NCAA Football News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brandon Peters Lands Among the "Elite"

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Michael Onwenu Flexes Muscles in Trenches

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

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

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

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

 

Michigan in the Mix for Multiple 5-Star Defenders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buckle up, Gators.

 

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

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

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Cade Mays Commits to Tennessee: Vols Land 2018 Legacy Recruit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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

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Predicting Every ESPN College GameDay Stop for 2015 Season

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

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

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

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

Begin Slideshow

The Biggest Takeaways from LSU Recruits' Performances at The Opening

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

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

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

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

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

 

Franks Flashes Potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fowler, Roddy Impress at DE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DB Class Lives up to Billing 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eason Has Up-and-Down Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WR Targets Shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Warrior Makes Case as Nation’s Best Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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The Biggest Takeaways from Auburn Recruits' Performance at the Opening

Auburn was among the handful of schools that were represented by multiple commitments at The Opening last week.

A pair of 2016 standouts in 4-star receiver Eli Stove and 4-star athlete Stephen Davis Jr. and 2017 5-star offensive lineman Calvin Ashley were among the future Tigers who competed against the nation’s best at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

In addition to their commits, head coach Gus Malzahn and his staff are aggressively recruiting a number of other stud recruits who were in attendance.

Which players on Auburn’s recruiting board stood out and which top targets are interested in heading to the Plains? Let’s take a look at which players Tigers’ fans should be paying close attention to in the coming months.

 

Nation’s Top Recruit Dominates, Set for Return Visit 

5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary came into the week as the nation’s top overall prospect in the 2016 class.

If anything, his performance in Oregon validated his place at the top spot on that list. 

Now, the 6’4”, 311-pounder will turn his focus to recruiting. 

According to Bleacher Report’s Tyler Donahue, Gary has plans to visit five SEC schools later this month, with Auburn among his stops.

New Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp had some high praise for Gary, comparing him to a former 5-star defensive tackle he coached during his tenure at Florida.

“He coached Sharrif Floyd, who is one of the coaches out here working with me,” Gary said. “[Muschamp] said I can play like him. When he said that, I went home and watched his film. I was like, ‘wow,’ because we do have similar qualities.” 

Gary was on campus last month for an unofficial visit. As he told Donahue, he’s looking to have a similar experience as his first trip. 

“My second visits are about seeing how things add up at schools. I want to find out if things have stayed the same and they’re consistent," he said.

 

Antwuan Jackson Growing Close With Muschamp

Another defensive tackle the Tigers would love to add to their class is 4-star defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson.

Before he arrived in Oregon, Jackson released his top 10 schools with Ohio State and Auburn at the top for his services. 

He elaborated on why the Tigers are one of the favorites to land his commitment, with his relationship with Muschamp among the factors helping the Tigers’ chances. 

“He was recruiting me when he was at Florida,” Jackson said. “When he got to Auburn as the defensive coordinator, we’ve developed a good bond. We’re the best of friends now.” 

While Jackson doesn’t wow observers from a measurables standpoint, he was one of the more consistent defensive linemen all week long in Oregon. 

“It’s great coaching out here,” Jackson said. “You win some, and you lose some. Everyone here has great technique, and it’s just been great competition.” 

According to Barton Simmons of 247Sports, Jackson’s motor and quickness off the ball were factors that helped the Peach State product win the majority of his reps.

Jackson will now turn his focus toward his senior year, and he mentioned plans to announce his commitment during the fall. 

“I just have to love the school,” Jackson remarked on his criteria for his eventual landing spot. “It doesn’t matter who the coaching staff is. I just want to love the school, the education and the program itself.”

 

Stephen Davis Jr. Opens Some Eyes

Given that he could line up at multiple positions, Davis was a player who carried some intrigue heading into the week’s festivities. 

But, the 6’4”, 215-pounder—who could play safety or linebacker at the next level—had a strong showing in the testing portion of the event earlier in the week.

According to 247Sports, Davis busted off a time of 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

As Ryan Black of AuburnUndercover detailed, the Tigers have now clarified the role they expect Davis to assume when he gets to campus.

"They're recruiting me as a hybrid — a safety and linebacker," Davis told Black.

Davis clarified he doesn’t necessarily have a position he prefers.

"I really don't care what position I play on defense," he said. "I can play defensive end for all I care. I just want to be on the field."

However, it was at safety where Davis lined up for Team Hyper Cool. 

He was able to show great range and instincts in coverage, which makes him a candidate to remain on the back end when he gets to the next level.

 

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

 

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Elite 11 MVP, 5-Star QB Shea Patterson Transferring to IMG Academy

Fresh off a stellar performance at the Elite 11 competition, Shea Patterson has made a move that he hopes will continue his rise as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.

The 5-star Ole Miss commit announced via Twitter that he will play his senior year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The sports academy will be Patterson's third high school, following one year at Hidalgo (Texas) and the past two seasons at Calvary Baptist in Shreveport, Louisiana.

"It's an opportunity I cannot pass up," Patterson said in his tweet. "I look forward to taking the lessons I've learned at Calvary and working hard to try to be a better player. ... I'm constantly challenging myself and this is my next challenge."

The 6'2", 195-pound Patterson is rated as the No. 9 overall player in the 2016 recruiting class and the second-ranked pro-style passer.

