NCAA Football News

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.

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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.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

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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. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's Top QB-RB-WR Combinations for 2016 Season

A lot goes into having a fantastic offense in college football. The five offensive linemen up front need to be at peak performance in order to pave the way for huge yards through the air and on the ground. Smart and efficient play-calling is extremely vital as well.

But when fans think of a top-tier attack, they mostly are concentrated on three key figures—the starting quarterback, the top running back and the No. 1 wide receiver.

Teams that have the best combinations of those three key positions are usually the ones that terrorize defenses the most in the fall. They can be balanced and explosive in both facets of offensive football, and they make it hard for opponents to key on just one position.

Here are 10 of the best quarterback-running back-wide receiver combinations in college football for the 2016 campaign. These trios were based on statistics in previous seasons, amount of time played together, overall experience and fit in their respective offensive systems.

Some powerhouse schools, such as Alabama and Ohio State, will always have exceptional talent at these trio spots. But due to the fact they have to replace a couple of statistical leaders there for 2016, they fell short of programs that return a lot of experienced firepower for the upcoming season.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: CB Jamyest Williams to Announce Top 5 at the Opening

The month of July is here, and 166 athletes are days away from The Opening at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Major recruiting news is expected at the annual event, as seven 2017 prospects are scheduled to announce their college plans during the week.

While The Opening will have many eyes on it, look for recruiting news to remain hot throughout the entire country. Auburn landed a big junior college prospect on Friday in 4-star wide receiver Brandon Martin, the No. 6 JUCO player in the 2017 class. Martin was an LSU signee in 2015.

Additionally, other Power Five schools continue to add to their growing classes. Texas A&M remained a trending topic in recruiting and continued its ascension in the 247Sports composite team recruiting rankings with the addition of wide receiver Camron Buckley. The Aggies now have 17 commitments with Buckley's pledge.

As a new week approaches, here are up-to-date recruiting nuggets regarding some of the nation's top athletes:

 

4-star CB Williams to announce top 5

The upcoming week is a big one for Lawrenceville, Georgia, 4-star cornerback Jamyest Williams. He is one of only a handful of athletes preparing to compete at The Opening for the second consecutive year.

"I'm excited," he said. "It's a blessing to be able to go back-to-back. I know it's going to be way better than last year. There will be different competition, and there are a lot of ballers in my class."

While he's in Beaverton, Williams told Bleacher Report that he plans on making a major announcement for all who follow his recruiting process. The nation's No. 6 cornerback and No. 52 overall player will trim his list of 49 reported offers early in the week.

"I'm releasing a top five," Williams said. "I may do it as soon as I touch down [in Oregon]."

Whenever he announces, expect fireworks, as Williams is considered one of the most competitive, athletic defensive backs and, arguably, one of the best pound-for-pound players in the 2017 class. He's listed at 5'9" and 170 pounds but uses his outstanding coverage skills to play larger than his size.

Williams said his top five was made using several factors, including player-coach relationship, academics, campus environment and camaraderie. He said his ultimate decision will focus on him making "a 40-year decision, not a four-year decision."

The primary factor in a final decision, he said, will involve overall growth individually as a player and a person. He also said he'll look for similar traits from a college that The Opening can offer him this week.

"I'm looking for a place that will prepare me and get me to work at my best potential," he said.

 

4-star DE Ray ready to trim top 12

Madison, Alabama, 4-star defensive end LaBryan Ray released a top 12 in May consisting of schools from coast to coast. Since then, Ray has been somewhat tight-lipped about his ultimate recruiting plans.

Ray told Bleacher Report on Friday that the time to make new moves within his recruiting process is now. He's hoping to trim his list of offers in half sometime during the fall season.

"I won't lie, it's been tough," said Ray, who is ranked the nation's No. 5 strong-side defensive end in the 2017 class. "There are a lot of great universities out there. You can't go wrong with a whole lot of them. It can be hard choosing the one that's best for you and your family. I'm just tying to enjoy the process."

Ray, who claims "about 40" offers, took June unofficial visits to Ole Miss and Tennessee, and he said he's looking to take summer visits to Florida, Florida State and Mississippi State. He also said he has a couple of official visits planned, but he wasn't ready to release that information publicly.

At 6'4" and 260 pounds, Ray has slimmed down in preparation of playing defensive end at the next level. He added that he's been asked about potentially gaining weight to play inside as a defensive tackle—which he said he would be open to.

Choosing a winning school, Ray said, will be a family discussion and a decision he doesn't take lightly.

