NCAA Football News

Alabama Football: Summertime Is the Time for Some Crimson Tide Players

The music group War had a very popular take on summer, with a song going by the same name proclaiming: “Summertime is the best time any place,” and “Yes, it's summer. My time of year." 

In Tuscaloosa, though, it’ll be a key time for numerous University of Alabama football players who are trying to either win or hold on to roles with the Crimson Tide. Although the team won’t officially be together again until camp opens in August, a lot of what happens in the fall will actually be determined by how hard the players work in June and July.

A good example is with Geno Smith, the converted cornerback who is trying to win the starting free safety job. He’s played in 25 games over the past two years, with two starts as the nickel defender, and is the leading candidate to replace All-American Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

“Geno's had a really good spring,” Nick Saban said during a press conference last month. “He's really been active and played well at safety. I still think that sometimes he's a little bit uncertain of what to do. Sometimes he's a little bit uncertain of exactly how to do it. But that's why we'll practice, and he can study himself this summer and work on some things this summer, as well as in fall camp and hopefully we'll be able to make progress with him.

“He's certainly got the ability, and I think he can make a huge impact for us next year if we can get him feeling comfortable and confident in everything that he's expected to do.”

Here are some others who need a good summer, beginning with the most obvious selection.

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Auburn Retroactively Claims 3 Titles, Assistant Coach Defends Move on Twitter

There is a long and confusing relationship between Auburn and the college football national championship, and on Friday, the Internet picked up on an inconsistency between what the school's official website purports and what is recognized by the NCAA.

Per this tweet from Brandon Marcello of AL.com, Auburn claims to have won five national titles in football, tacking on the 1913, 1983 and 1993 championships to the titles it actually won in 1957 and 2010:

Of the three disputed years, 1993 has created the biggest fuss on the Internet. Auburn finished 11-0 that season, but it was banned from the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. Not unlike Ohio State in 2012, it could not be recognized, officially, as anything other than a very good regular-season team that lost zero games.

But Auburn would like to claim that title as its own, ostensibly on the grounds that no other team finished with zero losses. The recognized national champion, Florida State, had a 12-1 record after losing at Notre Dame in November but beating Miami in the national title game that Auburn was not allowed to play in.

Per Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com, the National Championship Foundation cites Auburn as one of four co-champions in 1993. But as USA Today's Dan Wolken clears up, that means effectively nothing:

Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig was a member of the 1993 team in question, and when Bud Elliott of Tomahawk Nation tweeted something about how pathetic this assertion was—a claim Elliott was in the large majority by making—Craig began defending his program's right to say it won the title:

But Craig didn't just fire back at Elliott. He defended his school's non-title to seemingly anyone on Twitter who would listen:

Note: Craig, I think, is saying Auburn beat both teams that played in the SEC Championship that season (Alabama and Florida). It did not play Florida State or Miami, who played for the national championship.

This is not a novel conversation.

As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee reminds us, we have had this discussion before. Auburn feels snubbed and like it should have more than two national titles to its name. And in the other two years in question—1913 and 1983—it actually has a pretty decent case (Jason Kirk of SB Nation gives a good breakdown of those scenarios here).

But there is no point in attempting to rewrite history. It comes off more as desperate than anything to claim, on the record, that the NCAA recognizes more AU national titles than it actually does. That is not just fabricating the truth, it's flat-out lying to the Auburn alumni, players, coaches and targeted recruits.

After all the hubbub, an unnamed Auburn official called the reaction to this news "much ado about nothing," per Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News:

Fair enough, but the "ado" in question was started by the university itself. If this is really a non-issue, as the official claims, why update the page at all? Why not just leave it be as it was before April 24?

What are we trying to accomplish?

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Complete Scouting Report for Alabama 4-Star WR Commit Calvin Ridley

Calvin Ridley commands consideration as one of America's most talented 2015 wide receiver prospects. The 6'2", 170-pound playmaker from Pompano Beach, Florida, provides Monarch High School with a premier scoring threat on every offensive possession.

He averaged 28 yards per reception in 2013, scoring 12 touchdowns in the process. Ridley caught 41 passes for 1,131 yards during a journey to the state playoffs.

His nationwide recruitment concluded in April with a commitment to Alabama. Nick Saban edged out more than 20 coaches who aimed to land Ridley.

Florida State, USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Ohio State, Miami and Notre Dame are among the programs searching elsewhere after his pledge to the Crimson Tide. He committed to Alabama along with Monarch teammate Shawn Burgess-Becker.

Ridley, rated No. 4 nationally among receivers in 247Sports.com's composite rankings, is listed at No. 41 overall among all 2015 prospects.

His outstanding skill set and explosive downfield production create an opportunity for him to contribute early in college. We examined the game tape to develop a better understanding of what makes him such a special talent.

 

Positives

Scouts love to highlight measurable qualities while dissecting prospects, but competitiveness isn't so easily quantifiable. Ridley is a fierce athlete who is clearly motivated to outwork opponents in every phase of the game.

He is assertive off the snap, delivering physicality at the line of scrimmage that leaves press coverage looking futile. Ridley races downfield and attacks his routes with tenacity and confidence.

His approach at the second level signals that he understands where to be at particular junctures of a play's progression. Ridley routinely high-points the football, using a formidable physical frame to shield space and come down with possession in traffic.

Ridley's physicality comes in part from his role in the defensive secondary. He lines up in the backfield, delivering blows when called upon to contribute on the other side of the ball.

Defenders struggle to tackle Ridley once he develops downfield momentum. He tends to shrug off the initial tackler before racing to pick up major chunks of yardage after contact.

Ridley provides his team with a multidimensional threat who is capable of inflicting damage on end-around rushing attempts and kick returns.

 

Negatives

Ridley's aggressiveness doesn't always shine in the rushing attack. He reacts off the snap, but could maintain blocks downfield on a more consistent basis, opening lanes for his teammates out of the backfield.

While competing for playing time on a talent-packed roster like Alabama, players must establish any edge they can.

Ridley stands to improve as a run-blocker in an attack that routinely thrives with its ground assault.

His big-play ability constantly makes defensive backs looks silly in high school, but there are necessary strides required to carry that tendency to the next level. There are crucial adjustments to make in route-running technique that can ensure Ridley reaches the field early in Tuscaloosa.

The initial steps off the snap are solid, but Ridley will occasionally round off his route, allowing defenders a better opportunity to anticipate the pass. If he comes out of his breaks sharper with a powerful back-foot fire-off, it will set the stage for increased success against talented SEC secondaries.

 

Projection

Ridley has the talent to earn a role in the receiving corps during his first season on a college campus. If he can make the most of limited snaps, the door will open for him to compete for a starting job as a sophomore.

A strong opening training camp will go a long way to ensure Ridley is ready to compete as a true freshman. His first chance to crack the lineup could come on special teams as a returner.

Once he seizes a starting gig, Ridley is the kind of balanced receiver who would warrant early NFL draft consideration with a couple strong seasons in the SEC.

 

Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: The Time Is Now for the Heralded 2011 Recruiting Class

When Brian Kelly inked the 2011 recruiting class, he settled a very large unanswered question. In landing a top-10 class, he quieted the skeptics who wondered if a coach from Grand Valley, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati was ready to compete on the national stage for elite recruits.  

But as that recruiting class enters its senior season, it's time for that group to answer some questions as well. A season removed from playing for the national title, can it bring the Irish back to national prominence?

Right now, the sum total is certainly less than the individual parts. Stephon Tuitt and Troy Niklas both were second-round draft picks, but they departed South Bend after only scratching the surface on their ability. George Atkinson departed early as well, signing as an undrafted free agent rather than returning for his senior season. 

Five-star prospect Aaron Lynch became the ultimate "what could have been" prospect, leaving Notre Dame the spring before his sophomore season. He put together one unimpressive season at South Florida before leaving for the NFL, plummeting to the the 150th pick of the draft, about 140 spots lower than many expected after seeing his freshman All-American campaign in South Bend.

But even without some of the headliners, there's still time for this group to make its push to greatness, before the Irish coaching staff has to make tough decisions on fifth-year seniors. Let's take a look at the 23-man class that Notre Dame signed in February 2011. 

