NCAA Football News

Tennessee Football: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from SEC Media Days

Tennessee football coach Butch Jones owns Steve Spurrier on the field. It turns out he can hold his own at the podium as well.

After the Head Ball Coach delivered one of his patented zingers during the morning session of SEC media days, saying, "There are people in Knoxville and Fayetteville still doing cartwheels over going 7-6," it was Jones' turn in the afternoon.

Rather than sidestep the comments, Jones didn't even wait for a question. Instead, he addressed them head-on with a bit of swagger and gamesmanship not normally displayed publicly by the third-year Vols coach.

After that, Jones settled back into his propaganda-laced promotion of his program, but that was a flash of fire for a coach who has his program on the cusp of competing.

It's not something anybody who covers the program is used to seeing, and it could have been a peek at the promise of this UT team.

Along with the 2-0 record the Vols currently hold against South Carolina during Jones' tenure, trading quips with the legendary, loud-mouthed treasure of the SEC should be considered another victory.

In the past, Jones—and even his players, to an extent—tried to temper expectations by trumpeting youth and a lack of leadership. There was still a hint of that Tuesday, with Jones noting to the throng of media members in Hoover, Alabama, that 64 percent of his roster have one year or less of college experience.

But the tone, for the most part, was one of promise. None of the Vols nor their coach said anything to dampen the firestorm of publicity that has essentially anointed UT a dark horse to win the SEC East.

There's been so much buzz, in fact, that it would be difficult to say a strong season for Tennessee would be a surprise, even if the Vols did have to scrape and fight every second down the stretch in 2014 to finish with a 7-6 record.

Last year, the goal was a bowl. This season, those expectations have heightened. That's not just true for the media, either. The Vols made everybody aware of that Tuesday.

There's some pressure on the players, chiefly because of the excitement around the program and the fact that it's been a dismal decade for Big Orange Nation.

For those who've been around the program for a while, such as senior defensive end/outside linebacker Curt Maggitt, they feel more weight than just producing a quality season for the team.

"Vols Nation definitely deserves it," Maggitt told GoVols247's Wes Rucker. "They deserve it more than any other fanbase. They've stuck with us through all the hard times, and it's been pretty hard. But we've got a great opportunity this upcoming season to give 'em a great show and give 'em a great season."

Added Jones on the SEC Network: "Our football team has learned how to win. We expect to win."

 

Determined to Be Dynamic

The Vols return the duo that combined for more sacks than any other tandem that will be on the college gridiron in 2015 in Maggitt and sophomore Derek Barnett.

Much like Tennessee's expectations, their personal goals are extremely high.

Last year, Barnett burst onto the scene with a freshman season for the ages, finishing with 72 tackles, 10 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss. He added a fumble recovery and eight quarterback hurries.

Maggitt took a little while to get in game shape after missing a season plus three games in 2012 with torn knee ligaments. The second half of last year, he was dominant, finishing with 48 tackles, 11 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss.

Now that he has rounded into form, Maggitt—who is normally a humble kid but a vocal leader—has plenty to prove to the NFL after returning for his senior season. He wasn't shy Tuesday about discussing how good he thinks he can be:

 

Searching for a Statement

Jones led Tennessee to important, pivotal wins over South Carolina and Iowa a season ago, but neither of those was a marquee victory. The Gamecocks and Hawkeyes both finished 7-6.

So, while there have been big wins, the program under Jones is still searching for a "signature" statement. That's not something that's lost on a group of players and coaches who trumpeted the team's improvement a season ago.

Several games such as those against Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and possibly Missouri could qualify. But there's one game in particular that gets UT fans' blood circulating, and Jones addressed it when asked about the Vols' cross-divisional permanent opponent.

 

Another WR Weapon Readying

Tennessee has a talented group of wide receivers who need to live up to expectations this year. Guys such as Marquez North, Josh Smith, Jason Croom, Josh Malone and potentially Von Pearson have the ability to team with Pig Howard and make UT's receiving corps dynamic again.

One name that has been overlooked because of a knee injury he suffered during his senior year of high school is elite wideout Preston Williams.

The 6'4", 180-pound pass-catcher was coveted by some of the nation's top teams, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Auburn and others. The seventh-rated receiver on the 247Sports composite rankings stuck with his longtime commitment to UT, and he may be ready to play right away.

Though he's not full-go, Williams may be a weapon for quarterback Joshua Dobbs this year, according to Jones.

 

Ready for Liftoff

Like always, the media at the annual SEC showcase circus had plenty of fun questioning Dobbs about his academic prowess.

The aerospace engineering major and rising junior dual-threat quarterback was asked about everything from thermodynamics to Pluto. Here's some of the best snippets from Jones, Dobbs and some media members about the smartest guy in the room.

Tuesday, though Mississippi State, South Carolina and Texas A&M all took the stage along with the Vols, Tennessee was one of the show-stealers.

Dobbs was engaging, intelligent and sometimes even funny, leading Bleacher Report colleague Barrett Sallee to refer to him as the new face of the SEC.

