NCAA Football News

5-Star WR Nate Craig Reveals Plans After Decommitting from Auburn

Nate Craig-Myers sent shock waves throughout the recruiting world earlier this week when he announced that he was decommitting from Auburn, according to Josh Newberg of Noles247.

The 6’2”, 205-pound Tampa native, who is a 5-star prospect rated as the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver by 247Sports, said that his decision to back off of a pledge that stood for nearly 10 months was because he rushed into his initial choice.

“I just wanted to make sure that I make the right decision,” Craig-Myers told Bleacher Report. “I wanted to open things up. Since I committed so early, I want to give every school a shot at recruiting me.”

Craig-Myers has more than 40 offers to his credit, and while he’s ready to open things up, he admits that he has some homework to do in terms of compiling a new list of schools that he’s interested in.

As his Crystal Ball page indicates, Craig-Myers has been linked to home-state power Florida State. He notes that he's already been in contact with one of the Seminoles’ graduate assistants since his announcement.

However, he’s in no rush to name the Seminoles or any other school as his favorite.

In fact, the nation’s No. 23 overall prospect in the 2016 class said that a trio of out-of-state schools are a priority for him to visit in the coming months.

“A few schools I’d like to see are Baylor, Ohio State and USC,” Craig-Myers said.

As far as factors that will come into play with his final decision, Craig-Myers—who plans to major in business management in college—is looking beyond his fit on the gridiron.

“I just want to find the right fit for me and a school that can prepare me for life after football, because football isn’t always going to be there,” Craig-Myers said. “I want to find the best situation from an academic standpoint.”

Another aspect that could influence his decision is the recruitment of his brother—2016 3-star corner Jayvaughn Myers.

Jayvaughn has 10 offers, with his most recent one coming from Florida. The Gators are one of a handful of schools, including Kentucky and Rutgers, that have offered both brothers.

While Craig-Myers said he would love to play with his sibling in college, he admits that a package deal will only come into play if it’s the right fit for each of them.

“We will probably visit a few schools together and a few by ourselves,” Craig-Myers said. “I think we both want to find schools that fit us individually first. We don’t want to go together if it isn’t the right fit for one of us. Then, one of us would be happy and the other one wouldn’t be.”

The next event on his calendar will be the Unsigned Preps Bus Tour next month.

Still, a long list of anxious suitors are awaiting their shot at the No. 4 prospect out of Florida.

Craig-Myers said that he doesn’t have a timeline in mind and notes that a decision will only come when he and his family are 100 percent comfortable with his choice. 

“It’s about making the right decision for me and my family,” Craig-Myers said. “I want to go to a place I can thrive on and off the field and a place that has that ‘home away from home’ feel.”


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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Surviving the Sanctions: Inside the Tumultuous Journey of Penn State's Seniors

Sam Ficken drilled home the game-winner, only to flee the scene.

Penn State's kicker outran his euphoric teammates to the opposite end of Yankee Stadium's makeshift field before allowing himself to be swarmed at the 15-yard line. The celebration would soon make its way to the top of the first-base dugout, where players embraced each other, family, fans—anyone within reach.

It was not the climax of a national championship or a Rose Bowl; this was the scene following a mere chip shot to win the Pinstripe Bowl, a minor, late-December matchup.

But for a tight-knit group of players who just 29 months earlier were slammed with sanctions rendering their football program bowl-ineligible through the 2015 season and scholarship-handicapped even longer, Ficken's extra point to defeat Boston College represented much more.

The victory offered an improbable bookend to a four-year stretch for the Nittany Lions' departing senior class that was arguably more turbulent than any other in modern college football history.

Despite post-sanction player transfers, two coaching staff overhauls and increasingly apparent effects of scholarship reductions—the Lions had just 47 recruited scholarship players available in Yankee Stadium—the 2014 seniors helped sustain a program once considered on its death bed.

"We played for each other," said linebacker Mike Hull, who recently signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins following the 2015 NFL draft. "Played for Penn State. We played because we love the game. And nothing was going to stop us from being successful."

This story is about that class, a group of seniors whose years at Penn State will formally come to a close with the university’s spring commencement the second weekend in May.


"It all came crashing down"

Few players even knew who Jerry Sandusky was.

So, after news broke on Nov. 4, 2011, that the former Penn State assistant coach had been indicted for child sex abuse, they didn't understand just how crushing the scandal would be.

"At that time we were in shock because this had been one of the most stable programs, if not the most stable, for the last 40 years up to that point," Hull said.

"And then it all came crashing down."

First, the players heard a man who last coached at Penn State when they were in middle school was facing criminal charges.

Then, the team learned this could jeopardize the job of its revered head coach, Joe Paterno.

Next, players received texts from assistant coaches on the evening of Nov. 9 informing them the unthinkable had happened: Paterno had been fired. A public announcement by the Board of Trustees was made shortly thereafter.

As College Avenue, the main drag in bucolic State College, became flooded with protesting students, coaches mandated that players remain inside and off social media.

Ficken thought about the contrast between what he expected from Penn State and the new reality.

"You sign up to play for Joe. Joe had been here 46 years," he said. "The coaching carousel in college football at the time, where you get a new coach every two or three Penn State, that's not the case. You have the same coach until you graduate."

Paterno had been Penn State's head coach since 1966. The stats that don't fully capture his place at the school: one library in his name, two national championships, five undefeated seasons and 409 wins. Plus, a "grand experiment" of challenging players to succeed both on the football field and in the classroom. His legacy, however, remains a point of contention three years after his death because of the Sandusky case.

The day after his firing, the 84-year-old coach gave one final address to the team.

"He just reminded us why we were all at Penn State, why it was a special place, and that we're always going to have a great brotherhood, always going to be family to one another," Hull said.

"'Just remember the relationships and the bonds that you're creating,' he said."

Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley stepped in as interim head coach for the 8-1 Nittany Lions, who struggled to keep the focus on football as the national media settled in on State College during the final stretch of the season.

The perception of the Penn State football program, previously known for what Paterno called "success with honor," spiraled downward as the details of the sex abuse charges against Sandusky continued to emerge. National attention moved toward who might have known about the former assistant coach's crimes and failed to speak up.

All of Penn State got dragged down by that undertow.

"A lady walks by us and says, 'Ew, Penn State? You're child rapists.' And I was like, 'Excuse me?'" said Ficken, recalling a scene during an airport layover. "And she said, 'I can't believe you'd wear that in public.' That didn't go over real well."

Meanwhile, tension within the football program began to build.

Several departed players said a heated confrontation with then-interim athletic director David Joyner took place leading up to the school's acceptance of an invitation to the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas over whether to play in the postseason at all. Further, by the time Penn State reached the bowl on Jan. 2, 2012, quarterback Matt McGloin was out of the lineup after suffering a concussion in a locker-room brawl with one of his receivers. 

The lackluster 30-14 loss to Houston was the Lions' third defeat in their final four games.

Yet following that disastrous end to the season, as bad as it was, many players believed the worst was behind them.

“We assumed all of our problems were in the rear-view. Nobody [left in the program] had anything to do with what went on,” Hull said of Sandusky’s crimes. “At that point, it never crossed anyone's mind that we'd be sanctioned or have a penalty for a child sex abuse scandal. That didn't cross our minds at all."

But a brief announcement on a mid-July morning would rock the program further.


"What are we doing?"

Mark Emmert's words hardly had time to echo throughout the Lasch Building, Penn State's football headquarters, before the players’ lounge cleared out. 

Suddenly, what was once a shared experience became individual—each player finding space to ponder his own future.

"Football will never again be put ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," Emmert, the NCAA president, said as he outlined a set of unprecedented sanctions against Penn State for the Sandusky scandal.

A $60 million fine, four-year postseason ban and 40-scholarship reduction across four seasons were just the beginning.

Most pressing, players could transfer and play elsewhere immediately.

“The people they were hurting had nothing to do with what went on in our program. But I was more so worried about what was going to happen with the team, with my future,” said defensive end Deion Barnes, a redshirt freshman at the time. “I didn’t know if half the team was going to leave and I’d have to leave.”

As Emmert's words sunk in and bursts of cursing from the players subsided, a difficult decision loomed as they wandered to their respective apartments.

Ficken said he and about 10 of his classmates, then freshmen, gathered to talk through their decision processes.

"We said, 'What are we doing?'" Ficken said. "'We like this school, and this is a good place, but we want to win still.'”

For many, it was their toughest day as a Nittany Lion. 