 

George Atkinson
4-Star Wide Receiver

Signed as a multi-positional athlete, Kelly surprised many when he pegged Atkinson as a running back and not a wide receiver. With a rare blend of size and speed, Atkinson contributed immediately on special teams, scoring two kickoff return touchdowns in his freshman season. 

While Atkinson's yards per carry were always impressive, he was hardly a natural running back. He didn't develop much better as a pass-catcher, making him a tough fit in the Irish offense, even after Kelly gave him multiple chances to win the starting running back job. 

A late-season suspension for the Pinstripe Bowl ended Atkinson's career in South Bend with a whisper. He declared early for the draft yet wasn't selected, electing to sign with the Oakland Raiders, the organization where his father played and currently serves on the radio broadcast team. 

 

Josh Atkinson
3-Star Cornerback

While many thought Atkinson's offer was part of a package offer, the Irish had a desperate need at cornerback, and Atkinson brought ready-made speed and size to the position, something defensive coordinator Bob Diaco coveted. 

Atkinson saw time immediately in the secondary, with the depth chart featuring just Robert Blanton and Gary Gray as starters and early departures from E.J. Banks and Spencer Boyd. While he's one of the fastest college football players in the country (Atkinson ran a 10.39 at the Big East outdoor track meet in 2012), he's struggled with the athletic demands of the position. 

Atkinson will play out his eligibility this season, likely serving on special teams and as a reserve defensive back. He cross-trained as a wide receiver at times last season. 

 

Kyle Brindza
3-Star Kicker

Brindza has lived up to the expectations Brian Kelly bestowed on him when on Signing Day he called Brindza "the most talented kicker in the country." The Irish staff believed then he had the ability to not just handled placekicking and kickoffs but eventually punting duties, and Brindza did that in 2013.

In his final season in South Bend, Brindza should be an awards candidate, a nice sign that the coaching staff nailed their projection, no easy task when recruiting a high school specialist.

 

Jalen Brown
3-Star Cornerback 

Brown is another veteran cornerback who's been passed up by younger depth in the Irish secondary. Kelly and his staff hoped Brown was a sleeper prospect, coming out of a strong prep program in the Dallas area. 

While he redshirted as a freshman, Brown will need to show some value to the Irish secondary if he's going to come back for a fifth year. With Brian VanGorder bringing in a new system that relies on man coverage, that could help the long (6'0.5") defender who was a high school sprinter.

 

Brad Carrico
3-Star Defensive End

Notre Dame's first commitment to the class, Carrico came from pipeline school Dublin Coffman and was one of the first "big-bodied" defensive ends the Irish staff targeted for their 3-4. There were questions as to whether he'd be able to stay at the position, and he transitioned to offensive line before an injury ended his career.

Carrico is finishing his degree at Notre Dame, but he's no longer a part of the football team.  

 

Ben Councell
4-Star Outside Linebacker

Councell was the prototype "Dog" linebacker for Kelly and Diaco's system, and while the North Carolina native redshirted his freshman season, he turned over the starting job to Danny Spond after beginning the 2012 season in the lineup. 

Councell shared time with Jaylon Smith at the position in 2013 before tearing his ACL late in the season. Ahead of schedule, Councell will be ready for the fall, though his position in VanGorder's defense is still up in the air. He could help out at inside linebacker while also playing at the "Sam" outside linebacker position. 

 

DaVaris Daniels
4-Star Wide Receiver

Daniels spent his freshman season watching, saving a year of eligibility, while Michael Floyd served as the team's primary receiver. After a promising, but injury-plagued, debut season in 2012, Daniels improved in 2013, even while he battled nagging ailments. 

An academic suspension kept him out of Notre Dame for the spring semester. A university academic advisory board is expected to rubber-stamp his return in the next few days, allowing Daniels to return to campus...and the No. 1 receiver job. But Kelly expects to see a changed man when he returns for summer school. 

Per CSNChicago.com's JJ Stankewitv, Kelly said:

He's immensely talented. He's got to have his foot on the pedal all the time. If he does, he's as good as anybody out there that I've coached. But there's only so many times you can go to the whip... Sooner or later you gotta do it. I think this hopefully is that time where he goes, I gotta be cognizant of the fact I got a lot riding on this, I gotta be that guy every single day.

 

Matthias Farley
3-Star Cornerback

One of the lowest-rated prospects in the Irish class, Farley was an intriguing athlete with a soccer background when Notre Dame's coaching staff plucked him from Charlotte. After spending his redshirt season as a wide receiver, Farley transitioned to safety in the spring and found himself on the field against Navy, beating out fifth-year senior Danny McCarthy. 

Farley stepped into the starting lineup after Jamoris Slaughter went down early in 2012. While he struggled as a true deep field safety in 2013, Kelly and VanGorder transitioned the physical defensive back to cornerback, where he'll be matched up in the slot and work outside-in as a blitzer and run-stopper. 

 

Everett Golson
4-Star Quarterback

We've spent a few thousand words talking about what Golson means to this program, and after a very painful year away, he's back and ready to take over the offense. As a prospect, Golson was the first quarterback Kelly had a full recruiting cycle to pursue, and it's clear that he's the perfect prototype for the Irish offense. 

While Golson's ability to steer the Irish to the BCS title game against Alabama served as a key datapoint, this season will likely be the one to determine if he's an elite college quarterback or just another good player. He'll have the team on his shoulders after being just another guy in the offensive huddle for much of his debut season. 

 

Jarrett Grace
3-Star Inside Linebacker

Grace was identified early by the Irish coaching staff as one of their top inside linebackers on their recruiting board. They were patient with him, letting Grace redshirt as he watched Manti Te'o anchor the interior of the defense. 

Grace proved up to the task by taking over after Te'o left, relegating both Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese to part-time duty, while Grace stayed on the field. Just as he started to find his footing at the position, a serious leg break suffered against Arizona State threw his 2014 season into jeopardy. 

Kelly expects to get an update from head trainer Rob Hunt on Grace's ability to begin working toward next season. But the injury could derail a player who was among the best at his position in the country. 

 

Conor Hanratty
3-Star Offensive Guard

The son of former Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty, many thought the offer to the lightly sought-after guard was a legacy obligation. But Hanratty proved that was not the case when he fought his way into the lineup last year, working with Steve Elmer to fill Christian Lombard's guard spot after the veteran went down with an injury. 

It's going to be an uphill battle for Hanratty to be a starter on Harry Hiestand's stacked offensive line. But he'll be a valuable depth player and will likely stay around for a fifth season as a key reserve up front. 

 

Eilar Hardy
4-Star Cornerback

A knee injury early in camp as a freshman sidetracked Hardy for the better part of two seasons, pushing a promising recruit into a place where he was almost a forgotten man. But Hardy worked his way into the safety rotation last year as a junior, playing in 10 games and starting against both Pitt and BYU. 

Hardy looks like a perfect fit for VanGorder's defense, a big hitter with a mean streak who can run with receivers. While he's playing behind Max Redfield and Austin Collinsworth, don't be surprised to see Hardy work his way into the rotation and stick around for a fifth year. 

 

Matthew Hegarty
4-Star Offensive Tackle

A medical scare that could've been life-threatening has made many forget that Hegarty was one of the elite offensive line prospects in the country. And while the Irish staff immediately shifted Hegarty to the interior, while recruiting services saw him as a tackle, Hegarty showed his value after Nick Martin went down last season. 

Hegarty can play center or both guard positions, making him a versatile piece of depth. Whether that's good enough to keep him around for a fifth year, Hegarty's a starting-caliber football player who overcame serious adversity to work his way back into the lineup. 

 

Chase Hounshell
3-Star Defensive End

It's hard to say how good Hounshell can be because he hasn't been healthy long enough to show it. Three shoulder surgeries have kept him off the field from the start of his career. But Hounshell contributed as a freshman, playing in seven games and working his way onto the field even surrounded by a stacked recruiting class.

If he can stay healthy, Hounshell will be a valuable piece of depth on a defensive line looking for contributors. He's got the bulk to play inside or out and will be needed at either position in VanGorder's multiple-front scheme. 

 

Ben Koyack
4-Star Tight End

While Niklas stole the show, Koyack was the elite tight end prospect in this recruiting class. Close to garnering a 5-star rating, Koyack played immediately, but he only started making an impact late last season. 

