NCAA Football News

Alabama's Reggie Ragland Is Having the Last Laugh

It was the morning after the CFP National Championship when, on very little sleep, Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban had to attend a press conference to accept the trophies for winning the national championship game and answer questions about what’s next for the program and his players. 

That’s when he made the comment about linebacker Reggie Ragland and the NFL draft that has already proven to be quite literally right on the money.

"Reggie Ragland last year had a second-round grade,” the head coach said. “I'm sure he'll be a top-15 pick this year. If you want to do the math on that, that's like a $12-to-14 million dollar decision."

It’s obviously been a great year for Ragland, who ignored the naysayers who claimed he should leave the Crimson Tide early and accomplished everything he hoped and more in 2015.

He led Alabama to its fourth national championship in seven years as it became the first program to repeat in the SEC since 1998-99. The league’s defensive player of the year even won the “Alabama Media Good Guy Award” from the Crimson Tide’s beat writers.

“I get to keep this, right?” Ragland said after seeing the plaque.

This week, it only took him a day to establish himself as the best linebacker at the Senior Bowl, even though he’s playing out of position at outside linebacker after lining up on the interior for most of his Crimson Tide career.

Actually, make that two days, as Ragland was so anxious to get to work and show his versatility that he showed up in Mobile on Sunday when a lot of players didn’t arrive until Monday. Those are the kinds of things that are getting noticed and helping his draft stock rise.

"I'm a Reggie Ragland fan,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. “He's going to step in on Day 1 and run somebody's defense. He's a top-20 pick all day long. He's 260 pounds, so the question is, can he play on third down, can he play the passing game? I think he can. Just because of his leadership skills, his toughness, I think he's going to be a three-down linebacker and a top-20 pick."

Similarly, NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah rates Ragland as the No. 10 prospect in the draft, and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. says he has "tremendous intangibles."

About the only thing Ragland didn’t do this past season was win one of the major national awards, although with the benefit of hindsight one has to wonder what some of those organizations were thinking.

Have you heard anything about Tyler Matakevich this week? He’s at the Senior Bowl too, practicing for the North team, and SI.com's Chris Burke doesn't even have him listed as the best player at his position.

Matakevich is the kind of player fans of blue-collar football can’t help but like. The most decorated athlete in Temple Owls history, he’s the school's all-time leading tackler with 493 and plays with a passion coaches wish everyone had. 

He and his team were a great story in 2015. Temple went 10-4, matching the program record for wins. It beat the Penn State Nittany Lions for the first time since 1941, played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish tough and knocked off the No. 21 Memphis Tigers.

He won both the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Award for defensive player of the year, but didn’t land the Dick Butkus Award for the top linebacker, which instead went to Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith.

But then you take a second look.

Matakevich helped lead his team to the top of the AAC East, a six-team division with no ranked teams, all of which ended the season with a loss. Temple lost to a good Houston Cougars team in the American Athletic Championship Game, 24-13, and then to the Toledo Rockets in the Boca Raton Bowl, 32-17.

Incidentally, it was the first career win for new Toledo head coach Jason Candle, who was promoted from offensive coordinator after Matt Campbell left for the Iowa State Cyclones. Former Alabama quarterback Phillip Ely closed his college career by completing 20 of 28 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns for the Rockets.

If you watched those games, the weaknesses part of Matakevich’s draft evaluation on NFL.com will not be surprising:

Play strength is very average. Can be engulfed by linemen on the second level and might not have the frame to carry more functional mass. Struggles to hold his spot in the grass against a good lead block. Gets in a hurry to flow downhill and runs himself into bad angles on the ball when the play spills outside. Needs to do a more consistent job of breaking down in space before attempting to tackle. Shifty runners turn him into an arm tackler. Had 32 missed tackles over the last three seasons. Gets caught up in trash near the line of scrimmage and can’t get free quickly. Play speed is average.

Smith was considered a much better pro prospect, even after blowing out his knee in the Fiesta Bowl. He’d been drawing comparisons to linebacker Derrick Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs and, along with Matakevich, was a popular All-American selection.

But only Ragland, the leader and captain of what many called the best defense in college football, was a unanimous All-American choice at linebacker.

Nevertheless, the Chuck Bednarik Award, which is voted on by the Maxwell Football Club out of Philadelphia, chose the hometown candidate—and perhaps didn't want a sweep of its major awards after Alabama running back Derrick Henry won its namesake honor—and the Butkus went to the player who had previously won its high school award, as Smith joined former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o as the only players to do so.

Yet Ragland still got what he desired most out of his senior season, both on and off the field.

“[I wanted to] be a student of the game even more,” Ragland explained during his Senior Bowl press conference. “Doing all the things as a kid growing up, you think about going to the college football awards, being a finalist for the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski, but if it weren’t for my teammates pushing me and my coaches pushing me to be that leader on the field, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. They knew I was frustrated from not playing and knew once I got my opportunity, I was going to run with it.”

In a couple of months, he’ll be running and laughing all the way to the bank.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State WR Braxton Miller Puts the Moves on DBs at Senior Bowl Practice

There's no doubt Ohio State Buckeyes receiver Braxton Miller has some wicked moves in his repertoire, and now that he's looking to showcase his skills for NFL scouts, it's time for him to put his best moves on display.

And that's bad news for defensive backs at the Senior Bowl.

On Thursday, the quarterback-turned-wideout showed he is more than capable of beating some of the best defensive backs in college football. You'd never be able to tell he's been playing the position less than a year based on these clips.

While the Vine above shows Miller doing a defensive back dirty, he also beat Northern Iowa's Deiondre' Hall for a touchdown at one point.

Warning: Video contains NSFW language.

Miller's moves have certainly made a good impression on Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk:

No matter how many times he's seen his teammate do stuff like this, Ohio State safety Vonn Bell is always a fan:

After seeing all of this, no wonder the Washington Post's Master Tesfatsion wrote that Miller's NFL draft stock is rising.

[Vine]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Maty Mauk Dismissed from Missouri Football Program: Latest Comments, Reaction

Missouri head football coach Barry Odom announced Thursday that quarterback Maty Mauk has been dismissed from the program.  

David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune passed along the news, which comes after the signal-caller had been suspended three times since September.

Cassandra Vinograd of NBC News, citing school officials, reported the latest suspension came after a video surfaced that allegedly showed Mauk "snorting a line of white powder." He was punished twice during the season, with the second program-imposed ban ending his campaign.

Mauk provided a statement on his dismissal:

Tod Palmer of the Kansas City Star provided a full statement from Odom about the decision. He noted the video in question is believed to have come from "a long time ago," but the quarterback still continued to violate team rules as of late despite meeting with the new coach in December:

I met with Maty Mauk this morning and informed him of my decision to permanently dismiss him from the football program. When I met with Maty back in December, I wanted to give him an opportunity for a fresh start, but I also made it very clear what our expectations would be moving forward. After gathering information and speaking with a number of individuals this week, it is clear Maty has failed to live up to those expectations by violating team rules in recent weeks.

As for the video appearing on social media this week, it is concerning, but we believe it is from a long time ago. However, Maty's failure to live up to expectations in recent weeks was the reason for this decision.

We believe it is in his best interest to focus on his personal life and his academic career at this time. We remain committed to helping him work through the challenges and earn his degree. Our hope is that he will grow from this and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors.