After nearly a decade wandering in the wilderness, the Vols are among the media darlings again. In two months, they'll get a chance to prove they were worthy.

 

All quotes obtained via SEC Network Broadcast, unless otherwise noted. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports.

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

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Texas Football: Strengths, Weaknesses and Secret Weapons

Any team with Charlie Strong coaching for it will consider its defense a strength, which we saw in 2014. But for the Longhorns to succeed, he and his staff with have to figure out how to fix the most debilitating weakness of all—the quarterback.

This is a ground-and-pound team. Led by Johnathan Gray and the running backs, the Longhorns will try to control the clock and let their front seven tee off on opposing passers.

Of course, this is the Big 12, where the Horns will inevitably have to air it out to keep pace, especially because they lack cornerback depth. That's where problems will arise as the quarterback situation remains fluid.

Texas has some secret weapons to deploy when times get tough, but that deficiency behind the center will haunt the Longhorns.

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Starting Braxton Miller Could Give Ohio State an Edge for Title Defense

There were less than 90 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Ohio State's Orange Bowl matchup against Clemson when Braxton Miller, trying to lead a last-minute rally, was picked off by Tigers linebacker Stephone Anthony.

That play sealed the Buckeyes' second consecutive loss to close out the 2013 season—a stretch that snapped a historic 24-game winning streak. It was also the last play Miller took part of as the starting quarterback at Ohio State.

Since then, he has watched from the sideline as not one, but two quarterbacks took the reins of his team and orchestrated a championship run that he's never completed during his collegiate career.

And with those two quarterbacks—J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones—returning to Columbus in 2015, rumors swirled that Miller was set to transfer and play his final season of eligibility with another team.

After an offseason filled with speculation, Miller ended the drama last Thursday when he officially announced his return to Ohio State.

“I’m from Ohio; this is my home state,” Miller said, according to Tim May and Bill Rabinowitz of The Dispatch. “This is where I started, and this is where I’m going to finish it.”

And with Miller's return, Urban Meyer might be able to give his team an edge for its title defense by tabbing him as the starting quarterback.  

The Buckeyes, of course, should enter the season as the clear-cut, top-ranked team, regardless of who wins the unprecedented quarterback battle. With 15 starters back from last year's title-winning squad—highlighted by superstar juniors Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa—Ohio State is expected to dominate. Proof of that has come from Vegas, as the Buckeyes have been pegged as two-touchdown favorites over every opponent on their schedule.

But orchestrating a run like that is close to impossible when you're the marked team. Unlike the 2014 Ohio State squad, which used the disappointing end to the 2013 season and Miller's injury as motivation, this year's edition will have a huge target on its back. It won't be the hunter, chasing a championship it failed to claim the previous year. It will be the hunted, getting each team's best shot every Saturday.

In a conversation with Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated, Meyer talked about the mentality his team needs to adopt after winning it all.

"Just remember what got us here," Meyer said. "Don’t all of a sudden be the stars. I worry about behavior because I’ve been down this road before, all of a sudden I’m the toast of High Street. No, you’re not. "

But if Miller was tabbed as the starter, Ohio State wouldn't just be the reigning national champion. Suddenly, it would be a team led by a quarterback with something to prove. 

“As it stands right now, I know I am the best athlete in college football," Miller said when addressing the impending quarterback battle, via May and Rabinowitz. "If any competition wants to come my way, I’ve just got to be smart about things and just stay looking forward.”

That attitude and hunger could elevate Ohio State this season, but of course, Meyer won't base this decision on something like that. The top priority is getting Miller—and Barrett—back to full speed and ready for contact. After that, the coaching staff will need to evaluate which signal-caller has the right combination of leadership and ability to move the offense.

But all things being equal, Miller has the most to prove of the three quarterbacks. And adding that element to a team as talented as Ohio State could spell trouble for college football's other title contenders.

 

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

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SEC Media Days Buzz: Butch Jones and Vols Ready for SEC Title Run

The Tennessee Volunteers enter the 2015 season with lots of potential. 

SI.com's Zac Ellis joined Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee to discuss all things Volunteers. 

How will Tennessee fare in 2015? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Biggest Takeaways from Day 2 of SEC Media Days 2015

The second leg of SEC media days is in the books, with all eyes on the premier conference in college football.

What were the biggest takeaways from the day?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee answers that question and more in the video above.

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Auburn Football: Tigers' Most Important Players at Each Position

The Auburn Tigers will head into the 2015 college football season looking to avenge a disappointing 8-5 campaign in 2014. 

A mix of new faces on the sidelines and on the field have expectations high for this year's team. 

The biggest offseason move for the Tigers was the hire of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who will be making his second stop on the Plains following a stint as head coach at Florida. 

Muschamp is expected to improve the Auburn defense and help the Tigers climb back to SEC championship level. If the defense can improve and take some of the pressure off Gus Malzahn's high-powered offense, Auburn should be squarely in the College Football Playoff discussion come November. 

But Malzahn and Muschamp both need talent to operate with, so here's a look at Auburn's most important players for the 2015 season. 