"Of course, I'm looking at academics," he said. "As for the football part, knowing I'll have a good relationship with the coaching staff, especially with my position coach, is real important to me. I want to go someplace that feels like home, someplace where I know I'll feel comfortable."

 

3 official visits planned for RB Heimuli-Lund

Salt Lake City 4-star running back Sione Heimuli-Lund told Bleacher Report on Friday that while he doesn't have dates set, he does have three official visits in mind for the fall.

Heimuli-Lund, the nation's No. 14 running back in the 2017 class, said he's looking at officials to Stanford, LSU and UCLA. He committed to Stanford back in November and said Stanford has always been his "dream school," according to Amy Donaldson of the Deseret News.

"I'm a Stanford commit. I'm pretty firm," Heimuli-Lund told me. "I know anything can happen in life, and I truly just want to make sure I don't miss out on anything with the other options."

Getting new offers is always something that Heimuli-Lund values, and on Thursday, he picked up an offer from USC, a school he's always kept an eye on.

"That was pretty surreal, pretty crazy," Heimuli-Lund said of the USC offer. "It was always a school I wanted to get an offer from. I was pretty excited and grateful that I got it."

Heimuli-Lund didn't say USC would get an official visit, but he still will have two visits to take if the projected three become set in stone. LSU and UCLA are hoping to sway the 6'0", 235-pound back when those dates are set.

Additionally, Heimuli-Lund said he is considering taking an unofficial visit to LSU this summer. He's built good relationships with defensive coordinator Dave Aranda from LSU, as well as offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu and quarterback coach Marques Tuiasosopo from UCLA.

"LSU is LSU," he said. "With LSU being in the SEC, it's big-time football. UCLA's been recruiting me pretty hard, if not the hardest. It's going to take a lot, because I'm pretty firm with Stanford, but the other schools have been showing a lot of love."

 

Can Arizona keep the Pac-12 recruiting crown?

With programs like USC, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon and Washington in the Pac-12, some outside the conference may be surprised that Arizona is currently the team to beat in the conference recruiting rankings.

The Wildcats have 20 commits and most recently added 3-star offensive lineman Cody Shear on Friday. Arizona's class is headlined by three 4-star recruits in athlete Greg Johnson, running back Nathan Tilford and quarterback Braxton Burmeister.

The good news for head coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff is that there's still room for Arizona to add elite talent. Among the players the Wildcats are targeting are 4-star cornerback Thomas Graham, 4-star linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia and 3-star safety Rhedi Short.

June was a great month for Arizona, as the team scored 10 of its 20 commits during that span. The Wildcats are hoping their recruiting success continues this summer.

 

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

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Predicting 2016 Win-Loss Record for Every New College Football Head Coach

You only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s especially true in college football. The amount of money and attention flowing into the game has never been higher, but it has also ratcheted up the pressure surrounding head coaches.

Of the 128 FBS head coaches, only 31 will begin 2016 with as much as five seasons’ worth of experience with their current programs. And only nine have spent a decade with the same team (that doesn’t count Bill Snyder, who will begin the eighth season of his second stint at Kansas State). In other words, the game is built for turnover. Twenty-eight coaches will begin their first seasons with new programs in 2016 following an active coaching carousel.

Getting off to a strong start, while not a magic cure-all, certainly does a world of good. And all 28 new coaches would love to endear themselves to their new followings with excellent 2016 campaigns. Not all of them will, of course. Here’s a shot at predicting the first-year records for every new coach in the FBS.

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The Opening 2016: Predicting Where All Uncommitted Recruits Will Land

The country's most coveted college football recruits assemble at Nike's world headquarters July 5-10 when The Opening takes center stage in Beaverton, Oregon. Quarterbacks and receivers step into the spotlight through the first three days of action before they're joined by premier prospects throughout various positions, pushing the competitor total to 166 athletes. 

Among this talent-laden collection, a large volume of players remain undecided about their collegiate future. While many marquee recruits have already announced intentions to attend an array of universities, intrigue abounds as others work to find an ideal fit.

Working our way through The Opening roster position by position, here's a glimpse at where we project each uncommitted attendee to play college football. 

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Dameon Pierce to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star RB Prospect

Continuing the Alabama Crimson Tide's tradition of finding and developing elite running backs, prized 2018 recruit Dameon Pierce gave the defending national champions an early commitment.  

Tim Watts of 247Sports and Drew Champlin of AL.com confirmed that Pierce verbally committed to Alabama on Friday. 