No further information about the violations was immediately released.

Mauk ended up appearing in just four games this season due to the off-field issues. He tallied six touchdowns and four interceptions in those contests.

The 22-year-old Ohio native had showcased potential over the previous two years with the Tigers. He combined to toss 36 touchdowns in 24 games between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

ESPN Stats and Info further highlighted his impact:

Mauk struggled to stay out of the negative spotlight, though. It left Missouri with little choice but to dismiss him from the program after the third suspension, especially with Odom taking over and trying to set a new tone for the future.

Freshman Drew Lock struggled in place of Mauk throughout the 2015 campaign. That means there will probably be an open quarterback competition featuring Lock, Marvin Zanders and potentially incoming recruits beginning in spring ball to fill the void.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Schools to Watch After 4-Star Jordan Elliott Decommits from Michigan

The Jordan Elliott recruiting story gets more and more bizarre.

Last January, Elliott committed to Baylor. The Houston defensive tackle prospect decommitted in April. In May, Elliott decided to stay home and commit to Houston. He decommitted from the Cougars in September.

On Nov. 28, the 4-star athlete committed to Michigan following an official visit. On Wednesday, he reportedly decommitted from the Wolverines, according to EJ Holland of 247Sports.com. Calls and direct messages to Elliott were not returned Wednesday.

If you're counting, that's three schools committed to and three schools decommitted from in a year for Elliott.

Regardless, the story remains the same: Elliott is a Top 15 player at a very competitive position in the 2016 class. He was a U.S. Army All-American who made a lot of noise with his defensive presence in San Antonio earlier this month. More importantly, he's still very much a wanted target come national signing day.

So now the big question: Where to?

A few schools come to mind as Wednesday's signing day approaches. Two teams to watch represent the Big 12 and the Pac-12.

For now, it's no secret that Texas is a favorite to land Elliott. And while it's no guarantee the Longhorns will land him, you can bet that head coach Charlie Strong, defensive line coach Brick Haley and the rest of the coaching staff are going all-in to get the 6'3 ½", 306-pound tackle to sign. Texas currently only has one defensive tackle committed in 3-star Gerald Wilbon.

Texas only has 14 players committed but is hoping to have a monster conclusion by adding several 4-star targets around the state of Texas, including safety Brandon Jones, linebackers Jeffrey McCulloch and Dontavious Jackson and cornerback Eric Cuffee, who is expected to announce his decision Thursday evening. Elliott, like the others, is a wanted target in the Forty Acres.

Arguably the wild card of Elliott's recruiting is USC. The Trojans were supposed to be his first official visit back in September, but he canceled due to scheduling conflicts. Former Trojans defensive line coach Chris Wilson recruited Elliott to USC, but the Trojans let Wilson go in December. USC's defensive line now is led by coach Kenechi Udeze and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

USC only has 13 commits, and it's still looking for its first defensive tackle pledge of the 2016 cycle. A solid tackle such as Elliott to complement 5-star defensive end Oluwole Betiku could make for tons of problems for Pac-12 offenses. It should also be noted that Elliott has told Bleacher Report on multiple occasions that he's been a longtime USC fan.

Texas and USC are the exclusive teams to watch in the Elliott sweepstakes, but it's never a bad idea to look at the teams he committed to, prior to Michigan. Baylor has two defensive tackles committed in 4-star Bravvion Roy and 3-star early enrollee Jeremy Faulk. Houston is stacked at the position with three pledges, including 5-star stud Ed Oliver.

The next six days will be interesting, but you can bet that teams will be working hard to land Elliott, a player who can help a program at the next level.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Playing for a Fallen Friend, 4-Star OT Tramonda Moore Nearing a Decision

Staying humble and appreciating everything earned. For Oklahoma City offensive lineman Tramonda Moore, his priorities are very simple yet immensely important.

With the help of hard work and humility, Moore not only has become a 4-star prospect and someone with 15 reported offers, but he also has worked to become the top-ranked player in Oklahoma in the 2016 class.

With less than a week away from national signing day, Moore is looking to transition from John Marshall High School and finalize his college plans. In-state schools Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are potential landing spots, as is reigning national champion Alabama. Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA are on the outside looking in.

But as Moore, a very wanted athlete at 6'6" and 330 pounds, inches closer to signing a national letter of intent, he finds more motivation to succeed for a fallen friend and John Marshall teammate—one he calls his "little brother."

On April 17, C.J. Davis died in an automobile accident. Known around his peers as "Cleato," Davis was a 16-year-old sophomore and a right tackle for John Marshall. More than 1,000 people attended Davis' funeral, according to the Oklahoman.

"I do all this for my little brother," Moore said. "It's hard work all the time."

Moore dedicated his senior season to Davis and even changed his jersey number from 55 to 54—Davis' number. At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this month in San Antonio, an event Moore defined as "amazing," he proudly ran out of the Alamodome tunnel during pregame introductions wearing 54.

Ask Moore, and he'll tell you that every play made was for Davis. And as he prepares for the next level, it won't take much for Moore to stay motivated.

"I'm pushing myself for Cleato," Moore said. "And I'm trying to wear his number in college, too."

Moore is the nation's No. 11 offensive tackle and No. 108 overall player in the 2016 class. He is versatile enough to play either tackle or guard at the next level. Moore was a consistent topic of discussion while at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, recording pancakes in practice and keeping the jerseys of his quarterbacks—Ole Miss enrollee Shea Patterson, Michigan enrollee Brandon Peters and Stanford-bound K.J. Costello—clean.

Where Moore chooses to play college ball is still a big question. He is trending to sign with Oklahoma on Wednesday, but he's said on multiple occasions that he's keeping all of his options open. That includes the schools that may be considered long shots.

"Really, it's just about the coaches," Moore said of choosing a school. "Every school, academically, you want to do well. Every school has pretty much the same thing. I'm just trying to go and find what's best for my future and what will help me on the field and help get me to the league."

Wherever Moore ends up, know that he will play each game as if he'll retire afterward.

It's what Cleato would have wanted.

"This is all for him," Moore said. "That's my little brother."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking College Football's 25 Fastest Players

Speed is becoming the name of the game in college football.

Wide-open offenses such as the ones at Baylor and Oregon are world-famous for being factories of lightning-fast players. Even the pro-style teams known for their powerful "man ball" styles like Alabama and Stanford are loading up on track-star talent at skill positions and all across their defensive backfields.

But who holds a legitimate claim to being the fastest in college football heading into the 2016 season? The most common way to measure speeds in football—times in 40-yard dashes—are notoriously unreliable thanks to various conditions and timing mechanisms.

A more accurate measure of speed is the fully automatic time system used in official track and field records from reliable sites such as the Track & Field Results Reporting System, Track & Field News and DyeStat. Many players who are considered some of the fastest in college football either run track collegiately or ran in high school.

In this countdown, I relied on recent, verified and mostly wind-legal times from the above sites in the 100 meters, which is the most common event among these speedsters. (More recent times held a greater weight than old high school ones when the numbers were close.) However, some track stars with elite numbers in other events, such as hurdles and relays, were eligible for special consideration.

