.

These interactions allow young athletes to more deeply understand the level of dedication required to transition from high school recruit to impact player at the college and professional level. Few developments in Beaverton create more excitement among attendees than when they’re working alongside NFL players previously only seen on television.

 

Star-Studded Seven-on-Seven Tournament Is Must-See

Things kick up a notch when the weekend arrives, as seven-on-seven action gets underway Saturday morning and caps off Sunday afternoon when a tournament champion claims victory. This is especially exciting for college football fans following along in Oregon or on social media since The Opening staff makes it a point to package members of the same recruiting classes together.

For instance, Team Alpha Pro is loaded with Ohio State pledges, and Team Vapor Speed is heavy on Alabama commitments. This method enables future teammates to further enhance personal rapport nearly a year before they reunite as newly enrolled freshmen on the college campus of their choice.

It also creates a tremendous peer-recruiting environment. There are no college scouts on Nike’s campus, but committed players annually present sales pitches on behalf of programs in an effort to push other top-tier talent toward hopping on the bandwagon.

Quarterbacks often emerge as the ringleaders of these recruiting efforts, so expect Elite 11 finalists to emphatically target committed and uncommitted athletes alike.

Buckeyes pledge Martell will undoubtedly be delivering a full-court press for 5-star seven-on-seven teammates such as Trevon Grimes (receiver), Jeffrey Okudah (safety/receiver) and close friend Tyjon Lindsey (receiver). Hunter Johnson, a Clemson commit who sits atop composite quarterback rankings, will spend abundant time with 5-star Tigers target Tee Higgins (receiver).

Recruiting is the game within the game in Beaverton, but there’s a ton of football to be played. The seven-on-seven tournament sets high stakes for all involved, as it’s a major proving ground for those attempting to validate lofty recruiting rankings or rise up the chart.

Which linebackers can truly cover the pass with authority? Can the nation’s most lauded running backs also double as dangerous receiving threats out of the backfield? How will speedy receivers contend with physical defensive backs? Will quarterbacks avoid making the same mistake twice against a myriad coverage looks?

These are the questions we’ll carry into the weekend, and clarity will come as the tournament progresses. If you plan to tune in for B/R’s coverage of The Opening, be sure to make this portion of the event priority viewing.

 

Intensity in the Trenches Reveals The Opening’s Biggest Beasts

While skill-position players battle in a seven-on-seven setting, the competition can be far more revealing when the big boys go to work. The action grows fierce in a hurry when America’s most dominant defensive and offensive linemen inflict fury upon each other.

Some of the week’s most memorable moments will occur in the trenches, where there is no place to hide when your reps arrive in one-on-one scrums. Given the immense skill level and athleticism of these prospects, these drills go well beyond shoving matches.

Coaches challenge linemen with philosophical and fundamental principles that some have never encountered before The Opening. Relying on sheer physicality can be an effective method in high school, but that style of play isn’t sustainable in college, where technical details make all the difference at the point of attack.

Texas tackle Marvin Wilson (uncommitted), California end Jaelan Phillips (UCLA commit), Louisiana tackle Tyler Shelvin (LSU commit) and Georgia edge-rusher Robert Beal (uncommitted) are among top defensive linemen. They'll contend with an offensive line group that features 5-stars Foster Sarell (uncommitted), Wyatt Davis (Ohio State) and Alex Leatherwood (Alabama commit).

Multiple days of violent collisions will culminate in the coaching staff selecting a “Final Five” on both sides of the ball. Texas Tech offensive line pledge Jack Anderson is a rare two-time contender in the trenches. He follows No. 1 overall 2016 recruit Rashan Gary, a freshman Michigan Wolverines defender who head lineman instructor Todd Huber called the best to come through this phase of the event.

"I've always been confident in my abilities, starting as a freshman in high school and getting the college attention early, but it's an honor to compete at The Opening as a younger player," Anderson said.

 

Half-Dozen Underclassmen Include Historic Competitor

How difficult is it to earn an invitation to The Opening before your junior season? Among the 166 athletes expected to attend this week, only seven aren’t approaching their final year of high school.