Even though Pierce is two years away from college, he's already regarded as one of the nation's best prospects for 2018. 

Per 247Sports, he is rated as a 4-star recruit. He's the No. 7 running back and No. 7 player from the state of Georgia and the No. 66 overall talent. He changed his Twitter bio, calling himself a "4(-star) Bama commit."

The scouting report at Scout.com makes Pierce sound like the perfect Alabama running back to follow T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry:

Pierce is a force in the offensive backfield. He is a very strong, powerful running back with deceptive speed. He is more quick than he is fast and he flashes those quick, subtle moves to make defenders miss while moving the pile forward. He is a force when running downhill and he breaks tackles, gets yards after contact, and falls forward when finishing the run.

Hank South of 247Sports noted that Pierce's commitment jumps Alabama up to No. 8 in the 2018 recruiting rankings with a class that already includes tight end Malcolm Epps. 

There may be flaws in some Alabama teams in the years since Nick Saban took over, but two things are certain: The Crimson Tide will run the ball and play elite defense. 

Pierce doesn't arrive on campus for two years, but his early commitment ensures that Alabama will be loaded in the backfield for a long time to come and continue to make life miserable for the rest of the SEC. 

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Brandon Martin to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star WR Prospect

Auburn picked up a commitment from Brandon Martin, the top JUCO wide receiver in the 2017 recruiting class, on Friday afternoon.

Martin confirmed his choice of the Tigers on social media. He's a 4-star wideout who ranks as the sixth-best junior college prospect overall and the second-best one from the state of Texas, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

It sounds like Auburn's Big Cat Weekend last month sealed the deal. Jeffrey Lee of AuburnSports.com passed along comments from the wideout after he spent three days at the program's event with his parents and coach.

"I think they loved it, too," Martin said. "I was happy to see my mom and dad smiling and having fun. I think they would really be with (my decision) if I came to Auburn."

The Prime Prep Academy standout is already an imposing figure on the outside at 6'4" and 205 pounds, though he could benefit from adding more muscle to his frame. Otherwise, he has all the physical tools that coaches want to see from an incoming receiver.

Tigers fans will get a chance to track Martin's progress with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College this fall. Bulldogs coach Chad Huff explained what makes him a special prospect, per Patrick Ochs of the Sun Herald.

"I think he's a big kid who can stretch the field. Long with good speed," Huff said. "We're looking for good things out of him. He'll definitely allow us to do some things down the field as well as with his ability to block on the perimeter."

He could end up make a quick impact with Auburn next year, assuming he's able to continue making positive strides at the JUCO level. Two wide receivers who are expected to see plenty of playing time for the Tigers this season, Tony Stevens and Marcus Davis, are both seniors.

Ultimately, the early Martin signing is even more impactful when you factor in Auburn's need to fill those voids after the 2016 campaign. The Tigers will probably still emphasize adding a few more top receiver targets to the class, though.

 

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14 College Football Players Who Will Reach Elite Status in 2016

The word "elite" gets thrown around a lot these days in sports, from constant talk show discussions to hilarious Twitter jokes featuring a certain NFL quarterback. 

When it comes to college football, a player becoming "elite" is a unique situation. Since players only get four years of eligibility, they often turn pro right after breaking out as some of the best of the best. Those who can turn heads early as underclassmen and continue to deliver, such as LSU's Leonard Fournette and Clemson's Deshaun Watson, are truly elite.

With that in mind, let's take a look at 14 players who should break through and reach elite status in the 2016 college football season. Most of them have already broken out as starters and key players for their respective teams. But none of them have been named to their conference's first or second teams, and they aren't considered to be among the top 10 players at their respective positions.

All 14 of these players—two for every position group on offense and defense—have the abilities and the opportunities to cross that threshold into elite status this fall. The supporting casts around them and their team's chances at success in 2016 play a large role in determining who can become elite, too.

Keep in mind that this isn't a complete list of players with elite potential in 2016. These are a handful of selections who seem like they have the best chances at getting into consideration for All-American teams and awards this fall. Tell us who you think will become elite in 2016 in the comments below.

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Ranking 25 Most Dominant Defenders Heading into the 2016 College Football Season

The 2016 college football season will treat the sport's viewers to a tremendous collection of dominant defenders who are spread all over the country.

However, the following players are not always the best or most versatile, this group identifies the talents offensive players simply don't want to be lined up against.

Performance relative to competition was considered, though a majority of names are familiar.