Now, to be completely clear, this track-time method is the best objective way to pick the fastest players in college football. Some who didn't make the Top 25 could be faster than those inside the Top 25, but there's no real way to determine that without relying on opinion instead of the hard data. 

Notice a player with a verified 100-meter time that I left out? Want to suggest a player for the honorable mention category? Let me know in the comments below.

Begin Slideshow

Braxton Miller's Senior Bowl Showing Another Recruiting Tool for Ohio State

With a Super Bowl-high five players to set to play in the NFL's championship game, Ohio State has unsurprisingly used its heavy representation in the professional ranks as just another sales pitch on the recruiting trail.

One look at Urban Meyer's Twitter account shows a head coach who's clearly proud of his team's presence in the Super Bowl and isn't shy about letting any of his 369,000 followers know it.

But with two weeks sandwiched between the NFL's conference championships and the biggest game of the season, the Buckeyes have found another way to sell their program's ability to put players in the pros.

And it happens to come in the form of a player who just finished one of Columbus' most storied football careers despite finding his football future in doubt merely a year ago.

If you've been following coverage of the Senior Bowl from Mobile, Alabama, it's been hard to miss Braxton Miller's name in the past week. On several occasions, draft analysts and media members in attendance have taken to Twitter to rave about the progress of the former Ohio State wideout, who will play for the North team in Saturday's All-Star Game:

The fact that Miller is even in a position to be drafted—let alone potentially in the first two rounds of the draft—could be considered a success in and of itself, considering where the Huber Heights, Ohio, native's football fate stood just a year ago.

After a torn labrum in fall camp forced a second offseason shoulder surgery and brought his 2014 season to an end before it had even started, Miller's career as a quarterback—the position he had played at Ohio State for the first three years of his college career—appeared very much in doubt.

What's more, Miller was returning to a roster that already possessed quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, who had just co-piloted the Buckeyes to the first College Football Playoff National Championship.

Rumors of an offseason transfer for the 2015 season persisted, but there was no guarantee that Miller's shoulder would ever be healthy enough to play quarterback again.

As fall camp approached, the 6'2", 215-pounder had accepted that reality and announced to SI.com's Pete Thamel that he would be making the move not to another school but to a new position in the Ohio State offense as a wide receiver.

"This is the smarter thing for right now," Miller told Thamel of his transition.

It also may have been the smarter thing for the long term as well, as the former dual-threat quarterback also seemed to possess the most pro potential as a pass-catcher rather than a pass-thrower.

Miller's efficiency with his arm (career 59.4 completion percentage) had always been a question mark, while his ability with his legs and in the open field (3,315 career rushing yards and 33 career rushing touchdowns) had never been in doubt.

But outside of the Buckeyes' season-opening win over Virginia Tech, which saw Miller star in his new role as a wide receiver and Wildcat quarterback, the transition to his new position proved easier said than done.

Inconsistent play from a rotation of Jones and Barrett in the starting lineup didn't help, but by season's end, Miller had caught just 26 balls for 341 yards and three touchdowns, adding 260 yards and a score on the ground.

Perhaps more tellingly, Miller attempted—and completed—just one pass, which was more of a push than anything else, signaling that his future in football was indeed at wide receiver and nowhere else.

"Quarterback is in the past," Miller stated during media availability at the Senior Bowl, per WalterFootball.com. "I learned a lot playing quarterback."

While criticisms that Meyer and his staff misused Miller last season are fair, his breakout showing in Mobile is proof of a player who was prepared to star at wideout in 2015 but got lost in the shuffle due to extenuating circumstances.

Having not played wide receiver since his freshman season of high school prior to 2015, the two-time Big Ten MVP has starred as an outside wideout this week after primarily playing in the slot this past season.

Miller has superb ability as an athlete—he claims his goal for the NFL Scouting Combine is to run a 4.28-second 40-yard dash—but the type of progress he's shown this past week doesn't happen without the preparation of Meyer and his staff.

That's something the Buckeyes already appear to be pitching on the recruiting trail, if the pride they've taken in Miller's Senior Bowl showing on social media is any indication:

Only adding to the intrigue of Miller's big week is that this isn't just some workout warrior emerging during the start of the "silly season" that is the NFL draft process but rather one of the Ohio State program's most prominent players for the better part of the past half-decade.

Miller was one of the Buckeyes' best recruiting tools during his time on campus, having been pictured consistently posing with prospects during their visits to Columbus.

Only from now on, Ohio State will no longer be able to sell Miller's presence to prospects but rather his preparation for the pros.

And who knows? Maybe it won't be long before the Buckeyes are touting a Miller appearance in the Super Bowl to their targets on the recruiting trail.

Based on how he's performed this week, the former face of the Ohio State program seems to be on the right path for a successful career in the NFL.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which Dark-Horse SEC Running Backs Have Best Chance to Win 2016 Heisman Trophy?

Alabama running back Derrick Henry broke through that glass ceiling in 2015, rushing for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns en route to becoming the third running back this century to win the Heisman Trophy.

There will be several SEC running backs looking to catch on to that draft and attain that Heisman glory in 2016.

Of course, superstars like LSU stud Leonard Fournette, Georgia's Nick Chubb and Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will be mentioned prominently in the mix for the most prestigious individual award in American sports. Fournette chimed in tied with Stanford's Christian McCaffrey for second in early Heisman odds, via OddsShark.com, at 5-1, and Chubb—off of that brutal knee injury—is tied for sixth with Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook at 12-1.

But where's the fun in choosing the obvious running backs?

Let's go off the board with some dark-horse running back candidates in the SEC who could make a push for Heisman glory in 2016.

 

Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough

Was Henry frightening in Tuscaloosa? Yep, and his clone is coming at opposing defenses in 2016.

Bo Scarbrough tore his ACL last offseason and had a suspension to deal with early in the 2015 campaign. Those two issues made him a non-factor for the majority of the season. He only gained nine yards through the first nine games of the season but had a breakout game where he rushed 10 times for 69 yards and a score, and added 17 in mop-up work against Michigan State.

That's not a stat line that jumps off the page, I know.

But when you have a Mack truck like Henry rolling in the fourth quarter, you ride him.

Scarbrough, a 6'2", 240-pound rising sophomore, is similar to Henry with his size and speed and is stepping into a situation where he might be counted on to do exactly what Henry did.

In addition to Henry's departure, Alabama loses quarterback Jake Coker, center Ryan Kelly and will usher in a new right tackle. Sure, Scarbrough has to contend with sophomore Damien Harris for No. 1 carries. But a full season of work while healthy in the strength and conditioning program should transform Scarbrough into a monster in 2016. 

He's going to get a chance to win the job. When he does, he won't let it go.

 

Florida RB Jordan Scarlett

It was an up-and-down year for Jordan Scarlett as a freshman for the 2015 Florida Gators. The Fort Lauderdale native had 34 carries for 181 yards and one touchdown behind starter Kelvin Taylor, but was suspended for the Citrus Bowl against Michigan after being cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

He'll be a star in 2016.

With Taylor gone and dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris likely taking a back seat to a starting quarterback who's a better fit to head coach Jim McElwain's pro-style system (Luke Del Rio, Austin Appleby or Feleipe Franks), somebody needs to step up and be the workhorse in the Gator offense.

Scarlett can be that guy.