Those rankings were last updated on July 9, prior to Patterson claiming MVP honors in the Elite 11 Finals held at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon—a competition that featured 18 of the top quarterback recruits in the country.

"He joins a list of Elite 11 alumni that includes eventual No. 1 overall NFL draft picks Matthew Stafford, Jameis Winston and Andrew Luck," Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue wrote.

Patterson has been committed to Ole Miss since February, a few months after he backed out of his initial pledge to Arizona that he made in December 2012. That was prior to shifting from Hidalgo to Calvary, where he threw for more than 5,000 yards with 72 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in two years.

At IMG, though, he'll be surrounded by one of the most talented lineups in the country. That includes 5-star prospects in defensive end Shavar Manuel, cornerback Saivion Smith (an LSU commit) and tight end Isaac Nauta (a Florida State commit).

Patterson essentially fills the roster spot left open after 5-star Florida State commit Malik Henry left IMG in early June despite never playing a game at the school.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Jabs at Michigan, Alabama and Top Moments from Gus Malzahn at SEC Media Days

Gus Malzahn isn't one for making major headlines with his quotes.

The Auburn head coach is normally guarded in press conferences and keeps things close to the, well, sweater vest.

But on Monday afternoon at SEC Media Days, Malzahn was in a suit, and he had quite a few things to say.

Malzahn gave out his opinion on the state of Auburn's roster, pointed out some of the problems from last year's disappointing 8-5 season and—most notably—took some jabs at Alabama and Michigan.

Here are the highlights from Malzahn's surprisingly quotable appearance at the podium in Hoover:

 

Shots fired!

Alabama head coach Nick Saban was Malzahn's first target Monday afternoon during a response to a question about his fast-paced offensive scheme affecting the defensive side of the ball.

"You know, you look now at pace, just about everybody in our league has some type of tempo," Malzahn said. "Even the teams that used to gripe about it are doing it now."

It didn't take a genius to figure out who Malzahn was referring to with that quip.

Saban famously asked, "Is this what we want football to be?" when referencing no-huddle offenses and the concept of player safety in a 2012 SEC teleconference.

Last season, new Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin introduced some pace elements to the Crimson Tide offense. That faster Alabama offense came out on top in a 55-44 shootout against Malzahn and Auburn last November.

Later in response to the final question of Malzahn's time at the podium, the Auburn head coach brushed off the idea of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh's satellite camps—especially the one in nearby Prattville, Alabama—creating a major change in the region's recruiting.

"I think the whole thing kinda got blown out of proportion, to be honest with you," Malzahn said. "The chances of a team up north coming into our state and [signing] a player either us or Alabama wants are slim to none. It was just a matter of it being a big story." 

 

Talent over experience on offense

After a rare season of relative stability on the offensive side of the ball, Auburn is back into its familiar territory of replacing plenty of playmakers. 

"We've got some big shoes to fill," Malzahn said. "We lost most of our rushing yards. We lost over half of our receiving yards."

But the Auburn head coach made it clear Monday that what the Tigers lack in returning starters on the offensive side of the ball is made up with the amount of firepower on the roster.

"We do have some experience coming back, even though a lot of them didn't start," Malzahn said. "We have some young guys who are extremely talented also with that group."

Entering the upcoming season, the 2015 Auburn offense has several things in common with that offense from Malzahn's first season as head coach.

In 2013, the Tigers were breaking in a new quarterback—albeit a completely unknown quantity in Nick Marshall—and returned their top offensive player from the year before in Tre Mason.

This year, Auburn has a new quarterback with a small amount of starting experience, and its top receiver in Duke Williams. Both teams returned several starting offensive linemen, but virtually no one else in the skill positions.

But one advantage Auburn's 2015 offense has over its 2013 offense is continuity with the coaching staff. The Tigers don't have to adjust to new leadership or playbooks—something that Malzahn sees as a huge benefit heading into the fall.

"We also have our entire offensive staff back for the third year in a row, and I think that's very important," Malzahn said. "Because of that, I really believe we have a chance to improve each game, even though we're inexperienced. We're hoping to repeat the same offensive performance we did in 2013." 

 

Golson hasn't won the starting center job yet

Before Malzahn took the podium in Hoover on Monday afternoon, he met with several Auburn beat reporters. One of the biggest updates from that time, according to AL.com's Brandon Marcello, was the news that sophomore Austin Golson had been placed on scholarship.

Golson, who moved from tackle to center during Outback Bowl practice last year, is the presumed favorite to replace four-year starter Reese Dismukes this fall.

But when asked about Golson in the "big room" at Media Days, Malzahn didn't hesitate to say there is still a battle going on at the position.

"Austin Golson is a very intelligent player. He's very athletic," Malzahn said. "But Xavier Dampeer is also battling at that position. We've got two guys we feel very confident in."

The four years of elite play from Dismukes, who won the 2014 Rimington Award as the nation's best center, add another huge pair of shoes to fill in the Auburn locker room. The race is still on to become what has been called the "second quarterback" of Malzahn's no-huddle offense.

"We ask a lot of our centers," Malzahn said. "They have to play fast, make calls, ID fronts and everything that goes with that. But those of young men had very good springs."

 

Defensive front "should be the strength"

Auburn's 2013 defense was by no means an elite unit, but part of the reason the Tigers were able to get to the BCS National Championship that season was the performance of the defensive front.