With Niklas gone, Koyack will be among Kelly's most trusted pass-catchers. He's got the size and athleticism NFL teams covet, but Koyack will need to leave behind the inconsistency he's shown in the past if he's going to play up to the standard set by Irish tight ends.  

 

Aaron Lynch
5-Star Defensive End

Lynch was a freshman All-American in 2011, leading the Irish in sacks and quarterback hits. But he quit the team in the middle of spring practice and moved home to Florida. He reappeared on the football field in 2013 over 40 pounds lighter, making only a mild impact before declaring for the NFL draft. 

His selection by the San Francisco 49ers ended up getting USF strength coach Hans Straub to resign, after Straub torched Lynch on social media by saying: "Thought an organization with 5 Super Bowl titles would have a stricter draft criteria. Clearly, integrity & character are not a priority."

 

Nick Martin
3-Star Offensive Guard

After seeing how quickly Zack Martin worked his way into the starting left tackle job, Kelly and the Irish staff pulled Nick Martin away from Kentucky after a fairly tough battle. Martin spent his freshman season redshirting and took over the starting-center job after Braxston Cave graduated. 

Martin played well until injuring his knee late in the season. He's on track to return healthy in the fall, taking limited non-contact reps this fall. Expect Martin to be a three-year starter at center, a lock to stick around for a fifth year. 

 

Cam McDaniel
3-Star Running Back

McDaniel may not have been the most glamorous recruit, but he's been a key contributor for the Irish in his four seasons. After being forced to cross-train at cornerback after Tee Shepard departed from the program before ever taking a snap, McDaniel worked his way back into the running back depth chart and led the Irish in rushing in 2013. 

While sophomores Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant are expected to beat out McDaniel for carries in 2014, don't expect the senior leader to go down without a fight. He'll be a key contributor both on and off the field in his final season in South Bend. 

 

Troy Niklas
4-Star Defensive End

Niklas was a signing-day steal for the Irish, and the staff's excitement was a clear indication that they knew just how impressive the Southern California native was. Starting his career as an outside linebacker, Niklas turned into a valuable defender, forced to play along the defensive line as injuries piled up there as well as at the drop linebacker position. 

But Niklas made the surprising move to tight end during spring drills after his freshman season, and he immediately contributed there as an in-line blocker, while Tyler Eifert played mostly split wide. Niklas did a nice job filling the void Eifert left behind in 2013, but he surprised many by leaving after his junior season. 

The Arizona Cardinals selected him in the second round, with head coach Bruce Arians echoing Brian Kelly's sentiments that Niklas was only just scratching the surface of his ability. 

"Probably had he gone back, he would have been a top 10 pick with that skill set,” Arians said in a post-draft press conference. 

 

Anthony Rabasa
3-Star Defensive End

Rabasa has been one of many without a position in Bob Diaco's system, bouncing from defensive end to multiple linebacker spots. With Brian VanGorder's new scheme, Rabasa has the opportunity to make his senior season a good one, rushing the passer from the defensive end position. 

It's hard to know if Rabasa will be able to fight his way onto the field. But that'll likely determine whether or not he's invited back for a fifth year. 

 

Tony Springmann
3-Star Defensive End

Springmann suffered a major knee injury that cost him the 2013 season, a tough break for an Irish defensive line that was counting on him to provide depth. Springmann will likely shift inside in VanGorder's scheme, supplying some much-needed bulk to the front seven. 

At 6'5.5", 296 pounds, Springmann has the size of a defensive tackle but the agility that made him an effective 3-4 defensive end. Expected to be healthy by summer workouts, Springmann will be one of the defenders who'll allow the Irish to remain versatile up front. 

 

Stephon Tuitt
4-Star Defensive End

Tuitt played like an All-American in 2012, making 12 sacks as a sophomore. He didn't play up to that level in 2013, struggling to come back from a hernia injury that had him playing at over 330 pounds. That didn't keep Tuitt in school and the one-time lock of a first rounder slid into the second round where the Pittsburgh Steelers snatched him up. 

If Tuitt returned, he would have been a consensus preseason All-American. And while his decision to leave early landed him in a perfect scheme for his talents, it also might have cost him millions

 

Ishaq Williams
5-Star Outside Linebacker

Williams enrolled early at Notre Dame, the blue-chip recruit picking Notre Dame after Diaco famously sat outside his house in the wee hours of the morning to land his commitment. But those expecting an instant impact from Williams are still waiting. 

After struggling to see the field stuck behind Darius Fleming and Prince Shembo, Williams will now shift positions for his final season in South Bend, playing defensive end. That should let him use his natural abilities to rush the passer, instead of reading and reacting as an outside linebacker. 

Williams absolutely looks the part of an All-American. But right now, he's just another 5-star recruit who hasn't played up to his star rating. 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All recruiting rankings are from 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BYU Football: 4 Biggest Takeaways from ACC, SEC Decision

College football never stops.

With the ACC and SEC deciding that BYU won't be recognized as a "Power Five" opponent, Cougar nation deserves to be confused. What does this mean for BYU's future? Will it join a conference, or be viewed as a middle-tier program?

In reality, this was the ACC and SEC's decision—not all of college football's. But what does this mean for BYU? Here are four takeaways from the huge announcement.

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10 College Football Players Who Will Benefit Most from Offseason Workouts

Now that coaches can make summer workouts mandatory—as if they weren't mandatory before—they can more closely monitor players. It's up to the coaches if they want to utilize that time, but let's be honest: They do. 

For some players who are developmental projects, or who could be called into action quickly this season, this is a good thing. It's especially helpful for freshmen who are still transitioning to the college game. 

Which young players around college football stand to benefit the most from summer workouts? Our answers are in the following slides.

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How Do Folks in Jameis Winston's Hometown See Star QB Now?

BESSEMER/HUEYTOWN, Ala. — Here off Interstate 20/59, among rolling hills, winding roads, fast food marquees and used car dealers, Jameis Winston is still on his superstar pedestal.

Many of the hometown folks view him as quite different from the persona seen inside the 24/7 media stream that announces him as a nuisance, and possibly worse.

Just ask them about "Jaboo."

"He's my hero," said Arron Smith, 11.

Smith was with other kids at the McNeil Park basketball court in the Pipe Shop neighborhood of Bessemer, not far from Winston’s home. The children do not have a complete grasp of Winston’s misbehavior at Florida State, because one asked, "Is Jaboo still in jail?"

Winston never went to jail. But while he did lead FSU to a national championship in 2013 and claimed the Heisman Trophy, Winston and other FSU players were questioned by police in November 2012 after 13 windows were broken at an apartment complex near Doak Campbell Stadium after an apparent BB gun battle. Earlier, in July of that same year, a Burger King employee called police to complain that Winston was stealing soda. He was not charged in either incident.

Then there was the more serious charge of rape, which has been dismissed. A female student filed a report with Tallahassee police, and by most accounts, the investigation was bungled. Federal authorities are investigating whether Florida State mishandled the sexual assault complaint and committed Title IX violations.

None of his friends believe the rape allegation, which could still include a civil proceeding.

And none of those details mattered to those kids on the playground. "Jaboo" was still their guy.

That is the way it is around a hero’s hometown. It is not easy to knock Winston off his pedestal in this hardscrabble section of Jefferson County. His people have seen 19 years of sun. The year of gloom is not going to blot all that out, not when there are stories like this:

"Jameis' daddy gave my sister a football signed by Jaboo," Arron Smith said. "She's in a wheelchair."

"Dads would bring their kids by football practice and Jameis would show the quarterbacks a few things," said Ricky Rabb, a high school teammate who graduated with Winston in 2012.

"Jameis would sit next to me on the (baseball) bus and always tell me, 'Keep good grades,'" said Michael Edmonson, who was a sophomore in 2012 when Winston graduated from Hueytown High School. Edmonson and Winston share the same birthday, Jan. 6. "He was always giving me tips on how to work on my arm."

Winston’s friends, teachers and football coach want people to be not so quick to condemn the Florida State quarterback, who won the 2013 Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman. The debate about his character seems so one-sided to them.

Sure, there are former classmates in his hometown who think Winston is a bully and egotistical. There are many others here who insist he is not a bad guy at all.