The 5'10", 198-pounder has breakaway speed, is big enough to take the pounding between the tackles and should have a better offensive line than the Gators had last season. 

While McElwain is known for his ability to develop quarterbacks, he turned Alabama castoff Dee Hart into a 1,200-yard rusher in 2014 and helped Kapri Bibbs top the 1,700-yard mark in 2013 while the head coach of the Colorado State Rams.

Scarlett will follow in their footsteps, become a star in 2016 and, if his team can remain in the national conversation into November, could jump into the Heisman conversation.

 

Auburn RB Jovon Robinson

For the first two months of the season, Auburn running Jovon Robinson was like Sasquatch. A mythical creature that you heard about through word of mouth but never really saw in real life.

That changed in November, when he rushed for 402 yards and two touchdowns in four games and finished the season with a 126-yard performance against Memphis in December in the Birmingham Bowl.

With fellow running back Peyton Barber off to the NFL, the path is clear for Robinson to become a bona fide superstar. Head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 13 1,000-yard rushers in 10 seasons as a college head or assistant coach, including Barber last year, and should take some pressure off of Robinson in 2016 with either the addition of a running threat at quarterback or an improved downfield passing attack.

As Allie Davison of Rivals.com noted on Twitter, the better Auburn running back from 2015 might be the one still playing college football in 2016.

The 6'1", 230-pounder is perfect for Malzahn's offense. He's patient, strong between the tackles, deceptively elusive in space and can be a force either in a more traditional offense with a pro-style quarterback or in a multi-dimensional system that utilizes the quarterback as the edge threat.

If Auburn is going to return to glory, it will be because of Robinson's success. Malzahn already sent one running back to New York as a Heisman finalist when Tre Mason made it in 2013, and don't count out Robinson following in his footsteps.

 

Texas A&M RB Keith Ford

Wait, who?

It seems like Keith Ford is the forgotten man at running back in the SEC, but the former Oklahoma running back is eligible at Texas A&M in 2016 after sitting out his transfer year in 2015.

Ford ran for 194 yards and five touchdowns on 34 carries through three games in 2014 but missed the next five games with a foot injury. That opened the door for Samaje Perine to burst onto the scene for the Sooners, which relegated Ford to a backup role.

The 5'11", 215-pound former 5-star prospect from Cypress, Texas, has the speed of a home run hitter, the size to take the pounding in space and is in a situation with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone where the running game will take more of a precedent in College Station for the first time under head coach Kevin Sumlin.

Mazzone helped Paul Perkins top the 1,300-yard mark twice at UCLA, and Johnathan Franklin rushed for 1,734 yards in Mazzone's first season in Westwood in 2012.

He will split carries with James White early in his career, but the presence of Mazzone coupled with quarterback questions with either Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight or the relatively inexperienced Jake Hubenak should make the running game the focal point for the Aggies in 2016.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 23 Defensive Ends

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2016. Here we present the Top Defensive Ends.

 

Whether they're speed-rushing or playing contained in a zone, defensive ends can make or break a play defensively. College coaches are looking for the playmakers at the position who can not only alter a run play but also get to a quarterback to disrupt pass plays.

The 2016 class has several college-potential prospects who can be playmakers at a Power Five school. Here's our breakdown of America's top-ranked prospects at the position, including scores based on individual assessments of pass rushing, tackling, explosive strength, run defense, hands and overall motor.

Begin Slideshow

The Secret Home of Blue-Chip Recruits: How Coach Bill Clark Is Resurrecting UAB

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — On a day when Donald Trump's infinite election convoy was shutting down the streets of Birmingham, Bill Clark strolled through the front doors of the Sheraton Hotel without anyone seeming to notice.

Wearing blue jeans, a sport coat and a neighborly Alabama smile, Clark was not outfitted like a football coach. He looked more like a company's go-to salesman—the kind of asset that closes a deal long before shaking a single hand.

In many ways, at least for the time being, this has become his new reality.

On one of the final college football Saturdays of the season, the head coach of UAB football—the program that was told to die, only to spring back to life before most knew it had ever left—looked strangely content with his unorthodox standing.

Clark will not coach his team in an actual game until September 2, 2017—more than 550 days from now—when UAB makes its official return to college football.

In the meantime, the catalyst of this great resurrection has the unthinkable task of selling a program that has to remain idle a bit longer.

It's a weight no coach should have to carry around in living rooms and dinner tables. And yet, despite the obstacles of selling a future, Clark has convinced a collection of former 4- and 5-star talents—elite players who logged hours at some of the nation's most esteemed football powers—to commit to his vision.

UAB, operating with a tremendous anchor, is on the verge of securing one of the greatest recruiting classes in school history.

Instead of simply adding necessary depth with national signing day now less than a week away, Clark has infused his gutted roster with greatness—known names and athletes poised to guide this program's hand up from the grave and into the driving light.

The team with the highest-ranked recruiting class in Conference USA won't play next fall. And the architect behind it—the man anxiously hoping to win a city's heart—doesn't appear the least bit fazed by the lingering shock and now the overwhelming success of it all.

The Presidential Suite at the Sheraton is spacious: 850 square feet high above Birmingham, overlooking a downtown that is in the infant stages of a makeover. In the years to come, this space will overlook the new football facilities UAB has planned.

Clark did not pick to meet in this particular room by chance. It was by design. This setting was handpicked to host one of UAB's most robust recruiting weekends since it was brought back.

With mockups of the facilities propped up on easels throughout the room and a delectable spread laid out, Clark eased onto the leather sofa hours before the players arrived.

Twirling a bottle of water in his hand, he talked about rebuilding this program and the challenges in acquiring this kind of talent. But before he could look forward, he had to revisit old wounds.

"My mother passed away when I was 19, so I don't want to compare it to a death," Clark said, finally letting go of his smile. "But this was close to a death."

On December 2, 2014, UAB President Ray Watts told a room full of players and coaches that their football team was being disbanded. Members of the team walked out with their arms around each other, fighting back tears. Some didn't bother to fight them at all. 

A lack of funding and general financial commitments, coupled with a very cryptic (and somewhat political) situation ultimately doomed UAB football. 

After leading the team to a .500 or better record for the first time in a decade, Clark watched as the program was scrapped for parts. Coaches and players left for other universities.

While some upperclassmen expressed a desire and willingness to sit out two full years for one more chance to play for their coach, Clark told them not to wait. Not with so much still to be determined.

"It was every emotion," Clark said. "I need to be here for these kids. Now I need to go get a job. Where is my next move? But there was still hope. And this is where I wanted to be."

So he waited. And six months after his program was taken away, Watts announced football was coming back.

Not only was UAB football returning, but it was also being rebooted with new facilities that included a football operations building, turf fields and locker rooms.

Clark had his team. More importantly, he had something to sell. The only catch was that this vision and this future would not be realized for more than two years.

Roughly 30 players stayed at UAB—a mix of scholarship athletes and walk-ons Clark refers to as his "culture" group. The rest would have to be brought in from the outside—a task that was daunting on the surface.

UAB needed bodies, above all. To create a competitive environment for spring practice—a period that will still be "the least normal thing we do," according to Clark—they needed commitments to fill in such glaring holes.

"I don't want us to sell our soul to win early, but I want to be able to compete," Clark said. "And we're not going to be able to do that with a bunch of freshmen. We had to go get older."