"When we heard what the penalties were, and people started saying Penn State was going to be a I-AA program, or a Division II-type program after this, it really hurt," Hull said. "I was pretty upset. And throughout my whole journey, I think that time and the few weeks before camp leading up to the season were probably the hardest few weeks of my life."

Players were bombarded with offers to play at other programs, and the recruitment process for many essentially reopened. Bill O'Brien, set to enter his first season as a head coach at any level, faced the unique challenge of having to recruit his own team to return to a program under sanctions The Associated Press called "a slow death penalty" (via Yahoo).

Like the AP, the rest of the mainstream media frequently compared the punishment to the harsh sanctions imposed on Southern Methodist in the 1980s, when it was forced to shut down for more than a full season.

"I don't think this point is made enough about those days: We were concerned about even being able to field a team," O'Brien said in a phone interview last week. "Because everyone in that locker room could have transferred."

The outside offers for more experienced players came from top-tier programs, such as Southern California, Oklahoma and Texas (the getaways for three starting upperclassmen—running back Silas Redd, receiver Justin Brown and kicker Anthony Fera, respectively). 

However, the temptation for younger players to leave, given the escalating impact the sanctions were expected to have throughout their careers, was in many ways even greater.

"We knew that those guys were going to have the longest road. For us as seniors in 2012, we understood that it was easier for us to say, 'Let's stick it out one more year together,'" said Michael Mauti, now a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings. "We knew these guys would have three more years where they'd have to deal with it, and live it and be around it."

O'Brien said the re-recruitment process began by retaining the 2012 class. But the next task proved more complex.

"Then it was, 'Well, what if all those juniors and sophomores transfer? What the hell are we going to do then?'" he said. "[So] we gave them a vision for our program. We were able to say, 'Look, this is not good. We're not going to sit up here and tell you this is a bowl of cherries. But we can tell you if we can stick together, this is going to be the start of something special.'"

Hull, then a redshirt sophomore behind three future NFL linebackers on the depth chart, was the epitome of the player Penn State could not afford to lose.

He strongly considered transferring to Pittsburgh, even visiting the Panthers' facility during the time frame O'Brien allowed players to weigh their options.

"I went into Coach O'Brien's office and told him that I was leaving to go to Pitt," Hull said. "And he said, 'Sleep on it.' All my roommates were back at my place and I told them I was leaving. They were like, 'You can't leave. We started this together. We got to finish it together.'"

Hull heeded O'Brien's advice and ultimately his roommates’ as well. By the time the linebacker walked into his coach's office the following morning, his heart had changed.

"At the end of the day, I just couldn't leave Penn State. I loved it too much," Hull said. "I made such great bonds and relationships with my teammates and I wanted to be loyal to my word whenever I committed there and carry on the tradition. And fortunately, most of us stayed. Only a handful left."

At least two other players were driving to visit Michigan State before they, too, had second thoughts and turned around. All told, only nine players would transfer in the wake of the sanctions. Of scholarship players with three or more years of eligibility remaining, only two left.

Having moved past the initial recovery stage and into training camp—the point when O'Brien said players had to decide whether they were going to transfer or not—the focus finally narrowed. Even, Ficken recalled, as photographers hopped fences to try to get shots of the team during practice.

"Football was a safe haven. That was where you didn't have to deal with any of that other crap,” he said. “And that was relieving, because a lot of crap was going on."


"That year, we had each other"

It's Sept. 8, 2012, in Virginia’s Scott Stadium, and Ficken takes the field with the game clock winding down and Penn State trailing, 17-16. He's already missed three field goals and an extra point, but before him stands an opportunity for redemption.

"There's no way I'm going to go 1-of-5," he thinks to himself as the rain begins to fall.

But indeed, following a shaky hold he shanks the ball left, ensuring that Penn State begins the first season of the post-Paterno era with an 0-2 record—something that happened only four times in Paterno’s long head coaching career.

"One of (Virginia's) D-linemen ran into me, pushed me, and he goes, 'You should just quit, p---y!'" Ficken said, recalling the moment when he picked himself off the slick turf. "That was a real slap in the face."

Ficken wasn't even supposed to see the field that year.

Fera, the second-team All-Big Ten kicker in 2011, had the starting job locked—until the sanctions reopened the door for the Houston product to transfer without penalty, a personal blessing for a son whose mother was stricken by illness. 

"[Fera] called me and said, 'Hey, I'm down in Texas. I just want you to be aware of the situation. I'm probably leaning toward leaving,'" Ficken recalled over coffee at Irving's, a cafe on College Avenue. "'So if that's the case, you're the guy. You need to be ready.'"

Ficken was expecting to redshirt his sophomore year and had therefore gotten few kicking reps in practice at that point in the summer of 2012. Nonetheless, he accepted the responsibility of being "the guy"—a role that became much more taxing following the collapse at Virginia, as an emotional fanbase began blatantly channeling its displeasure in his direction.

"Other than going to class, going to football practice, I didn't really do a whole lot other things for about two, three months,” Ficken said. “I'd get cussed out on the bus, I got death threats in the mail, I got death threats over email.”

Yet, despite the impact of the sanctions already showing—leading to what Ficken called the "irrelevant card" being thrown around by columnists nationwide—Penn State started winning.

The Nittany Lions rifled off five straight victories, including a vengeful 35-7 dismantling of Illinois. Illini coach Tim Beckman had become notorious for attempting to poach Penn State's players on-campus following the sanctions.

After a 35-23 loss to then-No. 7 Ohio State and a controversial defeat at Nebraska, where the officials disallowed an apparent winning Lions touchdown, Penn State wound up with a 7-4 record heading into an emotional senior day against Wisconsin. 

The Lions outlasted the favored Badgers, 24-21, in an overtime victory many players still consider the best memory of their careers.

"We had no business being in that game," Hull said.  

Ficken’s 37-yard field goal, his 10th straight make to end the season, fittingly spelled the difference, sending the 2012 senior class off with a win.

While administrators and fans lent their support, players gave most of the credit for a respectable season to O’Brien—and one another.

"At the end of the day, they support you and they support you. But you're not going out to play with them," running back Bill Belton said. "You're playing with the 105 guys in the locker room. So in my opinion, we had each other. And that's all that mattered that year."


The one that got away

A former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, O’Brien was clear about one thing from the day he arrived at Penn State in January 2012: I won’t be here forever.

"He sat us down and told us, face-to-face, that it's his dream to coach in the NFL," Ficken said, recalling O'Brien's first team meeting. "He said, 'Someday, I'm going to be there. Whether it's in four years, whether it's in 10 years, I don't know. But I'm going to get there. Because that's my dream.' And we respected him for telling us that." 

O’Brien, who graduated from Brown University—Paterno’s alma mater—said he doesn't remember initially giving an indication of how long he'd be at Penn State, "because I really didn't know."

But he stressed that he would be honest when players asked him individually what his future plans were.

"I would always joke about the fact that I was never going to be there 46 years, 61 years. That was the most incredible run, by Coach Paterno, ever. The guy won 409 games. That will never be done again. I promise you," O'Brien said. "It was always, 'Let's do this year, and then we'll see what happens next year.'"

Following his first season in State College, O’Brien interviewed with the Cleveland Browns. The lure of the NFL, combined with the added challenge of coaching a team with increasing scholarship reductions, had many Penn State fans anxious the well-respected leader would be one-and-done, leaving the program once again in disarray.

But O’Brien returned for a second run in Happy Valley.

“He told us he would stick with us [past] that first year, because he asked us to stick with him,” 2014 senior safety Ryan Keiser said, referring to the post-sanction period. “After that first year, he never made that promise that he would stay longer.”

In 2013, O’Brien oversaw another winning season, finishing at 7-5. A few games into that year, the NCAA began reducing Penn State’s scholarship limitations—leaving the door open for future modifications to the sanctions due to “continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity.” 

On the field, the season was highlighted by the start of quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s highly anticipated career, an exhilarating four-overtime victory over Michigan and another season-ending upset of Wisconsin.

“I can tell you flat-out that they took offense that they were 24-point underdogs,” the typically stoic O’Brien said with a grin following the 31-24 win in Madison. “...One thing that these kids understand is it doesn’t matter, one bit, what you think relative to that football team.”

The news conference turned out to be O’Brien’s last at Penn State.

Hours before the 2014 New Year was rung in, news broke that O’Brien was, indeed, leaving to follow his dream, becoming head coach of the Houston Texans. 