"People say, 'Well, Jameis Winston must not have had much discipline as a kid if he is getting into this much trouble,'" said Chris Rabb, a defensive end at University of Alabama-Birmingham, and Ricky's brother. "You wouldn't say that if you knew his parents. People have no clue."

"He never missed a practice," Ricky Rabb said. "He worked out with the football team summer mornings, then went to work out with a trainer right after that, then he went to baseball in the afternoon. Jameis had a lot of discipline. His parents stayed on him."

Winston can innocently contribute to the contradictions. Immediately after Florida State defeated Auburn in the national championship game, Winston was live on national television being interviewed. He was still amped up, and his responses came rapid-fire and not in his best diction. Critics fell over themselves chortling about his speech and painting him as an illiterate football player.

The mother of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was particularly snarky. "Am I listening to English?" Dee Dee McCarron said on Twitter.

Winston took Advanced Placement classes at Hueytown High School. He sailed through them, said Marrianne Hayward, the instructional assistant principal at Hueytown High School. It was English, math, science, the core courses. Hayward said Winston did a television interview in the 10th grade and said on air, "If I make below a B in a class, my mother will spank me."

That might surprise McCarron’s mother and other detractors.

"He not only did well in school, he had colleges here all the time recruiting him, and he withstood the pressure," Hayward said. "His grades were so good he talked about going to college to study to be a podiatrist."

Hayward shook her head from side to side dismayed by the public perception of Winston. "I think it is very unfair. He is a charming, polite kid; I never saw the bully in him."

Hayward said the school could not divulge Winston’s grade-point average because of privacy laws. Ricky Rabb, who is now a part-time assistant coach at Hueytown, said Winston's GPA was 4.0. The quarterback received the Butch Wilson Award for the highest grade-point average for a football player.

That is the picture of the player Hueytown head coach Mark Stephens remembers. Stephens was a defensive assistant coach when Winston was at Hueytown, and Stephens just shakes his head too at the trail of issues at FSU. It does not seem like the high school All-American he witnessed on the practice field.

"I know there has to be more to that story than Jameis trying to jam something inside his shirt and walking out," Stephens said. "He's better than that."

Alan Boshell, a career tech teacher at Hueytown High School, said Winston took his computer class his senior year. It was a class of mostly freshmen and a required course, but Winston had let it slip by until his final year.

"We had these ninth-grade boys walking past him gawking, but he handled it well," Boshell said. "He didn't act like a lot of seniors when they are around freshmen. If they needed help, I saw him help them. He never treated those kids like peons.

"He is a very bright kid. He picked up things in that class right away. He ate my class up."

The class was to master the various Microsoft programs,and if there was ever a lull in discussion, Boshell said, Winston was always jumping in to keep the discussion alive and avoid lulls.

"I went to Auburn and he knew I wanted him to go to Auburn, but he was always friendly in joking back and forth about it," Boshell said. "He wanted to go to a school with some pre-engineering and calculus, and he told me once, 'I want to go to a school where I'm comfortable and I fit the most,' and I said, 'Yes, that's where you need to go.'"

Hayward said Winston had fun with the circus around which school he would attend. He had offers, of course, from Alabama and Auburn. There were days he would show up wearing a T-shirt of a particular school just to incite the rivalry and have some fun with the fandom.

"It was his way of deflecting some of the pressure of where he was going to go," Hayward said.

Boshell said he looked for signs in the classroom that Winston would take advantage of his fame. He never saw any. Boshell said he once saw Winston standing in the front of a bus with the football team leading Christmas carols. On stealing crab legs, Boshell said, "I can't see him doing that. I saw the news and went 'C'mon man, no way.'

"I still like Jameis. I'm hoping for the best for him and that he still has awesome character."

It is still painful for the "Bammers" here, the Alabama fans who are upset Winston did not sign with the Crimson Tide. Boshell remembers an Alabama fan saying loudly in the Publix about Winston, "I hope he gets his knee blown out." Winston once told Boshell, "You won’t believe the hate mail from Alabama fans."

Some men were sitting on the porch of a wooden frame house in Bessemer late one afternoon, sipping beer, sharing opinions. They saw Winston run around here as a seven-year old and then watched him grow into a superstar. They are still in Jaboo's corner but a little dismayed at what he has done to get himself in trouble.

"I was surprised, I never saw any dark side about him," said Odell Bester. "Why get your name scarred up like that?"

Bester shrugged and said, "He’s just a kid."

Winston’s name is still solid in Bessemer, through several generations of Winstons. His father's mother, Jameis' grandmother, would host college coaches visiting on recruiting trips. She was known for her cakes, particularly red velvet cake. She was so adored by Jameis' friends they also called her "Grandmama."

In high school, however, having Winston around was a thrill for some, a nuisance to others. Winston was boisterous; some days his effervescence was OK, and some days he took it too far. He would nag players on the baseball field or football field, belittle a little too much, and then the teammate being heckled by the star quarterback would have enough and snarl back.

In the midst of one such argument, Winston reminded a teammate that Winston had the Division I scholarship and the teammate did not.

The issue for many of his classmates was the overbearing nature of "Jameis Winston, Superstar." Winston has a vibrant personality, and it was not easy for him to turn it off for the benefit of others when they wanted some peace.

When Jameis was in the lunch room, you knew it. When he was in the hallway, you knew it. He acquired that effervescence from his father, Antonor, who has a similarly big personality.

Antonor Winston declined to be interviewed.

"It was just that he was always loud, always the center of attention," said a classmate, who did not want to be named. "Some people liked him, some people didn't. He got wrapped up in the celebrity too much and he got away with some things."

The classmate said there was an incident where Winston got irritated and overturned a table in a science class and it was ignored. Winston would scream at offensive linemen on the sidelines of games, "so loud you could hear in the stands," said the classmate. "He dogged them out." Coaches let it pass.

The downside of the antics at FSU, said the classmate, is that "everybody loves Ant, his father. ... I imagine Ant is furious at some of these things.

"Jameis, I think, under it all is a good guy. He just has some growing up to do."

Hueytown kids only took so much of Winston's posturing. Once, at least, he tried to cut in line at lunch—like a lot of kids—and was met with resistance. There was an argument and a teacher had to tell Winston to back down and go to the end of the line.

Is that the worst there is?

"I'm sure I threw my weight around, too, sometimes," said Robert Winslett, a center on the 2012 football team.

"He's not the first guy to go away to college and have some trouble," Winslett said. "You hear the younger kids around here, the ones that don't know him, say Jameis Winston is a thug. They don't know him. They hear that stuff from their parents and they don't know Jameis. I'd say most people that graduated with Jameis liked him. He wasn't a jerk.

"He was always good to me. I think it depended on how you treated him."

Winston would not be outworked in athletics. He was devoted to football and baseball, but he was also devoted to his work in the classroom, according to teachers, classmates and coaches.

Winston had the big numbers next to his name on the statistic line, but he also coveted the big letter "A" next to his name on the report card. Hayward and Boshell said Winston's good grades drew admirers from younger students and younger athletes.

Josh Jordan, who is "Juice" to Winston, said Winston could come off as arrogant. It was not malicious, just confidence, an attitude. They graduated in the same class in 2012 and have known each other since the sixth grade.

"I know a lot of people thought he was cocky, but it wasn't that; he was just confident, he didn't bother anybody," said Jordan, who plays cornerback at Duquesne in Pittsburgh. "We all did our school work, we didn't bother people with stuff. We knew our mommas and daddies would kill us if we messed with people."

Chris Rabb said Winston was part of the usual hijinks teenagers get involved in. The seniors one year "rolled" the houses of juniors with toilet paper and vice versa. During one pep rally, Winston threw a cream pie in the face of a cheerleader to incite the students.

The Rabbs have known Winston since he was in the sixth grade and stand by him now. It was on the youth football field when they were 12 years old that Winston proclaimed to Ricky, "I am going to be The Man one day, Ricky. I just got to keep my head on straight."

There is some question how well he has done that at FSU.

The Rabbs will not intrude on Winston by asking him questions about the crab legs or the alleged rape, which has been dismissed by the state's attorney. Many people here feel a clerk simply told Winston to help himself to some crab legs and Winston did not want to prolong the incident by explaining his side in detail.