A list that began in thousands was narrowed to a few hundred players.

Many of these players were junior college players in between football homes. While UAB didn't avoid high schools, thinking about the next, next step, this first class demanded a unique methodology.

"There's a bad connotation with junior college kids. There's a bad connotation on transfers. But we said every guy has a story," Clark said, gesturing with the now empty water bottle. "A lot of these guys were so highly touted that they just didn't know how to handle it. They've got another chance. They have a chance to be the start of it and attend a great university."

The concept made perfect sense.

Resurrect your roster with a developed group that could settle in for the next year. Get them on campus as quickly as possible and acclimate them with the system through spring football. Get them in class, just like any other student-athlete.

But putting this plan in motion required a breakthrough. It had to start somewhere.

Clifton Garrett's phone buzzed.

It was October of last year, shortly after one of the nation's elite linebackers from the 2014 recruiting class—a 5-star talent and the No. 28 prospect overall, according to 247Sports' composite rankings—shocked the recruiting world by committing to UAB.

A head coach at a major university actively recruiting Garrett received word that his target had committed.

"Wow," this coach wrote him in a text message, still shocked by the news. "Are you serious?"

All Garrett could do was smile. Not because this was some sort of a joke, but because this was coming. He understood that few would understand why he was doing what he was. He wasn't the least bit concerned in justifying his decision.

"It's bigger than me and the program," Garrett said shortly after he committed. "It's about the whole city of Birmingham."

The idea that Garrett could have landed at UAB would have been preposterous a few seasons ago. One of the anchors of an LSU recruiting class that included running back Leonard Fournette, the Plainfield, Illinois, product never felt at home with his new team.

The excitement surrounding his recruitment didn't match the reality of campus life. So instead of forcing happiness that simply wasn't there, Garrett left the bright lights of Baton Rouge for Arizona Western—a JUCO that would allow him to play right away.

A concussion derailed these plans for much of the 2015 season. Still, one day after practice, the UAB coaches paid Garrett a visit.

Competing against schools such as Auburn, Florida State, TCU and Louisville, the staff members didn't apply a full-court press. They simply asked that he visit them before telling them no. He obliged.

"I'll be honest," Garrett said. "My mindset was that I could get on a plane and get some nice good food. Go on vacation. But that was probably one of the best vacations I have taken in a long time."

Garrett could sense the pain the city was moving beyond as he toured through Birmingham—a place he had never been before. At the same time, he fell in love with the city and the idea of being something more than a linebacker. He could feel the energy there.

Connecting with his future head coach was the icing on the cake.

Waiting for his airplane at the Birmingham airport, Garrett called Clark shortly before he boarded the plane back to Arizona.

Right there and then, he committed. He couldn't wait any longer.

The man who was supposed to lead Notre Dame to the promised land has spent much of the last year locked away in a dimly lit, cluttered room at the Hotel Roma in Miami Gardens.

Instead of seizing an opportunity in South Bend, Greg Bryant lived in isolation—eating canned food and living out of his suitcase he refused to unpack. He couldn't fathom the idea of calling this place home.

"I'll keep it real," Bryant said in an interview the day before he moved out. "This past year has been the hardest part of my life. Not playing football, going from the luxurious life at Notre Dame and coming back home and living in the hood at Miami while playing JUCO, it's been real tough."

In 2013, Bryant was one of the most coveted running backs in the nation—a mix of speed and power that drew wide interest. The Florida product was the 247Sports composite ranking's No. 7 back in the class.

Bryant committed to Notre Dame, and he was instantly expected to be the key cog to Brian Kelly's offense. Only it never happened. His first two years didn't click. Hoping to change that in 2015, Bryant was ruled academically ineligible shortly before the season began.

"I needed a B+ in my summer school class," Bryant said. "But I got a B-."

Instead of waiting, Bryant left Notre Dame and returned home. He enrolled at ASA College in Miami—a JUCO that would allow him the chance to play while he figured out his next move.

An issue with his paperwork at his former stop, however, essentially forced Bryant to sit out the entire year. Instead of finally showing the world what he was capable of, Bryant spent his days in the gym, at class and his sheltered hell.

Then one day he heard from the coaches at UAB. Not long after, he met with the man that would change his life.

With interest from Louisville, Minnesota, Indiana, Auburn and others, Bryant joined Garrett in announcing his commitment.

"I've had a ton of people ask me why UAB," Bryant said. "They really don't know my background and what they're doing for me. Once I went on a visit and met them in person, I knew I was safe. I knew I was in a safe environment. They're basically giving me a second chance."

Instead of being forced to wait until summer to join a program, UAB welcomed Bryant in January. While he understands the weight of his commitment—taking great pride in what the return will mean now and moving forward—there was more to it than that.

A door opened at just the right time. For him, there is no more waiting. The wait came last year when he was all alone.

"It's a whole year of football, but it's better than sitting in a hotel," Bryant said. "I can possibly get my degree heading into the 2017, and that's a dream come true. Somebody like me getting a degree where I come from is unheard of."

Clark settles back into his seat after grabbing a handful of peanuts. His eyes darts to the television as Michigan wraps up a 28-16 win over Penn State.

His peers have spent the past few months enjoying the ecstasy that comes with each victory. All the hours are spent to satisfy these sensations. Due to his situation, Clark has had to find this rush in other places.

"Right now," Clark said, "the commitments are our wins."

Beyond Garrett and Bryant, UAB has attracted the attention of many JUCO stars drawing huge interest elsewhere. Brandon Hill, a massive guard who first committed to Alabama, has signed to be one of the team's future enforcers.

Former Michigan State defensive end Noah Jones is also part of this class. As is Darez Diggs, an athletically blessed cornerback and the younger brother of NFL wideout Stefon Diggs. Fellow cornerback Shaquille Jones, who started out at Georgia, has also signed.

This would be an impressive coup for any team in any season. But for a program still a year away from playing in actual games, this is nothing short of a football phenomenon.

"It's kind of surprising," Clark said when asked about the team's early recruiting success. "But this one breeds the next one. And the next one."

Much of this future is now. Many members of this class are already on campus, acclimating themselves to a new environment, working toward Alabama A&M on September 2, 2017.

This collection of JUCO All-Stars along with a handful of high school signees ready to seal the deal on signing day represent more than just names on the list. They will do more than plug holes. They are the symbol of a spectacular rebirth.

"The guys who are here now are the first credit in the movie they're going to make about this thing," Clark said. "And it's going to be a movie. But we want this to be a happy ending."

The plan for 2016 is to put this influx of talent to use, almost immediately. Clark wants to make this transition year as seamless as possible. 

UAB still won't have a full roster during the spring, although it will practice. The reps will come fast as the roster is developed and further NCAA and conference matters regarding this unprecedented return are sorted out. Even now, they still don't have all the answers.

Moving to the fall, Clark plans to treat each week as a game week. He will establish a normal schedule—one that includes watching weekly game tape of the team's opponents, a scrimmage on Saturdays and even nights before these "games" in the team hotel. 

Every last detail down to the involvement of cheerleaders will be implemented during this yearlong simulation. 

"I hope that August is as close to our routine as possible," Clark said. "I tell these guys that they're not coming in here to be off for a year." 