For a team that had bonded tightly with its plain-speaking coach, another change was developing.

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson was named the interim head coach—becoming the fourth coach for the rising seniors, including interims, to that point—and the carousel swung around once more.

“Getting a new coach, you're like, 'All right, fresh start,'" Belton said. "Then you get one season under him, you get another season under him, and you kind of get comfortable with the way things are going. ... [Then] it was like, 'Oh, here we go again.' If I had it my way, I would have loved to play for one coach for four years.”


Here comes Franklin

It’s Jan. 11, 2014, and James Franklin swings open the doors to the Lasch Building meeting room to address his team for the first time.

It doesn’t take long, though, for the ex-Vanderbilt coach who was known for his success as an engaging recruiter in the SEC to sense some resistance from the crowd.

“There was no doubt a wall up from the players. They had been through so many challenges. I was the fifth head coach in 27 months,” said Franklin, who himself had made 10 previous stops in two decades of coaching. “They just invested in a program and head coach, that head coach leaves, there's hurt feelings and you're the new guy coming in.”

Franklin, who grew up in Pennsylvania, realized his high-octane personality was what he calls a “dramatic change” from that of Paterno and O’Brien.

So, for the players, it took some getting used to.

"I just remember how much energy he brought in the room. I didn't know if it was fake energy, or if he was going to be like that every day,” Hull said. “It was almost overwhelming. Just being honest, I didn't know if he was a fraud or not.”

But Hull said his perception of Franklin became much more favorable after spring ball when he saw the coach “really brings that energy every day.”

Keiser said he thought it also was clear from the start that Franklin didn’t have any plans to go elsewhere. That was reassuring.

Franklin, sitting comfortably in what’s become a well-kept office space more than a year after his arrival in State College, said the key to transitioning from outsider to respected leader was three-fold: “trust, conversation and consistency.”

In the end, the team once again rallied around its new coach, with the 2014 seniors leading the way.

“That class sticking together, just buying into whatever staff that comes in there. We all had one goal of winning,” Barnes said. “That’s what got us through everything. Whatever obstacle that came, we stuck together.”


"This is culture"

The frenzied Pinstripe celebration drifted toward midfield, where the Lions held aloft the victor’s trophy and donned beanies for a bowl game they weren’t even eligible for a few months before.

After Hackenberg was named the Pinstripe Bowl MVP, Franklin proudly addressed the blue-and-white faithful in chilly Yankee Stadium.

“I want to thank the seniors who stayed with this program when we needed them the most,” Franklin said, adding that they kept the Penn State family together.

“You want to talk about culture? Look around. This is culture.”

Two weeks into the 2014 season, the NCAA had lifted Penn State’s bowl ban and announced a return of all the scholarships that had been removed by the following season, citing the university’s “significant progress toward ensuring its Athletics Department functions with integrity.”

As they had when Paterno was fired, students once again took to the streets following the announcement, this time in celebration. Some students were “lifted” above the crowd on mattresses; others chowed cereal out of bowls. 

The only issue was whether a scholarship-depleted Penn State team would gain enough wins to earn a bowl invitation.

A four-game winning streak to start the season—including a season opener in Dublin, Ireland, against Central Florida that ended with a game-winning 36-yard field goal from Ficken—gave way to a four-game losing streak that would put Penn State’s bowl eligibility in question. But a 30-13 victory over Temple, the Lions’ sixth of the season, clinched the coveted extra game.

Unexpected losses to Maryland and Illinois revealed the escalating consequences of scholarship reductions, particularly along a thin and inexperienced offensive line. But Penn State also took eventual national champion Ohio State into double overtime before falling, 31-24.

“There's only a few games you can see the difference, talent and numbers-wise. For the most part, there's no difference,” Belton said. “You can go out there and play with 11 guys on offense and defense...if you go out there and play for one another, don't be surprised if that team wins."

Hull, once halfway out the door to Pitt, became the anchor of Penn State’s second-best defense in the country. He finished his senior season with 134 tackles and was named the Big Ten Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year.

Looking back, Hull maintains that the wrong people were penalized by the sanctions. Yet the decision to stay, he says, was well worth it.

"We went through so much as a team and I had created such good relationships with my teammates, especially my senior class, so to end on a winning note and springboard the program into the future, that means a lot for me,” Hull said. “And as seniors, because we love Penn State, we wanted to get it back where it should be."

Ficken finished his senior season 24-of-29 on field goals and as a second-team All-Big Ten honoree with three game-winning kicks in his career.

At the Pinstripe Bowl, Ficken enjoyed the privilege of using Derek Jeter’s locker, after ceremoniously ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange the day prior. On May 10, he’ll walk across the stage at Smeal College of Business’ graduation with a finance degree—unless an NFL team asks him to report to camp earlier, he says.

Outside this year’s Blue-White spring game in State College, Ficken was universally cheered and solicited for autographs, a far cry from the public ridicule he received following the 2012 Virginia game. Then he watched from the sideline as Franklin’s rising 2015 squad took the Beaver Stadium field for the first time.

O'Brien said with the promise of the current roster under James Franklin, "they can win the national championship next year."

"You'll always look back to those three teams, when they win a national championship, and those teams should always be honored," O'Brien said. "Because they kept our program together when we could have gone really south."

Ficken said he hopes his class’ commitment helped save Penn State football.

"I fully expect them to be top-five, top-10, in the next few years. And hopefully we had something to do with that,” Ficken said. “It's gratifying to see that it's getting back to where it was when we got here, really.”

“And luckily, I got to see it all.”


John Stuetz is a senior in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Tennessee Football: Summer Enrollees Who Could Make an Immediate Impact

The first round of Tennessee football talent from the 2015 recruiting class already participated in spring practice, and a fair share of newcomers proved they were ready to be depended on.

Soon, 20 more summer enrollees will join them, and they also will carry plenty of clout.

With midterm enrollee running back Alvin Kamara, defensive tackle Shy Tuttle and quarterback Quinten Dormady already gearing up to potentially play significant roles, there should be more prospects with instant-impact ability on the way.

From the class's top-rated prospect—not to mention one of the best in the country—to a couple of players whom the Volunteers desperately need to be ready right away, the group of summer star infusion should be strong.

Defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie—a 5-star lineman who is the nation's sixth-rated overall player, according to the 247Sports Composite ranking—has the natural ability to play immediately. He destroyed the nation's top offensive linemen time after time in elite skill camps and even got UT coach Butch Jones to wear a bucket hat.

With a lack of depth at running back, Tennessee needs John Kelly to be ready to play this year. Also, receiver Preston Williams should be able to help a corps that needs some swagger to it after a down year.

So, with all that talent coming in from UT's fourth-ranked class, let's take a look at the kids who could play quickly on Rocky Top.


John Kelly, 5'10", 203-Pound Running Back

The running back duo of Kamara and Jalen Hurd has everybody excited around UT, but beyond them, there are tons of question marks at the position.

That's why, following national signing day back in February, Jones noted that the position was the biggest need in the 2016 recruiting class.

You need more than two durable runners to get through the rigors of the SEC, and that's why the Vols expect to bring in senior jitterbug Ralph David Abernathy IV, who is transferring from Cincinnati to play his final season.

But Kelly is a prospect coming in who few are talking about who could help the moment he steps on campus. The Oak Park, Michigan, athlete was recruited by instate power Michigan State and traditional power Michigan to play defensive back. 

Instead, he elected to head south to play for running backs coach Robert Gillespie in UT's offensive backfield. That's huge news for a Vols team that lost commitment Kendall Bussey Jr. to Texas A&M in the week before national signing day.

Kelly was called "one of the more versatile guys" in the 2015 class by 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong, per 247Sports' Ryan Callahan.

It shows you how versatile he is with what high-profile schools recruited him as. You look at Michigan State, who arguably runs out one of the best defenses in the country the last couple years, and they're recruiting him as a safety. Then, other schools turn on the film and they think he's got a chance to make a better impact at running back.

He's a guy that can help your football team out in a variety of ways, whether that's offense, defense, special teams. He's just a gamer. Good size — he's going to walk in the door over 200 pounds. He's quick. He runs pretty well, can catch the football.

That sounds like the kind of player who can step right in and contribute. And that's great news for the Vols because he'll have to.


Justin Martin, 6'2", 190-Pound Cornerback

Whether Tennessee ultimately would have lost elite instate cornerback Martin to LSU had defensive coordinator John Chavis not bolted for Texas A&M is a moot point.