Last season, Auburn didn't have the same punch across its front seven, even though linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost improved their numbers.

With the addition of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and the return of several key players, Malzahn expects that to change in 2015—even going so far as saying the defensive front would be the top unit on the team.

"Our front seven should be the strength of our team," Malzahn said. "We have some quality experience, and with the addition of Carl Lawson—a healthy Carl Lawson—we could think that could be a definite strength."

Malzahn reiterated the need for a better pass rush in 2015 after a lackluster season in that category. Auburn's sack total fell from 32 in 2013 to 21 in 2014 without the talents of Lawson and NFL first-round pick Dee Ford.

That improvement should benefit the entire defense. While Malzahn called Auburn's secondary "thin" after offseason injuries and roster moves, he sees brighter days for the pass defense because of the work of that strong front seven.

"It starts with the pass rush," Malzahn said. "We didn’t have a pass rush, so we had to take some chances back there."

 

All quotes obtained from SEC Network's broadcast.

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

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SEC Media Days 2015: B/R's Barrett Sallee's Predicted Order of Finish

HOOVER, Ala. — The annual circus known as SEC media days kicked off at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel on Monday, and with it came the chance for over 1,200 credentialed members of the media to etch their conference picks in stone and attempt to start a winning streak.

Only five times in the 24 years of the SEC Championship Game has the media picked the eventual winner of the conference, but it did nail last year's winner, Alabama. 

The official media pick won't be released until Thursday morning, but until then, here's a look at how I voted this year:     

 

SEC East

  1. Tennessee
  2. Georgia
  3. Missouri
  4. Florida
  5. South Carolina
  6. Kentucky
  7. Vanderbilt

The SEC East is wide-open, and it seems like people are shying away from picking Tennessee "because it's Tennessee" and hasn't won anything in a while. The Vols do, however, boast a loaded roster, a very underrated defense led by a deep defensive line, a veteran quarterback in Joshua Dobbs who will benefit from a full offseason as the unquestioned No. 1 and a loaded offense that should benefit from the addition of junior college running back Alvin Kamara.

The offensive line is a bit of a question, but four Vols return off of a line that got better as last year progressed and should benefit from an offseason of developing necessary continuity.

Georgia will be a contender too, and the trip to Rocky Top the week after the Bulldogs play Alabama will likely serve as the de facto SEC East title game. A brand-new defensive line, new offensive coordinator, new quarterback and a wide receiving corps that will absolutely depend on Malcolm Mitchell staying healthy are big questions that will prevent Georgia from getting over the hump and winning the division.

 

SEC West

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. Ole Miss
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Arkansas
  6. LSU
  7. Mississippi State

For the second time in three seasons, the Iron Bowl on the Plains will decide the SEC West champion. 

Only this time, it will be Alabama moving on to Atlanta. 

The Crimson Tide boast one of college football's best front sevens, a secondary that's extremely talented and should benefit from the arrival of new defensive backs coach Mel Tucker and a proven offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin.

I don't care about the quarterback battle or nine new starters on offense. A lot of those starters, including running back Derrick Henry and tight end O.J. Howard, are considered "new," and Kiffin proved last year than he can bring a quarterback along slowly and still be successful.

Auburn will be in the mix too. With Will Muschamp leading the defense and head coach Gus Malzahn's explosive offense, the Tigers should be in the College Football Playoff discussion into rivalry weekend.

Ole Miss and Texas A&M will be competitive yet a little inconsistent, and Arkansas (front seven), LSU (quarterback and pass rush) and Mississippi State (offensive and defensive lines) have too many questions to be considered legit contenders.

Who will win it all between Alabama and Tennessee in the Georgia Dome?

Give me Alabama in a nail-biter.

You may now hit the comment section and tell me why I'm wrong.

 

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

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking Top 25 2016 Recruits After The Opening

Senior high school seasons are swiftly approaching for America's premier college football prospects, and this last stretch of summer is a pivotal time to evaluate talent. 

Most recruiting departments already have a solid game plan prepared for the road to national signing day, and offers were already extended to elite playmakers earlier in the process. These top-tier athletes often hold more than 30 scholarship opportunities, and many announced college commitments months—or even years—ago.

Our latest glimpse at this group occurred July 6-10, when Elite 11 finals and The Opening took center stage at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Based on in-person assessment at the event, film study from previous games and projections of potential, here's how we rank the top 25 recruits of a star-studded 2016 cycle.

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Brice Ramsey Listed as Georgia's Starting QB on Preseason Depth Chart

Georgia isn't scheduled to be a part of SEC media days until Thursday, but the Bulldogs still managed to make headlines on Monday thanks to the release of their preseason depth chart.

This normally wouldn't be that noteworthy, but when it involves an open quarterback spot, it becomes a big deal.

Sophomore Brice Ramsey is listed as the first-team quarterback on the depth chart that's included in Georgia's media guide, according to Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The media guide was made available during the first day of SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama.

Ramsey served as Hutson Mason's backup for all of last season, finishing with 333 yards and three touchdowns in eight appearances.

His most significant action came in the Belk Bowl, when Ramsey came on late in the first half to replace an injured Mason. He completed only four of nine passes for 44 yards with an interception in Georgia's 37-14 victory.