The doorbell of the Clark's hotel suite rings, interrupting a plan he has gone through countless times in his mind. Perhaps the next great commitment is on the other side of the wall, anxious to pledge allegiance to the man in blue jeans.

The great 5-star whisperer swings open the door. Two employees from the hotel greet the coach, wheeling in more food and drinks with the recruiting weekend set to begin.

These are not the next great players at UAB, although you wouldn't know the difference from Clark's greeting.

"Good seeing you again," Clark says as he uncorks that familiar smile. "How are y'all?"

 

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KegsnEggs

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

National Signing Day 2016: Announcement Schedule, Predictions and More

We are a long way from the start of the 2016 college football regular season, but the biggest event of the offseason is upon us with this year's national signing day. 

The day itself has become a spectacle with high school players taking advantage of their time in the spotlight to announce their decision, often in the most ridiculous way possible. While many enjoy watching the creativity and sometimes goofiness of each player, the event is also meaningful as each team tries to bring in the best possible class.

With the future landscape of college football up in the air, you want to make sure to tune in to the full-day event. A full announcement schedule will be revealed later, per ESPN MediaZone, but here is a look at the current information available:

 

National Signing Day Television Schedule

Date: Wednesday, Feb. 3

TV: ESPNU (8 a.m.-1 p.m. ET); ESPN2 (1-5 p.m. ET); ESPNU (5-7 p.m. ET)

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

 

Times courtesy of ESPN MediaZone, MaxPreps, 247Sports and assorted personal announcements.

 

Top Battles to Watch

Rashan Gary, DT

EJ Holland of 247Sports was one of many who came away impressed after the Under Armour All-America Game:

Rashan Gary was named MVP of that all-star showcase and appears likely to make an early impact no matter where he goes. While everyone wants him, the defensive tackle is down to Michigan, USC, Ole Miss, Auburn and Clemson.

Although the superstar hasn't made an announcement, Adam Friedman of Rivals.com explained why Michigan has been the favorite for a long time:

The Wolverines have been the favorite for a long time and for good reason. Gary’s former high school coach Chris Partridge is on the staff as the linebackers coach, he knows dozens of players on the team and in the recruiting class, and Gary and his family feel comfortable on campus and in that environment. The defensive scheme is something Gary really likes and he sees how much of an impact he can have.

USC is definitely a team that can make a late charge, but this seems like Michigan's race to lose.

 

Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, OLB 

It appears to be down to Florida, Alabama and Georgia, with each spot having its draw. The Crimson Tide are obviously difficult to turn down after seeing them win yet another championship this season, especially with Mack Wilson being a lifetime fan of the school.

"Since I was a young’n, I have dreamed about playing for Alabama," the linebacker told Chris Kirschner of SEC Country.

The local player could easily stay home and continue the trend of elite linebackers on this defense. However, the relationship with former Alabama defensive coordinator and current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart could sway his decision. Wilson recently visited Athens and came away impressed. 

"It went great," the linebacker told Derek Tyson of ESPN. "I just had a chance to see it for my first time and I felt like it was a great place and a great football town to play in. I’d give the visit a 10. We had a good time, we just talked football, hung out, ate and chilled. It was great overall."

He still has a chance to take a trip to Florida as well, although despite all of this, it might be difficult to get him to leave the state. Alabama remains the favorite and the best guess for the talented player. 

 

Derrick Brown, DT

This class might not have many elite offensive skill players, but what it does have is defensive linemen who are almost sure things to contribute at the next level. Georgia native Derrick Brown is one of those players in the impressive class.

While no one is sure about where Brown will end up, we do know he will be playing in the SEC based on his final five:

Georgia was certainly the favorite for much of the recruitment process, but 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have started to trend toward Auburn with seven of the last eight picks going to the Tigers. The first pick in this stretch was Wesley Sinor of AL.com, who stated a few weeks ago he expected the big man to make a "surprise" commitment to Auburn.

Tennessee remains in contention, and you can never count out Alabama when it comes to bringing in defensive studs. But Auburn has made up a lot of ground in this recruitment and could end up on top when all is said and done.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Matt Farniok to Nebraska: Cornhuskers Land 4-Star OT Prospect

The Nebraska Cornhuskers bolstered their offensive line Wednesday evening on the recruiting trail with the addition of Matt Farniok, who is rated as a 4-star prospect by 247Sports’ composite rankings.

The 6'4 ¾" and 297-pound offensive tackle shared the news of his commitment on Twitter:  

Farniok is a South Dakota native and the No. 262 overall player in class of 2016, the No. 24 offensive tackle and the No. 1 prospect from his state, per 247Sports' composite rankings. Alex Chippin of TheScore.com noted Farniok took official visits to Michigan State and Iowa in addition to Nebraska and drew scholarship offers from Stanford and Michigan.

Michael Bruntz of 247Sports said Nebraska head coach Mike Riley, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh were all present for an in-home visit with their new prospect Wednesday night. 

Riley is not allowed to mention prospects by name, but he seemed to allude to Farniok in his tweet following the news:

Farniok’s mother, Christine, offered a quote to Scout.com’s Derek Young (via Josh Harvey of Scout.com):

Matt is so appreciative of everyone that recruited him and this decision came from lots of thought and sleepless nights. It's such a relief to see him relaxed and smiling again. Bottom line is, he wouldn't have made a bad choice in any of the schools he was down to. I'm so proud of all his hard work to get him to this place and now he deserves to enjoy being a Husker.

As of Wednesday night, 247Sports had Nebraska 28th in its composite rankings for the class of 2016. 247Sports also provided a list of prospects committed to the class, and it included offensive linemen John Raridon, Bryan Brokop and Boe Wilson in addition to Farniok.

It is clear the Cornhuskers have made something of a commitment to the offensive line in this recruiting cycle after mixed results during the 2015 season.

Football Outsiders rated Nebraska’s offensive line last season as 98th in power success rate (“percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown”) and 39th in opportunity rate—“the percentage of carries (when five yards are available) that gain at least five yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job”—so there is room for improvement.

If the Cornhuskers plan on bouncing back from a 6-7 campaign and challenging the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa in the Big Ten, they need to play better along the offensive line. Adding players like Farniok is an ideal place to start.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Irish's Top Remaining Recruiting Targets for NSD 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — We’re now just one week away from national signing day, and the Notre Dame football coaches are traveling across the country trying to land the final Irish targets.

Currently, Notre Dame’s class of 2016 consists of 22 prospects, including the five early enrollees already on campus and weeks away from the start of their first spring sessions.

Who are the remaining Irish targets?

 

Demetris Robertson

Stud wide receiver Demetris Robertson is the highest-rated target still on Notre Dame’s board.

The 5-star Robertson is the No. 1 wideout in the country and the No. 14 overall prospect. Notre Dame assistants Mike Sanford, Mike Denbrock and Scott Booker are scheduled for an in-home visit with Robertson on Thursday, per Irish247’s Tom Loy.

The Irish are jockeying with Georgia, Alabama and, perhaps increasingly, Georgia Tech, according to Loy.

 

Caleb Kelly

There’s still an array of linebackers on Notre Dame’s board, and 5-star prospect Caleb Kelly highlights the group.