But the Vols were in a dogfight with the Tigers (and virtually every other SEC team) for the signature of the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M defensive back right until he committed to Tennessee. When the recruiting process finished, Martin signed with UT and is coming back to the state.

That's massive for the Vols, who are getting a big, fast corner who has an NFL skill set. Rated as the nation's second-ranked JUCO corner, Martin thrilled a lot of people in Knoxville when he signed.

Even though UT's secondary may be the most talented and experienced position group on this year's roster, Martin should challenge to start. That's how good he is.

He'll give Emmanuel Moseley a run for his job this fall, and he's also big enough to play safety or nickelback down the road if needed.

Martin is a versatile athlete with track speed, and he is one of the most overlooked coups of the entire recruiting class.

The best thing about him is he has three years of eligibility remaining, so even if he's raw, he'll have plenty of time to develop under secondary coach Willie Martinez, who covets long, athletic corners.


Kahlil McKenzie, 6'3", 354-Pound Defensive Tackle

Tuttle topped everybody's expectations this spring as one of the most surprising and impressive bright spots along with line mate Kendal Vickers and offensive tackle Brett Kendrick.

But he was nowhere near UT's highest-rated defensive tackle commitment.

That distinction goes to McKenzie, a legacy prospect and a mammoth of a lineman who feasted on linemen with their hands down across from him.

Many of the nation's top O-line prospects simply can't block him. Had it not been for Georgia commitment Trent Thompson, McKenzie would have been the top-rated defensive tackle in the country. He may be, anyway.

The son of Oakland Raiders general manager (and former Vols standout) Reggie McKenzie and nephew of former UT offensive lineman Raleigh McKenzie looks like he was born to play football. He has been around the game his entire life and has the drive and the talent to go along with his God-given size.

Since UT desperately needs more beef on the interior, McKenzie almost assuredly will be given every opportunity to play. Though he'll have a difficult time breaking in front of Tuttle, Vickers and incumbent starter Danny O'Brien, McKenzie certainly has that ability. 

Many already have anointed him the next great Tennessee lineman, including his head coach.

After not playing during his senior season of high school and injuring his meniscus, McKenzie got too heavy. He has been working to lose weight, and if he comes to Knoxville in shape, there's little that can hold him back.

He may not be a star right away, but he has what it takes to be.


Drew Richmond, 6'5", 310-Pound Offensive Tackle

The biggest recruiting win for Jones in the last cycle may have come with the 11th-hour flip of Memphis offensive tackle Richmond from Ole Miss.

Not only did getting Richmond to change his mind represent yet another example of Jones keeping the best players within state boundaries, it also gave UT a major prospect at a major position of need.

Jones went into one of the most difficult recruiting battlegrounds in the Southeast and won a key battle, an aspect that wasn't overlooked during his national signing day celebration.

The Vols need impact offensive tackles, and while there were a couple of good prospects already pledged in last year's class, there wasn't an elite player. Richmond gave them that as the nation's third-ranked tackle.

Though Kendrick enjoyed a stellar spring to take a commanding lead as the right tackle starter opposite senior Kyler Kerbyson, Richmond will throw a 310-pound hat into the ring once he arrives on campus. He's athletic, and he is exceptional at the point of attack.

There's no doubt where the Memphis University School standout expects to fit into UT's offensive plan next season.

"I plan on being a starter," he told's John Brice at the two-minute, 40-second mark of a video filmed this week. "That's all I can say."

That's not easy at the position where he plays; one of the toughest spots in all of college football to crack the starting rotation as a first-year player. The Vols have proven in recent years with Ja'Wuan James, Tiny Richardson and Coleman Thomas that they aren't shy in starting youngsters.

Is Richmond next on the list? He's the same kind of star prospect that James and Richardson were. He appears primed to have a big career in Knoxville, and that may be spent as a wire-to-wire starter.


Preston Williams, 6'4", 191-Pound Wide Receiver

A marquee receiver with a flamboyant personality such as Williams doesn't go to college to stand on the sideline.

That's why it was huge news this week when the Lovejoy High School pass-catcher told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michael Carvell that his torn knee ligaments suffered last season were healing, and he was going to enroll for the May mini-term at UT.

"I will definitely be playing this year," Williams said.

Well, alrighty then. Sounds like that settles that.

You can bet if Williams plays, he'll do well. He's a long, lean, athletic target with great hands. There's a reason he was the nation's seventh-rated receiver and a 5-star prospect until his injury when he dropped a star.

Though UT has tons of talent at receiver with guys such as Marquez North, Pig Howard, Josh Malone, Jason Croom, Josh Smith and Johnathon Johnson, the Vols have lacked swagger from the position. Williams brings that added, necessary element. 

He's an on-field chatterbox with the game to back it up.

Even if suspended receiver Von Pearson comes back to give Tennessee another uber-talented receiver, Williams can carve a role. He's big, he's talented and he thinks he's going to be ready to go. If so, Williams will be yet another offensive player who'll be a handful for defenders.


Observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports.

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

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Arizona Football: Wildcats' Top 2016 NFL Draft Prospects

Arizona did not have a player chosen among the 256 selections in last week's NFL draft, one of 11 power-conference schools without a draftee. According to Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star, this marked the fifth time since 2000 (and second in coach Rich Rodriguez's four seasons) that the Wildcats failed to have anyone drafted.

It's a pretty good bet that Arizona won't go pickless for two straight years, not with the number of talented draft-eligible players it will have for 2016.

The Wildcats were very freshman and sophomore-dominated this past season when they won 10 games and claimed the Pac-12 South title. Many of those key contributors are now juniors or redshirt sophomores, and along with seniors who opted to remain in school, they have roughly a half-dozen legitimate NFL prospects who could all hear their name called next spring if they enter the draft.

Who are these potential Arizona pros? Click through to see who we're talking about.

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Does Ohio State Have a Chance at 5-Star Auburn Decommit Nate Craig-Myers?

Nate Craig-Myers was one of Ohio State's top 2016 targets before he committed to Gus Malzahn and Auburn last July.

But after spending the last 10 months as the crown jewel of the Tigers' class, Craig-Myers announced that he was reopening his recruitment on Wednesday, according to Josh Newberg of 247Sports.

Florida State is shaping up as the favorite to land the standout from Tampa, Florida, but that won't stop Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes from pursuing the talented wideout. In fact, the Ohio State staff reached out to Craig-Myers within 24 hours of his decommitment from Auburn, according to Newberg

It's easy to see why the Buckeyes are pursuing him so hard.

Rated as a 5-star prospect and the top-ranked receiver for 2016, Craig-Myers boasts one of the most impressive offer lists in the country. Schools such as Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame and USC are vying for his commitment, but the Buckeyes, who offered way back in April 2013, were one of the first teams showing major interest in his recruitment. 

Back then, that interest was reciprocated.

According to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors, Ohio State was in the lead for Craig-Myers before his sudden and surprising commitment to Auburn. The Buckeyes were working hard to get him to travel north for a visit to Columbus, but it never came together, and the door closed when it appeared he had ended his recruitment so early. 

With Craig-Myers back on the market, however, Meyer and the coaching staff will be putting all of their efforts into getting him on campus for a visit this fall. 

After signing just two wide receivers in 2015, the Buckeyes are going hard after pass-catchers for their '16 class. They already have a commitment from Kierre Hawkins, but they were dealt a big blow when one of their top targets—Justin Layne—committed to Michigan State in late April.

But landing Craig-Myers would more than ease the pain of losing Layne. 

With the speed to burn a defense deep and the polished route-running ability to find openings underneath, Craig-Myers already boasts a complete skill set for a wide receiver. At 6'2" and 205 pounds, he's already built for the collegiate level, and he'll be a day-one contributor wherever he winds up.

Will that be at Ohio State?

Not if Florida State can close things out. According to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel, Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles are putting on the full-court press for Craig-Myers.

“When I walked in I just, it just felt like it was home,” Craig-Myers said, via Sonnone. “Everything caught my eye because it was more than I thought it would be. It’s Florida State so you expect it to be like this, but I really liked the visit. I feel like I’m a real priority.”

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Craig-Myers doesn't intend to announce his commitment until January, according to Birmingham. That'll give Meyer plenty of time to recruit Craig-Myers, who told Demetric Warren of Varsity Preps that Ohio State was his favorite school growing up.

Even still, the Buckeyes are considered long shots to land his commitment. But with Meyer at the helm and eight months to work with, that could change quickly. 


Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

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

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Todd Gurley Bill to Punish People for Paying Athletes Signed into Law

Georgia governor Nathan Deal signed the Todd Gurley Bill into law on Thursday, which threatens those who tempt college athletes to compromise their eligibility to be sentenced up to a year in prison.

Bill Hendrick of The Associated Press reported the news, adding what the man who drafted the bill, Republican state Rep. Barry Fleming, had to say about Gurley's past suspension and the piece of legislation itself:

I was disappointed when it happened. But I understand the young man comes from a very humble background. His mother didn't have funds to properly repair the roof on the trailer she raised him in.

[...] We plugged it into a law about alumni being overzealous. Now it's a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature. It can be up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. On the civil side, the university can sue the person who does this for any damages sustained, like losing a TV contract, not going to bowl games.

The Georgia State Senate was almost unanimous in passing House Bill 3, voting 48-4 in favor of it, according to Morris News Service (via The St. Augustine Record).

Fleming is a University of Georgia alum, hence his naming the bill after Gurley. The NCAA hit the former Bulldogs superstar running back with a four-game suspension after he accepted $3,000 for signing memorabilia over a two-year span.

When he did return to the gridiron toward the end of his junior campaign in Athens, Gurley tore his ACL, putting his football future in jeopardy.

Rather than stay at Georgia and try to prove himself again with a bounce-back senior season, the lure of the NFL draft was too much to resist for Gurley. Thanks to his transcendent talent, the St. Louis Rams gambled on Gurley by choosing him No. 10 overall in the first round last Thursday.

The law figures to discourage NCAA rules violations moving forward, especially when it comes to marquee players. Only the state of Georgia will enforce this rather extreme exaction of justice for now, but perhaps other ardent college football states will follow suit.

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Welcome to the Malik Zaire Era at Notre Dame

The statement within the statement said it all.

When news hit that Everett Golson was departing South Bend for a program to be named later, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly wished him well. He applauded his efforts to leave the school with a degree, which is significant given Golson’s turbulent academic history with the program.

But right beneath all of that—right around the point Kelly could have stopped short of saying anything more—he ventured onward. He didn’t have to, but he did.

“We, of course, have approached our preparations for the upcoming season with this possibility in mind,” Kelly said in a statement relayed by Michael Bertsch, the Director of Football Media Relations at Notre Dame. “The emergence of Malik Zaire, based on his performance in the Music City Bowl win over LSU, and throughout spring practice, has given our staff supreme confidence that he can lead our team to great success in 2015.”

Supreme confidence.

There was no need to include Malik Zaire in this update, although by doing so, Kelly provided a peek into both the present and future of the quarterback position at Notre Dame. It is, without question, remarkably bright.

Zaire has a chance to be special.

The question on the minds of curious SEC fans who are perusing their team’s uncertain quarterback depth chart is obvious.

What is Zaire's ceiling?

Kelly is tipping his hand for this one. And given some of the fascinating pieces already in place, there’s no reason to believe Zaire can’t become a star.

As a sophomore last season, he provided glimpses when called upon. Although Golson started the season in tremendous fashion, turnovers ultimately prompted Kelly to turn to the sophomore backup against USC in the team’s regular-season finale. It wasn't perfect, but there was plenty to like.

Kelly then handed Zaire the keys to the car against LSU in the Music City Bowl, and he led the team to a 31-28 victory while scoring two touchdowns. It was about this time that rumblings over Golson’s future with the program began.

This momentum for Zaire carried over into the spring—and more specifically, Notre Dame’s spring game. Although drawing overwhelming conclusions from scrimmage numbers is dangerous, it’s a bit more meaningful when a quarterback race is taking place.

Golson didn’t perform poorly, although Zaire's 292 passing yards and two touchdowns were the talk of the day. His long touchdown pass to William Fuller was football art.

Although Kelly billed this as a battle that would wage into the fall, Golson’s decision to leave said what many believed would be the case since the offseason began. The writing was on the wall. Zaire was the guy.

Coming out of high school, Zaire’s recruiting profile was mixed. Although he was the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback on 247Sports, the buzz surrounding his development wasn’t overpowering.

Much of this was due to his height; he's listed at 6’0” on his official Notre Dame bio. I spoke with multiple recruiting analysts at the time who felt he could have been one of the top players in the class if he were simply two or three inches taller. 

“Since arriving at Notre Dame, Zaire has oozed confidence, even as he hovered in Golson's shadows throughout the 2014 regular season,” Mike Monaco, Bleacher Report's Notre Dame Lead Writer, said. “After flashing as the dynamic run-pass option in the Music City Bowl against LSU, Zaire gave more credibility to the horde of Irish fans who clamored for his promotion.”

Those who did will get what they craved: a quarterback who, while undersized, plays far larger than any measurable. You won't mistake his arm for Cardale Jones', but he's capable of heaving the ball a long way. And while Zaire isn’t the fastest player on the team, he’s a deadly threat on the ground. His 96 yards against LSU led the Irish in their bowl game.

There’s no reason to believe these small glimpses can’t translate into something far more meaningful, especially given the talent around him.

This is where Kelly’s words start to resonate and gain steam. The offensive line—headlined by Ronnie Staley, perhaps the nation’s best returning lineman—should anchor one of the best (and deepest) units in the country.

At wideout, Zaire will get back Fuller, who had more receiving touchdowns (15) than all but two players nationally last year. Like the offensive line, there are players to be excited about in the receiving corps: Corey Robinson and Chris Brown had their moments, and other talented players are waiting for their chance.

And at running back, both Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant should increase their production. Each averaged more than five yards per carry last year and should benefit greatly from new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford. He helped architect Boise State’s outstanding rushing attack last year, and he'll have a full arsenal of weapons to work with.

All of the pieces are in place. Now, the quarterback is set in stone.

Although losing Golson isn’t necessarily a positive, change was necessary. The formula simply wasn't working. In losing a player who was a staple of the program for so long, a path has been cleared. Zaire will have a chance to flourish now.

And if the confidence of his head coach is any indication, flourish he will.  


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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Rhode Island Football Egg Crack Challenge for Diabetic Fan Makes Lasting Impact

In the middle of a practice huddle with the Rhode Island Rams football team, 11-year-old Matt Tokarski counted off.

"One! Two! Three!" 

The huddle broke. It was one of the best days of Matt's life. 

It was the good kind of counting, too, which is important. For the Tokarski family, there's been far too much of the bad kind. The kind that involves life and death. 

At the age of six, Matt was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Unlike Type 2 diabetes, Type 1 is genetic autoimmune disorder. Matt's pancreas naturally produces little to no insulin, so a pump is placed on his arm, which is already covered in scars from injections and catheters. 

"His pancreas is basically outside his body," his mother, Kate, said in an interview with Bleacher Report. 

Every carb consumed and every blood sugar level must be counted. 

To raise awareness of Matt's disorder, Kate challenged New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, New England Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell—Matt's favorite player—and the University of Rhode Island football team to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Egg Crack Challenge

Of the three, the Rhode Island Rams answered the call by inviting Matt to attend one of the final practices of the spring and taking the challenge. 

The Egg Crack Challenge is exactly what you'd think: Participants crack eggs over their heads and nominate others to do the same. The goal is to spread awareness for a disorder over which people like Matt have no control. 

It was a disorder that was lurking within Matt's body far before anyone knew. 


A Parent's Worst Nightmare

The warning signs were there.

One summer five years ago, Matt began eating and drinking more, yet he was losing weight.

"When he took off his shirt, I could see all of his ribs," Kate said. "It looked like he had cancer or something." 

Because there's no history of diabetes in Matt's family, Kate wasn't sure what was happening. (Autoimmune disorders are genetic, but what they result in is anyone's guess.) On the day before his diagnosis, however, Matt went to the bathroom 22 times. That was the undeniable sign that something was terribly wrong. 

While his parents drove him to the hospital, Matt was slipping in and out of consciousness, his eyes rolling back into his head. Shortly after arrival, doctors gave him an insulin shot, and Matt finally came to. 

The doctors knew instantly what was wrong. A nondiabetic adult's blood sugar is usually between 70 and 100 milligrams per deciliter. At his diagnosis, Matt's blood sugar was at 619 milligrams per deciliter. 

The Tokarskis were horrified. Their son's life would never be the same. It would require constant monitoring. The concern wasn't only that Matt's blood sugar levels would be too high; readings too low from something as simple as playing little league soccer could hurt him, too. Simple things, such as having an afterschool snack or treating himself to candy, had health ramifications.