Be warned: There's a healthy dose of Alabama standouts. But when a defense is as stacked as the Crimson Tide in 2016, they're going to leave a major impression on a list.

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Big Ten Q&A: Who Will Be the First B1G Player Picked in the 2017 NFL Draft?

June has come to a close. Satellite season is just about over. Before you know it, there will be actual college football to talk about once again.

In the meantime, however, you'll have to settle for this week's Big Ten Q&A, where we'll tackle which player in the conference will be drafted first next spring, Ohio State's recruiting class, Michigan's pursuit of becoming the Big Ten's best and predictions for every individual Big Ten award.

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

Let's get started.

 

Looking at the plethora of way-too-early mock drafts that are currently available, there shouldn't be any shortage of Big Ten options at the top of teams' draft boards in 2017. In Bleacher Report Lead Draft Writer Matt Miller's latest projections, four Big Ten players find themselves selected in the first round, although a lot can obviously change between now and next April.

But while Miller currently favors Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan to be the first player from the conference taken, I'm turning my attention up north. He may have only played one season, but in his lone year Jabrill Peppers has shown the potential to be a dynamic prospect—the type a team would be willing to take with a top-five pick.

"Get ready for the comparisons between Jabrill Peppers and Jalen Ramsey. At 6'1", 210 pounds, Peppers is a mix between a cornerback and a safety and he makes some ridiculous plays in the Michigan secondary," Miller wrote of Peppers, who he currently slots 10th to the Miami Dolphins. "The former 5-star recruit has been turning heads since high school, and now that he's unleashed in Jim Harbaugh's system, Peppers is making NFL-level plays."

As he takes over a new role at outside linebacker in first-year Wolverines defensive coordinator Don Brown's system, Peppers is only diversifying an already versatile skill-set. Considering the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Jalen Ramsey fifth overall this past spring, a top-10 selection certainly isn't out of the question for Peppers, given his ability to impact games from multiple positions on either side of the ball.

Other candidates for the first Big Ten player selected next spring include McMillan, Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell, Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner and Iowa cornerback Desmond King. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is the wild card of the bunch, given his natural passing prowess, but untypical size at his position.

For now, however, it's Peppers who has the biggest upside of the bunch. And the Michigan safety could very well find himself reaching that potential in the coming year, as he adds yet another tool to his already impressive repertoire.

 

Earlier this week, I wrote that Ohio State's 2017 class has the potential to be the best in Urban Meyer's career.

And given some of the hauls the three-time national champion head coach has produced throughout his time at Florida and in Columbus, that would certainly give the Buckeyes' 2017 class a chance at being remembered as one of college football's best ever.

The problem, however, is that while Ohio State's upcoming class won't be short on talent, it will likely be short on numbers. At the moment, the Buckeyes lay claim to 14 commits and, given the current scholarship situation on the OSU roster, that number probably won't get any higher than the low-20s, if that.

That could make it tough for the Buckeyes to hold onto their No. 1 ranking, let alone have a class that's considered the best in college football history. But from a quality of player standpoint, Ohio State's 2017 class will certainly be in the conversation—so long as its highly touted prospects live up to the hype.

The key to how the Buckeyes' current recruiting cycle will be remembered will be the performance of Tate Martell, the top-ranked dual threat quarterback in the 2017 class. While Ohio State's quarterback depth chart is currently stacked—as is the rest of its 2017 class—Martell will arrive on campus with no shortage of expectations, with the possibility to succeed Barrett's time behind center in Columbus.

If Martell proves worthy and 5-star prospects Josh Myers, Shaun Wade and Wyatt Davis serve as cornerstones of the Buckeyes program moving forward, Ohio State's 2017 class will have secured a spot in history.

But as impressive as the star rankings of the class are now, it will ultimately be performance that determines how this class is remembered.

 

This question has been asked several times this offseason and the thing about it I always find funny is this: While there's certainly a strong case to be made for Ohio State to be considered the top program in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes aren't even the reigning Big Ten champs.

In fact, not only did Michigan State win last year's conference title, but the Spartans have won two of the past three—beating Ohio State twice in the past three years in order to do so.

Yet, I agree that it's the Buckeyes who are the current cream of the crop in the conference, with Michigan seemingly not far behind. In the 2016 recruiting cycle, the rival programs recruited head and shoulders above the rest of the conference and their 2017 classes appear to be following a similar trend.

Recruiting, however, is one thing. It's another to actually obtain on-field success.