Junior Faton Bauta, who appeared in three games in 2014, is listed as the second-team quarterback, while walk-on Sam Vaughn is listed third. Not listed is Greyson Lambert, the Virginia graduate transfer who will be eligible to play this fall.

While a depth chart released weeks before training camp—and which was likely compiled long ago in order to meet media guide printing deadlines—is in no way binding, Emerson noted there is something to be said for Ramsey being listed first.

"It's notable that Ramsey is No. 1 rather than a co-starter, considering other spots on the depth chart do feature co-starters," Emerson wrote. That includes senior Leonard Floyd being listed as co-starter at a pair of positions, both inside and outside linebacker.

Georgia's quarterback situation has been in flux all offseason, with Lambert coming over from Virginia in early June just days before redshirt freshman Jacob Park left the program.

There's also the added uncertainty of fresh blood on the coaching staff, as Brian Schottenheimer has replaced Mike Bobo as offensive coordinator.

Lambert started nine games for the Cavaliers in 2014, completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,632 yards, 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He is a junior with two years of eligibility remaining and is expected to compete this fall for the starting job.

Expect Georgia's quarterback battle to last throughout training camp and possibly into the September 5 season opener against Louisiana-Monroe.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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'I Maybe Overdid It:' Urban Meyer's Hollywood Offseason

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There was Snoop Dogg, doing his best to dutifully participate in an interview with a television crew following his participation in the MLB All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game.

The rap superstar wasn't saying anything particularly insightful, going through the motions of his media obligations in Cincinnati on the eve of the Midsummer Classic. But he would soon find himself a part of a video that would go viral on Sunday night and into Monday morning—one in which, despite his celebrity, Snoop Dogg wouldn't even be the star.

No, on this night, that role would belong to Urban Meyer, who teamed up with the "Gin and Juice" singer in the celebrity softball game that will air on tape delay following the annual Home Run Derby on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET on Monday night. As Snoop Dogg answered a question, the Ohio State head coach could be heard bellowing "Snooooop," as if he were a pre-streaking Will Ferrell in the movie Old School, before flashing a boyish grin at the camera interviewing the music icon.

It wasn't the first time Meyer has found himself in the spotlight this offseason, and it won't be the last—not with with a trip to Los Angeles along with a select few of his players for ESPN's ESPYS where the 2014 Buckeyes—and Meyer himself—are nominated for a number of awards. 

From throwing out the first pitch at no fewer than three different major league ballparks to appearances at charity events and courtside seats at NBA Finals games, Meyer has hardly been a hermit this offseason as he's basked in the glory of Ohio State's run to the national title.

"I probably maybe overdid it a little bit," Meyer said at the Walking the Talk fundraiser run by Cleveland Glenville coach Ted Ginn Sr. last Friday in Sandusky, Ohio. "There's no such thing as a bad one—a charity event or an event to help people."

National championship offseasons are nothing new to Meyer, who's been through the drill twice before at Florida, albeit never in his own home state. In Ohio, the Buckeyes head coach is always in high demand, but never more than he is after a national title season, as the Ashtabula, Ohio, native has learned via the countless appearance requests he's received in the past six months.

And despite his already busy schedule, more times than not, Meyer has obliged.

"It's unique that they're all my friends saying, 'Can you do this? Can you do this? Can you do this?' And you can't say no," Meyer said from the event in Sandusky, which happened to fall on his 51st birthday. "I didn't have to, but when Ted Ginn says 'I need you up here,' I go do it."

Of course—as the Snoop Dogg story above shows—there's been plenty of variety in Meyer's offseason, and it hasn't been all for the sake of a good cause. In fact, sometimes the Buckeyes have been the beneficiaries of their head coach's spring tour that has now extended into the summer, as the Ohio State program has received plenty of positive publicity following its championship season.

It started just four days following the Buckeyes' win over Oregon in the national title game, when Meyer made a stop during a recruiting trip in New York to make an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. There, the three-time national champion coach playfully refused to say the word "Michigan" and discussed the state of college football in what proved to be Meyer's first of many pit stops of the offseason.

After national signing day and spring football occupied Meyer's schedule from February until April, Meyer quickly returned to the limelight thanks to the national champions' customary trip to the White House. From there, it was full-speed ahead, with first pitches in Cleveland, Cincinnati and New York, before sitting directly behind LeBron James' bench for June's NBA Finals in Cleveland.

It may not be his preferred term, but the reality is that Meyer's offseason has been that of a celebrity, which isn't all that uncommon nowadays for a college football head coach.

But unlike Jim Harbaugh, who's used his unique personality to put his face at college football's forefront, Meyer's publicity tour has been based on substance, as evidenced by the standing ovations that have followed him across the state.

But having already been through this before, Meyer knows better than to read into the constant hugs and handshakes he's been greeted with for the past six months.

"I expected life to get a simpler when we won [at Florida in 2006] and the thing that I shared with our players and our coaching staff in particular is that it just gets a little more complicated," Meyer said at his annual youth football camp in Geneva, Ohio, on July 1. "That one's over. You've got to move forward. It's sometimes hard throwing out first pitches everywhere and all that stuff, but it's time to move on."

Maybe not quite—at least not with the ESPYS on Wednesday, where the Buckeyes are nominated for "Best Team," quarterback Cardale Jones is up for "Breakthrough Athlete" and Meyer has a great shot to walk away with the award for "Best Coach." But after Wednesday's red-carpet outing, just two weeks will remain until Big Ten media days, with fall camp right around the corner.