A player's importance is judged by talent and potential but also by how much his performance could positively or negatively affect the team's overall success. 

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Texas A&M HC Kevin Sumlin Praises Myles Garrett, Compares Him to Clowney

Texas A&M's Myles Garrett is one of the best players in all of college football.

Watch as his peers and head coach speak about his skill and potential at SEC media days.

What is Garrett's ceiling at A&M? Check out the video and let us know!

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SEC Media Days 2015: Highlights, Comments and Twitter Reaction from Tuesday

The 2015 SEC media days continued on Tuesday with a discussion about rule changes for next season as well as press conferences for representatives from Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M. As expected, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier stole the show.

Before the "Ol' Ball Coach" had the opportunity to steal the spotlight, the conference's coordinator of football officials, Steve Shaw, took center stage. He spoke mostly about wide-ranging efforts for continuing to improve player safety.

Natalie Pierre Williams of AL.com reported the most notable change is that each SEC team will have an independent medical observer in the replay booth. The individual will watch for potential head and neck injuries and can signal down to stop play if necessary.

Other efforts the SEC is making on the safety side, according to the report, include a ban on "overbuilt" facemasks, removal of players from the field for at least one play to address equipment issues and, on a national scale, renewed efforts to eliminate "targeting" and other dangerous contact fouls.

The SEC is also adding an eighth official to the field. The new center judge is going to stand behind the quarterback to provide another perspective on the play.

Although Spurrier enjoyed his usual fun during the media session, his most important comment came when he got serious. Adam Sparks of the Tennessean noted the coach's response when asked about one of the biggest hot-button topics in sports today:

Aside from that, the presser featured plenty of the usual quick-witted humor from the 70-year-old coach.

His best verbal jab probably came at the expense of Tennessee and Arkansas, as highlighted by Mark Schlabach of ESPN:

He quickly downplayed any notion that the end of his coaching career may be near. He pointed out some of the people running for the nation's highest office in 2016 are around the same age, per Jacques Doucet of WAFB:

Spurrier also compared his continued vitality despite getting older to another successful college coach, as noted by Justin King of the Alabama Media Group:

Finally, he praised Pharoh Cooper, the team's do-it-all offensive weapon, by linking him to another athlete who's enjoyed a lot of success during the football offseason, per Gentry Estes of the Courier-Journal:

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin knew he faced the same battle a comic does when following up a terrific act, per Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Billy Liucci of TexAgs noted he also talked about a factor that's becoming increasingly important in the highly competitive SEC:

Aggies lineman Julien Obioha joked about the team's decision to send three linemen rather than the typical big names from the skill positions, which Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle highlighted:

The second session started with the Mississippi State contingent.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen did talk about football at times, but it was his fashion choices that garnered most of the attention. Will Brinson of CBS Sports put his shoes in the spotlight:

Mullen admitted he didn't get the apparel because he's hanging out with Kanye West on Saturday nights after the games, though, as Darren Rovell of ESPN pointed out:

Quarterback Dak Prescott, whom the media wrangled into some talk about his coach's attempt at swag, tried to turn the focus back to football, per Saturday Down South:

Tennessee coach Butch Jones started his press conference by striking back at Spurrier's earlier remark about the Vols' success, per Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

He also discussed the rising expectations around the program, per Anthony Dasher of Rivals:   

You could tell the day was winding down once Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs started talking about something a little more complicated than how to beat zone coverage, per Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated:

Looking ahead, Wednesday's schedule is once again broken into two sections. Alabama and Kentucky will kick off the day followed later on by Missouri and Arkansas.

Of course, much like Spurrier on Tuesday, big things are always expected when Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban takes to the microphone. He'll probably have a couple of sneaky comments of his own to toss into the fire built over the last couple of days.

Media days certainly don't stack up to Saturday afternoons with a full slate of games. But at least they provide some entertainment to burn time until the season gets underway.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Odds Each SEC Coach Will Still Be at Same School 4 Years from Now

Steve Spurrier's annual appearances at SEC media days have become some of the most entertaining times of the entire college football offseason.

On Tuesday, the 70-year-old South Carolina head coach took the podium in Hoover, Alabama, and fielded questions on many subjects, from his new assistant coaches to his golf game.

One of the Head Ball Coach's best quotes of the morning came when he made a comment to the media about how longtime oddsmaker Danny Sheridan should set odds on each SEC coach's chances of staying at the same school for the next four years.

Spurrier was making a quip about the many questions surrounding his future as South Carolina's head coach and how much longer he'll be on the sidelines.

There's no word yet if Sheridan or any other betting expert will take Spurrier's challenge, but here's a crack at those odds for each of the 14 head coaches in the SEC based on their current contracts, program personnel and realistic chances at jumping to another job in college football or the NFL. 

While most of the conference's coaches have great job security and lengthy contracts at the moment, consider only six of them were in the same spot four years ago for 2011's media days. Things can change quickly in the coaching world.

Who do you think has the best and worst odds at being back in Hoover for media days four years from now? Sound off in the comments below.