Meyer has obviously done that, at a level higher than anybody else in the Big Ten and while his 10-3 debut was a solid start, Harbaugh still has work to do in Ann Arbor.

For now, I'd have to give Ohio State the nod as the conference's top program, with Michigan State not far behind based on on-field accomplishments alone. Michigan is obviously trending upward and how it performs in the coming year will be telling. But until the actual results are there, it's hard to move them past the Spartans, let alone the Buckeyes.

 

A quick rundown of my Big Ten individual award predictions, with a brief explanation on each:

 

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year, Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year: Ohio State's J.T. Barrett

With Ohio State's starting quarterback spot no longer left to debate, look for Barrett to bounce back from his up-and-down 2016. The absence of Ezekiel Elliott should only boost the numbers of the junior signal-caller, who will serve as the primary offensive option on the Big Ten's top team.

 

Nagurski Woodson Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Michigan's Jabrill Peppers

While his position may be tough to nail down, Pepper's impact in the coming year will be apparent. Given the numbers past players have put up in the same spot in Brown's system, the Wolverines sophomore should have no problem compiling eye-popping statistics, regardless of where he's lining up.

 

Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year: Ohio State's Pat Elflein

While centers rarely receive acclaim worthy of individual awards, Pat Elflein has already proven himself capable of playing at an All-American level. Shifting from right guard to center, Elflein will provide a steadying force up front for what should be one of the conference's top offenses.

 

Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: Michigan State's Malik McDowell

Shilique Calhoun may have received the acclaim, but by season's end, it was McDowell making the biggest impact on the Spartans' defensive line. With the versatility to play both inside and out, the former 5-star prospect should wreak havoc in opposing backfields while solidifying his status as a potential first-round pick.

 

Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year: Ohio State's Nick Bosa

With Joey Bosa headed to the NFL, the Buckeyes find themselves replacing one of college football's most dominant defensive players from the past three seasons. Luckily, Meyer has recruited the perfect replacement in Joey's younger brother, Nick, who some believe has the potential to be even better than this year's No. 3 overall pick.

 

Dave McClain/Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year: Nebraska's Mike Riley

Despite last season's disappointing 5-7 regular season record, the now low bar in Lincoln could actually work in Mike Riley's favor in terms of coach of the year voting. If the Cornhuskers can stay in contention in the Big Ten West throughout the 2016 campaign, Riley should receive credit for his quick turnaround.

 

Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year: Wisconsin's Corey Clement

Injuries and off-field issues prevented Corey Clement from filling the void left by Melvin Gordon III a year ago, but now he's back in Madison for his senior season. With a new outlook and approach, Clement could find himself one of the top running backs in the Big Ten after rushing for more than 900 yards as Gordon's backup two years ago.

 

Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year: Nebraska's Jordan Westerkamp

If Nebraska's going to make some noise in the Big Ten West, it's going to need to do so through Riley's pro-style passing game. And if the Huskers can do that, it would mean big numbers for Jordan Westerkamp, who could go down as the most accomplished wideout in Nebraska history by season's end.

 

Tatum–Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Iowa's Desmond King

After winning the Thorpe Award in 2015, King became the first recipient of said honor to bypass the NFL draft and return to school. In doing so, he reclaims his mark as not only the best defensive back in the Big Ten, but the entire country.

 

Kwalick–Clark Tight End of the Year: Michigan's Jake Butt

After winning the award a year ago, Jake Butt opted to return to Ann Arbor for his senior season. With the Michigan offense only improving in Year 2 under Jim Harbaugh, there's no reason the Pickerington, Ohio, native shouldn't be able to go back-to-back.

 

Bakken–Andersen Kicker of the Year: Indiana's Griffin Oakes

As a sophomore, Griffin Oakes finished second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (82.8) and first in field goals made (24). With another year of experience under his belt, he should only get better while kicking for one of the conference's most explosive offenses.

 

Eddleman–Fields Punter of the Year: Ohio State's Cameron Johnston

Throughout his career, Cameron Johnston has served as one of the Big Ten's best punters. Back in Columbus for his senior season, the Australian native will have one last chance to showcase his booming leg, along with the athletic ability that makes him a threat to take off running any time he's on the field.

 

Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year: Maryland's William Likely

Despite only playing in 11 games, William Likely led the nation in combined return yards in 2015 with 1,197, taking back three kicks for scores. The inaugural winner of the Return Specialist of the Year award in 2015, Likely should be looking at a repeat performance in the coming season.

 

 

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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