"You want your kid to be able to go to a carnival and eat cotton candy," Kate said. "Can he do that? Yes. But he makes those decisions not to because he knows he'll feel bad."

She paused, her voice cracking. 

"I'm proud of him for choosing that, but I want him to be a kid, too." 

Every day, his food intake is measured. If Matt wants pancakes for breakfast, all the carbs he will consume must be calculated. The syrup has to be measured—there can't be a pool of it on the plate—pancakes have to be weighed and Matt must take a shot of insulin. This happens at every meal, every day. 

"You have to second-guess everything," Kate said. "You can do everything that's necessary, but his blood sugar levels can be different every day. If someone asks me why Matt's levels aren't consistent, I tell them, 'Because it's Tuesday, and the wind is blowing east.'" 

But that didn't mean Matt's life was over. The child with newly diagnosed diabetes accepted his challenge. He didn't give up. He didn't want anyone's pity. He wanted to help.

Matt and his father, Stephen, set up a lemonade stand and raised $409 right away. Matt spoke at the JDRF Children's Congress and at nursing classes about the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. To date, Matt has helped raise more than $10,000 in donations for Type 1 research and awareness. 

The Egg Crack Challenge was simply the next step along the way. 

"You find out how resilient kids with Type 1 are," Kate said. "He's OK with getting a shot because he knows he'll feel better once he does. I don't think he realized how bad he was feeling before." 

The Tokarskis have adjusted their lives to Matt's disorder, but the reality is they'll never be used to it. One of the amazing things about the human body is its ability to keep itself in balance in order to stay running. Matt's body is out of balance, and the Tokarskis are never quite sure which way it'll lean. The delicacy of it is scary. 

"The biggest fear as a parent is that one day, you're going to wake up without your child," Kate said. 


Challenging Rhode Island 

Matt was given a challenge at an early age. Now, he's challenging others, and Rhode Island gladly answered it.

"Kate left me a voicemail explaining that she had nominated us for the Egg Crack Challenge," said Rachel Tecca, Rhode Island's director of football operations. "I certainly had never heard of it. So, I did a little research, and once I realized what it was, I immediately brought it to coach [Jim] Fleming's attention, and he was on board with it."

The movement came on the heels of last year's Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (known as ALS and also Lou Gehrig's disease). The origins of the Egg Crack Challenge honor Will Hauver, a 22-year-old lacrosse player at Florida's Rollins College who had Type 1 diabetes and died in February from complications from the stomach flu.

Overcome by Matt's story, Rhode Island invited him to participate in its April 24 practice right before the spring game. He received a team jersey and got to break the huddle. After practice, Kate explained to the players what her son deals with on a daily basis. 

"Type 1 diabetes hasn't been exposed to the level that it needs to be," Fleming said. "Our kids recognize that there are others who don't have it as good as they do, that they're fortunate to play this game." 

Then the players cracked the eggs over their head. There were only 12 available—Kate didn't want to be too wasteful—which meant it was a madhouse deciding who would do it. Everyone wanted the chance.

"Our guys were jacked to do it," Fleming said. 

Fleming then challenged The Rhode Show on WPRI 12, the Rhode Island Rams women's soccer team and the New Hampshire Wildcats football team.

With any luck, word about Type 1 diabetes will spread in the same way it did for ALS.  

As for Matt, consider him an unofficial member of the Rams football team.

His team jersey hangs on the wall of the Tokarski family's sports-fueled "man cave." 

"He's welcome to come back anytime during preseason camp or during a game," Fleming said. "It's an open invitation." 

"Creating a special day for him was big for everyone," Tecca added. "That's something he can cherish forever."


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand, unless noted otherwise. For more information on donating to help Type 1 diabetes, visit HERE.

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Big 12 Football Making Life Harder Than It Needs to Be with New Tie-Breaker Rule

The Big 12 has finally clarified its championship conundrum that caused so many headaches last December. 

Well, sort of—not without bringing about more questions and tripping over its own feet. 

On Wednesday during spring meetings in Phoenix, the conference released its new tiebreaker procedures for 2015. The full list can be seen courtesy of Max Olson of, but the basic rundown is as follows: 

1) If two teams finish with the same conference record, the winner of the head-to-head game will be crowned the champion. This is exactly what happened in 2014 with Baylor and TCU. The Bears won the head-to-head matchup and should have been named the "One True Champion," as the conference slogan stated. However, the Big 12's hands-off/vague approach to crowning a champion was utterly perplexing. 

2) If three or more teams finish the season with identical conference records, the league office will take additional steps to break the tie. Once a team has been eliminated through a step, it is dropped from comparison. Once two teams are left, the head-to-head game will be used. 

This is where the wording of the tiebreakers muddles things, however. The first step in the three-way tiebreaker claimed, "The conference records of the three or more teams will be compared against each other." What it should have said, as Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News clarified, is that "the conference records against each other will be compared." 

This distinction is important because of the next tiebreaker step, which states, "The conference records of the three or more teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in the conference (4, 5 and 6...)." 

Finger then tweets out an example of why the order of the language matters: 

The "too long, didn't read" version is that, if the language of the initial three-way tiebreaker is confusing, a school could potentially have a case that it was not rightly named the champion based on the second step. What kind of response would that school issue to the Big 12 in that scenario? It's hard to say for sure, but it would create quite a mess. 

The third step of the three-way tiebreaker involves point differentials, which is a familiar route for anyone who follows English Premier League soccer (football).

"There's probably a little bit of apprehension about scoring differential, because theoretically it could contribute to running up the score," said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports. "But when you get down to that level, there aren't a lot of great ways to break the tie. This is probably as good as any."

The fourth step of the tiebreaker procedure is also curious, as it claims, "The champion will be determined by draw at the Conference office" in a last-resort measure, but it offers no additional details. 

Does the conference draw straws? Does it flip a coin Friday Night Lights style?

The Big 12 has made a living over the past several months by creating questions to which there aren't clear answers—if there are answers at all. The head-to-head two-team tiebreaker should have been the definitive factor last season. While the lack of a conference championship game hurt the Big 12 in the playoff picture, nothing was as embarrassing as how the league handled its co-champions with its "One True Champion" motto. 

The three-way tiebreakers are convoluted, but they are made more confusing by the way they were written. That was an avoidable problem. 

Ideally, the Big 12 would like to avoid this whole thing by expanding back to 12 teams and hosting a conference championship game. The problem is there aren't any teams available that would increase the value of the conference through addition. In other words, adding Central Florida and San Diego State "just because" won't cut it (apologies to Central Florida and San Diego State). 

That said, what the Big 12 has now—a nine-game, round-robin conference schedule—isn't terrible. The reason why tiebreaker procedures are such a huge thing now is because Baylor and TCU finished No. 5 and No. 6 in the final playoff standings, respectively. Had one or both of those teams made the playoff, deregulated conference championship games and tiebreakers probably wouldn't be front-burner discussion points at the moment.  

This left the Big 12 on the outside looking in, and here we are. In a panic, the Big 12 tried to adjust its championship procedures in the way that some try to run before they can walk. The result is a confusing piece of paper that only begs more questions. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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James Franklin Finally Makes His First Blunder on the Recruiting Trail

In James Franklin's first year as Penn State's head coach, it'd be tough to argue with the job he's done on the recruiting trail.

In the span of just 14 months, he has secured the nation's 24th-ranked recruiting class in 2014 despite dealing with NCAA sanctions, the country's No. 14 class in 2015 while coming off those sanctions and has gotten a head start on what's looking to be another strong class next year.

But while Franklin should be commended for handling the less-than-ideal circumstances he was dealt in Happy Valley, it was inevitable that sooner or later he was going to make a mistake. And finally, that day appears to have come.

Speaking to a gathered group of media during a stop in his caravan tour in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the second-year Nittany Lions head coach shared his thoughts on underclassmen entering the NFL draft. Penn State had three early entrees in last weekend's draft, including defensive end Deion Barnes, who went undrafted.

"To me, were you to come out early, you need to be a first-round draft choice,'' Franklin said, via Bob Flounders of "If not, you need to go back to school, especially if you haven't gotten your degree yet. That's just my opinion.''

And while Franklin is certainly entitled to his opinion, that doesn't make it one he should have shared for recruiting purposes.