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Home-and-Home College Football Series That Need to Happen

It's not as pressing a national issue as border security, health care or the minimum wage, but the progress being made by power-conference schools to beef up their schedules with home-and-home series is a positive sign.

The 2015 season includes either the front or back end of some great home-and-homes, including Michigan State-Oregon, Notre Dame-Texas and Oklahoma-Tennessee, and even more come on the books in 2016 such as Auburn-Clemson, Nebraska-Oregon, Ohio State-Oklahoma and Texas A&M-UCLA. Other good ones are on the books over the next decade, mostly due to the top leagues either mandating or strongly encouraging their members play another power opponent.

But it can always get better, especially if certain schools would get around to setting a series up with each other.

Whether it be the renewal of an old rivalry put on hiatus by realignment, a pairing of schools with similar (or vastly divergent) styles or just a great potential matchup, we've come up with some home-and-home series that need to be scheduled as soon as possible. And to help with the process, we've even come up with when these teams can fit each other onto the schedule without too much inconvenience.

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Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs, the New Face of the SEC

HOOVER, Ala. — In a conference and sport that are driven by quarterbacks, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs is grabbing the keys.

The junior signal-caller for the Tennessee Volunteers has stepped in midseason and played well in each of the last two seasons, but he now has a different responsibility on Rocky Top.

Star.

For the first time in his career, he's the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback for the Vols. That has made all the difference.

"Continuous reps always helps," he said. "Whenever you get reps, you see different looks and that's great. Before I was playing, I treated them as game reps, and that has helped me.

"Since I've been on campus, I've always treated myself as a starting quarterback, but it's different when you're the starting quarterback."

The sky is the limit for Dobbs, who could become one of the new faces of the SEC in 2015 if all goes according to plan.

He threw for 1,206 passing yards, tossed nine touchdowns, rushed for 469 yards and scored eight times on the ground last year in essentially a half-season as the starting quarterback. The spark he gave the offense helped the Vols win three of their final four regular-season games and earn a trip to the TaxSlayer Bowl.

"He's proven himself, head coach Butch Jones said. "We understand what we're getting with Josh Dobbs. We always talk about consistency in performance, and we know what we're getting with Josh day in and day out, week in and week out."

Tennessee has received a considerable amount of preseason hype this year, including from yours truly, who picked the Vols to win the SEC East for the first time since 2007.

For that to happen, Dobbs must not only play the way he did down the stretch last year but also become the vocal leader that the team needs.

"We challenged him this spring to be what we call a 'CEO quarterback,'" Jones said. "An individual who owns the team, owns the offense, can solve problems on his own and provide the leadership and stability that you would expect from that position."

So far, so good.

"It's been a great opportunity to continue to push my teammates and motivate them this offseason," Dobbs said.

He'll have a chance to establish himself as the new face of the SEC early on. Oklahoma heads to Knoxville in Week 2, and the Vols then play at Florida, vs. Arkansas and vs. Georgia in a tough three-game stretch prior to the bye week on Oct. 10.

If successful, that stretch will vault Dobbs into SEC superstardom.

Sure, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has the Heisman Trophy hype and Auburn's Jeremy Johnson has the preseason buzz. However, don't be surprised if Dobbs elbows his way in to become one of the new stars of the SEC.

He has the offense, skills and schedule to become one of the faces of the conference not only this year but in 2016 as well.

 

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

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Should Oregon Be Concerned About Delay in QB Vernon Adams' Arrival?

It's been a crazy week for headlines surrounding Eastern Washington transfer quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and his future with Oregon. In time, this whole situation may amount to a big, fat nothing. For now, though, each day Adams isn't on campus with the team probably feels like a month. 

To summarize: Andrew Greif of the Oregonian reported last week that Adams had been admitted to Oregon for graduate school and could enroll. A few days later, Grief reported that Adams, despite walking on June 13, "did not meet Eastern Washington's graduation standards after the spring academic quarter." 

Though Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sports Network reported that Adams is still on track to graduate this summer, and that Oregon's coaches didn't expect Adams to graduate until then, it's still a development considering Adams wanted to graduate in the spring, according to Grief. 

What this means for Adams is that he could be cutting it close in regard to getting on campus and finally practicing with his teammates. 

Should this worry Oregon and its fanbase? It depends on how you define "worry," but the answer is still generally "no." 

For example, should Oregon worry that Adams will even graduate? Probably not. The delay in his arrival is certainly a hiccup, but the overall sense is that Adams will be on campus before the start of the season. It's more likely a matter of when than if.

Being a player without a football team is not a great place to be. It's not just about practicing or playing, either; there are athletic and academic support systems Adams is missing out on as well. If Adams gets caught in an academic snag, no one loses as much as he does. Not Oregon. Not even Eastern Washington. The importance of graduating cannot be overstated. 

However, should Oregon worry that Adams' late arrival will impact his chances to start? This is a more legitimate concern, but it still isn't big enough to merit total panic—not yet, anyway. As Austin Meek of the (Eugene) Register-Guard opined this week, Adams is missing out on some valuable teamwork time. It's an inconvenience now, and nothing more, but it could become a bigger problem down the road: 

Missing summer conditioning doesn’t cripple Adams’ chances of winning the starting job. It adds to the challenge, though, and when you’re already operating with a tight window, every day counts.