If there’s a surefire way to heighten expectations for an underclassman recruit, this is it. The group features highly pursued 2018 prospects in South Carolina defensive lineman Xavier Thomas, Los Angeles receiver Jalen Hall, Florida cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr., Atlanta offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer, Texas safety BJ Foster and Ohio running back Jaelen Gill.

Each of these young standouts will vie for a return trip next summer, joining elite company in the process. Peoples-Jones, Anderson, linebacker Dylan Moses and cornerback Jamyest Williams are repeat competitors in 2016.

For the first time ever, there is also the possibility of a three-time attendee. Georgia linebacker Owen Pappoe, a 15-year-old from Grayson High School, will make history as the only rising sophomore selected to The Opening since its conception.

His physical attributes and playmaking skills were impossible to ignore, according to Student Sports president Brian Stumpf.

"It definitely wasn't something we were looking to do, in terms of inviting a freshman, but his resume as we got to the end of the year was certainly very strong," Stumpf said. "He was a very good player on a very good team as a freshman with over 100 tackles. ... At the camp we saw him, he was a top two-three linebacker in position drills. He also finished our tour with the highest Nike football athletic rating for a linebacker (128.22)."

Pappoe, who stands 6’1”, 205 pounds, reached double-digit scholarship offer totals before his freshman year. He lists Alabama, Miami, Florida State, Georgia and Clemson among schools under serious consideration through early stages of a widespread recruitment process.

If Pappoe holds his own among a group of athletes that includes 18-year-olds, he’ll leave little doubt about all the hype. When 2019 recruiting rankings are released down the line, there’s a strong chance Pappoe will claim the top spot.

Consider The Opening as another breakout opportunity for this Peach State phenom.

"I'm just going out there to do what I do every day—play football," he said. "I'm not really worried about all the older guys who are ranked high because I want to go against the best of the best so I can prove to everyone what I can do."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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Latavious Brini to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Cornerback Latavious Brini announced on Sunday night that he has committed to the Georgia Bulldogs:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, the 4-star recruit is the No. 31-ranked CB in the 2017 recruiting class and the No. 291-ranked player overall. He's also the 42nd-best recruit in the state of Florida.

In an interview with UGASports.com's Dan McDonald, Brini discussed why he selected Georgia:

It was the coaches, and Athens. Athens is great, and the coaches showed me a lot of love. There coaches there were just truthful about everything they said. They have great experience. Coach [Mel] Tucker coached in the NFL for a while. Coach [Kirby] Smart coached at Alabama and had some great defenses there. It's a great place.

Brini joins fellow 4-star cornerback William Poole III at Georgia. Poole is the 10th-best corner in the 2017 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. In Richard LeCounte III, the Bulldogs also have one of 2017's best safeties.

The trio still won't arrive in Athens for another year, but Georgia fans are already likely looking forward to what will be a promising secondary.

For Poole and Brini, their timing will be very good for the Bulldogs, with Malkom Parrish and Aaron Davis both entering their junior seasons.

Brini has good size (6'2", 200 lbs) and boasts a 4.50-second 40-yard dash. Brini is quick enough to keep up with most receivers, but he'll be most effective at the line of scrimmage when he jams wideouts early in their routes. His strength will also come in handy when he needs to defend the run:

Since his coverage skills are still a bit of an issue, it wouldn't be a surprise if he gets moved to safety at some point in his college career.

Brini told McDonald that the coaching staff has said it sees him as strictly a cornerback, but he should be able to transition to a different position in the secondary if asked.

Joining Georgia could also help Brini's pro prospects.

During his time as defensive coordinator at Alabama, Smart helped numerous defensive backs get selected by NFL teams in the draft. Landon Collins, Dee Milliner, Mark Barron, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas are among the more recent Crimson Tide defenders to make the jump.

Brini has a long way to go to get to the NFL, but learning from Smart should help him in that pursuit.

Georgia fans shouldn't expect Brini to contribute right away, especially since the Bulldogs already have some nice depth in the secondary.

In two or three years, he should emerge as one of the more important players on the defensive side of the ball.

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