The Fresno, California, native is the No. 3 outside linebacker and No. 25 overall recruit in the nation. Kelly took his official visit to South Bend in mid-December for Notre Dame’s awards banquet weekend.

The Irish staff—with head coach Brian Kelly, associate head coach Denbrock and linebackers coach Mike Elston—had its final in-home visit with Caleb Kelly on Tuesday.

Oklahoma has ranked among Kelly’s leaders, per Loy.

 

Jonathon Jones

Outside linebacker Jonathan Jones is the No. 31 player at his position and No. 449 overall prospect in the class. The Orlando, Florida, native is only considering Notre Dame and Michigan, per 247Sports’ Ryan Bartow.

According to Loy, Notre Dame assistant coaches Autry Denson and Brian VanGorder were expected to visit Jones this week.

 

Nate Johnson

Wide receiver Nate Johnson committed to Michigan in mid-December, but the Irish are still targeting the No. 93 wideout in the nation.

The Thompson’s Station, Tennessee, product took an official visit to Notre Dame over the weekend, six days after the Irish reached out with an offer.

Notre Dame’s current wide receivers in the class include early enrollee Kevin Stepherson, Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

 

Other Names to Watch

Beyond that quartet, the Irish are still targeting the likes of linebackers Jeffrey McCulloch and Ben Davis, athlete Jordan Fuller and all-purpose back Damian Alloway, most notably.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Deshaun Watson Claims Next Year May Be His Final Season at Clemson

Enjoy quarterback Deshaun Watson next season, Clemson fans. It may be your last chance.

According to a Wednesday report by the Associated Press (via FoxSports.com), the quarterback, who will be a junior during the 2016 campaign, said “he could leave a season early next year if circumstances are right.”

Watson also stated he has always dreamed of the NFL and that the opportunity to get there is one reason he elected to attend Clemson. The Associated Press noted, “Watson said one of his goals is to have his college degree before he leaves. He is on track to graduate in December.”

CBS Sports rated Watson as the No. 1 quarterback on its list of 2018 prospects, and it is not much of a stretch to assume the Clemson signal-caller would be No. 1 if he does elect to enter the 2017 NFL draft based on his production during his sophomore campaign.   

He threw for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns and added 1,105 yards and 12 more touchdowns on the ground as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He also led the Tigers to the national championship game, where they lost a 45-40 heartbreaker to Alabama. The loss was far from his fault, considering he torched the fabled Crimson Tide defense for 405 passing yards, 73 rushing yards and four touchdown passes. 

He made history in the process, per Bleacher Report Insights:

Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com ranked Clemson as the No. 1 team in his “way-too-early Top 25,” largely because Watson is returning under center. What’s more, Odds Shark recently listed Watson as its favorite to win next season’s Heisman Trophy.

Watson has the talent to take home college football’s most prestigious award and lead his Tigers to the national title during the 2016 campaign all while earning his degree. If he does all that, NFL teams will certainly take note.

To hear Watson tell it, that has been the plan all along.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jordan Elliott Decommits from Michigan: Latest Details and Reaction

Head coach Jim Harbaugh's stellar 2016 recruiting class has taken a big hit with defensive tackle Jordan Elliott decommitting from the Michigan Wolverines on Wednesday.

EJ Holland of 247Sports reported Elliott's decision to leave the Wolverines and open up his recruiting one week before national signing day.

Elliott announced his commitment to Michigan back in November on Twitter following the regular-season finale against the Ohio State Buckeyes:

It helped build momentum for the Wolverines this recruiting season, which has otherwise gone very well. He's the 14th-ranked defensive tackle and a 4-star prospect, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Michigan is still set up well for an excellent recruiting season, with 247Sports having the program ranked fifth in the nation.

It had become apparent in recent weeks that Elliott was having second thoughts about his decision. Jason Suchomel of OrangeBloods.com reported on Jan. 20 that the Houston native was going to take a visit to the University of Texas Longhorns.

Even though Michigan is still listed on Elliott's radar, the Longhorns have moved into the top spot. According to 247Sports' crystal ball projections, Texas is currently getting 67 percent of the vote as Elliott's preferred destination. The USC Trojans are second at 17 percent.

Getting a prominent in-state recruit to stay home would be a major coup for Texas, which is struggling with the 37th-ranked recruiting class right now, per 247Sports.

Until players officially sign their letter of intent on Feb. 3, things remain wide open. The next seven days will be a wild ride in college football, with Elliott's move the latest ripple in the vast ocean of college recruiting.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Early Preview of SEC Football's Top 2016 NFL Draft Prospects

For those who have been doubting the Southeastern Conference's prowess of late, all you have to do is look at recent NFL drafts for proof that it remains the most dominant league in college football. 

Last year the SEC had 54 selections, the second-most in draft history. It set the record the year before with 63 players picked.

The SEC led the nation's conferences in draft picks for the ninth consecutive year in 2015. The last time the SEC did not top the conference draft list was in 2006, when the ACC had 52, the Big Ten had 41 and the SEC had 37.

Since then the league has averaged 50 players selected per year.

During the last nine NFL drafts, the SEC has had a leading 81 players go in the first round, an average of nine per season. Over the past decade it’s had 40 percent of the top 10 selections.

This year appears to be no different, as the SEC is poised to once again lead college football in helping NFL teams fill their rosters.

Here are 10 SEC players to keep an eye on, not all of whom will be first-round selections.

Begin Slideshow

The Last 10 No. 1 College Football Recruits: Where Are They Now?

What can we expect from New Jersey defensive tackle Rashan Gary, the No. 1 college football recruit in the 2016 class?

Based on recent history, a lot.

The last five No. 1 overall recruits have performed better than the previous five, in part because of injury luck and in part—one assumes—because recruiting has become a year-round industry and scouting has become more nuanced and accurate.

So Gary, who has yet to decide on his school, will have a lot to live up to in college and the NFL. But he's earned those expectations for a reason.

Here is where the previous 10 No. 1 recruits are today.

Begin Slideshow

Linebackers Key for Georgia Recruiting

In his first offseason as Georgia Bulldogs head coach, Kirby Smart is faced with a daunting task: landing UGA's talented linebacker recruits.

College football programs with a new head coach generally have more difficulty recruiting than those with an established coaching staff. After all, these are high school kids who have to make a life-altering decision. Some of them will even have the privilege of playing in the NFL someday, a possibility that is largely contingent on how well their college coaches prepare them for the NFL.   

Even with a new coaching staff, however, the Dawgs are still elite recruiters. 247Sports' 2016 composite rankings have UGA at No. 9 overall, just a handful of recruits away from cracking the top five.

The Bulldogs also happen to be in the hunt for two of the best—if not THE two best—linebacker recruits in the country: Alabama natives Ben Davis and Lyndell "Mack" Wilson.

Davis, an inside linebacker at Gordo High School, is the No. 1 inside linebacker in the country and No. 10 overall prospect, according to 247Sports.

His father, Wayne Davis, is the Alabama Crimson Tide's all-time leading tackler and has taken up a supportive role in his son's recruitment process. Though Davis has been open about his desire for his son to play at Alabama, he has said he will support whichever decision he makes.

"I made it clear with Ben that he needs to go to Alabama,” said Davis, via Tide 99.1's Kevin Connell. "I made it clear with Ben also that I want him to go around and look at the other schools and make up his own mind."