Today, July 12, Adams’ absence is a minor story. It becomes a major story — and, again, a major distraction — if he’s not here for the start of camp on Aug. 10.

If that happens, every day becomes a variation on the theme of “Where’s Vernon?” And when he does arrive, it’s fair to wonder how he’ll be received in the locker room — whether his teammates will welcome a newcomer in their midst or look suspiciously at a player who hasn’t been sweating with them throughout the offseason.

Surely, this is going through Adams' mind, and it's all the more motivation to complete his undergraduate work. There's probably nothing he'd rather be doing more than working out with his new teammates right now. Again, this is an Adams issue and only an Adams issue. Whether he arrived in June or August, he was going to have to earn the respect of his new teammates and develop quickly. There's just less time to do that now.

We do know that Adams has tremendous skill, though. This was on display at EWU and in games against Washington (2014) and Oregon State (2013). Still, being named the starter after just a few weeks on campus, at most, is a tough task. Jeff Lockie, the front-runner exiting spring and Marcus Mariota's former backup, doesn't look like he's willing to hand the job over to Adams. This should be an encouraging sign. 

Adams may be more athletically gifted than Lockie, but that doesn't mean Lockie will be easy to surpass on the depth chart. Competition is a good thing for Oregon. If Adams wins, the Ducks will feel like they've upgraded their quarterback position with a proven playmaker. If Lockie wins, how good must he be? On top of that, Adams would be a good insurance policy. 

Lockie said it best when he told Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com in January, "People will learn to see a different game and get used to it."

The entire Adams situation is absolutely stressful. No one likes it when things don't go according to plan. But, at worst, Oregon will be where it was six months ago. At best, it'll have a shiny new quarterback to lead the team back to a playoff appearance.

We just don't know exactly which one it's going to be yet. Is it at the point where head coach Mark Helfrich is losing sleep over the situation? Absolutely not, and he probably won't ever get there. 

 

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

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Tren'Davian Dickson Commits to Texas: Longhorns Land Record-Breaking 4-Star WR

Charlie Strong has already established his culture at Texas as well as begun the process of assembling a potentially dominant defense. The Longhorns offense, though, has been slow in developing to this point.

But all that could change in 2016 after Texas landed one of the biggest offensive recruits in recent memory with the commitment of wide receiver Tren'Davian Dickson.

Dickson, a 4-star prospect from Navasota, Texas, set a national high school record with 39 touchdown receptions last season. All told, the 6'0", 171-pounder had 90 catches for 2,166 yards in helping Navasota go 16-0 and win a state championship.

He originally committed to Baylor in July 2014 but backed off that pledge this past February. In June, he named a final six of Alabama, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and USC.

Rated the No. 118 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class by 247Sports, Dickson is considered the nation's 21st-best receiver. Damon Sayles of Bleacher Report considers that rating way too low after watching Dickson during his state championship game last year.

"He caught everything," Sayles said. "For Texas to get him is outstanding. Pairing him with Reggie Hemphill-Mapps in the class gives the Longhorns a legitimate 1-2 punch at receiver for the class."

Hemphill-Mapps, a 4-star prospect from Manvel, Texas, has been committed to the Longhorns since October. He and Dickson are two of the seven commitments Texas has for 2016, with four of those at the skill positions, including 4-star dual-threat quarterback Shane Buechele.

Even with Dickson in tow, Texas' 2016 class only ranks 46th, per 247Sports. Its 2015 class ranked ninth but leaned heavily toward instant-impact defensive players like linebackers Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler and cornerbacks Kris Boyd and Holton Hill.

Texas ranked 113th in total offense in Strong's first season in 2014, averaging just 337.3 yards and 21.4 points per game during a 7-6 campaign.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Kyle Allen Is Texas A&M's Best Option at QB, Not Kyler Murray

HOOVER, Ala. — The future of the quarterback position at Texas A&M wasn't at SEC media days this year, and neither was the present.

Incoming freshman Kyler Murray is out in Los Angeles at the ESPY Awards as the Gatorade National Player of the Year, but he was a big topic of conversation for head coach Kevin Sumlin as he made the rounds at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel on Tuesday.

The battle between Murray—winner of three straight Texas titles at Allen High School and owner of an undefeated record as a starting quarterback in the Lone Star State—and incumbent Kyle Allen could be one of the biggest storylines of fall camp in the SEC.

Sumlin isn't shying away from playing both.

"I really haven’t done it before," Sumlin said, according to Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News. "We’ll see. We’ve never started out that way. That doesn’t mean that we won’t."

Don't fall into the trap of thinking it's going to be much of a battle, though.

Once fall camp gets underway, it will become apparent quickly that Murray's primary role this year will be as a change-up quarterback with Allen serving as the unquestioned No. 1.

In his second season in Aggieland, Allen has benefited from an entire offseason as the man in charge of the offense.