"He's my best friend," Ricky Rabb said. "He has told me as long as the kids are behind me, I'm good.

"Our favorite rapper is Lil Boosie, and he has this line that goes, 'So many people love me, somebody gotta hate me.'"

For the many who criticize Winston for his antics, the friends of "Jaboo" are simply offering alibis for a friend's poor behavior. To them, the "Winston circle," which includes the Florida State athletic administration, are seen as enablers, and Winston will not reform until he receives more severe punishment.

The friends see it another way.

"He's made some mistakes. He knows that, but he is staying positive," Ricky Rabb said. "You can't expect a 20-year-old to do everything perfect."

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Clemson Fan Paints Dog in Tiger Stripes

Is that a tiger or a dog?

The only thing that we know for certain is that one Clemson Tigers fan really loves his team.

[ESPN]

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SEC Football Q&A: Fournette for Heisman, Auburn's Young D and Vandy's Bowl Hopes

You have SEC questions, and I have SEC answers. Thank you for your questions. If I didn't get to them this week, they will be saved and used in the future.

And we're off! 

@BarrettSallee@InTheBleachers think fournette has a legit chance to win Heisman as true freshman at LSU?

— λustin Michael (@IAmAustinMurphy) May 16, 2014

No, not at all.

That's not a knock against Leonard Fournette at all. The 5-star stud and No. 1 overall player in the class of 2014 has all the talent in the world and will absolutely be a star in Baton Rouge. But he won't be a star right off the bat.

Fournette will have two things working against him in the chase for the Heisman—a crowded backfield and the position he plays.

Are Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard superstars? Probably not. But they'll get more carries than Fournette to start the season, due in large part to the fact that they're upperclassmen and will have better grasps of the blocking schemes than Fournette will.

Only two running backs have won the Heisman since 2000, so in order for one to win it in this day and age, he's going to have to put up video-game numbers and hope it's a down year for quarterbacks around the country. The 2014 season isn't a down year for quarterbacks.

With Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and, oh yeah, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston taking snaps at Florida State, it'll be a tough fraternity for Fournette to crack in year one.

 

@BarrettSallee which incoming freshman on AU's defense has the most likely chance to be an immediate contributor?

— Micah Long (@micahlong) April 25, 2014

There are plenty of options, including 4-star cornerbacks Nick Ruffin, Stephen Roberts and Kalvaraz Bessent, who will provide depth to an Auburn secondary that could use some options, especially if the injury bug hits again.

Linebacker Tre' Williams is a future star, but unless starters Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy get hurt, he'll likely be a reserve or redshirt in 2014. 

Designated pass-rushers are an important part of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's scheme, and because of that, I'll go with 4-star defensive end Justin Thornton as the freshman defender who will have the biggest impact.

Johnson likes to mix up his front in passing situations. If Thornton can be a beast off the edge, it would allow defensive end Carl Lawson or Elijah Daniel to drop down to defensive tackle in speed packages and get after the quarterback. 

Will he be a superstar in year one? Probably not. But a big reason why Auburn has played for the national title in two of the last four seasons was a defensive line that rotated eight or nine players throughout nearly every game. 

Thornton will be part of that rotation this year, and could be counted on in specific packages to make a big difference in the backfield if he shows he can be a force off the edge.

 

.@BarrettSallee With the departure of Franklin to Penn St, what are Vandy's chances to make another bowl game?

— Darth Trojan (@SportsSexSneaks) May 16, 2014

I'm glad you asked about bowl eligibility, because back-to-back nine-win seasons have set the bar at Vanderbilt pretty high for first-year head coach Derek Mason.

But bowl eligibility isn't too much to ask from Mason in year one.

Vanderbilt's offense will be pretty solid thanks to a dynamic rushing attack with Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow. Whoever emerges as the quarterback—likely Patton Robinette, Johnny McCrary or perhaps former LSU quarterback Stephen Rivers, according to CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler—will have a reliable running game to fall back on.

I like the pieces Vandy has at linebacker, particularly Caleb Azubike and Kyle Woestmann, but can they be consistent even if the offense goes through lulls like it did late last year?

They can get to a bowl, but they'll have to spring an upset or two along the way. The 'Dores should win their four nonconference games vs. Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion. So where will the two other wins come from? Tennessee and Mississippi State will likely be favored, but wins in those two games aren't out of the question.

I'd put the chances at 60/40 that Vanderbilt doesn't make a bowl. But the 'Dores have surprised me in each of the last three seasons, so another bowl trip could happen.

 

@BarrettSallee on the heels of conference teams playing non-conference games against each other, have we run out of stuff?

— Ben Swain (@TheBenSwain) May 16, 2014

Yes. Yes we have. But at least conference realignment isn't an offseason thing this year...yet.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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SEC Target 4-Star OG Javon Patterson Announces Top 5

Prized Mississippi prospect Javon Patterson appears set to stay in the Southeast for his collegiate career.

The 6'4", 290-pound Petal High School standout shared an SEC-heavy list of favorites during a recent conversation with 247Sports reporter Keith Niebuhr (subscription required).

“I have a top five, in no order, of Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss and [Mississippi] State,” he told Niebuhr.

Patterson left both in-state SEC options in the equation, while remaining open to playing for a pair of programs he visited last fall—Auburn and Alabama. Each of those four teams extended scholarship offers prior to the start of his junior season and have hosted him since.

Florida joined the pursuit this March and is still waiting for a campus visit from Patterson.

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection experienced a strong sample of SEC competition last November. He sat in the stands at Jordan-Hare Stadium as Auburn overcame Alabama in an Iron Bowl for the ages.

Patterson spent more time with the Tigers during an unofficial visit in late March.

He is rated No. 2 among offensive guards in 247Sports' composite rankings. Patterson lands on the nationwide list at No. 53 overall.

His skill set was on full display during the Birmingham Nike Football Training Camp in April. He exhibited excellent quickness for an interior lineman, completing the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds.

Not every SEC contender landed on Patterson's short list of top options. Tennessee and LSU were left out of the top five, along with North Carolina, Miami and Southern Miss.

In the coming months, his recruitment will once again prove that conference battles are often waged well beyond the field. Patterson plans to announce his commitment in November, according to Niebuhr. 

 

Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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2015 College Football Recruits with the Potential to Turn a Program Around

Technically speaking, every college football recruit in the 2015 class has the potential to turn a program around.

High school players are pure potential energy, as evidenced by overlooked recruits like Khalil Mack, who broke records at Buffalo and went No. 5 overall in the 2014 NFL draft.

But recruiting services get better and more accurate every year. The process is far from (and never will be) infallible, but for the most part the players with the greatest program-transforming potential are ranked at or near the top of the class.

Still, in putting together this list, I attempted not to go all chalk. It would be useless just to rank the top player at each position on the 247Sports Composite. You could do that yourself.

Instead I picked through the top 60 or so prospects, noting players with considerable upside. Some may not rank as high because of current polish, production or physique, but with the physical tools they possess, the right system could turn them into impact players.

For the most part, I also tried to vary the positions.

For example, the top quarterbacks will all be counted on to change their respective programs, but I highlighted the one with the highest ceiling (in my opinion).

Let's get started.

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Nebraska Football: Realistic Expectations for the Cornhuskers' 2014 Season

Nebraska football fans aren't exactly known for their realism. Visions of Nebraska’s glories in the nineties can cloud the most rational fan's judgment.

But Nebraska fans are also painfully aware of how the “Conference Championship” banner on the West Stadium has not been updated since 1999, making memories of those past glories grow dimmer by the day.

So perhaps a little realism isn’t a bad thing. Here are some realistic expectations of what Nebraska may achieve in 2014.

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Oregon Football: Realistic Expectations for the Ducks' 2014 Season

Throughout the spring practice season—Oregon's first time on field in preparation for the 2014—a recurring point of emphasis was improvement.

The expectation head coach Mark Helfrich set was getting better than the Ducks were a year ago in all phases, starting with how they practice.

"The intensity of practice has gone up and everyone is competing a lot harder,” safety Reggie Daniels told Steve Mims of The Register-Guard. “We’re making sure we’re focused all the time during drills. More people are trying to fill spots, so the competition has gone up."