From there, Meyer will have his hands full with perhaps the most intriguing quarterback competition in college football history—which he's answered questions about at just about every stop he's made this offseason. But even with nothing more than mere memories from it remaining at that point, Meyer's 2015 offseason will go down as the most eventful of his career—even if he didn't anticipate it being so.

"Probably," Meyer answered when asked if this has been his busiest offseason yet. "I've done a lot this year."

And football season hasn't even started yet.

 

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

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Can Ole Miss QB Commit Shea Patterson Break the Elite 11's String of Struggles?

Ole Miss quarterback commit Shea Patterson is on top of the recruiting world right now. Patterson, a 5-star prospect according to 247Sports, was the MVP of the 2015 Elite 11 competition. By all accounts, Patterson was well-deserving of this award and crushed it with his accuracy and arm strength. 

Now, can Patterson carry that momentum over to the college level beginning in 2016? It seems like a silly question to ask given all of his accolades; however, recent history suggests it's a legitimate one to ask as well. 

The Elite 11 quarterback camp is designed to highlight the best prospects in the country. A recent string of struggles at the college level, though, shows that Elite 11 finalists don't always go on to have collegiate success. Some never live up to the hype, while others have given up football altogether. 

SportSourceAnalytics and Warren McCarty, a quarterbacks coach for Six Zero Strength, broke down the numbers on Twitter: 

In the last four years, MVPs have included Jeff Driskel (transferred to Louisiana Tech), Asiantii Woulard (transferred to South Florida) and Sean White (currently a backup at Auburn). Jameis Winston, who shared MVP honors in 2011, is a rare success story. 

Not every Elite 11 finalist ends up a dud, of course. Some of the finalists from the past few years include Teddy Bridgewater, a first-round NFL draft pick for the Minnesota Vikings; Cal's Jared Goff, who could be a top NFL prospect next year; and Miami's Brad Kaaya, one of the top young quarterbacks in the country. 

But, the numbers are what they are, and they're eye-opening. As the '15 MVP, can Patterson show the recent trend is just temporary and not an indictment of the overall process? 

He may have to wait a bit—the Rebels' quarterback pecking order, now jumbled, could be sorted out by this time next year—but ultimately Patterson is good enough to reverse the trend. Physically, all the tools are there for him. As Barton Simmons of 247Sports opined, though, it's Patterson's mental and competitive makeup that make him a special prospect at the next level:  

Here's the reason Shea Patterson is going to be really good in college at Ole Miss (or anywhere for that matter): It's not his strong arm or his accuracy or his quick release, all of which he possesses. It's his fire-breathing mentality. Patterson was good throughout the week but there wasn't anyone that was as competitive as him. He had to share snaps with two other quarterbacks through the first day and a half of 7on7 competition but when he finally got the reins, he took an 0-4 team on a championship run. It's so evident that he embraces the big moments and is at his best with the chips on the table.

In an environment such as the Elite 11, where quarterbacks are constantly reminded of how good they are, it can be easy to lose that edge. That's not to say it happens to everyone, but it is understandable. If Patterson is as fiery as he's made out to be, that's a good start for his college career because he's going to be competing from day one.

Assuming Patterson signs with Ole Miss, he'll be thrown into a quarterback pecking order that, at the moment, predominantly features two redshirt sophomores (Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade) and one junior (Chad Kelly). Though inexperience is an issue at quarterback right now, it may not be in a year. To assume Patterson will be handed the job is wrong. Head coach Hugh Freeze wouldn't want it that way, and neither should Patterson. 

If the Elite 11 camp is any indication, Patterson welcomes any and all competition from the best of the best. That's how it should be. Because that's how it's going to be. 

"All those guys have set the path for me. It's amazing to be a part of that group of great players, and it's something I've dreamed of for a long time," Patterson told Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue. "But I can't stop now. I can't be complacent."

The '16 prospect has all the talent in the world—perhaps more raw skill than anyone on the depth chart—and the right attitude to boot, but it takes more than that to succeed in college. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment. As we've seen with so many other Elite 11 finalists over the past few years, talent alone doesn't guarantee a starting job. 

In some cases, you could question the talent, too. 

But that doesn't appear to be the case with Patterson. The hype around him is legit. It's just a matter of whether he can keep his trajectory moving upward at the next level. 

Patterson has the capability to reverse the trend of Elite 11 flame-outs. Will he? We'll find out in a few years. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports

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Welcome to Greg Sankey's New-Look SEC

HOOVER, Ala. — Times, they are a-changin'.

Bob Dylan didn't perform a set at SEC media days, but his iconic song permeated Greg Sankey's first "State of the SEC" speech. 

Sankey proved during his inaugural address that the moment isn't too big for him and that he's the perfect man to take the lead in the evolving landscape of the SEC.

His new-look SEC includes a step forward into the new millennium, with his old Twitter account that was primarily used to keep tabs on media members who cover the conference becoming an active virtual microphone to connect with fans of teams within the conference.

"What started as a rather fun way for me to anonymously follow many of you has become a bit more popular," Sankey said. "So we have updated my Twitter presence away from the old @gscantweet, which was nothing terribly secretive other than my first and last name initials, a verb and a noun—I think a noun—to @GregSankey. That's the new Twitter handle. You can see it is accompanied by a new avatar, not only lifting the tractor tire—which I think is the most famous tractor tire lifting picture in history now—but also lifting the SEC logo."