"Players have confidence in him, and that's half the battle," Sumlin said. "We sat down this offseason and talked about him growing as a quarterback and learning more about the position, defenses, what we're trying to do and thinking like a coach. He continues to lead by organizing and getting all of the seven-on-seven work organized this summer."

Allen doesn't just have a head start in the race to become the Aggies' quarterback—he's on the final turn, while Murray hasn't even gotten out of the blocks.

Allen learned on the fly during the final month of the season and took significant steps between the end of the season and the bowl game. 

In that Liberty Bowl against West Virginia, Allen passed for 294 yards and four touchdowns and added one more score on the ground. That's quite the ascent for Allen, who was beaten out by Kenny Hill for the starting job prior to last season.

"When I told him two weeks before the first game, he basically went around the corner and cried," Sumlin said. "To where he came to become MVP of the bowl game when six games ago he wasn't even playing, that says a lot. To go on the road to Auburn and then be the MVP, he's got a lot of confidence right now."

During spring practice, he was essentially the only quarterback on the roster, which will not only helped him nail down the starting spot this fall but helped him become a star.

He's familiar with the speed of the game, SEC defenses and what's expected of him as a starting quarterback in big-game atmospheres.

With apologizes to Texas high school football—which is awesome—Murray simply doesn't have that.

Quarterback battle? Quarterback rotation?

Please. 

It's Allen's job to lose, and he's not going to lose it.

 

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

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Heisman Front-Runner Ezekiel Elliott Has Flown Under the Offseason Radar

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For a little more than seven minutes, Ezekiel Elliott fidgeted with his fists, ducking and dodging questions about Ohio State's quarterback competition as if they were Oregon defenders in last January's national championship game.

As the Buckeyes running back's answers got shorter with the July sun beaming into his eyes, Elliott soon saw his opening to finally escape in the form of teammate Cardale Jones, who happened to be exiting the Woody Hayes Athletic Center so that he could catch his ride to the airport for a trip to Los Angeles for Wednesday's ESPYS.

"Hey, Cardale!" Elliott shouted gleefully to the 6'5", 250-pound quarterback, hoping to draw the reporters' attention to Jones.

Only there was no need for Elliott to do so—most of the Columbus media had already swarmed the national-champion signal-caller.

It was an interesting albeit not expected occurrence: the TV cameras and local beat writers seemingly biding their time with Elliott while really waiting to talk to Jones or spend just two minutes with Braxton Miller for the first time in 11 months. Elliott may be the best running back—if not the best offensive player—in the entire country, but all of the intrigue in Columbus seems to center on the Buckeyes' upcoming quarterback competition featuring Jones, Miller and J.T. Barrett.

And for the shy-by-nature Elliott, that's more than just fine, even as oddsmakers list him as one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy at the end of the upcoming season.

"Honestly, I don't really care," Elliott said, laughing, when the amount of attention placed on the quarterbacks at Ohio State was mentioned to him. "The Heisman—that's going to come with whatever, you know? My goal is another national championship."

If the Buckeyes are going to meet that goal, it's a safe bet Elliott will be a big reason why—and perhaps a bigger reason than any of the three quarterbacks who might be handing him the ball this fall.

The St. Louis, Missouri, native proved as much last winter, as he served as the steadying force of an OSU offense that transitioned from the efficient Barrett to the strong-armed Jones on the eve of the College Football Playoff. In three postseason games, Elliott rushed for an astonishing combined 696 yards and eight touchdowns, earning MVP honors in both the Sugar Bowl and national title game.

For a player who wasn't named All-Big Ten—or even picked as an honorable mention—at the end of the 2014 season, Elliott's winter surge served as his coming-out party, with Bovada (via Odds Shark) proclaiming him a 6-1 2015 Heisman Trophy favorite on Jan. 30. From January through April, Elliott was the toast of the town in Columbus, his picture omnipresent at local memorabilia shops, with even President Obama making light of Elliott's signature-style crop-top jersey.

But as spring turned to summer, Elliott seemed to take a back seat at Ohio State, and it had nothing to do with TCU's Trevone Boykin jumping him as the Heisman favorite (Elliott still possesses the second-best odds at 7-1) or his absence from spring football as he recovered from offseason wrist surgery. In fact, if there was one star of the Buckeyes' otherwise mundane spring game it was Elliott, who could be seen parading around Ohio Stadium with a selfie stick before beating out Miller in the fastest-student competition at halftime.

Rather, Elliott's seeming fade from the forefront has more to do with the uniqueness of Ohio State's unprecedented quarterback competition than it does anything he can control. The reality is that college football has never seen a position battle as star-studded as the one about to take place in Columbus, with a two-time Big Ten MVP (Miller) fighting to reclaim his starting spot against the reigning National Freshman of the Year (Barrett) and a potential first-round pick and national championship game-winner (Jones).

Could Urban Meyer play two quarterbacks? How will the odd man/men out handle being back on the bench? Will either Miller or Jones regret not leaving Ohio State in the offseason when they had their chances?

These are the questions that will be answered in the next two months.

Meanwhile, there remains very little left to be asked about the Show-Me State native to whom they'll be handing the ball.

It's been more than five years since a non-quarterback has won the Heisman, but Elliott seems to be the best bet of any to do so in recent years, given the video game-like numbers he showed he was capable of producing throughout the postseason. If the 6'0", 225-pounder could do what he did against three of the top teams in the nation, it's crazy to think just how productive he could be against the non-conference cupcakes and lower-end Big Ten teams that will make up the better part of the Buckeyes' regular-season schedule.

"Defenses are going to have to pick their poison," Elliott said. "We have a lot of weapons on offense. I don't think they can just play the run or just play the pass. We're such a balanced team."

That's why the Heisman projections have Elliott listed where they do, which he admitted he's taken note of, unable to avoid them from entering his Twitter feed. It's not as if Elliott's taste of celebrity life has completely come to an end, either, as he'll be joining Jones, Miller, Meyer and Buckeyes linebacker Joshua Perry in Los Angeles for the ESPYS, where Ohio State is nominated for the Best Team award.

"I haven't really thought about it, but I'm sure it's going to be crazy," Elliott said of Wednesday night's award show. "It's just great to be able to experience something like this."

Unprepared—or perhaps just tired of dealing with reporters on Tuesday—Elliott was unable to answer the question, "Who will you be wearing?" that will undoubtedly be repeated to him in one form or another at least a dozen times while walking the red carpet. And while Jones—nominated for Best Breakthrough Athlete—might be too busy to bail him out this time, Elliott is prepared to enjoy what little is left of what's already been a whirlwind of an offseason.

"It's something you dream about when you're a kid," Elliott. "I've worked for it, we've worked for it. My teammates are a big part of where I am right now. The slobs (offensive linemen) are definitely the biggest part. I just gotta thank those guys and just keep working."

Sounds like he already has an acceptance speech prepared.

Whether he'll need it on Wednesday or in December remains to be seen.

 

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

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John Chavis Will Make Sure Texas A&M Finally Has an SEC Defense in 2015

HOOVER, Ala. — It was three straight years of the same thing, only with a different score. After losses of 24-19, 34-10 and 23-17, Texas A&M had defeated every SEC West opponent at least once since joining the league except for one: LSU.

So when the opportunity arose to hire veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis away from Baton Rouge, the Aggies looked to the proverb, "If you can't beat them, join them."

"That's exactly what it is," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "There's really nothing more to it than that."

Chavis, of course, was Tennessee's coordinator when the Volunteers won the national championship at the end of the 1998 season and held the same position at LSU when it faced Alabama for the 2011 title.

Four times, a Chavis-led defense has finished in the top five nationally in the statistical category of total defense, and 12 were in the top 15, including the last five with the Tigers. When he arrived at LSU in 2009, the Tigers jumped from 32nd in total defense to 26th the first year alone and went from 56th to 11th in scoring defense.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M was 102nd in total defense in 2014. The Aggies gave up 365 points and at least 34 in four of their five losses.

"We actually looked at the stats a week ago and said these are old numbers," defensive lineman Julien Obioha said. "This is not the way it's going to be.

"We're excited. We know how good of a coach he is. It's an honor to play for a Coach Chavis."

Although his move to College Station has been controversial, and there's still a pending lawsuit between Chavis and LSU, more teams in the Southeastern Conference changed defensive coordinators than kept theirs from 2014—including Vanderbilt's Derek Mason giving himself the job after the Commodores went winless in league play, 3-9 overall and yielded 399 points.

Similar to Texas A&M, Auburn made a big move after going 8-5 and losing numerous shootouts despite its spread attack scoring 461 points. After its former coordinator, Will Muschamp, was let go as Florida's head coach, it gave him $1.6 million per year, almost double what predecessor Ellis Johnson made, to return.

"He just has that presence around him that he gives all the coaches confidence. He gives his players confidence," said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, adding that he thought Muschamp had the best defensive mind in football.

"He's got the 'it' factor."

Texas A&M believes the same of Chavis and signed him to a three-year deal for $1.67 million annually with an option for a fourth season—significantly more than the $1.33 million extension LSU offered.

If he can replicate anything similar to his success at Tennessee (1995-2008) or LSU (2009-14), Texas A&M will consider it money well spent.

Anyone who has watched Southeastern Conference football over the past couple of decades is probably pretty familiar with Chavis' defense. It's a multiple 4-3 base designed to always have a fifth pass-rusher although coming from where is anyone's guess.

To do that, Chavis usually has his cornerbacks match up one-on-one against the wideouts, with one safety left high.

"His style, we've studied it so much over the course of the last three years in the offseason to try to get better," Sumlin said. "Like I told him, I know this thing like the back of my hand. I just need to know what you call it because I can tell you what it is."

While no one doubts whether Chavis has the pass-rusher to create pressure, as sophomore Myles Garrett set an SEC freshman record with 11.5 sacks last season, the big question appears to be if the Aggies have the cornerbacks to successfully execute Chavis' press coverage.

One spot appears set with senior De'Vante Harris coming in with 33 games of experience and 25 starts while at safety, Armani Watts made three interceptions as a freshman last season, and junior college transfer Justin Evans had a strong spring.

But where teammates say they already see a big difference is in attitude, with the confidence nothing short of contagious.

"They're an aggressive defense," offensive lineman Germain Ifedi said. "They're coming after it now."

Obioha had another word for it: "swagger." LSU certainly had it with Chavis, and A&M began to discover it during the spring.

"Our first year here, we had a group of seniors who are physically and mentally tough," Sumlin said. "Last year, I think guys like Armani Watts, who started off the year great playing free safety for us, had a great game against South Carolina, Week 6, 7, 8, 9, he just was worn down."

Some of that obviously has to do with Sumlin's spread attack, which helped lead to a 11-2 surprise season when quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012. But the Aggies have gone 9-4 and 8-5 since. What they apparently learned the hard way was that a program can only go so far in the SEC without a strong defense.

"Are we going to be the '82 [Chicago] Bears? I don't know," Sumlin said. "But I know that our confidence level is better. Where we are, we're playing faster, we're playing harder, and we're being more physical, and that's what we needed."

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Lombardi Award Watch List 2015: Full List Released

The Rotary Lombardi Award committee announced the 2015 preseason watch list Tuesday. The honor, which has been handed out since 1970, is given to the player voted as the best lineman or linebacker in college football.  

It's one of the few awards that can be won by players on either side of the ball. Lineman on both the offensive and the defensive lines are eligible for the trophy, which is of course named after legendary football coach Vince Lombardi.

Here's a look at the complete group, including last year's winner Scooby Wright III from Arizona, on the initial watch list, per the award's official site:

Wright joined a list of past winners that includes Cornelius Bennett, Chris Spielman, Warren Sapp, Orlando Pace, Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs, among others. Ohio State, which features five players on the watch list, has captured the award a record six times.

Along with the Lombardi Award, the Arizona linebacker captured the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Jack Lambert Award for his outstanding 2014 campaign. He also earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Those accolades were certainly warranted after he racked up 163 total tackles, 29 of which were for a loss, to go along with 14 sacks and six forced fumbles. He was a destroyer in the middle of an otherwise lackluster defense that gave up 28 points per game.

Although he enjoyed a standout year, he's still striving to become an even better all-around player, as noted by Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star: "There is a lot of stuff I need to improve on. People talk about how I had such a good year, but in my eyes, I didn't have that good of a year. I see the bad things I should have right and could have helped the team be better."

His most direct competition at the outset is Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa. A finalist last year, he'll look to build off of a season in which he racked up 55 total tackles, 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles as a part of a Buckeyes team that captured the national title.

Other notable contenders include Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, who became an Internet sensation last season due to his size, Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and Alabama defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson.

Much like last season, it should be a highly competitive race that goes right down to the final weeks.

 

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Georgia to Introduce New Mascot Uga X During 2015 Season

There will be a changing of the collars at Georgia this year as the school is set to introduce its newest English bulldog mascot.

Georgia announced Tuesday it would introduce Uga X during a home football game later this year. The new mascot will replace Uga IX, who was also known as "Russ."

"We look forward to celebrating the reign of Russ who has served the University and our sports program in magnificent fashion," UGA President Jere W. Morehead said in a statement on the school's official website. "He has truly endeared himself to fans all over the country.

"At the same time we anxiously await the arrival of the newest in our long-standing line of mascots, Uga X."

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Seth Emerson, the leading candidate to become Uga X is Russ' grandson "Que," who is a year-and-a-half old.

Que made his first appearance at Sanford Stadium last Saturday, July 11, at Georgia's annual Countdown to Kickoff event.

"We’re training Que to see if he can be the new Uga," Charles Seiler, whose family has bred the line of Uga mascots, told Emerson. "We’ve got two others that we can choose from, but it’s his turn first. So this is his first gig."

Seiler told Emerson that Russ turned 11 last month, meaning it was time for him to retire.

Russ had an eventful tenure with the Bulldogs.

He was Georgia's interim mascot in 2009 and 2010 after the deaths of Uga VII and Uga VIII. Russ was at every football game in 2011 before being officially promoted as Uga IX during the 2012 season.

The Georgia football team went 44-19 during Uga IX's tenure as the school's official mascot.

According to Emerson, Seiler mentioned Georgia's Nov. 7 home game against Kentucky as a potential date for the official collaring ceremony.

 

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

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SEC Insider Buzz: Saban Will Give Jake Coker Every Chance to Win Starting QB Job

As usual, Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide are at the center of SEC media days. One of the many topics being discussed is their starting quarterback position. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee was joined by SEC Lead Writer Christopher Walsh as they answered all the burning questions surrounding Alabama. 

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SEC Media Days: Will Treon Harris or Will Grier Win Florida's Starting QB Spot?

Under new head coach Jim McElwain, the Florida Gators are looking to rebound after a subpar 2014 season and return to the top of the SEC.

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee is joined by Gator Country writer Nick de la Torre to discuss Florida next season.

How good can the Gators be next year? Check out the video and let us know!

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