Improvement also applies to the defense, which at times was the star of Oregon's 2013 season. A second-half shutout en route to a 42-14 romp over UCLA is a prime example.

But defense was also the Ducks' downfall in conference championship-thwarting losses at Stanford and Arizona. Specifically, Oregon was unable to slow the run and get the ball back to the explosive offense.

"Defensively, we're building to where we need to be," Helfrich said on the May 1 Pac-12 teleconference call, via Pac-12.com.

Even quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Pac-12's most productive playmaker each of the last two seasons, was in on the efforts to improve.  

"He's moving faster than I've ever seen him move, it seems like, making dime passes," offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone said to Gary Horowitz for USA Today. "He's doing all the things that Marcus Mariota always does. I'm real excited to see him this season."

Talk of specific milestones was not so much at the forefront, however—certainly not in the manner UCLA has embraced championship aspirations heading into the 2014 campaign.

Improvement for the Ducks comes with a certain implication. Oregon's room for improvement is so narrow from the heights the program has reached throughout the last half-decade.

A national championship has been tantalizingly close to Oregon football every year since 2010. However, a loss in the BCS Championship Game and various late-season defeats in Pac-12 play have kept the Ducks from hoisting college football's most coveted hardware.

This year might be the program's best shot to reach that highest of pinnacles, but first the Ducks must return to the apex of the Pac-12.

Oregon won three straight conference championships from 2009 through 2011. The first and last of those titles book-ended the greatest season in program history, when the Ducks went 12-0 through the regular season and came a field goal away from winning the BCS Championship.

Since that January 2011 meeting with Auburn, Oregon has lost just five games. Four of those losses came in November against Pac-12 opponents.

Certainly, finishing as strong as they start is a priority for the Ducks next season, but the season's first half is loaded with important dates.

Oregon hosts defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan State in Week 2, travels to UCLA in Week 7 and returns to Autzen Stadium the next week to face Washington.

An undefeated season may not be an expectation. Last year's Florida State team was the first unbeaten national champion since Auburn knocked off Oregon in 2011. Navigating a season without a loss is an extraordinarily difficult task and happens sparingly.

In a conference with the top-to-bottom strength of the Pac-12, escaping unscathed is especially challenging. To wit, two of Oregon's three conference championships came with at least one defeat in league play.  

But even if Oregon does sustain a blemish on its record, a return to the top of the conference is a realistic expectation, should the Ducks achieve their own, internal expectation of improvement. And with a Pac-12 title comes the very realistic possibility of a spot in the College Football Playoff.

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LSU Football Recruiting: 5 Biggest Questions Tigers Face This Summer

With spring practice over and fall practice still weeks away, Les Miles and the LSU coaching staff have been hitting the recruiting trail. 

The Tigers currently have 11 players committed to the 2015 recruiting class. LSU will want to reel in more commitments before the season kicks into gear. Geaux247.com currently shows 179 possible LSU targets—with the list growing every day.

Here are a few questions the Tigers will face this summer. 

 

Will LSU continue dominance in Florida?

From past stars like Ricky Jean-Francois and Patrick Peterson to current recruits like Kevin Toliver II, LSU has recruited spectacularly in the Sunshine State. 

Toliver II is most heralded recruit of LSU's 11 current commits. The cover corner will play right away in Baton Rouge. But there are more Floridian prospects the Tigers want to reel to Louisiana.

Defensive backs coach Corey Raymond has made a huge splash in Florida since joining the staff two years ago, according to Shea Dixon of Geaux247. This upcoming season, Raymond will look to make more magic in his home away from home.

Elite prospects such as offensive tackle Martez Ivey, quarterback Torrance Gibson, wide receiver George Campbell, defensive back Tarvarus McFadden, defensive end CeCe Jefferson and linebacker Jeffery Holland are all LSU targets. If Miles can get just one of them to commit soon, he will jump for joy. 

 

Which Louisiana prospect will commit?

Florida has done wonders for Miles. Yet he knows controlling his own backyard is imperative not only his team but his reputation. 

LSU lost out on 5-star Louisiana prep stars Speedy Noil, Gerald Willis and Cam Robinson from last year's recruiting class. Miles does not want to miss many in-state prospects for 2015.  

Receiver Tyron Johnson, running back Derrius Guice and cornerback Xavier Lewis all have close ties to LSU and live within two hours of Baton Rouge. Proximity will be a huge selling point for the coaching staff as it tries to keep the 4-star trio close to home.  

 

Who will renounce their commitment?

Commitments are always broken in society by people of all ages. It should come as no surprise when they're broken by teenagers.

A commitment is never truly official until the player signs on the dotted line, which won't be happening anytime soon for the 2015 class. Until then, players can choose wherever they want to go. 

It is inevitable that players currently committed to LSU will decommit within the next year. It now comes down to which players and how many. 

 

Can LSU convince Jerry Tillery or Daylon Mack to flip to the Tigers?

LSU coaches have visited 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack and 4-star offensive tackle Jerry Tillery this week, according to Dixon. Mack and Tillery are currently committed to Texas A&M and Notre Dame, respectively. 

LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley is pursuing Mack hard. The 6'3'', 310-pound defensive tackle will be an explosive 3-technique at the college level. 

Tillery is a standout at the legendary Evangel Christian High School in Shreveport, Louisiana. Past Evangel players that went on to play at LSU include Jacob Hester and Jermauria Rasco. The Tigers have three offensive tackle commits for the 2015 class, but a school can never have enough linemen. 

 

Will LSU get any more commitments for the 2016 and beyond?

Recruiting has become ridiculous. Kids are being offered college scholarships as eighth-graders, with LSU leading the charge.  

For coaches, it is never too early to find the next great star. The Tigers already have one commitment for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 class.

LSU will be looking to add to the list this summer, especially for the 2016 class. 

 

*Stats and rankings provided by 247Sports.com. Follow Carter Bryant on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Michigan Football: Which Wolverines Position Group Has Most to Prove in 2014?

If a team isn’t improving, it’s getting worse—that’s the conventional wisdom that surrounds football. And in all likelihood, that thought has crossed the mind of Michigan coach Brady Hoke at least once.

Heading into his fourth season with the Wolverines, he faces the challenge of replenishing an offensive line that was already spotty at best, and he’ll be without Fitz Toussaint, his most experienced running back.

Oh, and he has to find a way to plug in someone for Jibreel Black, a solid pass-rushing force now bound for Sundays.

The O-line certainly has the most to prove, that much is clear. However, there are other areas that could use a little remodeling before Team 135 takes the field. The line of "too much talent to fail" applies here. At this point, there isn't a valid reason behind Michigan's failures. 

Talent is there. But can the coaches reap the rewards of A1 recruiting? 

 

O-line

First thing's first: The offensive line isn't where it should be at this point of Hoke's tenure. Honestly, this unit should have at least two years of solid dominance on its résumé.

Why?

Well, it just had two tackles—Taylor Lewan (LT) and Michael Schofield (RT)—taken in the 2014 NFL draft. That counts for something, doesn't it? Bad lines with OK talent don't send two guys to the League, do they? Especially not within the first three rounds. 

Lewan was picked No. 11 overall (Tennessee), while Schofield went a bit earlier than expected at No. 95 overall (Denver). Plus, since Hoke's arrival, Michigan has stacked high-end O-linemen with relative ease. The difficult part has been getting them integrated into the scheme and set up for success. 

Erik Magnuson is the perceived heir to Lewan's former post. As for Schofield, well, that's not so easy—and it won't be simple for the rest of the line, which consists of a handful of guys with a handful of combined starts from which to choose. 

No more All-American. No more all-conference-caliber right tackle—just underclassmen looking to make a name for themselves. David Dawson, Mason Cole, Ben Pliska and a host of others have their backs against the wall. It's either produce or get out of the way. 

 

Offensive Skill

Without Jeremy Gallon, the onus is on Freddy Canteen to provide energy and production at the slot position. As the situation stands now, Canteen, a true frosh and early enrollee, is up for the task. He impressed during the spring game and has the classic "I can do it" attitude. 