A new-look Twitter account is also accompanied by a new set of priorities, with an emphasis on scholars, champions and leaders.

For the second time in as many years, the SEC didn't take home a championship in football in January. While a championship is still a priority, the progress of players off the field is Sankey's primary goal as commissioner. 

As was the case with his predecessor Mike Slive, Sankey walks softly, carries a big stick and isn't afraid to take shots at other conferences—in this case, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's thoughts on freshman ineligibility.

"Rather than focus on the conversation related to freshmen and eligibility, let's talk about how we, in intercollegiate athletics and as universities, lead by focusing even greater attention on making sure young people are prepared for their college opportunity, promoting a college-going culture and by expecting them to make academic progress each year of their high school academic career so that when they show up on our campuses they're fully prepared to engage in the academic culture which they encounter," he said.

Once thought of as a regional power, the SEC has broadened its horizons over the last decade to become a national power. 

That's not good enough for Sankey's SEC.

"As we educate and enhance our competitive success while fulfilling what is a full range of new expectations now upon us, we, the SEC, will occupy a key leadership position within this region, across our country and throughout the world," he said. "And understand that magnifying our global influence is not simply about playing games in London or Asia or South America—although if it's deemed beneficial, our teams will certainly pursue those opportunities."

The conference will place an increased focus on the success of players, both past and present. 

Sankey took pride in the fact that former Texas A&M star Dante Hall received his degree in 2014, 14 years after leaving school and entering the NFL. He gleamed when discussing former Georgia linebacker Thomas Davis returning to school and becoming the first in his family to earn a degree. He complimented former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton routinely for returning to campus the last few springs and earning his degree this May.

"We will focus on enhancing the lifelong link that's established between our student-athletes and our universities," he said. "And there are a multitude of meaningful illustrations about how we can achieve our goals, sometimes in new ways, of graduating every student-athlete."

Sankey is also proud to be a trailblazer. 

One of his first initiatives as commissioner is an increased focus on player behavior. The conference passed a bylaw at its spring meetings in May that prevents players with a history of domestic assault, sexual assault or sexual violence from transferring in. 

Sankey's hope is that the SEC will provide the blueprint for other conferences in how to manage player behavior, what can be done at the conference level and what policies are best left for individual institutions.

"We will appoint a working group on conduct expectations that will engage in reviewing our student-athlete conduct issues and policies; particularly, they will invest time to consider existing campus policies, national requirements and best practices in order to identify appropriate campus and conference expectations," he said.

The moment wasn't too big for Sankey.

His first State of the SEC speech was his chance to not only put his stamp on the conference but announce that it is still the leader in the evolving college landscape. 

The new-look SEC is being led by a forward-thinking, innovative, pragmatic commissioner who puts the "student" part of "student-athlete" first, as it should be. A man who's not afraid to ruffle feathers and fight for what he feels is right. A man who recognizes that being the commissioner of the SEC means more than just leading the conference but shaping the landscape of college athletics.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

 

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

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report's Top 25 2016 Recruiting Classes After The Opening

The Opening is now a thing of the past, and six players made verbal commitments during the prestigious event featuring some of the best athletes college football recruiting has to offer.

Two commits chose USC, two chose Oregon and one each committed to Washington and Notre Dame. With the new commitments, some schools watched their recruiting rankings rise, while others saw their rankings fall.

Here is Bleacher Report's updated top 25 recruiting rankings for the class of 2016. Rankings were decided based upon a team's success at landing 5-star recruits, 4-star recruits and the overall ability of a team filling its needs. 

Begin Slideshow

Sean Clifford Commits to Penn State: Nittany Lions Land 2017 4-Star QB

James Franklin and his Penn State staff are building a great foundation for the Nittany Lions' future in the current recruiting cycle, and now they have made the first breakthrough in the class of 2017 with 4-star quarterback Sean Clifford.

The 6'2" Cincinnati native, who is rated as 2017's No. 16 pro-style quarterback, announced his commitment to Penn State on Monday morning via Twitter:

Clifford is the first 2017 commitment for Penn State, which currently has the nation's No. 7 overall class for 2016, according to 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings.

He also had scholarship offers from several Power Five schools, including Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and West Virginia. Clifford picked up his offer from Penn State after participating in a Nittany Lions camp late last month.

"I really enjoyed [the camp]," Clifford told 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong. "The coaching staff is outstanding, and from an academic standpoint, it's top-notch."

According to Lions247's Sean Fitz, Clifford completed 67 of his 117 passes for 762 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore starter at the massive St. Xavier High School.

"With 1,600 guys at our school, I was definitely surprised about winning the varsity quarterback job," Clifford told NFA Nation in March. "But I think I worked hard enough to become the guy."

Clifford also showed some mobility, recording 217 rushing yards and two additional touchdowns on the ground. At a big program like St. Xavier, he has the ability to rise in the recruiting rankings as he continues to develop as a passer.

"With a year of experience on the varsity, I expect to be better next season," Clifford told NFA Nation. "I’m working hard to make myself the best player I can be. Decision making is something I really need to work on. Making throws that shouldn’t be made is one thing I want to correct."