Especially when Urban Meyer is on the verge of producing a potentially historic draft class in 2016 and Jim Harbaugh is selling prospects on his ability to get them to the pros. The fact of the matter is that being able to pitch the possibility of playing in the NFL matters to recruits, and Franklin's comments undermine his ability to deliver that message.

Because while Franklin's "first round or bust" mentality may sound good in theory, it's simply unrealistic and not advantageous to Penn State's recruiting practices.

Take for example the case of Donovan Smith, the former Nittany Lions left tackle who declared for this year's draft and was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the second pick of last weekend's second round. Does the fact that Smith went two picks later than Franklin's arbitrary standard make his decision to enter the draft wrong? Or should Penn State be celebrating—and marketing—having the sixth offensive tackle taken in the NFL draft?

The answer—at least from a recruiting standpoint—is of course the latter, but Franklin's comments make it difficult to do so.

In fairness to Franklin, it's more likely his comments were directed toward the Nittany Lions' two other early entrees, as tight end Jesse James wasn't picked until the fifth round and Barnes ultimately wound up signing an undrafted-free-agent contract with the New York Jets. But while one could argue that both players—each of whom were fourth-year juniors last season—would have been better served returning to State College for their senior seasons, the reality is that Penn State now has two more pro players it can boast about.

"At the end of the day, these guys are going to make decisions that they think are in their best interests and in their family's, based on all the information that they have,'' Franklin conceded. "I think Deion, even today, is confident that he made the right choice.''

Franklin's guarding against players leaving early is understandable, given the amount of talent he's already lost in the past year. The Nittany Lions are also already slated to prematurely lose players to next year's draft as well, with ESPN's Todd McShay projecting quarterback Christian Hackenberg to be 2016's first overall pick.

Franklin declined to discuss Hackenberg's situation specifically but tried to gain ground on the recruiting trail by reiterating that he's OK with projected first-round picks leaving early.

"I'm different than probably a lot of college football coaches,'' he said. "Lot of college football coaches tell all the guys they should come back, and I don't necessarily agree with that."

That might be true, but Franklin's primary rivals on the recruiting trail have accepted that players leaving early—for the first round or not—is a part of today's college game. With the introduction of the rookie wage scale and shorter contracts in the NFL, the reality is that being a first-round pick isn't as important as it used to be and isn't a battle worth fighting at the expense of what's best for recruiting.


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 Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Bold Summer Predictions for 2016 College Football Recruiting Trail

Summer break provides opportunities for prospects across the U.S. to become more involved in their respective recruiting processes. Time away from class creates room for campus visits, camp enrollments and overall assessments of how things are developing as national signing day approaches.

As the final stretch of this school year brings athletes closer to eventual collegiate decisions, we peeked ahead to assess events we foresee taking place this summer. Though we offer no guarantees, keep your eye on the following predictions, as they might just come to fruition before next football season.

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Heisman Handicapper: Ranking the Top 20 Candidates Post-Spring Games

We're only a few days removed from the Kentucky Derby, the most famous horse race in the world and one that has far more anticipation than you'd expect for something dubbed the "fastest two minutes in sports."

But that event has got nothing on the buildup that comes with the competition for college football's most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy, a race that doesn't officially begin until September when the 2015 season starts but which has been unofficially underway since before last season ended. 

Not long after Marcus Mariota claimed the 2014 Heisman, the discussion began over who would take this season's trophy. Early favorites and contenders were identified, then updated after bowl games and at various other times during the offseason.

Now that spring practice is over and there are no other relevant activities between now and the beginning of preseason camp, it's time for an in-depth look at who this year's top Heisman candidates are. We've ranked them in order of their odds to win, factoring in expected performance as well as historical trends related to Heisman winners and voting.

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Which Ohio State Players Will Step Up to Replace Talent Lost to NFL?

The Ohio State Buckeyes are the defending national champions, but they're losing a lot of elite talent to the NFL and are surely looking for players to step up. 

Stephen Nelson is joined by Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder to pick which his players will step up for Ohio State next season.

Which players will fill the void for those leaving for the pros? Check out the video and let us know!

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Everett Golson Transfer Rumors: Latest News, Speculation on Notre Dame Star

After losing his starting job to Malik Zaire before the Music City Bowl last season and coming into the spring in a battle for Notre Dame's starting quarterback gig, Everett Golson reportedly will transfer to another school.   

Continue for updates. 

South Carolina, Georgia, Florida All Potential Landing Spots for Golson
Thursday, May 7

Clint Brewster of 247Sports reported on Golson's departure from Notre Dame and two of his potential destinations: 

247Sports spoke to sources close to Everett Golson that indicated the Notre Dame transfer is most likely to end up at South Carolina or Georgia. The source said that Golson wants to play his final year of eligibility close to home, as Golson hails from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

ESPN first reported on Thursday the immediately-eligible transfer would seek to transfer out of Notre Dame. Golson confirmed the news to

Because Golson was suspended during the 2013 season, for what he called “poor academic judgement,” whichever school he chooses would have to submit a waiver to the league office.

Mark Long of The Associated Press added Florida to the mix, noting, "Gators' Jim McElwain said at recent Gator Club gathering that 'there may be some additions (at QB) as we keep rolling through the summer.'"

Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report had more on the waiver Brewster referenced:

Golson made the following statement after announcing he would transfer earlier on Thursday, via Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

After much thought, prayer and discussion with my family, I have decided that it is in my best interest to graduate from Notre Dame and transfer to another school effective immediately.

I would like to thank everyone at Notre Dame for the opportunity to compete at the highest level of college football, but most importantly to obtain my degree from one of the finest universities in the country. To all the Fighting Irish fans I want to thank you for your support over the past four years and let you know I truly love Notre Dame! To my former teammates, who I will miss tremendously, I wish much success in the future and will be your biggest fan from afar.

I will have no further comment at this time and ask that you respect my time as I figure out this life changing moment. God has a plan for each of us and I ask for your prayers as I move forward in this new journey in my life!

Golson is coming off a season that saw him throw for 3,445 yards, 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also rushed for 283 yards and eight more scores. Still, Dan Wolken of USA Today thinks Golson has as many question marks as he has talent:

Indeed, in Notre Dame's four straight losses to end the team's regular season, Golson threw for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, including four interceptions against Arizona State and a 7-of-18 performance for 75 yards, no touchdowns and a pick against USC.   

Both Georgia and South Carolina, however, might make sense for Golson, as neither school has an experienced player waiting in the wings at the position, giving him the guaranteed playing time he likely craves. 


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Nebraska Football: Reasonable Expectations for the Huskers' 2015 Season

Nebraska football fans do have the capacity to be reasonable (evidence sometimes notwithstanding). So as we settle in for the offseason, let’s take some time to look ahead and think about what we can reasonably expect from Nebraska under new head coach Mike Riley.


Nebraska Will Improve on Turnovers, Not Penalties

A smart and particularly handsome analyst has used this table before, but what it reveals about Nebraska under former head coach Bo Pelini is striking. Take a look at where Nebraska ranked under Pelini nationally in terms of penalty yards per game and turnover margin (stats courtesy of


Penalty yds/game, nat’l ranking

Turnover margin, nat’l ranking






















The bold italicized numbers, as a refresher, are the times when Nebraska finished in the top half nationally in those statistical categories. In other words, if the number isn’t in bold italics, it means Nebraska was (put charitably) below average.

Put less charitably—especially when the national rankings were in triple digits—Nebraska was regularly atrocious.

How did those numbers look in the same time period under Riley at Oregon State? In comparison, it’s a mixed bag.


Penalty yds/game, nat’l ranking

Turnover margin, nat’l ranking























With regards to penalties, you could argue Riley’s Beavers were worse than Pelini’s Cornhuskers. But with regards to turnover margin, Riley’s teams were far better than Pelini’s.

So you can stop expecting Nebraska to commit fewer penalties because Riley is such a soft touch compared to Pelini. But you can expect Nebraska under Pelini to do a much better job in protecting the football.


True Freshmen Will Make an Impact

A combination of talent and lack of depth will likely push a number of true freshmen onto the field in 2015. The clearest path to the field is probably possessed by linebacker Dedrick Young, given Nebraska only has five non-freshman scholarship linebackers on the roster. (You can see a class-by-class breakdown of NU’s roster competition here, courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald.)

Eric Lee and Avery Anderson, two of Nebraska’s highest-rated recruits, according to 247Sports, should be in the mix for playing time even in NU’s crowded and talented secondary. Matt Snyder, a talented offensive weapon at tight end, could be pressed into earlier service if the spring injury to Cethan Carter lingers into the fall. And Jordan Ober looks to come in right away and start for Nebraska at long snapper after losing scholarship snapper Gabriel Miller to injury last year.