Devin Gardner remains in pursuit of perfection. It's been a long road for the senior, but he has luck on his side. With Devin Funchess at wideout, Gardner should benefit from having a 6'5," 235-pound NFL prospect catching passes. He should also have freshman Drake Harris (hamstring) complementing a roster full of 6'0"-plus targets. Jehu Chesson, a sophomore who stands in at 6'3" and 195 pounds, is one such option.

Quarterbacks seem to love those types.

However, if he's to stay at No. 1, Gardner must use his surroundings to his advantage. Should the need arise, Shane Morris, a sophomore, is patiently waiting to take over the starting position. 

Once Jake Butt returns healthy, add a dynamic, on-the-rise tight end to the mix. The sophomore is among the Big Ten's under-the-radar talents looking to emerge this fall and turned a few heads with a three-catch, 33-yard showing during a 31-14 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State. 

A pair of sophomores resides in the backfield, and Doug Nussmeier, the new offensive coordinator, finds himself looking for the right fit. In 2013, the Wolverines were dreadful on the ground, averaging a paltry-for-Michigan 125.7 yards per game.

Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, both consensus 4-star recruits, represent the immediate future for the Maize and Blue's rushing attack. Neither one took the world by storm as a freshman, but they each showed improvement as the year progressed. 

 

D-line

Willie Henry and Ondre Pipkins are the ones. There's really not much else to say here. And without Black, the Wolverines need someone to clock in as a blue-collar pass- and run-stopping hero. Henry and Pipkins should apply enough pressure to the middle, but Brennen Beyer, who also plays outside linebacker, could be extremely valuable to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison this fall. 

Might as well toss Frank Clark into that discussion too. He'll be setting an example for youngsters such as Lawrence Marshall, who is another one of those "high-end" signees referenced earlier in this piece. 

 

Defensive Skill

The secondary is coming together. Maybe a little sooner than expected, which is always a positive for a defense in need of continuity across the board. Led by Jake Ryan, a senior, the linebackers are the obvious strength of Mattison's defense. 

However, once Jabrill Peppers makes his way to the backfield—joining Dymonte Thomas, Jourdan Lewis and Ray Taylor, among others—sit back and watch the magic unfurl. Peppers should give Michigan one of the better sets of DBs for the next three years. 

 

Special Teams

Who's going to kick those field goals now that Brendan Gibbons is gone? Kenny Allen? Matt Wile? Andrew David?

As always, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section. Which group do you feel has the most to prove in 2014? 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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4-Star Sam Madden Opens Up on College Choices, Studying NFL Draft Trends for OL

Few offensive linemen in the 2015 recruiting class compare to Sam Madden when it comes to stature. The 6'7", 335-pound tackle from Barnegat High School (New Jersey) dominates opponents and paves the way for an attack that reached the state championship game in 2013.

Madden, rated a 4-star prospect by 247Sports, ranks among the most coveted bookends in America. His expansive offer sheet continues to grow, as Louisville, South Florida and Indiana each offered in May.

The stack of scholarships, which began piling at a rapid pace after his sophomore season, suddenly stands nearly as high as the imposing athlete.

Miami, Wisconsin, Nebraska, West Virginia, Rutgers, South Carolina and Syracuse are just a small sampling of teams on an offer sheet that features nearly two dozen universities.

Madden, who is in no rush to reach a decision and refuses to limit his options just yet, has also received interest from Florida State and Alabama.

He spoke with Bleacher Report recently, breaking down an analytical approach to the recruiting process, his physical progression and the pride that comes with being a beast up front. Madden also examined the possibility of continuing his football career with current teammates who've also received substantial collegiate interest.

 

Bleacher Report: You’re part of a relatively new program at Barnegat High School (eight years of existence). Last fall was the team's first trip to a state title game, and you seem to be gaining momentum as a top contender in Southern New Jersey. What has the experience been like?

Sam Madden: It’s just an incredible opportunity. The coaches are great, and it’s a lot of fun setting so many first-time records. We hope to go on and win a state championship this year, so that will be another first-time accomplishment hopefully.

 

B/R: Teammates Cinjun Erskine (3-star quarterback) and Manny Bowen (3-star athlete) are also compelling 2015 prospects. There are plenty of offers between the three of you. Does it help to go through the process with them? 

Madden: It’s obviously very humbling to hear from such incredible, prestigious programs like Wisconsin, Alabama, Florida State and all these teams. It’s a huge honor, and the fact that I have two brothers on the team that I can do it with is just really cool, you know? We have each other’s back and after (conversations and visits with college teams) we’re like “How’d you feel about it?” and “What would you like to ask more about next time?” That kind of stuff.

 

B/R: You share common offers with Erskine (Miami) and Bowen (Miami, Wisconsin, Rutgers, South Carolina, Virginia, among others). Have you spoke with one or both about continuing your careers together in the future?

Madden: Yeah, definitely. I remember a couple months ago, myself and Manny were walking through the hallway and saying it would be really cool to stay together and play together at the next level. To go from high school to college and play at the same time for the same team as my brothers, that would just be awesome.

 

B/R: I can tell you take a lot of pride in being an offensive lineman. What does it mean to you to be able to consistently handle your business up front?

Madden: It’s a huge deal being an O-lineman. We’re really like the unsung heroes of the team. In the trenches, that’s where games are won or lost. You miss a block, the quarterback gets sacked or the running back might lose the ball, then the other team scores. Without us, there are no lanes to run through, there’s no one protecting the quarterback. It's an honor to play this position.

 

B/R: With so many scholarship offers to choose from, how do you attempt to narrow down your options in order to find the right fit?

Madden: My dad and I for the past few years have made up a spreadsheet, and we list like the top 25 teams in the country from the last 10 years or five years. We’ll break it down. What coaching staff was there, what linemen were there, what round they were drafted in, how they did in the combines—it’s like a science. It’s a big process.

 

B/R: Has that method helped you come up with a list of favorites?

Madden: It’s still early and we’re only about halfway through the process, but right now I’m kind of narrowing it down a little bit. I don’t really have a top team yet, but some of the ones I’m really considering are South Carolina, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Pitt, Virginia, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. It’s just such a huge honor to get offers from all these schools, and I’m taking every one into consideration.

 

B/R: Which campuses have you been able to visit?

Madden: I’ve been to Rutgers a couple times. That’s a great staff. I like them a lot. We were at Pitt last year. Ohio State and Penn State, with Coach (Bill) O’Brien’s staff. Everyone I’ve met, I like a lot. They’re really cool but to the point. It was all serious, all business.

 

B/R: Learning proper technique and maintaining coordination can be difficult when you’re dealing with a large physical frame at a young age. How have you improved since you first reached the high school level?

Madden: After my eighth-grade season, going into the next year, I was quite huge, and not in a good way. I was fat. I met up with a few trainers who I’m still working with today. I dropped 60 pounds and put on a lot of muscle. I’ve made so many improvements in the offseasons because there’s always room to improve. Definitely my foot speed, just how I move, my hips, everything. Everything is constantly improving.

 

B/R: From an individual standpoint, what’s the main mission for your senior season?

Madden: Goals to me are a huge thing. I want to drop another 10-20 pounds. Right now I’m at about 335, so I’d like to get down to about 315. I’ll constantly work to improve on speed—hand speed, foot speed, everything. I want to earn some more offers and win a state championship. I want to put Barnegat on the map as an O-linemen factory. I just want our brand to be smashmouth, in-your-face, run-it-down-your-throat football.

 

B/R: Is the possibility of playing in the NFL on your mind?

Madden: Obviously it’s still so far out there, but that’s the ultimate goal. Make it to the NFL, start, dominate there and ultimately make the Hall of Fame. I know from high school, that’s way far off, but that’s a huge goal in my life. Reach the NFL, take care of my family and get things done.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

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War Ram Eagle: How Auburn Is Becoming the St. Louis Rams' Developmental Team

The call was worth the wait for Tre Mason.

After watching four running backs come off the board on the second night of the NFL draft, Auburn's latest Heisman Trophy finalist stood by, waiting to be selected in a draft that had the latest first running back choice in NFL history.

Then, midway through the third round, he got a call from a voice familiar to the Auburn football program—St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher.

Mason was selected with the No. 75 overall pick by the Rams, an NFL franchise with a growing connection to the Tigers.