Clifford's commitment could lead to more good news for the Nittany Lions in the 2017 cycle.

He is teammates at St. Xavier with 4-star offensive guard Matt Bockhorst, who also received a scholarship offer from Penn State during the same camp Clifford attended.

Outside of Clifford, Penn State currently has one other quarterback commitment in 2016 pledge Jake Zembiec, a 3-star New York native who committed to the Nittany Lions late last year.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Tyus Battle to Syracuse: Orange Land 5-Star SG Prospect

Jim Boeheim's impending retirement has apparently not hurt Syracuse on the recruiting trail, as 5-star shooting guard Tyus Battle announced his commitment to the school on Twitter Monday:

Battle, a rising senior out of Gill St. Bernard's School in New Jersey, chose Syracuse over offers from nearly every major program in the country. Most expected his decision to come down to Syracuse and Duke, with 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions giving the Orange a 60-40 shot. Both schools ascended to the forefront of his commitment after he decommitted from Michigan last month.

Battle gave Syracuse his lone visit following that announcement, and the coaching staff sold him on becoming an integral piece in the offense going forward. 

"I wanted to be closer to home," Battle said, per Jeff Borzello and Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com. "They told me I could be a versatile guard who could have the ball in my hands a lot."

Battle's commitment is just the latest piece of good news for Syracuse, which for a brief time seemed like it was headed for a downward spiral. An improper benefits and academic scandal left the Orange with 12 fewer scholarships over the next four seasons and called Boeheim's job security into question. The coach later took the decision into his own hands by announcing he plans to retire in three seasons.

Battle said the appointment of Mike Hopkins as Boeheim's coach in waiting helped give Syracuse a boost.

"It mattered," Battle said. "He's a great guy who will be a terrific head coach. He's high-energy, and I'm very comfortable and confident in Coach Hop."

Still, if all goes to plan, Battle will be in the NBA by the time Hopkins takes over. Ranked as the No. 24 player and No. 6 shooting guard in 247Sports' composite rankings, Battle is a talented and athletic offensive player who also projects as a strong defender. Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports noted he may even be limiting his potential defensively:

Assuming he continues to fine-tune the rough aspects of his game, it's possible Battle even ascends into the 2016 class' top 20 by the time he arrives.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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The Sal Alosi You Don't Know

Last month, on a regular offseason day with regular offseason expectations, UCLA sent out a press release announcing that Sean "Diddy" Combs, the father of UCLA defensive back Justin Combs, used a kettlebell as a weapon in the team's training facility.

The alleged incident at the Bruins' facility occurred because Diddy was concerned about the treatment of his son. A tape of the encounter supposedly exists, but it has not been released. Not yet, at least. Details, as a result, are limited.

The hip-hop mogul gobbled up the headlines, but a significant piece of the incident that had been missing soon came into focus. TMZ Sports reported UCLA strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi—a man known for an infamous tripping incident back in 2010—was on the receiving end of the kettlebell.

With speculation circling, the Los Angeles Times reported that Combs would not be charged with a felony. From a legal standpoint, that softened the blow mightily. His son has not announced plans to transfer either.

Combs' representative, Nathalie Moar, told the Associated Press that he was acting out of self-defense. UCLA had no comment when contacted by Bleacher Report on July 7. As for Alosi, he is again a story. As a result, questions regarding the strength and conditioning coach—a profession not known for creating noise, at least outside of the weight room—have bubbled to the surface.

Is Sal Alosi a problem? Is he a victim of bad timing? What is behind the man who has a knack for finding himself in unenviable situations?

Long before he stuck out his left leg and altered his professional career with a single gesture, and even before he was allegedly involved in an altercation with a rapper who also pushes upscale vodka, Alosi was fresh out of college, just a kid from Long Island consumed by the allure of football, weightlifting and 20-inch rims.

He was a kid, at least in spirit. He loved his body and his car. He was hungry to get his professional coaching career churning, although he trained as if his playing career was still in front of him. And yes, like most kids adapting to real-world gravity, Alosi grabbed as many side jobs as his schedule would allow.

An unbelievable ascent to the NFL followed. He jumped from Hofstra to the New York Jets in a matter of years, and madness followed closely behind.

In recent years, Alosi has managed to achieve something few strength and conditioning coaches at any level ever have: Despite doing his work behind the scenes, he's made national headlines. Twice. His latest alleged incident reads more like a slow news day at the Onion.

"The guy just can't stay out of the headlines," NFL veteran Nolan Carroll told Bleacher Report. "I had a feeling it would always be pinned back to me. I guess we are kind of pinned at the hip for life."

While he may not be a household name in the NFL, Carroll has held down an NFL roster spot for five years. He was also on the wrong end of the trip heard 'round the world.

Now a member of the Eagles, Carroll broke into the league with the Miami Dolphins. On December 12, 2010, Carroll went tumbling to the ground after Alosi—then with the New York Jets—subtly tripped the rookie as he crossed the sideline.

Whether he was acting on an order, on his own or out of reflex will likely remain a mystery. It didn't matter at the time. Alosi "resigned" a month later.

Carroll's history with Alosi is unique to say the least, and their connection is indeed lifelong. As a result of the past, Carroll has kept up with him—casually and from a distance, of course—as they've embarked on divergent journeys.