Nebraska’s Record Will Be About the Same as 2014

Cue the “Then why did we fire a coach who never won fewer than nine games?” shrieking in three, two, one…

Nebraska’s 2015 schedule isn’t the most difficult, but it has some pitfalls. The season opener against BYU is a big challenge, given that Nebraska will be installing a new offense and a new defense. Riley’s first test of his new-look Cornhuskers squad will be against a program with a national championship in its locker, not an FCS directional school coming to Lincoln for a paycheck.

Nebraska also has to travel to Miami to face a Hurricanes squad with more talent on paper than the Cornhuskers. In conference, Nebraska also has to go to Minneapolis to face a Golden Gophers team with a two-game winning streak over NU. (I know, I had to read that a couple of times to let it truly sink in.) Games against Wisconsin and Michigan State (and, to a lesser extent, Iowa and Northwestern) will challenge Nebraska, but they are at Memorial Stadium.

Last year Nebraska went 9-3 in the regular season. Given the two nonconference challenges and the five in-conference contests, combined with the difficulties of transitioning to a new coach and a new system, besting a 9-3 record could be a challenge. It will take a big step up in quarterback play, or a big step back from a number of Nebraska’s conference foes, to comfortably predict an improvement over NU’s 2014 record.

We’ll have a discussion later about whether that can represent progress for Nebraska. Be patient, it’s a long offseason.


This column first appeared at The Double Extra Point, which you can follow on Twitter, at @DblExtraPoint.

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Alabama Football: Summer Enrollees Who Could Make Immediate Impact

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Over the next few months, the other 16 members of Alabama’s No. 1-ranked 2015 recruiting class will get to Tuscaloosa.

Some will come in May, some in June and others closer to the start of the fall semester, depending on their high school situation and personal life. By August, Alabama will have its full arsenal of players on campus.

During spring practice, we saw plenty of progress from some of the early enrollees. Safety Ronnie Harrison was consistently praised for his play in the secondary, while Desherrius Flowers jumped right into the running back rotations with all of the hits the Crimson Tide took at that position.

While Alabama’s summer enrollees won’t have the same benefit of an extra semester of work, there are still several who could see the field sooner than later.

Here are three who could make an impact right away.


Calvin Ridley

If you’re looking for the next Julio Jones or Amari Cooper, you could do worse than consider the 5-star Ridley, who comes from the same South Florida area that Cooper does.

Ridley stands at just 6’0", 170 pounds, but his speed, quickness and hands made him the No. 1 receiver of the 2015 cycle.

There certainly will be an opportunity for him at wide receiver when he gets to campus.

Alabama's top three is just about set with Robert Foster, ArDarius Stewart and Chris Black, but the picture at receiver becomes murky past that. There is certainly a plethora of talent but no clear hierarchy behind those three as it stands, especially after the knee injury to Cam Sims.

In Cooper’s freshman year, he wasn’t a starter right away. He had certainly shown his flashes, but in the fifth game of the season, he was forced into a bigger role when DeAndrew White went down. He caught eight passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns that night and remained at the top of the depth chart for the rest of his career.

A similar situation could play out with Ridley, as he finds himself behind three established wide receivers but could shine if given the opportunity.


Damien Harris

Alabama desperately needs running back depth, and Harris may be its answer.

Right now, behind Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, Alabama has a converted safety coming off knee surgery in Ronnie Clark, early enrollee Flowers and Bo Scarbrough, a 5-star with a torn ACL.

Clark and Flowers are coming along, but neither turned any heads at A-Day. Harris could be the next 5-star to have an impact right away.

Alabama has a definite track record of getting its best running backs on the field as soon as possible. Henry, T.J. Yeldon, Trent Richardson and so on all had big freshman years that kickstarted their careers.

If Harris comes in and shows he can do the things needed to be that No. 3 spell back, he could be the next name on that long list.


Daron Payne

For all of the talent that Alabama has on its defensive line, it doesn’t quite have an established run-stuffing nose tackle it can trot out against teams that still want to play a lot of power run.

Jonathan Taylor was supposed to be that piece, but his Alabama career ended three months in after a domestic violence accusation that is still working its way through the legal system.

Payne, a 6’2” 325-pound 5-star tackle from Birmingham, could be that piece.

The Crimson Tide already use a deep rotation that’s prone to getting young players on the field, like it did with Da’Shawn Hand and Josh Frazier last season.

Payne has the size to come in and play a specific but important role for Alabama that could find him on the field as a freshman.


Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Malik Zaire Will Be Notre Dame Starting QB After Everett Golson Transfer

According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, quarterback Everett Golson is transferring from Notre Dame. With the news, it is now likely Malik Zaire will be the starting quarterback for the 2015 season. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the move and what it means for Zaire.

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Odds on Where Former Notre Dame QB Everett Golson Transfers

According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Everett Golson is said to be transferring to a new school. He has yet to announce which school he will be attending.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer discusses the best landing spots for Golson. 

Where do you think Golson will end up next season? Check out the video and let us know!

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2015 Stat Projections for USC's Potential Heisman Contending QB Cody Kessler

After their national championship victory, the Ohio State Buckeyes lost a ton of talent to the NFL draft. How will they replace those stud players? 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder joined Stephen Nelson as they discussed which players are likely to step up and perform for the Buckeyes. 

Will Ohio State repeat as national champions? Check out the video and let us know!

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4-Star Keyshon Camp Names USC No. 1, Hopes to Visit Michigan Soon

Ever since 2016 4-star defensive tackle Keyshon Camp decommitted from an early pledge to Miami in late February, the attention from schools across the country has only increased.

The 6'3", 269-pounder from Lake Gibson (Florida) High School—who has 20 offers to his credit—has picked up offers from the likes of Cincinnati, Michigan and USC since that time.

With the spring evaluation period in full swing, coaches have flocked to his hometown of Lakeland—with Florida, South Carolina and USC already having stopped by his school earlier in the week.

But it's the Trojans who have gotten his attention and made the most significant impression on the nation's No. 20 defensive tackle.

"They [USC] are No. 1," Camp told Bleacher Report recently. "I like them. I love the intensity that the coaches have out there. They make me feel like family and like I'm already on the team. I feel like when I get out there, I will like it even more because of those things. Right now, it's just USC that I've fell in love with right now."

Camp has yet to visit USC, but that will change next month when he visits the Trojans campus for their Rising Stars camp.

Still, he admits that the idea of going to the West Coast for college is attractive to him. The idea of leaving his home state is something that he said he's comfortable with.

"I'm a Florida boy, and I'm not used to the cold weather. So being out in Cali suits me pretty nicely," Camp said. "I could see myself going out there. It's for business. I'm not going out there for the rest of my life. I'm still going to come back, but it's a business trip right now."

In addition to the Trojans, Michigan is a school trying to get in the picture with Camp. Wolverines defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin delivered an offer to Camp last week, and there's a connection to the Wolverines program that intrigues him.

Jim Harbaugh was able to land Camp's former prep teammate at Lake Gibson, 2015 3-star defensive end Reuben Jones, back in February. Camp is planning to make it up to Ann Arbor sometime in the near future.

"I have great interest in them because one of my teammates, Reuben Jones, he's there," Camp said. "I'm just going to get up there and try to visit. I want to see if I feel the same way Reuben felt when he went up there."

As far as in-state schools are concerned, the Hurricanes are not giving up on Camp—who noted that 'Canes coaches are supposed to drop by his school on Thursday.

His last visit was to Florida for one of its practices during the spring. He admits that he's still feeling out new Gators head coach Jim McElwain and his staff.

"I like the Gators," Camp said. "They got a good family vibe. They have a good, well-rounded program. I like the academics, but I'm just waiting until the season starts to look more into the team."

Two schools he said that he hopes to hear from who have yet to offer include Auburn and Ohio State.

Camp said that he's in no hurry to make a final decision, noting that it could come during the season or at an All-American game if he's selected for one.

"Right now, I'm just looking at every school that is interested in me and trying to find out the pros and cons of each school," Camp said. 

In the end, Camp said one factor stands out the most when he's making his final decision.

"Loyalty," Camp said. "Because if a school is showing me loyalty and always checking on me to see how I'm doing, that makes me feel they really want to see what's going on in my life and see how I'm doing."


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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