The Rams took highly touted Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. By choosing Mason the next day with their third-round pick, the Rams reunited an important pairing in Auburn's top-ranked rushing attack from its SEC championship season.

"We came in our freshman year talking about that we wanted to be three and out, and it's like a dream come true if we played together at the next level," Mason said as he was introduced in St. Louis on Tuesday. "God blessed us with the opportunity." 

After Mason ended his call with Fisher, he immediately called his former Auburn and new St. Louis teammate.

“When I first called him, he couldn’t believe it," Mason said. "He told me, ‘Stop lying.’ But I told him, just wait a couple minutes and you’ll see that I’m not playing."

As the Rams' selection of Mason was being announced in New York City, an emotional Robinson took to Twitter to show his excitement about the reunion in St. Louis:

The early selections of Robinson and Mason gave Auburn fans a connection to the Rams, but the relationship between the NFC West franchise and the SEC West school has grown over the last several seasons.

The Auburn-St. Louis connection started several years ago at the top of the organization with Les Snead, St. Louis' general manager.

Snead grew up in Eufaula, a small Alabama town 60 miles south of Auburn. After two years of playing for former Auburn assistant coach Larry Blakeney at Troy State, Snead chose to walk on at Auburn as a blocking tight end for the 1992 and 1993 seasons. 

Later, as a graduate assistant for the Tigers, Snead was exposed to the world of pro football scouting.

Snead spent more than a dozen years as a scout for both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Atlanta Falcons. He would later become the director of player personnel for the Falcons, which led to him getting his current job in St. Louis.

The former Auburn tight end helped orchestrate the trade with Washington in the 2012 NFL draft that earned St. Louis the No. 2 pick this year. The Rams carefully scouted and researched all the available options for the highly valued draft position, and they decided to go with a player from Snead's alma mater.

"[Robinson is] who’s going to be there, he fits a big-time need, we really like this player," Snead said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. "We didn’t think that any trade that was going to come was going to outweigh Greg—no pun intended there.”

Snead and the Rams' second pick in the draft, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, even had an Auburn flavor to it.

Current Tiger and cancer survivor Shon Coleman announced the newest pro teammate for Robinson—whom Coleman is looking to replace on the Auburn depth chart in 2014—in New York City:

Throughout the weekend's draft, Snead stood in the St. Louis war room with head coach Jeff Fisher, who also has a personal connection to the Plains.

Trent Fisher, the son of the former Tennessee Titans' head coach, was a former walk-on safety at Auburn who earned a scholarship at the beginning of the 2012 season. Fisher recorded one of the few highlights from the Tigers' dreadful 2012 when he returned an interception 60 yards against Alabama A&M.

Jeff Fisher came down to Auburn several times to watch his son play from 2011 to 2013, and he became familiar with the pro prospects on the Tigers' roster.

"Trent and I always talked about one day I'd maybe play for the Rams," Mason said Tuesday. "He'd always joke around like that. Come today, I'm sitting here a St. Louis Ram."

But even with Auburn's personal connection to the Rams' general manager and head coach, the move to pick Mason in the third round of the draft came as a surprise to the talented running back.

Mason neither visited with the Rams nor had a personal workout with the team, but St. Louis' front office was still comfortable with selecting a player it had become familiar with over the last season.

"We did our homework," Fisher said in a post-draft press conference last week. "We felt like we knew everything we needed to know about the kid. We just couldn't pass him up."

The Rams' familiarity with the Auburn roster was evident at this time last year. Although St. Louis did not select any former Tigers in the 2013 draft, they gave three former Auburn players—linebacker Daren Bates, wide receiver Emory Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen—undrafted free-agent deals.

Bates and Blake are still on St. Louis' roster, and former teammate Barrett Trotter now works as a scout for the Rams:

With Tiger connections in the front office, the coach's office and across the playing field, the Auburn Family will have a growing branch in St. Louis for seasons to come.

And Mason is glad to see those family bonds strengthen as the Rams continue to be a popular landing spot for Auburn players after their collegiate careers.

"Greg is my brother," Mason said. "We know each other’s tendencies and techniques and how we play, so it will be great to continue on with Greg."

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

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Brian Kelly's Wish to Continue Series vs. Michigan, Michigan State Has Obstacles

You don't have to be a traditionalist to realize conference realignment has altered college football in a way that nothing else has. 

The obvious example is that rivalries have been crumpled up, thrown out the window and onto the highway like a used piece of trash.

Notre Dame's future is still in football independence, but an agreement with the ACC has the Irish heading east a few times every year. Combine five ACC games for Notre Dame and the Big Ten's nine-game schedule beginning in 2016, and there simply isn't a lot of room on the schedule for games against Michigan and Michigan State to continue every year. 

Still, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly would like to see future games against the Wolverines and the Spartans. Here's what Kelly said earlier this week, via ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Matt Fortuna

When [athletic director Jack Swarbrick] and I sit down and we start discussing 'what do you want to do?' we don't start or end that without having Michigan or Michigan State part of that conversation, and there's an SEC school involved in that conversation, as well. I can assure you that Michigan, Michigan State and an SEC school is involved in those conversations. How that pans out, I'm telling you, it's a very complicated deal.

For what it's worth, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told ESPN in the same article that he has had no conversations with Notre Dame about continuing the series. (Notre Dame's agreement with the ACC resulted in the school's decision to suspend the series.) 

According to FBSchedules.com, Notre Dame and Michigan will play for the final time in the foreseeable future this year (Sept. 6); Michigan State is sprinkled sporadically throughout the Irish's future schedules. 

Yes, Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State could just agree to continue home-and-home games, but scheduling is rarely, if ever, that simple. Other nonconference games are already in place, and there's always the pressure to have seven home games. 

Michigan and Michigan State will be in the Big Ten's new East Division and host five home conference games on even-numbered years. That means two nonconference games would have to be home games in those years. During odd-numbered years, the goal would be to have all three nonconference games played at home. 

"We have situations where we can't play them, they have situations where they can't play us," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told Joe Rexrode of USA Today, "and it's just kind of the roadkill of conference expansion that's (forced) these close rivalries to…we both want to play each other, we just can't."

The other thing to consider is that teams don't want to schedule themselves out of a College Football Playoff spot. With the ACC and the SEC remaining at eight conference games, conferences are showing they are unwilling to change their format unless they absolutely have to.

Strength of schedule is becoming a facade. The "requirement" of scheduling one Power 5 opponent a year as a strength-of-schedule argument is a fallacy, as that opponent could be Indiana or Kansas (sorry, Indiana and Kansas). 

Whether there's active communication or not, there are simply too many factors in the scheduling puzzle for Notre Dame to play Michigan and Michigan State on a continuous basis. 

Kelly's wish is noble and something fans of both sides would probably like to see happen. They just shouldn't count on it. 

 

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

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Notre Dame Football Recruiting: 4 Biggest Position Needs for Class of 2015

We’re quickly nearing the summer, and recruiting is picking up around the nation. Notre Dame’s class of 2015 consists of eight commitments.

The Fighting Irish have already landed a quarterback (Blake Barnett), two wide receivers (Jalen Guyton and C.J. Sanders), three offensive linemen (Tristen Hoge, Trevor Ruhland and Jerry Tillery) and two safeties (Nicco Fertitta and Prentice McKinney).

Notre Dame has addressed needs thus far, especially at wide receiver and safety. But what other positions do the Irish need to target when rounding out the class of 2015?

In determining these position needs, we’ll consider the current depth on the roster, remaining eligibility and recent recruiting classes.

Let’s get to it.

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Rice Lands QB Recruit by Writing Letter to His Cat

Some schools are forced to win over mothers and fathers in order to land a football recruit. In the case of 3-star quarterback J.T. Granato, it was his cat that needed convincing.

The Rice Owls were very serious about landing the Kinkaid (Texas) quarterback, so co-offensive coordinator Billy Lynch penned a letter to his cat. 

According to Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle, coach Lynch wrote: 

As you know we’re trying to convince J.T. Rice is the place for him. I know you’d like to keep him close so he can feed you and change the litter box. Please help us to get him to choose us. Paw me if you have any questions.

Well, it worked, as J.T. committed to the Owls.

Nice work by the Rice coaches. It's the cat's world—J.T. is just living in it. 

[Twitter, h/t Houston Chronicle]

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