"I've heard some stories, and they're not all good," Carroll said. "I've heard the guy just gets under your skin, from multiple players—at the Jets or coming up in college and even now at UCLA. I've heard he just comes off a certain way."

But in terms of residual anger, Carroll doesn't hold a grudge. They may never celebrate life over a barbecue, but he didn't sound like a man still grinding away at his ax.

Hours after he fell, with people already whispering that he should take legal action, Carroll hobbled onto the team charter back to Miami, wanting no part of it. As he made his way back home, his phone rang. It was Alosi.

"He called me right when I was getting on the plane going back to Miami. He apologized and said he didn't mean to do it," Carroll said. "He told me that he really didn't know what he was thinking, and that he felt bad and ashamed. I don't really think his intention was to hurt me. I don't really know the guy so I don't really know, but I couldn't imagine somebody willing try to hurt a player."

The connection between the two hit a deep slumber in recent years. Carroll has enjoyed a nice run in the NFL. In March of last year, he signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Eagles. Alosi, after a cup of coffee at Bryant University to rebuild his reputation, was hired by UCLA in 2012 as a strength and conditioning coach.

On June 22, Alosi's name surfaced again in the strangest way imaginable.

Wait, a kettlebell? And Diddy? And the guy from the Jets?

While the situation has defused, that hasn't stopped speculation from ensuing. Alosi, nearly five years removed from the trip and currently coaching at the college level on the opposite end of the map, has managed to generate headlines for reasons he’d rather not. And one of his friends and former clients from a different time in his life is not the least bit surprised.

"When it happened, I heard it was a UCLA coach," Drew Bernstein, who has known Alosi since 1999, told Bleacher Report. "I said at the time that I bet Sal had something to do with this. He has that bouncer mentality."

Bernstein knew Alosi long before anyone knew his name. Before he left for Rollins College to play lacrosse at the Division II level, Bernstein worked out with Alosi and his brother Pete, who worked on the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff last season.

Living near the Hofstra campus, Bernstein, then in grade school, sparked a friendship with the former Hofstra linebacker that stretched well into high school and beyond. After leading the team in tackles in 2000, Alosi joined the Hofstra football team as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. It was there that he met a young man looking for some physical guidance.

"We were looking to work out more, and he was looking for some side money, so he kind of became my trainer," Bernstein said. "It was pretty casual, but we kept the relationship and got friendly."

The two became close. While it started in the gym, they became friends. Through this friendship, Bernstein witnessed Alosi's temper on occasion. Most of the time, it was warranted. It's part of the profession.

"Sal had very little patience. When he gave you instructions, you wanted to follow them," Bernstein said. "He also had that Long Island sense of humor. He's brash. He's sarcastic. He's straightforward. He'll tell you when you're out of shape or bringing a s--t effort."

Bernstein trained with Alosi between four and five years. As Bernstein grew closer to his own college decision, Alosi graduated to the Jets—a rise that both surprised and pleased his soon-to-be-former client.

Once Sal moved to New York, Pete Alosi took over. Even while Bernstein took weight-room cues from another Alosi, however, his relationship with Sal continued.

During the Jets training camp at Hofstra, Sal would secure Bernstein tickets to practice. On off days, the two would rehash old times and work out at the facility. Even during the season, the two would text one another and stay in touch. It wasn't just Bernstein looking for NFL nuggets; Alosi would reach out after Bernstein's bad games and offer encouragement. He'd check in randomly just to say hello.

"Growing up, especially with my brother [a Bleacher Report employee] being in college, he was like a big brother to me," Bernstein said. "Even when he was with the Jets, he was always keeping up with me to see how I was doing. I have nothing but great things to say about Sal. Just making the time for me more than anything meant a lot."

Bernstein texted his friend when the 2010 tripping occurred. He has his own theories as to what (and who) caused Alosi stuck out his leg, but it didn't really matter at the time. Bernstein wanted to make sure his friend was doing all right.

When news surfaced out of UCLA, he checked in again. Although it's been a few years since Alosi and Bernstein last talked, he again has his own thoughts on what took place.

"I don't think Sal is one to really back away from a fight," Bernstein said. "But I think he also knows the lines that he can't cross."

Those lines, at least at the moment, are somewhat blurred. TMZ Sports recently reported that Alosi got into a fistfight with Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis in 2010.

In reference to this latest incident, TMZ, through sources, also reported that Alosi "bullied" Combs' son over the course of three years, which ultimately played a part in the incident bubbling over.

The line for coaches to walk in this sport at this level is delicate. They are paid to push young men past a point of comfort by any means necessary. As a result, conflict is not necessarily unusual. In many ways, it's encouraged. It's a sign that a message is being delivered. It's up to this group to find a way to get that message across.

But there is always a line.

Alosi's character is being scrutinized again. People are trying to identify where that line is. Unlike his first brush with unexpected and unwanted fame, there is no video to determine whether this line was crossed—at least not yet. All that exists is noise—and, of course, a kettlebell.

At the very least, however, the young man who leaned on him for far more than a training regimen going back to grade school still has nothing but positive things to say about the person everyone else is trying to understand.

"I think everyone has their Sal stories," Bernstein, now 28, said. "I'll bet there are a ton of people who are just like me, who Sal has reached out to at some point. He's always been someone to help out younger people and really stay involved. He's someone you gravitate toward."

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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