He had been considered a slam-dunk commit for the Crimson Tide until a few weeks ago, but everything changed for the younger Davis when Smart—one of Davis' primary recruiters at Alabama—left Tuscaloosa to become the Bulldogs' head coach, prompting him to name Georgia his leader.

Wilson, an outside linebacker at Carver High School, also included Georgia in his recruiting chase once Smart was settled in Athens. Listed by 247Sports as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the country and No. 15 overall prospect, he included UGA in his top three schools alongside Alabama and the Florida Gators.

Davis and Wilson are not the only high-profile recruits Georgia is pursuing. Having already landed No. 2 overall quarterback Jacob Eason and No. 1 tight end Isaac Nauta, the Dawgs are also in the mix for three additional 5-star prospects: defensive tackle Derrick Brown, athlete Mecole Hardman Jr. and wide receiver Demetris Robertson.

But make no mistake—Davis and Wilson are the two most important recruiting targets for the Bulldogs.

The formula for success in the SEC is well-established. A successful team requires a physical offensive line that excels in run blocking, a powerful defensive line that can stuff the run and a linebacker corps that can do everything effectively.

Of those three, the latter is by far Georgia's biggest weakness heading into the 2016 season. Three of last year's starting linebackers for the Dawgs—Leonard Floyd, Jake Ganus and Jordan Jenkins—have graduated. They will likely be replaced by rising juniors Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, as well as rising senior Tim Kimbrough.

Behind them, however, is an utter dearth of depth. Rising sophomore Natrez Patrick showed the most promise last year, but he has dealt with some serious off-field issues in the past few weeks. Rising senior Reggie Carter has been plagued by injury. Roquan Smith will need to make a big leap in his sophomore season, as will D'Andre Walker.

The recruiting trail for both Davis and Wilson has become a high-risk, high-reward situation. In his latest piece, my Bleacher Report colleague Tyler Donohue noted the distinct possibility that the duo would come to the same school as a "package deal".

The reason for such a decision is that they have become good friends through the recruiting process. In a Twitter post back on Dec. 12, Davis—wearing No. 32—showed his love and respect for Wilson (No. 30):

In the last few days, Georgia's recruiting status with the duo has taken an interesting turn. Since December, Georgia had gone from Davis' favorite to "sharing No. 1" with Alabama. After his Jan. 24 official visit to Tuscaloosa, Davis was ready to name Alabama his new leader altogether.

Whereas Davis' chances with the Dawgs have taken a slight dip, Wilson has become an increasingly likely commit for Georgia. Starting off as the third option behind Alabama and Florida, his official visit to Athens back on Jan. 15 yielded fantastic results for the Dawgs, as Wilson considered his visit to be "a perfect 10". As a result, Wilson notes that Georgia is now "equal" with Alabama and Florida in his recruiting chase.

Kipp Adams of Dawgs247 and 247Sports detailed the full extent of Wilson's satisfaction with his visit, as well as his potential future in Athens:

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, even losing both Davis and Wilson does not completely void them of blue-chip linebacker commits. Jaleel Laguins, an in-state inside linebacker from Oconee County High School, has been a UGA "hard commit" since committing to Georgia back on Aug. 19. Laguins is the No. 10 overall inside linebacker in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports. 

With national signing day coming up on Feb. 3, this next week is crucial for Georgia. Both Davis and Wilson will be committing that day, so Smart and company need to make one final, convincing pitch to their prized linebacker targets. Fielding an elite 2016 linebacker class will ease concerns heading into next season, and it could put Georgia back into the national championship picture.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Previewing Biggest Spring Depth-Chart Battles for Top 10 College Football Teams

A week from today, programs across college football will fill voids in their rosters on national signing day. But unless a recruit is an early enrollee, those rosters will still be somewhat depleted. 

Still, there will be key position battles starting to take form over the next few months. All position battles are important, but some capture more attention than others because of major losses. In the following list, we've broken down the biggest position battle for each team that finished in the Associated Press Top 10 for the 2015-16 season. 

Selections for the following team weren't always the most obvious. For example, a number of Top 10 teams will have quarterback battles this offseason. Rather, the importance was based on not only the departing players but also the remaining depth chart, possible incoming players and overall strength of the position group.

Begin Slideshow

Defensive Tackle Is the Missing Piece for TCU's Recruiting Class

While TCU’s 2016 recruiting class is currently ranked higher than any other in school history, they still have one major need to address: defensive tackle.

The Horned Frogs’ class is No. 18 in the country, according to 247Sports Composite rankings. The group boasts multiple receivers, running backs, defensive ends and defensive backs. At defensive tackle, however, they have only one commit.

The Frogs need to add depth at the position. With the departure of senior Davion Pierson, the Frogs will have just five DTs on the roster for spring practice. Two of them—Aaron Curry and Tevin Lawson—have only one year of eligibility remaining.

Controlling the line of scrimmage is critical when trying to slow down the high-octane offenses of the Big 12. The interior of the line is key to making that happen.

When TCU led the conference in total defense in 2014, it was due largely to the play of Pierson and fellow DT Chucky Hunter. That year they combined for 67 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, according to sports-reference.com.

Hunter graduated after the 2014 season, and Pierson is now gone as well. This season will be the first since 2011 that neither of those players is present along the line for TCU. If they want to perform at the level head coach Gary Patterson wants defensively, they’ll need talent to fill that void.

The Frogs also rely heavily on a rotation along the defensive line. They substitute regularly to keep players from becoming exhausted by the pace used by teams like Baylor and Oklahoma.

They need more DTs to have the depth to make those rotations as consistently as they want. Curry and Chris Bradley got significant snaps this season, and Joseph Broadnax got playing time as a freshman.

But in the fourth quarter on the road against Baylor in November, TCU will want to be able to play more than just three or four DTs.

So where do the Frogs get that depth? It starts with the DT they already have committed.

The Frogs’ lone DT commit is a highly regarded prospect. Ross Blacklock, a 4-star DT from Missouri City, Texas, committed to TCU at the Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 9.

At 6'4", 326 pounds, he has the frame to compete for significant snaps this year. But the Frogs still need another big body at the position.

One of the Frogs’ biggest targets remaining for 2016 is D’Andre Christmas-Giles. The 4-star prospect has TCU in his final three along with Texas and LSU. He has taken official visits to all three schools.

According to Rod Walker of the New Orleans Advocate, Christmas-Giles had 49 tackles and five sacks as a senior at St. Augustine. He was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in the New Orleans Catholic League.

Patterson is not hesitant about putting freshmen on the field if they're ready to play. KaVontae Turpin went from a relative unknown in last year's recruiting class to the Frogs' second-best receiver as a true freshman.

Christmas-Giles and Blacklock would get the chance to show what they can do early. The hope would be to begin grooming them to be TCU's next duo to solidify the defensive line for years.

Getting Christmas-Giles would not only fulfill the Frogs’ biggest remaining need. He would also become the top-rated player in an already historic class for TCU. 

He is the No. 83-ranked player in the country by Rivals. That would make him the highest-ranked player to sign with the Frogs since LaDarius Brown in 2011.

TCU will celebrate this year’s class no matter what. It will be the first top-25 recruiting class under Patterson. But landing another DT like Christmas-Giles would make that celebration even sweeter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages