NCAA Football News

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame Agree to New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

After leading Notre Dame to a 10-win season in 2015, head coach Brian Kelly was rewarded with a six-year contract extension Friday.  

Notre Dame athletics' official Twitter account announced Kelly's extension, which will run through the 2021 season.

The previous extension Kelly signed with Notre Dame came in September 2013, which was a five-year deal set to expire after the 2017 season. 

In the three seasons since that extension, Kelly has led the Fighting Irish to three consecutive bowl appearances, including the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State in January. 

Kelly released a statement about his new deal, per Irish Sports Daily, expressing his thoughts about what being the head coach at Notre Dame has meant and will continue to mean for him: "I coach football because I believe there are few better avenues for impacting the lives of young men, and I am certain that there is no better place to do that than the University of Notre Dame."

In addition to Kelly's success in six seasons with Notre Dame, he's been brilliant at every stop in his coaching career. The 54-year-old has amassed a 108-45 career record in 13 seasons at Notre Dame, Central Michigan and Cincinnati. 

The Fighting Irish have regained a lot of their national prominence under Kelly. He continues to be an excellent recruiter, with Notre Dame's 2016 class currently ranked ninth overall by 247Sports with less than one week to go before national signing day. 

Announcing Kelly's extension now gives Notre Dame's current and future players comfort in knowing this will be a marriage that lasts for a long time. He wasn't expected to go anywhere, but securing a long-term commitment only confirms it.

The climb back to prominence for Notre Dame following the Charlie Weis era took a few years, but Kelly has always maximized the talent he has with six consecutive bowl appearances. Big things will continue happening for the program with him in the fold for at least six more years. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 22 Defensive Tackles

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

 

Defensive coaches will tell you that their unit will go as far as a strong defensive line will take it. An elite defensive tackle can shut down a running game and make an offense one-dimensional. The 2016 recruiting class has quite a few of those types of players.

Here's our breakdown of America's top-ranked prospects at the position, including scores based on individual assessments of pass rushing, tackling, explosive strength, run defense, hands and overall motor.

 

All prospects are scouted by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Damon Sayles. Players are ordered by appearance in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Begin Slideshow

Recapping Crazy Month of Michigan Football Recruiting

The volatility of recruiting was on full display during a wild month of January for head coach Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan football program.

From more than a handful of decommitments to new verbal pledges to peculiar—yet undeniably effective—recruiting tactics, the Wolverines were constantly in the news.

Let's take a moment to reminisce about the adventures of Harbaugh and his coaching staff.

 

Decommitments

Attrition is a part of every recruiting class, and many programs quietly push verbal pledges away by simply cutting off communication. Between that and the loose definition of a prospect being "committed," changes happen down the stretch.

Sir Patrick Scott and Antwaine Richardson, a pair of 3-star cornerbacks, are no longer in the haul. Richardson has since committed to former Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin at Maryland.

According to Ryan O'Gara of the Indianapolis Star, distance contributed to 3-star running back Kiante Enis reopening his recruitment.

Rashad Weaver, a 3-star defensive tackle, moved on from Michigan because he didn't want to be "Plan B." Despite effectively being pushed out of the class, Weaver defended Harbaugh on Twitter:

Jordan Elliott backed out of his pledge soon after officially visiting Texas. The 4-star DT didn't rule out Michigan, but he is now considered a Longhorns lean.

However, the Erik Swenson saga demanded the most headlines.

Committed since November 2013 under former head coach Brady Hoke, Swenson appeared to have a spot locked up. However, he told Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com that Michigan pulled his scholarship offer and cancelled an official visit without providing a reason.

Harbaugh responded on Twitter, quoting a line from Shooter, a movie starring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Mara:

If the Wolverines truly gave no warning on this possibility, that is shady—even for recruiting standards. On the other hand, if Michigan coaches brought up this possibility because Swenson's 2015 tape wasn't as impressive as 2014's, this is more an issue of timing.

Swenson won't sign with the school he intended, but considering Wisconsin and Oklahoma are in the picture, the 4-star O-lineman has excellent options.

There are two sides to every story, and we only know one. Unfortunately for college football fans, we may never hear the other.

 

Commitments

Amid all the news on the decommitment front, the Wolverines added nine prospects to the 2016 class.

Dylan Crawford, a 4-star wide receiver, pledged to Michigan during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He's ranked as the 119th overall player in the nation.

No. 65 overall prospect David Long, a 4-star cornerback, joined the mix, giving Harbaugh and Co. their highest-rated defensive commit. Stephen Spanellis, a 3-star OT, gave his pledge to the Wolverines on the same day.

A pair of 3-star linebackers in Joshua Uche and Elysee Mbem-Bosse followed suit, providing much-needed depth at the position. Michael Dwumfour, a 3-star defensive tackle, flipped from Penn State.

Khaleke Hudson chose Michigan over Penn State, Pittsburgh and UCLA. Though the 3-star prospect is rated the 23rd-best safety, Hudson is a versatile talent whose future position may be elsewhere.

Lastly, the Wolverines picked up 3-star pass-catchers in Under Armour All-American wideout Eddie McDoom and tight end Nick Eubanks.

 

Harbaugh Making Headlines

Dear NCAA rulebook, how are you feeling? Harbaugh is bending you, but you just won't break.

Coaches cannot take pictures with non-seniors. So, he stood near four ahtletes from Detroit Jesuit High School while gazing into the unknown.

Before anyone gets irritated with that, consider how ridiculous the rule is. Will any prospect ever say "the picture I took with Harbaugh when I was a junior really sealed the deal."

Anyway, Harbaugh also showed up for an in-home visit with Quinn Nordin, the nation's No. 1 kicker, at 12:01 a.m. That may pay off, considering Nordin decommitted from Penn State Wednesday and announced he will reveal his college decision on national signing day. He talked about the visit with Brandon Justice of SB Nation's Maize n Brew:

Harbaugh used a similar loophole with Connor Murphy, showing up after midnight to hang out and watch Netflix with the 4-star defensive end.

Additionally, Long snapped a photo of Harbaugh climbing a tree. The 4-star cornerback committed to Michigan a few days later.

Perhaps best of all, WWE legend Ric Flair will be present at the program's signing day party. Baumgardner notes other attendees include NASCAR driver and Michigan native Brad Keselowski as well as Wolverines legends Desmond Howard and Denard Robinson.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Warde Manuel Named Michigan Athletic Director: Contract Details, Reaction

The University of Michigan's search for a new athletic director ended Friday with the hiring of former Wolverines defensive tackle Warde Manuel.

Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News showed Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh shaking hands with Manuel at his introductory press conference on Friday:

Per Mark Snyder and David Jesse of the Detroit Free Press, it is expected the 47-year-old former University at Buffalo and University of Connecticut AD inked a five-year contract worth more than $700,000 per year.  

Manuel will take over for interim athletic director Jim Hackett, who left a huge imprint on the university's sporting landscape by hiring Harbaugh as head football coach.

While Hackett is leaving the post on his own volition, Harbaugh expressed his desire for the man who hired him to take on the full-time position back in December, according to Snyder.

"The relationship has been A-plus-plus," Harbaugh said. "I still want to talk him into staying. I'd like to give that a shot. The way I feel about it, it's been outstanding working with Jim."

Although Hackett followed through with his plan to step down, Michigan is bringing in a replacement with a wealth of athletic director experience, which is a rare move by the university, per Michigan football author John U. Bacon:

Manuel served as the AD at Buffalo from 2005 through 2012, and he has held the same position at UConn since then.

According to Bacon, inexperienced athletic directors flopping at high-profile schools recently may have played a role in Michigan's decision to refrain from going outside the world of athletics:

Per Paul Doyle of the Hartford Courant, UConn president Susan Herbst views the loss of Manuel as a bittersweet moment.

"It's happy and sad for us," Herbst said. "We're incredibly proud of him, but he has brought a lot to UConn."

While leaving a school with the athletic credentials of UConn—particularly in basketball—couldn't have been easy for Manuel, one can only assume that Michigan is a dream job of sorts.

Manuel played under the legendary Bo Schembechler with the Wolverines, and he will now take over a post he occupied from 1988 through 1990.

He also arrives at a time when Michigan football appears poised to emerge as a national title contender on the heels of Harbaugh leading the Wolverines to a 10-3 record this past season.

Manuel will simply be asked to build upon the foundation that Hackett laid, and if he is able to do that, then he may soon be the first Michigan AD to help deliver a national championship in football since 1997.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Failed College Football Recruitment of Giancarlo Stanton

In the fall of 2006, USC head coach Pete Carroll and assistant Steve Sarkisian learned of a senior wide receiver and cornerback at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California who went by Mike Stanton.

This senior, whose given name was Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton, was athletically blessed well beyond most 17-year-olds and just so happened to excel at three sports. His assumed craft was baseball, the sport many believed would win the eventual tug of war. He had a heck of a jump shot, too.

But his 6'5", 215-pound build—a frame begging for more weight—craved one thing: football.

"That was one of my schools, and I was very aware of who he was," Sarkisian told Bleacher Report. "He was a big, physical guy who was very competitive and came from a great program. We were very aware of him."

Interest trickled in from universities in multiple sports as Stanton was drafted in the second round—No. 76 overall—by the Marlins in 2007.

With guaranteed money on the table and the opportunity to play baseball professionally there for the taking, Stanton was handed a decision that would ultimately change his life: Take the colossal signing bonus and head to the minors, or stay close to home, attend USC and keep football in the rotation a while longer.

"My high school football coaches worked with NFL guys," Stanton said, citing Justin Fargas and others who shined at Notre Dame. "They watched me play against current NFL guys and believed I could have made it."

Imagine it.

Instead of padding his bank account, Stanton shocked the baseball world, choosing to stay a multi-sport star a little longer. He bulked up and became one of the most dynamic tight ends to ever play at the collegiate level. He blossomed into an unguardable weapon in an offense that knew precisely how to take advantage of his speed and size, and over the three years, led USC to two Rose Bowls and 34 wins.

During the offseasons, he hit home runs out of collegiate stadiums that were not built to contain him. Some of his most memorable shots are still talked about in college towns. Somehow, the home runs get even longer each time the stories are told.

His love for football won the war. Stanton declared for the NFL draft after catching 12 TDs his junior year, and he was selected late in the first round by the New England Patriots. He said goodbye to baseball forever.

Stanton became a perennial Pro Bowler and guided the Patriots to a Super Bowl victory in February of 2014. His fourth-quarter touchdown catch over two defenders—a moment that will be shown in excess for generations—ultimately decided the outcome. The play has more than 60 million views on YouTube.

Not long after, Stanton signed the largest contract for a tight end in NFL history. And at 26, with productive years ahead, he remains one of the most dynamic weapons to ever play on Sundays.

Now, open your eyes. 

Had Stanton, now well known as Giancarlo, taken the blue pill rather than the red one, perhaps that's how it would have been written.

The quotes above are authentic. The interest from storied college coaches and power programs captivated by Stanton's football potential was real. Stanton himself loved football a great deal. He also had abilities that would have translated brilliantly. 

Many football programs stayed clear of the prodigy, simply because they assumed that they had no shot to win his commitment. They weren't battling against a rival or another out-of-state power; they were up against another sport—one that could offer a lucrative signing bonus right away .

They weren't wrong to think that way. Had it not been for baseball, Stanton would have been a signing-day sensation.

With offers and interest to play football at places like USC and UNLV, Stanton picked the Marlins cap off the table, declared his commitment to baseball and shut the door on everything else.

"I picked baseball over football because of the opportunity," Stanton said. "I wanted to stick to one sport full time for the first time in my life."

In November of 2014, after five superb seasons and 181 home runs, many soaring over outfield walls in cartoonish fashion, Stanton inked the most lucrative contract in North American sports history.

Over the 4,745 days under his new deal, Stanton will earn $2,853.88 every hour of every day. The 13-year agreement will pay the 26-year-old $325 million over the course of the deal.

"He could probably still play football," Sarkisian said. "But I think he made a really good choice."

Still, there was a choice to be made. There was a different path that went unexplored.

It has been years since Dayne Crist has connected with his former favorite target, although the two still speak when time allows. The former 5-star quarterback recruit logged hours at Notre Dame, Kansas and in the NFL before trading in his pads for a life in finance. But he will never forget the summer Stanton arrived in Sherman Oaks.

"I remember meeting him for the first time that summer, and he was just a specimen," Crist said. "Mike was just a stud. He was dominant in football, basketball and baseball."

After attending Verdugo Hills High School, Stanton joined Notre Dame High before his junior season. Known as a baseball prodigy before he became a star in anything else, Crist witnessed Stanton's spectacular batter's box power firsthand from more than 400 feet away.

During the spring, like many others on the football team, Crist ran track. Often times during practices and meets, Crist and the others on the field would be asked to stop everything without warning. The track would be cleared.

This was the protocol when Stanton came to the plate. With one of the main straightaways of the track field backing up to left field of the baseball stadium, a Walkie-Talkie was used to alert the track teams every time Stanton stepped inside the batters' box. 

Because he cleared the left field fence with such violent ease, the whole operation had to shut down until he was done.

"When kids would come run at our school, they would be confused as to why there was such a long delay," Crist said. "A ball would then plop near the 50-yard line, and we'd just kind of resume what we were doing. It had that great of an impact on everything else."

This past season, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, Stanton recorded the two longest home runs, both measuring out at 484 feet.

He also connected on four of the 11 longest home runs despite playing in only 74 games while recovering from a broken bone in his hand. 

If you were to design your dream high school tight end, No. 14 of Notre Dame would be it.

He had the body of a tight end. He had the mentality of a tight end. At 6'5", he looked like a dream red zone weapon for a program breaking in its sophomore quarterback. Then they watched him run.

"He was just put together," Crist recalled. "Very quickly, we realized that he was much more athletic than we were giving him credit for."

Having coached at the school for more than 30 years, Notre Dame head football coach and athletic director Kevin Rooney has won 14 League Championships and 4 CIF Championships. He's one of the most respected high school coaches nationwide.

It was up to Rooney to determine how to use Stanton, and like everyone else, he knew little about his new player beyond his baseball prowess when he arrived. That changed quickly.

"We definitely took advantage of his height," Rooney said. "And the thing about him was that he had really good speed."

Instead of simply tossing Stanton on the line, Rooney moved him outside. Despite the first impressions, this was no tight end. This was a wide receiver.

Often times, Stanton was the fastest player on the field.

During his senior year, Stanton caught 29 passes for 745 yards and 11 touchdowns—an average of more than 25 yards per catch. Although he could have simply relied on his physical gifts to get by most high school cornerbacks, Stanton was a route junkie. He dissected film and carefully perfected his patterns off the line.

Looking back at his numbers, it suddenly hit his former coach.

"I'm just wondering to myself why we didn't throw it to him more," Rooney said.

The most intriguing part of Stanton's football life, though, wasn't the time he spent on offense. It was when Notre Dame flipped over to the other side of the ball. 

Built like a linebacker, Stanton played cornerback during his junior and senior seasons. To coincide with his production on offense, Stanton finished with 50 tackles and five interceptions his senior year.

"Try putting yourself in that predicament," Crist said. "Imagine you're a typical 5'9" wide receiver in high school lining up against this massive human being. He just absolutely destroyed people off the line." 

At wideout, Stanton once matched up against Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman in the CIF Southern Section Division III title. Sherman attended Dominguez High School in Compton, and Notre Dame didn't have much of an answer for the power on this particular day.

"They gave us a beat down my junior year," Stanton recalled.

At cornerback, it was up to Stanton to cover Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino tight end Joseph Fauria, who played for the Patriots this past year. He was also tasked with slowing down running back Shane Vereen, the former Valencia High School star who caught 11 passes in New England's Super Bowl victory in 2015.

"My job was to shadow them," Stanton said. "Everywhere they went."

Kicking off the 2006 season against nationally ranked California power Canyon High School, Notre Dame found itself down a touchdown with only seconds remaining in a nationally televised game.

The huddle scattered as the play was delivered from Crist. Before heading out to his spot on the line, Stanton approached his quarterback.

"He grabbed me before the play and told me that I knew where to throw the ball," Crist said. "He told me that if I went anywhere else with the ball, he'd kill me."

Crist skied a pass in Stanton's direction. The wideout, after demanding the opportunity, came down with the extraordinary touchdown. Notre Dame was within a point.

Tying the game was not a consideration. With an opportunity to beat the eventual state champion, Rooney drew up a two-point conversion.

Just like he did moments earlier, Stanton confronted his quarterback shortly before the play. He delivered a direct, but similar dispatch: Get me the ball.

Crist tossed up a fade and Stanton soared above the defender to grab it off a cloud. Notre Dame won by a point. Within a matter of minutes, Stanton singlehandedly conquered one of the nation's elite programs.

"I don't think he had an idea of how good he could be at the time," Rooney said. "It took a while to bring that out of him."

All that remains of Stanton's football career are memories shared by a select few and unexplored potential.

"From my experience, he could have played anywhere in the country," Crist said, speaking of his former wide receiver. "With the right coaching and development, who knows where he would have been? He could have very easily played on Sundays." 

His decision to cut his football career short worked out brilliantly. There are 325 million confirmations. Beyond the small fortune he will take home over the next decade-plus, Stanton has become his sport's greatest spectacle.

Each and every plate appearance is a singular moment—a rare event that commands the attention of the entire sporting world. It is a track-and-field meet in California all over again.

His at-bats are nightly spectacles—moments of raw power unmatched by anyone in the sport. His home runs cannot simply be defined by runs. It is one of the rare moments when the scoreboard is secondary.

And in the field, he tracks down deep fly balls with a rare bit of violent grace—looking more like Rob Gronkowski than Alex Gordon. He is beautifully out of place. He is a baseball wunderkind, operating in a body that was constructed for something else. 

"I felt like he could have had a great future in football," Rooney said. "He's that kind of an athlete. He grew into a prototypical NFL tight end."

Blessed with too many gifts for one lifetime, things have worked out exceedingly well for the young man who used to go by Mike.

It's no wonder why many college football coaches stayed away. They knew.

There is still so much more to come, although those who saw the superstar in this other world—a world that now feels more fantasy than reality—can't help but wonder what might have been.

 

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Early Predictions for Big Ten Football's 2016 Stat Leaders

With the 2015 season in the books and national signing day less than a week away, it's never too early to start looking ahead to the 2016 campaign.

Next season, the Big Ten will look a lot different than it did a year prior, with several of the conference's stars now pursuing their dreams in the NFL.

With so many established players headed to the professional ranks, the Big Ten should see an emergence of new players sitting atop its stat totals by season's end. Some familiar names will remain, but for the most part, 2016 will be about the Big Ten's newest crop of stat-sheet stuffers.

Who will replace Carl Nassib as the Big Ten's sack leader or Ezekiel Elliott as its leading rusher? That remains to be seen. But here's an early guess at which players will lead the league in several key categories in the coming year.

Begin Slideshow

Legendary Georgia QBs Offer Advice to New Bulldog Freshman Jacob Eason

ATLANTA — Jacob Eason stepped foot on Georgia's campus this January as the 5-star, hot shot, early enrollee quarterback who is the key to head coach Kirby Smart's quest to lead Georgia to its first national championship since 1980. 

He's "the man" in Athens now, which comes with the responsibility of being humble, responsible and visible—three traits that are tough for any blue-chip quarterback directly out of high school.

Neither Greyson Lambert nor Brice Ramsey did much to inspire confidence in Dawg Nation in 2015 in Georgia's 10-3 campaign that resulted in former head coach Mark Richt getting canned after 15 years at the helm.

Whether it's as the starter right out of the gate against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game or as a reserve who moves into a more prominent role as the season progresses like former Bulldog Matt Stafford, Eason has the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Former Bulldog quarterback D.J. Shockley was in a similar situation when he signed with the Bulldogs in 2001. The dual-threat star from College Park, Georgia, was Richt's first commitment in December of 2000. Instead of being thrust into the spotlight, Shockley redshirted in 2001 and was a changeup quarterback for three seasons behind David Greene before leading the program to the 2005 SEC title as a senior.

"He's going to come in with so much hype, everybody on the outside is looking at him like he's the savior," Shockley told Bleacher Report. "He's going to be the next Stafford, or whoever people want to compare him to. The biggest thing for him to do is to just be one of the guys. Don't be too high profile. Don't try to be anything extra than who he is."

That's easier said than done for a high-profile quarterback, though.

By definition, quarterbacks are the de facto leaders of football teams. Finding a way to fit in and be one of the guys while also leading a group of 84 other college students—most of whom are older and more experienced—means finding the right balance.

"Take charge of the huddle, but let the upperclassmen take charge of the team," said Buck Belue, co-host of the Buck and Kincade Show on WCNN 680 The Fan in Atlanta, and quarterback of Georgia's 1980 national championship team. "Nobody's expecting him to lead as a freshman. You take charge of the huddle, because that's what quarterbacks are supposed to do. But you let the juniors and seniors take charge of the team."

For hot-shot prospects, that means eating a big slice of humble pie.

"It'll come when they start practicing," Shockley said. "It'll come when they all get together with the whole team and everybody's working out. When things don't go well, that's what's going to humble him. I remember coming in the same way. I was always picked first and never had to worry about anybody who was more talented or athletic than me. You get to college, and you see guys who are just as athletic, just as talented and you have to work a little bit harder.

"For him, he's one of the most humble and down-to-Earth kids I've ever talked to. He's going to realize the competition that he sees and the talent around him, that this isn't high school and that he can't do some of the things that he used to."

On the field, that means more discipline, more focus and more respect for opposing defenses.

Eason completed just six of his 13 passes in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this month for 71 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. That pick (4:50 mark of the video below) was in the end zone late in the game on a play that college quarterbacks can't make.

"You can't make the bad play worse," said Belue. "I saw a play in the All-Star game where the guard swung and missed on the defensive tackle, [Eason] is in the pocket trying to throw it downfield. The defensive tackle is coming at him, and Eason not able to step up into the throw, it sails, and gets picked off by the safety. That's just a good example that there are going to be some bad plays, but don't make them worse."

Managing struggles—prolonged struggles—is the biggest hurdle for young quarterbacks to overcome, and the most important lessons come from those struggles.

"It's going to happen," said Shockley. "To come in here and say that he's going to blow it up, that's far-fetched. Especially in the league he's going to be in, he's going to have those struggles. When he comes in and has to deal with adversity, that will make him better. Him being around a coach like [head coach] Kirby Smart and [offensive coordinator] Jim Chaney—guys who have been around and know how to teach young players and understand how to put players in position to succeed, that's invaluable."

Off the field, it could be even more challenging for Eason.

In a town like Athens with plenty do after hours, the spotlight shining as bright as possible and smartphones transforming everybody into news media, staying on the straight and narrow off the field is something Eason has to do.

"He has to pick his times," Shockley said. "He can't just be out all of the time. Regardless of if you're a highly touted recruit or not, the quarterback of the University of Georgia is going to get looked at more than anybody else. He has to understand the position that he's in. He has to understand that there's going to be a microscope on him everywhere he goes. He has to behave accordingly.

"A lot of teammates are going to be looking at him to see how he acts when he's out and how he carries himself, and that's when he has to pick the guys he surrounds himself with."

One of those teammates is roommate and fellow early enrollee Ben Cleveland, a 6'6", 319-pound offensive tackle from Toccoa, Georgia.

"Let's say he's at some sorority social or talking to a girl and her boyfriend comes up and wants to take a swing at him," said Belue. "He doesn't need to be getting in the middle of all that stuff. Just make sure Ben Cleveland's nearby."

Eason has the spotlight of the college football world on him, and if he shines this offseason, it could become even brighter when the Bulldogs open the 2016 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta vs. North Carolina.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Projecting Every Power 5 College Football Team's Breakout Player for 2016

We know who the returning stars are in college football, but what about the ones we've yet to discover? They're out there, waiting for the chance to take on a bigger role or live up to the potential they showed as high school recruits.

Their time will come in 2016, when they could end up being their team's breakout player.

We've selected one player from every power-conference team (as well as from major independents BYU and Notre Dame) who are poised for a big 2016 season.

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Football: Bulldogs' Top Remaining Recruiting Targets for NSD 2016

This is it. This is the final full week of recruiting before national signing day takes place Wednesday. Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart and his staff have been working hard to get the top recruits in the country, and the Bulldogs currently have the ninth-best class according to 247 Sports Team Rankings.

That’s good considering the Bulldogs lost a handful of recruits when Mark Richt was fired, but they have a chance to move up the rankings Wednesday if they can finished strong. Smart is still going after a few recruits who have yet to make a decision, and if things go their way, the Bulldogs will have a very strong class heading into the 2016 season.

Here’s a look at the Bulldogs’ top remaining recruiting targets for national signing day.

 

DT Derrick Brown 

The Bulldogs already have one top defensive tackle recruit committed in Julian Rochester. But they have been after Derrick Brown for a very long time.

Brown, who is from Buford, Georgia, is listed as the top-ranked player in the state according to 247 Sports. At 6’3’’ and 317 pounds, Brown has the size to be a nose tackle in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme.

According to Keith Neibuhr of 247 Sports, Brown recently took an official visit to Athens. However, he has also taken official visits to Alabama and Auburn.

Brown reportedly has those three schools listed as his final three, as reported by Neibuhr, and he will make a decision Wednesday. If Georgia loses him, that would be a huge blow to the UGA coaching staff.

With Signing Day just around the corner, get to know 5-star DT Derrick Brown. #Get2theGame@amfamhttps://t.co/DTGEuwsXQ5

— Scout Recruiting (@scoutrecruiting) January 27, 2016

 

ATH Demetris Robertson

Another recruit the Bulldogs have been pursuing is Demetris Robertson, who is listed as the No. 1 wide receiver in the country according to 247 Sports.

Robertson is from Savannah, Georgia, and he’s expected to play wide receiver at the next level, which is an area of need for the Bulldogs.

Kipp Adams of 247 Sports reported Robertson will take his official visit to Georgia the weekend after signing day. He is also scheduled to meet with Notre Dame on Thursday, and he could also take an official visit to Alabama or Stanford.

Smart, along with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and receivers coach James Coley, spent time with Robertson on Tuesday, which led to him making the decision to visit Athens. If he were to sign with UGA, he would have a chance to play right away.

 

#Florida#Gators commit Feleipe Franks finds five-star Demetris Robertson deep. #ArmyBowl@RivalsMike@RivalsWoodyhttps://t.co/qZyjDccnDZ

— Rivals.com (@Rivals) January 5, 2016

 

OT E.J. Price

Offensive tackle is a huge need for the Bulldogs, and they are targeting in on E.J. Price, who is listed as the eighth-best offensive tackle in the country according to 247 Sports.

Adams reported that Price will be in Athens this week for his final official visit. However, Price is considering taking an official visit to Alabama or Michigan.

“I met with Coach Jim Harbaugh yesterday," Price said. "He came up, and I told him I was going to consider coming there. I met with Coach Kirby Smart yesterday. After my visit with him, I was more comfortable with him, and Coach Sam Pittman. I look forward to getting up there and meeting the rest of the staff."

Pittman likely loves what Price brings to the table. At 6’6’’ and 311 pounds, Price has the size to play left tackle, which is likely where he will play if he commits to Georgia. In fact, Price said the Bulldogs “need [him] at left tackle." That makes sense, considering they have lost John Theus to graduation.

#UAAllAmerica EJ Price wins first rep against Antonneous Clayton. Clayton wins second. #UAAllAmericahttps://t.co/LBoeBYqlcc

— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) December 29, 2015

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Derrick Brown Is the Most Important Target Remaining for the Tennessee Vols

Peachtree Ridge High School 4-star safety Nigel Warrior may be the highest-profile prospect remaining on Tennessee's recruiting board because of his family ties to the Volunteers. But another Georgia star is even more vital to UT's immediate success.

Derrick Brown—a 5-star defensive tackle from Lanier High School in Buford—is scheduled to take his final official visit to Knoxville this weekend, and UT needs to make a huge impression on him to get him to sign over the likes of Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi State. 

Not only is Brown an elite prospect who possesses unique athleticism for a 6'4", 317-pound trench battler, but he is also one of the most college-ready linemen in the class. Considering he plays at the very position where the Vols need more depth, that makes him the player who can turn a good class into a great one.

With less than a week remaining until national signing day, Tennessee appears right in the thick of the race for Brown. 

There was a bit of confusion on Thursday when 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr reported Brown had a top three of Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee followed by Brown refuting that he'd actually named a trio at the top.

Regardless of his top three or a top five, the Vols are in the mix. With a chance to woo him and wow him this weekend, it would be unwise to write off coach Butch Jones in luring him to UT.

That would be massive for the Vols if it happens.

Yes, UT struck the DT jackpot in the 2015 recruiting cycle when the Vols landed Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie. While defensive tackle is one of the most difficult positions to play right away in college football, both of those guys accomplished that feat.

Beyond them, though, Tennessee doesn't have a ton of depth and talent at the position. The Vols certainly don't have the rotation that championship-caliber teams possess.

In 2016, Danny O'Brien will be a senior, and Kendal Vickers will be a redshirt junior. Quay Picou hasn't yet shown he's a viable option on the interior, which means a player of Brown's ilk almost assuredly will step right in and earn meaningful reps as a true freshman.

As UT has proven over the past two years, a team can never have too many DTs. In 2014, the Vols played with virtually a three-man rotation. Last year, Owen Williams, Vickers and McKenzie had to pick up far too much slack when Tuttle went down with a season-ending injury against Georgia.

Simply put, the Vols need more able bodies on the interior.

They've already signed one player in JUCO transfer Alexis Johnson, who should replace Williams in the rotation, but he's the only defensive lineman they've got in this entire class.

Without Brown, UT may strike out at defensive tackle the rest of the way, and a team never wants to go a full cycle without a high school lineman. There are still a few other options on the board who could fill that void, but many of them are long shots.

Brown represents UT's best remaining hope to get another tackle. If they don't sign him, the Vols may be forced to sign as many as five defensive linemen in next year's haul.

The big-time big man from Lanier isn't just coveted because of Tennessee's major need at the position; he's also an elite prospect who would be not only adding a great player to UT's class but also subtracting one from another SEC rival. 

That's always an underrated aspect of recruiting.

By his sophomore season, Brown could slide into a starting role or at least get as many snaps as Tuttle or McKenzie.

With his size, athleticism and strength at the point of attack, he's the perfect weapon to have at the 3-technique in new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's system, and it would be a major coup to get him.

Most experts think UT is a long shot to land him on signing day, when he's scheduled to announce at 3 p.m. in front of a national audience on ESPN. Though Georgia is still the favorite on the 247Sports Crystal Ball, most of the late predictions have gone to Auburn due to his relationship with Rodney Garner.

Still, it's hard for anybody (such as 247Sports' Barton Simmons and ESPN's JC Shurburtt) to talk about where Brown may go without mentioning Tennessee.

Only one of the 33 predictors have him playing his college days in Knoxville, and that person is writing this article. 

But Jones has closed strongly every year he's been at UT, and with Brown's genuine interest in Tennessee, the Vols getting the last visit and this setting up to be a big weekend, they have a chance to sway him. 

"I just love Tennessee, man," Brown told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan recently. "I just love being up there in that environment itself. But when you just sit down and actually talk football, that’s good as well."

Those may wind up pretty words for a team that finishes second. 

But with Brown and his family heading to Knoxville this weekend, getting to spend time with Shoop and seeing how they fit in not only with the staff but also with the players and the city, it sets up for the steal.

It's going to be a two-day audition to get four years of a future star's services in Knoxville, and given Tennessee's needs, Brown has the potential to be one of the biggest sweepstakes in Jones' tenure on Rocky Top.

Win his commitment, and the Vols take another step toward building elite depth all over the field. Lose out, and defensive tackle will continue to be a spot where UT is in a precarious position with injuries.

Warrior is a flashy potential superstar in the defensive backfield who could follow in the footsteps of his All-American father Dale Carter. Tyler Byrd is another DB with a huge upside. Jonathan Kongbo and Landon Dickerson would provide rankings boosts and star quality at their respective positions.

All those guys would be great additions to Tennessee's recruiting class.

But getting Brown in orange would pay dividends beyond rankings, beyond name recognition and beyond boosting Jones' already-sturdy recruiting rep. He'd give Tennessee a player who could be on the field at meaningful moments right away during a year when the Vols expect to compete for important things.

Tennessee can still sign a strong class without Brown being part of it, but if the Vols get him, it would immediately elevate the 2016 group of commitments to the same plain as the past two seasons.

And he would help the Vols continue to take steps toward competing for championships.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Senior Bowl Standouts Highlight What Could've Been in 2015

Ohio State Football should have been in the 2016 College Football Playoff.

The Buckeyes entered the season primed to defend their title, coming in as the first-ever unanimous No. 1 in AP history. Head coach Urban Meyer boasted the most loaded roster in college football, with 16 of his starters likely set to be taken in this year's NFL draft.

After Ohio State opened its 2015 campaign with an evisceration of Virginia Tech, the tantalizing potential was almost palpable.

But that potential materialized too late.

It took a perfect storm to keep that Ohio State team out of the playoff—a lingering quarterback battle that hampered the offense, historic and unachievable expectations, a torrential downpour against Michigan State and a questionable offensive game plan that mysteriously excluded one of the best running backs in school history.

All of those elements collided and netted Ohio State a defeat it shouldn't have suffered, and it left the team on the outside looking in at college football's biggest stage.

The Buckeyes sat and watched the Spartans get obliterated by an Alabama team they were worthy of playing.

That was obvious on New Year's Eve, but it's becoming more evident as former Buckeyes stars show out at Senior Bowl practices.

 

The Cotton Bowl That Should Have Been

 

It's obvious that Ohio State didn't deserve a berth in the playoff. It lost that right when it fell to Michigan State, giving head coach Mark Dantonio's squad its deserving spot in college football's final four.

But it was clear once the Buckeyes finally lost a game, they regained the edge they lacked all year and finally looked like the team everyone expected. They thoroughly embarrassed a motivated top-10 Michigan team, handing head coach Jim Harbaugh his worst loss of the season in a 42-14 thrashing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Five weeks later, it bulldozed Notre Dame in a convincing 44-28 win in the Fiesta Bowl.

On the eve of their showdown with the Fighting Irish, the Buckeyes tuned in to watch the Cotton Bowl between Alabama and Michigan State.

"I think we would have definitely done a better job," former Buckeyes safety Tyvis Powell said on Thursday, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "I was shocked [the Spartans] didn't score a point. It is what it is. It was very disappointing."

Would the Buckeyes have fared better? Would they have been able to top the rolling Crimson Tide after they hit their late-season stride?

Former Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett thinks so, according to Casagrande.

I didn't get to watch much film on them, but I know it would have been a hell of a game. (Alabama) might have done a little better this year than they were last year. And I think the way we played in the last couple of games, we could have played against any team in the country. I know it would have been another war like it was the year before. So it would have been interesting to see.

The Buckeyes would have certainly given Alabama's defense more to work against. With Ezekiel Elliott, who torched the Tide for 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns last year, and J.T. Barrett finding a groove at quarterback, Ohio State would've been able to spread the Tide—similar to what Clemson did in the title game.

Those questions will linger in the 2015 Buckeyes' minds forever.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Eric Cuffee to Texas: Longhorns Land 4-Star DB Prospect

Class of 2016 4-star defensive back recruit Eric Cuffee announced on ESPNU's Recruiting Nation on Thursday night that he will be attending the University of Texas, which ESPN.com's Max Olson confirmed. 

KCEN's Jessica Morrey shows Cuffee just moments after announcing his decision:

Playing both cornerback and safety at Waco High School in Texas, Cuffee is the 28th-ranked corner in the nation, per 247Sports' composite rankings.   

At 5'11 ½", 188 pounds, Cuffee won't be the largest defensive back to be patrolling the secondary at Texas, but he makes up for it with some quick feet that will allow him to stay with a lot of receivers.

He's physical and is able to throw his weight around well, whether it comes to tackling or stunting a receiver on the line of scrimmage.    

Like many recruits, he will need to continue to develop his play recognition. While those quick feet are great for covering receivers, they'll be even better when he's able to break toward the backfield on running plays. 

According to 247Sports, Cuffee is the first defensive back Texas has acquired out of the class of 2016. 

Cuffee is joining a Texas team that in 2015 was tied for 73rd in the nation when it came to pass defense. The Longhorns allowed over 250 passing yards in five of their 12 games last season and recorded 13 interceptions, which tied for 42nd nationally. 

He will have an opportunity to learn under some of the team's best, including Dylan Haines, who led the Longhorns with five interceptions last season. 

Texas also returns Holton Hill, who was second on the team with three interceptions in his freshman year. 

Having those two around for Cuffee to work under could be vital for the defensive back to develop into a force in the Big 12 for Texas.

For a Longhorns team that hasn't experienced a winning season during Charlie Strong's first two seasons, building a contender is crucial for the head coach to keep his job in the future. Hopefully for Strong, getting Cuffee is the first step in the right direction. 

 

Stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ric Flair to Attend Jim Harbaugh's Michigan National Signing Day Party

Michigan's national signing day party is about to be a Rolex wearin', diamond ring wearin', kiss stealin', wheelin' dealin', limousine ridin', jet flyin' affair.

The university announced Thursday that WWE legend Ric Flair will be a guest of head coach Jim Harbaugh for a celebrity-filled party on Feb. 3. Flair, who has a relationship with Harbaugh dating back to the coach's days with the San Francisco 49ers, will be part of Michigan's "Signing of the Stars" private event.

As noted by Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, those not in attendance can watch at home from the Players' Tribune website. Flair will be joined by NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, Michigan legends Desmond Howard and Denard Robinson and former coaches Mike Shanahan and Lou Holtz, among others. 

The party is a culmination of Harbaugh's, shall we say, brash recruiting tactics. He's planned a slumber party at a recruit's house and sat through a high school class with another. While the second-year coach has also drawn some criticism for his recruiting tactics, this Flair news falls way more on the silly/endearing side.

Harbaugh has been open with his love for professional wrestling and specifically Flair. He told the Stoney and Bill show (h/t Ashley Scoby of CBS Detroit) that he'd like to referee a match between Flair and Hulk Hogan and openly campaigned for The Big House to host WrestleMania.

“Why not the Big House?” Harbaugh said. “Why not? 140,000—I bet we could get in there for WrestleMania. They’re trying to break the attendance record at Jerry Jones’ stadium in Dallas. (There’s) a great Canadian presence in wrestling. Why not Michigan and the Big House?”

Flair is one of the most beloved performers in wrestling history. And even if recruits don't care about WWE Hall of Fame plaques, dude can talk his behind off. The 66-year-old Flair is one of the best promos the sport has ever seen and has proved he still has the goods while helping out his daughter Charlotte in a recent feud with Becky Lynch. His presence will surely make Michigan's national signing day memorable.    

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ric Flair to Join Celebrity Cast for Michigan's 'Signing of the Stars' Event

Just call Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh the stylin', profilin', satellite-campin', sleepover-havin', tree-climbin', Ric Flair-invitin' son of a gun. 

Michigan announced Thursday afternoon that professional wrestling legend Ric Flair will be part of the Wolverines' "Signing of the Stars" national signing day event next Wednesday, Feb. 3. 

The Wolverines' official Twitter account first posted about the news, complete with a proper GIF of the Nature Boy himself:

According to the program's website, Flair will be one of at least a dozen celebrity guests at the event, which will be held on campus from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The announced celebrities so far are:

  • Ric Flair
  • Lou Holtz (former college football coach and analyst)
  • Mike Shanahan (former NFL coach)
  • Desmond Howard (former Heisman winner and Michigan football player)
  • Denard Robinson (NFL running back and former Michigan football player)
  • Todd McShay (football analyst)
  • Jon Jansen (analyst and former Michigan football player)
  • Jack Kennedy (musician and former Michigan football player)
  • Brad Keselowski (NASCAR driver)
  • Derek Holland (MLB pitcher)
  • Jessica Szohr (actress)
  • Josh Gracin (musician)

Flair and Harbaugh go back to the latter's time as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, when the wrestling icon gave a pep talk to the team prior to their NFC Wild Card Game against the Green Bay Packers in Jan. 2014.

The two have gone back and forth on Twitter since Harbaugh became the coach of his alma mater. Flair congratulated Harbaugh on Michigan's rout of Florida in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day:

A few days before that exchange, per Jordan Heck of Sporting News, Harbaugh told a Detroit radio show that he wanted Michigan Stadium to host a future edition of WWE's WrestleMania event.

Heck also noted Harbaugh agreed to a suggestion from one of the show's producers, which was for him to referee a match between Flair, his favorite wrestler, and Hulk Hogan.

Now Michigan is calling on Harbaugh's wrestling hero/Twitter pal to cap off what has been a wild recruiting cycle for the Wolverines.

Michigan is currently at No. 5 in 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings for the class of 2016, and the Wolverines are in the running for No. 1 overall player Rashan Gary and several other blue-chip targets.

Unfortunately for those of us who would love to see a 16-time world heavyweight champion at a college football signing day party in-person, the "Signing of the Stars" is invite only.

However, the event will be streamed on The Players' Tribune, which was founded by former MLB superstar Derek Jeter, who signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Michigan before his draft selection in 1992 by the New York Yankees.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Every Top 25 College Football Team's Current Top Committed 2016 Recruit

National signing day 2016 is less than a week away, and there are still a number of blue-chip recruits that haven't made their commitments yet. But while programs across college football try to land some splash players in the 11th hour, there are many more who have already made their intentions known. 

In the following slides for the final Associated Press Top 25 are the top commits for each class based on 247Sports Composite rankings. In addition, we tell you what the following prospects bring to their team—assuming they don't flip between now and signing day—and where they could land on the depth chart. 

Early enrollees and junior college transfers are noted when applicable. 

Begin Slideshow

Justin Wilcox Hired as Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator: Latest Details, Reaction

The University of Wisconsin announced on Thursday that it has hired Justin Wilcox as its defensive coordinator. 

Wilcox's defensive coordinator tour continues, as it is his fifth school in the past 10 years that he's held the position at.      

Most recently, Wilcox was at USC for two years before being fired in December of 2015 after the Trojans' loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. Before his stint in Southern California, Wilcox led the defenses of Washington, Tennessee and Boise State. 

Wilcox will be replacing Dave Aranda, who left Wisconsin for the defensive coordinator job at LSU at the conclusion of the 2015 season. 

Badgers head coach Paul Chryst spoke of his decision to bring on Wilcox, whose USC defense was ranked 65th in the nation last season, allowing a little over 400 total yards per game:

During my many conversations with numerous football people that I trusted, one name kept surfacing, Justin Wilcox. I am very happy that we were able to get a quality coach like Justin to join our staff. I think he's a great fit for Wisconsin and this program is a great fit for him. His addition makes us better. He has tremendous experience at some big-time schools and has coached some really good players. He does a great job putting his players in the best situations so they can be successful.

Joining Wisconsin is quite a reward for Wilcox. The Badgers' defense was ranked second in the nation last season, allowing just 268.5 total yards per game. That's a big step up compared to his USC defense. 

Wisconsin's defense helped them finish the season 10-3, including a win in the Holiday Bowl. Allowing just 20 offensive touchdowns last season, the prospect of taking over this kind of defense is just one of the things that excites Wilcox:

It is humbling to be able to work at a place with the personality and character that Wisconsin has. The biggest draws to the program were the opportunity to work for Coach Chryst and with the rest of the staff, as well as the student-athletes that Wisconsin has in the program. Everything about the culture and tradition of the program, from recruiting, to style of play, to development of players, was appealing to me. This is a special opportunity and I am excited to get started.

Wilcox and his defense will have an opportunity to endear themselves to their fans and head coach during the first week of the 2016 season when they take on LSU and its defense led by none other than Aranda. 

If they can take down a strong SEC team while limiting its big offensive stars like running back Leonard Fournette in Week 1, it could lay the groundwork for something special for Wilcox and Wisconsin in 2016.  

Stats courtesy of NCAA.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Programs That Produced the Most 2016 NFL Pro Bowl Players

As college football fans focus on the stars of tomorrow in the final weekend of this year's recruiting cycle, some of the game's stars of the past will be lining up in Hawaiian paradise for the 2016 Pro Bowl.

While some may argue against the existence of the laid-back showcase each year, the event is an honor for many players who grind through 16-plus weeks of a season.

And even if you don't prefer the NFL game, the Pro Bowl can be a good way to catch up on the best of the best from your favorite school. Plus, it will be one of the last live football-like substances easily available on your various screens for quite a while.

Which college teams are the best represented in this year's record-size, fantasy-drafted Pro Bowl roster? Here are the 13 schools that have at least three alumni who were either first choices or late replacements.

Many of these names will be obvious for their many years of producing large numbers of NFL prospects. But there are a few less prestigious programs that may surprise you with their number of top pro players.

Begin Slideshow

Alabama's Reggie Ragland Is Having the Last Laugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then you take a second look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

Warning: Video contains NSFW language.

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

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

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

[Vine]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

Mauk provided a statement on his dismissal:

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

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

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

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

No further information about the violations was immediately released.

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

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

ESPN Stats and Info further highlighted his impact:

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

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages