NCAA Football News
Editor's Note: The 5th Down captures the top social college football stories of the week. Because the long, grueling offseason is underway, we'll focus on things that make us laugh, think or maybe cry, but mostly laugh.
1) Ah, Jim Harbaugh! Allez Bleus!
Looking back at The Office, there's no doubt that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh would have been a member of the Finer Things Club. And unlike a certain other Jim, Harbaugh would have read Angela's Ashes from start to finish in a day, because he's like that.
So a Harbaugh trip to Paris, France seems appropriate. "Such culture! A Le Big Mac!" he probably thought while riding a bicycle with a baguette (see lower right photo) in the front basket through the streets of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. (Yes, Harbaugh rides bikes in khakis, too, because greatness never takes a vacation.)
Come to think of it, Harbaugh is so confident and probably already knows more about France than us anyway that he decided it'd be a good laugh to act as a tour guide around the city. And you know what? It probably worked, too.
2) A Traditional (Fighting) Irish Nuptial
Former Notre Dame offensive lineman Braxston Cave got married this past weekend. Some of the groomsmen were Cave's former Irish teammates. Naturally, the group had to get some action shots inside Notre Dame's stadium.
While 5th Down is a public supporter of fall weddings—once again, get married whenever you please because it's your day—we're an even bigger supporter of weddings in and around stadiums. If you're going to combine your passions, what better way to do it?
3) What...What is This?
Look, I don't know what this is about or who did it, but now all I want is for Miles to coach a game in that suit. Also, can we get him to do some sweet Michael Jackson moves every time LSU scores a touchdown? Maybe a spin or a moonwalk or something?
You know he'd do it, too. You know he would.
On a related note, if anyone is willing to make chalk art of coaches in music videos, please send them to us.
4) UPDATE: Urban Meyer Still Has Facial Hair and it's 70 Percent More Dad-Like
A month ago, 5th Down found an outstanding vintage photo of Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer rocking a pretty sassy mustache. Now, we have photographic evidence of Meyer sporting a goatee during vacation and, oh my goodness, that looks like every dad ever.
Meyer's facial-hair game is strong. So strong, in fact, that we're wondering what's holding him back from really getting into it. Imagine Meyer on the sideline game with a dapper handlebar mustache. You can't lose with that thing.
5) Let's Talk About Genetically Engineered Kickers
These, these my friends, are the opposite of #collegekickers. Yes, they're kickers who are (or will be) in college, but we're also lacking any proof that they're 100 percent flesh and blood and not created in a lab.
It all started last month when Alabama commit Eddy Pineiro sent a ball 73 yards through the uprights during a training session for Kornblue Kicking.
That led Baylor kicker Spencer Evans to attempt, and make, a 75-yarder.
Not to be outdone, Texas kicker Nick Rose—he of the greatest Flock of Seagulls/Bieber cross cut ever—nailed an 80-yard field goal during a practice session:
These are ideal conditions, of course. There's no pressure and no need to adjust the height of the trajectory to overshoot defenders. It's pure distance and that's it. Still, these aren't kicks at which to be scoffed. Eighty yards is 80 yards. That's more than a kickoff.
College football needs these types of kicking machines. While #collegekickers make the sport more interesting, it also makes it more frustrating. Having a cyborg hit an 80-yarder would certainly boost the overall entertainment value of college football.
But there's probably a rule about it deep in the NCAA rule book. Just a hunch.
6) An Appreciation for Big Ol' Linemen
I don't know how many games Arkansas will win in 2015. Odds Shark has the Hogs at the longest odds (50/1) to win the SEC West. Regardless, the best thing about the Razorbacks is that they know exactly who they are.
And what they are is a team in which everyone weighs like 300 pounds and wants to wrassle you in a phone booth. This is conveyed in Arkansas' 2015 media guide, which features beefy offensive linemen and only offensive linemen:
This is a brilliant idea. The running back combo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins is as good as there is in the SEC, if not the country. Putting them on the media guide would have been an obvious choice. But those backs need a force of an O-line through which to run, and that's what they get.
O-linemen never, ever get the recognition they deserve. There are no real stats to put next to their names, and they'll never be considered Heisman-worthy. So by all means, Arkansas, put those linemen on the media guide for all to see. We need more appreciation for these brave sons of Fayetteville.
(And more appreciation for big men dancing, as seen below.)
7) This Has Nothing to Do with Football
I mean, OK, yeah, technically it's sort of related. Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas is a football player doing social media things, so it all overlaps, but let's be honest: The only thing that matters here is this water slide.
Look at that thing. Where is that? Can I go? Are there unlimited turns? If I pay the water park $1,000 can I have the whole thing to myself for a day? I'd be willing, you know. There are smart investments and bad investments. This would probably be considered a bad investment since many wouldn't be able to justify dropping four figures (or more?) on entertainment with a limited shelf life.
Whatever. Doesn't matter. Doing it anyway because it's July.
8) Finally, a Thumbs-Up For This Commitment Video
The commitment video for new Penn State kicker Quinn Nordin has been going viral because, well, it's on the dramatic side.
Some might view this as over the top, but we say the more ridiculous it is, the better. As the top kicker recruit for 2016, according to 247Sports, Nordin has worked hard to have as many scholarship offers as he had. More could be on the way. That's incredible for a place kicker.
So, enjoy it all. Enjoy the recruiting process. Enjoy the video. Enjoy the moment. Most players won't have this type of opportunity again for years.
Nordin will have to work hard once he gets into college, but he's already shown that he's willing to do that. He doesn't need to be quiet or humble about this. He's earned that much.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. He's currently brushing up on his high school French on Twitter @BenKercheval.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The most powerful man in college football of the last decade slides into the back booth at his favorite breakfast spot in Homewood, Alabama. Surrounded by construction workers, off-duty cops and high school coaches, Mike Slive is just one of the guys at Salem's Diner, a place where he's simply called "Mike" by the rest of the regulars.
At just past dawn, Slive, the longtime commissioner of the SEC, orders his go-to dish: scrambled eggs dry, a sliced tomato and an English muffin. And yes, he'd love another cup of coffee, always more coffee, which is the only thing that flows faster than the conversation at Salem's, an old-fashioned greasy spoon where locals love to swap tales—some a little taller than others.
"I've done a lot of thinking and talking in this booth," Slive said. "There are a lot of hard-core college football fans that come in here, all of them with great knowledge, and it's important to listen to what they have to say. I'd like to think I've done that with all of my coffee buddies."
On many mornings at Salem's, Slive spitballed some of his most progressive ideas with his guys, including the concept for a college football playoff, which he first proposed in the summer of 2008. In fact, if you're looking for the birthplace of the playoffs, it's not a stretch to suggest it's here in the cramped confines of Salem's, where the one-time king of college football often held court during his 13-year reign atop the SEC.
But now, the 74-year-old Slive has walked away. On Monday, the SEC media days kick off in Hoover, Alabama—an event that annually marks the unofficial start of the college football season—and Slive won't be at the dais in the second-floor ballroom of the Wynfrey Hotel to welcome the 1,000-plus credentialed media. He retired this spring, handing the reins of the SEC to his longtime lieutenant, Greg Sankey.
So instead of stalking the halls of Wynfrey, Slive will be out on his backyard deck that overlooks a valley in Birmingham, an unlit cigar dangling from his lips, his thoughts free to roam.
There is so much for Slive to reflect on: From 2006 to 2012, he presided over a conference that won seven straight college football national titles, an unprecedented run of domination in the sport's history. He was the key behind-the-scenes actor in getting the first minority coach hired in the SEC. He oversaw the creation of the SEC Network, which launched in August 2014 into more homes (90 million) than any cable channel in history. And Slive turned the conference into the wealthiest in the land. In Slive's first full year, 2003, the SEC issued a payment of $8.49 million to each of its 12 member schools; this spring, the conference cut checks of $31.2 million to its 14 schools.
Here, we pull back the curtain on what has made Slive—a former lacrosse player at Dartmouth who served as a circuit judge in New Hampshire in the 1970s—the most influential figure in college athletics in the 21st century. It's a story told in Slive's own words, with insights from coaches such as Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier and fellow administrators such as Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, and Larry Scott, the commissioner of the Pac-12.
The discussion begins with Slive's role in the formation of the College Football Playoff.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following comments have been edited for clarity and length.
Slive: Back in 2004, we didn't award the SEC conference championship trophy on the field after the SEC title game; it was done in the locker room. And so after Auburn had beaten Tennessee at the Georgia Dome, I went and visited the players and coaches.
Auburn had a great team and had gone undefeated. But they were ranked No. 3 at the time and were shut out of the national championship game, so there was disappointment in the locker room. I didn't think that was fair. I started thinking about how we really needed a four-team playoff. I called the concept a "plus-one" at the time, but there really wasn't any interest it.
Bill Hancock, current executive director of the College Football Playoff and former director of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS): When I heard the "plus-one" idea, I didn't think it would work. I thought there would be uncertainty for which two teams should be in the final game.
The "plus-one" Mike was talking about was for someone to pick two teams to play each other after the bowl games and send them off to play. I thought it was a progressive idea, but I didn't agree with it because I thought there would be significant room for debate about who the final two teams should be.
Larry Scott, Pac-12 commissioner: The move to a playoff was filled with a lot of disagreements and vigorous debates. There had to be a lot of give-and-take between all the conference commissioners. But Mike was the leader. He never lost sight of the big prize. He was masterful at getting everyone to make compromises and see the bigger picture.
It was fun to work with him even though we didn't agree on everything because he was always able to get us to see the common ground we shared. We would not have gotten to the playoff as fast as we did if Mike wasn't in the room. And we would not have started the debate when we did if Mike didn't start talking about the "plus-one" concept.
Hancock: The 10 commissioners were at the table together for 100 hours or more of meetings, and Mike knew what he wanted. But Mike also made it his duty to understand what the other commissioners wanted. And then he set about thinking of how compromises could be made.
Mike realized early on in the process that the SEC wasn't going to get everything it wanted, and neither was the Big Ten or the Big 12 or the Pac-12 or the ACC. But the only way to reach a decision on this was to give everyone some of what they wanted. Again, Mike realized that early on. In his own gentle and not-hammering way, he became the bell cow in the process that led us to everyone getting some of what everyone wanted.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina head coach: When I first heard Mike talk about the "plus-one," I was happy—and I was really happy that it was Mike who was behind it because he can get people to come around to his way of thinking unlike anyone I've ever met. It took some time for Mike to work his magic behind closed doors, but now I think you can say that Mike Slive is the reason we have a playoff.
Slive: I knew getting to the playoffs was going to be a long march, but there were some things I felt we could accomplish sooner in our own conference. One of those things was getting a minority coach hired.
I remember early in my tenure, I was interviewed by ESPN on the subject of minority coaches. We didn't have any in the SEC, but I told the reporter that the SEC would have a minority coach while I was there. He said something, and I repeated, it will happen. He said something again, and I repeated, it will happen. Again he said something, and I repeated, it will happen. I left that interview very frustrated. But I made it be known to everyone in our conference that a minority coach would be welcomed by me.
Sylvester Croom, former Mississippi State head coach and current Tennessee Titans running backs coach: When I was hired at Mississippi State [in 2004] and became the first African-American head coach in the SEC, I was extremely proud. I didn't know this at the time, but I found out that Mike was really working behind the scenes on my behalf.
After I was hired, I got a phone call from Mike. He welcomed me to the conference, and he didn't mention race at all. He just wanted me to feel like I belonged. Now the great thing is there's been a bunch of minority coaches hired in the SEC since me, and it's no longer a big deal. That's progress, and Mike played a big role in bringing that about.
I remember in that first conversation, Mike also talked to me about the expectations of head coaches. He mentioned his goal for the conference that none of the schools be on probation.
Nick Saban, Alabama head coach: We had a lot of issues in the league at that time [when Mike was hired]. There were a lot of people on probation, and there were a lot of people out there sort of talking about things that created a negative image for our league. He has done a marvelous job of cleaning that up as well as elevating the image with marketing and TV.
Slive: When I had my introductory press conference on July 2, 2002, I laid out the challenges as I saw them. The first was we had to be diverse and be a league of opportunity in everything we did. The second was that the league had nine schools that were dealing with NCAA infractions. That had to be dealt with and taken care of. At the time, that was all the media was talking about. We needed to address the off-the-field stuff to get the focus back onto the field.
Spurrier: Mike told all of us coaches that we needed to look at the big picture and look at what's best for all of us 10 years from now. He has this amazing ability to come into a room filled with coaches who are only concerned about their own self-interest and get everyone to see common ground and do what's best for the group. I've never been around anyone who can build a consensus like Mike.
Slive: There was this attitude in the conference when I first started that if one school was in trouble, the other schools would celebrate it as if it was a good thing for them. I came out with a manifesto in 2004, which was unanimously adopted by the league, about how we all needed to change our attitudes. When one school was on probation, it adversely affected all the schools.
Well, fast-forward to when I had my 10-year anniversary on the job. I went on Paul Finebaum's radio show here in Birmingham, and at the end of the interview, I mentioned that he didn't ask one single question about NCAA infractions. The reason was he had no cause to ask about NCAA infractions because it was no longer an issue for our conference. Progress never moves in a straight line, but over time, you can see if you've made any or not, and I think we have.
Ross Bjork, Ole Miss athletic director: You really see Mike's leadership at our spring meetings in Destin [Florida] when our football coaches and athletic directors meet. There are a lot of powerful people in that room. But Mike could always bring everyone back to center on whatever the issue was, big or small.
The main thing is that he listens and allows people to have their voices heard in a fair, civil way. And then he makes his points, which almost always make you go, "Oh wow, I didn't think of this that way." He's graceful, but he's also fearless. He knows what the right decision is, and he's not afraid of that decision even if it's not popular at first glance.
Scott: I first met Mike in 2008. I went to a commissioner's meeting that spring and was very impressed with him. It was clear he was a person with a lot of wisdom, a person who was very thoughtful. He would listen very intently and only speak when he had something important to say. So when he spoke at a meeting, it was clear it would shift opinion. Right from the get-go, I knew he would be a person I would have a lot of respect for.
Early on, I told him I wanted to come visit him. So I made a trip to Birmingham and spent a day with him at the SEC headquarters. I got to see him interact with his staff and on his own turf. He was so relaxed in his office. He took so much pride in being the head of the SEC. As a result of that trip, I knew he was someone I could rely on for counsel on things when they would come up in my job. He was always very generous with his time with me.
Bjork: This is the kind of guy Mike Slive is. The first time I met him was at the Final Four in 2012. I had been named the AD at Ole Miss, but I hadn't started yet. I asked him if we could get a coffee together. He responded right away, "Absolutely."
We met at his hotel and spent two hours talking about everything—life, families, the job, challenges, opportunities. We talked about his vision for the SEC Network, which hadn't been discussed publicly yet. For him to give that kind of insight to me showed that he trusted me. It was a neat moment. I felt like I had arrived because I was sitting down with Mike Slive, the best of the best in all of college sports.
It was daunting being a young AD in the SEC. [Bjork was 39 when he became the Ole Miss athletic director and was the youngest AD in the Power Five conferences.] But Mike was very reassuring. He made me feel like I belonged just by the respect he showed me. He was intimidating because it was Mike Slive, but he is so graceful that he made you feel comfortable around him. That has been one of his secrets to success.
Spurrier: Where our conference has gone in Mike's 13 years on the job has just been mind-boggling. If 13 years ago you'd told me that the SEC was going to send $32 million to all 14 schools in the conference, I would have thought you'd flat-out lost your mind.
It was Mike who pushed for and got the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M into the conference in 2012. Getting their fanbases and markets into the SEC was incredibly important to the overall growth of the conference, and that was all him. The SEC Network did way beyond what we all thought it could do.
The early predictions were that we'd break even on this deal in the third year. Well, all of a sudden in the first year of existence, it was very, very profitable, like, off-the-charts profitable. Again, it's just mind-boggling everything he's done.
Scott: Mike's legacy is that he raised the bar not just for the SEC, but all of college sports. His legacy is the College Football Playoff, the success of the SEC and, of course, the SEC Network. No question, Mike Slive left college sports and the SEC in a far better place than when he found it.
Croom: The dominance of the SEC over the course of Mike's tenure isn't an accident. Because of the money he helped generate, the athletic facilities across the conference improved from top to bottom. It's unmatched.
Look at what the Mississippi schools have done. They were at the bottom of revenue in the conference, and now they have some of the best facilities in the country. All of us have good enough facilities to recruit anyone in the country. And it's because of the TV contracts that Mike negotiated and the SEC Network revenue.
But there's something even bigger going on. There is a great deal of SEC pride that did not exist before Mike got to the conference. This may actually be his greatest legacy. In the NFL now, guys come into the league, and they don't boast about being from Alabama or Auburn or Tennessee; they're talking about being from the SEC. Period. That's it. It's the SEC against everyone else. Mike fostered that conference pride more than anyone else.
Because under Mike's leadership, coaches came to understand that what's best for the conference is what's really best for each school.
Saban: I don't know of anybody in college football who has had a greater impact over the last 10 to 15 years than Mike has.
Spurrier: I'm a big believer in people. Commissioner Slive should be the world's commissioner. No, wait a minute. Check that. Mike Slive should be president of the United States. He's got great common sense and can bring people together. That's what our country needs. And he may be the smartest man I've ever met. I know I'm a better person and a smarter person because I got to know Mike Slive.
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Now that The Opening has concluded, there are likely to be shuffles in the rankings as it relates to the 2016 class.
There were a handful of players, such as 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary, who validated their credentials by dominating the action at Nike's World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, last week.
However, there was another group of 4-star standouts who made significant cases to add a fifth star to their resumes.
Three prospects on this list are currently rated outside the top 100, while another seven are rated between Nos. 51-100.
Which prospects made strong cases to move up in the next batch of rankings in the 2016 class?
Players listed in alphabetical order. All ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
Across college football, league media days are springing to life, starting with the SEC's this week. These media days often generate more hype than actual news, but their arrival means one thing: Actual college football isn’t far away now.
Next month, college coaches will get a real chance to mold the talented recruits they signed in February. While some have already gone through spring practice with their respective teams, others are just arriving on campus, and preseason practices will determine who’ll play and succeed early this fall.
Here’s a look at 10 of 2015’s top recruits, as determined by 247Sports, and some bold predictions about how they’ll fare as freshmen.
The Opening brings out the greatest high school players in the country. It's a great way to watch top players go one-on-one.
Who should be the No. 1 player in the Class of 2016? Check out the video and let us know!
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — While the Notre Dame football recruiting machine quieted down in South Bend over the last week and no new offers went out, the nation's top prospects descended on the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, for The Opening.
Let’s run through some of the Irish-related news and notes to come out of the week in Phil Knight land.
The fast-progressing recruitment of 2016 wide receiver Chase Claypool reached a conclusion Friday, when the quick riser committed to Notre Dame.
Claypool, who hails from Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, started hauling in offers in April. The Irish extended an offer toward the end of May, and the 6’5”, 205-pound pass-catcher visited for the Irish Invasion camp in mid-June. Claypool is Notre Dame’s 12th commitment in the class of 2016, which sat at just six members a few short weeks ago.
Currently slotted as the No. 55 wide receiver and No. 331 overall prospect in the class, Claypool impressed at The Opening.
Freshly minted Domer Parker Boudreaux, an offensive lineman in the class of 2016 who pledged to the Irish at the beginning of July, drew praise at The Opening, especially for his work against the nation’s top overall player, defensive tackle Rashan Gary.
Boudreaux is currently tabbed as the No. 13 guard and No. 336 overall prospect. His power-testing numbers from The Opening were top-notch.
Class of 2016 outside linebacker Caleb Kelly, one of Notre Dame’s top targets, placed the Fighting Irish in his top seven on Tuesday.
Kelly told 247Sports’ Ryan Bartow he will visit Notre Dame, as well as Oregon, later this month. Kelly was originally scheduled to camp at the Irish Invasion in June but did not make the trip.
Kelly is the No. 2 outside linebacker and No. 18 overall prospect in the country.
With an unofficial visit set for July 27, McCulloch also told 247Sports he plans to take an official visit to Notre Dame in the fall.
“I talk to the head coach, Coach [Brian] Kelly, pretty much daily since I’ve been here and once or twice a week before I got up here,” McCulloch told 247Sports’ Luke Stampini.
McCulloch is the No. 10 outside linebacker and No. 103 overall player in the country. The 6’2 ½”, 230-pounder posted strong numbers in Oregon.
On Sunday night, class of 2016 defensive back Eric Cuffee trimmed his list to eight, and Notre Dame made the cut.
The Waco, Texas, native, is the No. 24 cornerback and No. 267 overall recruit. He visited Notre Dame in June for the Irish Invasion.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com, and all quotes were obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.
Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
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The annual circus known as SEC Media Days will hit the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama this week, as the nation's most prolific football conference raises the curtain on the 2015 college football season.
You'll hear from plenty of the stars of the SEC over the four-day event, including Alabama head coach Nick Saban, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Florida defensive back Vernon Hargraves III. To get you ready for the madness, take a look at Bleacher Report's ultimate guide to SEC Media Days.
But what goes on behind the scenes at the extravaganza?
Here's a unique look at SEC Media Days by the numbers, courtesy of 2014 information provided by the SEC media relations office.
- Three hour media rounds per team
- Four representatives (one coach and three players) per team make 12 interview stops each, including rooms for print media, internet, TV, ESPN, SEC Network, CBS and SiriusXM
- 30 local regional and national radio stations on radio row
- 37 gallons of coffee
- 95 percent of rooms the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel used for SEC Media Days
- 200 bottles of Gatorade provided to coaches and players
- 384 bottles of water consumed by players and coaches
- 760 room nights contracted by the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel
- 2,200 boxed lunches served to local, regional and national media members
- 7,500 cups of Dr Pepper products
- 43,449 steps taken by SEC Media Days coordinator Tammy Wilson during the event
So when you see the masses assembled inside the Wynfrey, keep in mind that we're all well hydrated, highly caffeinated and that the staff gets quite a workout during SEC Media Days.
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
Monday, the college football season begins when the 2015 SEC media days start at Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.
While there won't be players on the field, the conference's most notable coaches and players will attend and face an onslaught of attention as around 1,200 media members bear down on them in a ballroom.
Whether it's Johnny Manziel or other memorable performances, the SEC media days always deliver and help fans hold on as the excruciating wait for the season's kickoff continues.
It's best not to miss the action, so here's a look at how it will all go down.
2015 SEC Media Days Schedule and Participants
Where: Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama
TV: SEC Network
Live Stream: SECSports.com
Monday, July 13
12:30 p.m. - 3:20 p.m.
Commissioner Greg Sankey
Auburn (Coach Gus Malzahn/Jeremy Johnson/Jonathan Jones/Kris Frost)
3:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Florida (Coach Jim McElwain/Jonathan Bullard/Brandon Powell/Vernon Hargreaves III)
Vanderbilt (Coach Derek Mason/Ralph Webb/Nigel Bowden/Spencer Pulley)
Tuesday, July 14
9:30 a.m. - 10 a.m.
Steve Shaw, SEC Coordinator of Football Officials
10 a.m. - 1:20 p.m.
South Carolina (Coach Steve Spurrier/Elliott Fry/Pharoh Cooper/Skai Moore)
Texas A&M (Coach Kevin Sumlin/Mike Matthews/Germain Ifedi/Julien Obioha)
2 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Mississippi State (Coach Dan Mullen/Dak Prescott/ Taveze Calhoun/Ryan Brown)
Tennessee (Coach Butch Jones/Joshua Dobbs/Curt Maggitt/Cameron Sutton)
Wednesday, July 15
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Alabama (Coach Nick Saban/Reggie Ragland/Kenyan Drake/Ryan Kelly)
Kentucky (Coach Mark Stoops/Melvin Lewis/Jordan Swindle/A.J. Stamps)
2 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Missouri (Coach Gary Pinkel/Kenya Dennis/Maty Mauk/Evan Boehm)
Arkansas (Coach Bret Bielema/Jonathan Williams/Brandon Allen/Keon Hatcher)
Thursday, July 16
10 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Georgia (Coach Mark Richt/Malcolm Mitchell/John Theus/Jordan Jenkins)
Ole Miss (Coach Hugh Freeze/Evan Engram/Mike Hilton/C.J. Johnson)
LSU (Coach Les Miles/Leonard Fournette/Vadal Alexander/Kendell Beckwith)
Top Storylines to Watch
The Face of the Conference
Each year, the SEC media days never fail to entertain when it comes to big names.
This year, though, it's a tossup when it comes to figuring out who will steal the show, both at the press conferences and on the field next season.
Think about it. Mississippi State's Dak Prescott might be the one. He plays the right position (quarterback), and last year he threw for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns with another 986 yards and 14 scores on the ground.
But then there is someone such as Georgia running back Nick Chubb, who is also a surefire Heisman Trophy contender. Last year, he averaged an eye-popping 7.1 yards per carry on the way to 1,547 yards and 14 scores.
Don't forget Leonard Fournette at LSU, either, not after he ran for 1,034 yards and 10 scores on just 187 attempts as a freshman.
The point is, the SEC needs a face. There are plenty of candidates on the offensive side of things, and their climb to the status might begin this week.
The Wild, Wild East
Over the course of the past few years, things have just been odd in the SEC East.
It wasn't recognizable programs such as the Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, South Carolina Gamecocks or even the Tennessee Volunteers stepping up and seizing the division. Instead, it was the Missouri Tigers.
Radio broadcaster Oscar Combs puts it best:
There's nothing wrong with Missouri winning, of course, but longtime fans are right to wonder when the division will morph back to its ultra-competitive ways.
With the Gamecocks, it's right to wonder how much longer Steve Spurrier has after a 7-6 campaign. Georgia seems on the right path, especially if Chubb can stay healthy. If Tennessee's defense can stand strong, it makes for another threat.
Many of the answers to this situation will come on the field, but it sure won't hurt to hear the opinions of all involved in Alabama this week.
The Starter in Alabama
Georgia has an intriguing quarterback battle going on, but there's nothing more interesting than the situation under center at Alabama.
There, Jake Coker seems locked in a battle with David Cornwell for the right to follow in Blake Sims' footsteps. A quarterback competition continues to follow the Crimson Tide, but it worked out quite well last year with Sims' performance.
It's easy to think the more experienced Coker will win the job. He threw four scores last year in his debut season with the team after two with Florida State.
But there are some, such as ESPN's Chris Low, who hear otherwise:
The battle could swing either way, though, as quarterback coach David Morris told Matt Zenitz of AL.com about his confidence in the veteran:
People don't realize that that doesn't happen overnight. That's a maturation process and an experience thing, and I really think he's in a position to hit his stride right now. I really believe that. I've had him for a long time and have always known his potential, and I'm really excited about where he is right now.
Saban himself might not say much this week, but it's going to be the hottest topic in Alabama as fans from around the world flock to join the media fray.
The Crimson Tide will occupy the spotlight, as they should. Once again, the attention centers on the lack of anything concrete at the most important position of all.
Stats and info courtesy of SECSports.com unless otherwise specified.
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While Jalen Ramsey is moving to boundary cornerback for the Florida State Seminoles this upcoming season, the junior could be at the top of the list for teams looking to add a safety in the 2016 NFL draft.
Truly, it is more accurate to simply call Ramsey a defensive back than to label him as either a cornerback or safety. He spent time playing both positions as a freshman at Florida State before moving into a hybrid role as the team’s nickel back last season.
Where Ramsey ultimately lines up in the NFL will depend upon how the team that drafts him believes he can best fit its scheme.
In the interest of highlighting one of the top prospects in the 2016 draft class, having already given top cornerback billing to Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III in the previous installment of Bleacher Report’s top draft prospect by position series, Ramsey is being classified here as a safety, which appears to be the position he is best suited to play in a base defensive package.
A second-team AP All-American in 2014, Ramsey possesses a clear knack for making highlight-reel plays. Through two collegiate seasons, in which he has started all 28 of Florida State’s games, Ramsey has accumulated 11.5 tackles for loss, 16 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
From a technical standpoint, Ramsey has a need to continue to work on his game. From a physical standpoint, though, it is evident that Ramsey has the potential to develop into an NFL star.
Athleticism and Versatility
At 6’1” and 201 pounds, Ramsey has a combination of size, length and athleticism that fits the NFL prototype for a defensive back.
For evidence of how athletic Ramsey is, one need look no further than his results as a member of the Florida State track and field team. During this past track and field season, Ramsey finished fourth in the long jump in the NCAA Indoor Championships, with a jump of 26’1.75”, then followed that up with a 14th-place finish in the long jump at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, with a jump of 24’11.25”.
Ramsey, who told Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press that he hopes to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics, was victorious in the long jump at both the ACC Indoor Championships (25’2.75”) and ACC Outdoor Championships (26’1.5”). He also finished seventh at the ACC Outdoor Championships in the 100-meter dash (10.61 seconds).
The athleticism Ramsey shows on the track translates to the gridiron. It gives him the range to make plays at all regions of the field, explosiveness to burst downhill toward the ball and recovery speed to make up ground in coverage.
One of the areas in which Ramsey’s athleticism is most apparent is when he is blitzing.
Utilized frequently as a pass-rusher in his role as the “Star” defensive back last season, Ramsey was regularly able to impact the game from the edge. Bursting out of his stance the same way he might at the beginning of a track sprint, Ramsey can beat blockers around their outsides and, when he does, bring pressure to the quarterback in a hurry.
The following clips from Florida State’s win over Miami last season shows just one example of Ramsey taking advantage of his speed to get to the quarterback. Able to win with a wide angle around the left side, Ramsey curled back to Miami signal-caller Brad Kaaya’s backside and hit him as he threw to force an incomplete pass.
Ramsey’s athleticism is likewise apparent in open space, as he can close very quickly in pursuit. The following clip shows another play from the same game in which Ramsey snuffed a screen pass to running back Duke Johnson from the get-go and was able to get to Johnson in a flash to shut him down for a three-yard tackle for loss.
A true every-down player for the Seminoles, Ramsey could be seen lining up all over the team’s defensive formation last season, from his usual spot of slot cornerback to playing up on the line of scrimmage or dropping back to play as a deep safety.
Ramsey has also had a highly active presence on special teams, which is another area in which his athleticism stands out.
His long speed shines in the following clip, from Florida State’s win over Clemson, on which he covered 50 yards as a punt gunner to force Tigers returner Adam Humphries into a fair catch.
Ramsey also has great vertical athleticism, as evidenced by the following clip from Florida State’s 2014 rivalry game against Florida. While Ramsey was not able to actually block Florida’s field-goal attempt in this instance, his quick move to leapfrog the Gators long snapper and get into the backfield was impressive nonetheless.
As indicated in the GIF exhibiting his tackle for loss against Duke Johnson, Ramsey is a strong tackler for a defensive back. He employs good form in wrapping up his opponents and is authoritative in using his strength so as not to allow runners to finish through him and continue their forward progress.
Able to impact the game in a wide variety of ways, Ramsey is a player whom any creative defensive coordinator will covet. Because of his ability to do so many different things, he has the potential to play safety, cornerback and even linebacker situationally.
That said, he will make his home somewhere within the secondary, which makes his ability in coverage of utmost importance. In that regard, however, he appears to still be a work in progress.
Coverage Skill Will Be Tested at Cornerback
The most highly valued safety prospects are typically those who are ball hawks, and Ramsey has certainly shown that he can be that. An aggressive playmaker, Ramsey regularly exhibits the ability to break on the ball and make plays on it.
No play exemplified Ramsey’s ball-hawking ability more than Florida State’s final defensive play against Miami last year. Perhaps the most famous play of his career to date, Ramsey showed a terrific ability to read the flight of the ball as he broke off a Phillip Dorsett route from the slot to undercut a Brad Kaaya pass over the middle and secure a game-sealing interception, as seen in the following three clips.
On the play, Ramsey was in perfect coverage position from the start and was able to take advantage. But even when Ramsey gets initially beat on a play, he still has the potential to get his hands on the ball because of his length and recovery speed.
An example of that can be seen in the following GIF, also from the Miami game, in which tight end Clive Walford was able to get a step on Ramsey on a post route over the middle, but Ramsey was still able to leap in from behind and get his hands on the ball for a pass breakup that was nearly an interception.
The concern that arises from studying Ramsey’s tape is that he allows receivers to get ahead of him—often to a point that renders him unable to make a play on the ball—with too much frequency.
Where Ramsey tends to struggle most is in off-man coverage. He is susceptible to getting beat on route breaks, not so much because he lacks change-of-direction quickness but because he gets fooled by double moves and gives his opponents too much cushion.
One example of Ramsey getting faked out by a double move and burned came on a 42-yard catch by Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell last season.
With that being said, Ramsey was also inconsistent in zone coverage. Partially thanks to his aggressive playmaking nature, but also indicative of a lack of positional awareness, there were occasions throughout last season on which Ramsey allowed opposing receivers to get wide open when he should have continued covering them.
As NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein recently noted about Ramsey’s play last season, “There were way too many instances when his instincts and technique put him in poor position.”
“Those concerns might be alleviated once he's able to use his attributes as a press-man corner,” Zierlein wrote. “I understand the hype surrounding his potential and traits, but his play consistency must improve as a full-time cornerback.”
To this point, Ramsey has not come close to demonstrating the lockdown coverage ability that the top cornerbacks eligible for the 2016 draft, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller, already have.
The good news for Ramsey, of course, is that he has a full year of playing cornerback ahead of him in which he will constantly be in a position to prove his mettle in coverage.
Unlike last season, when Ramsey was frequently taken out of coverage to rush the passer, Ramsey will be expected to be a constant presence in coverage in his new role this year. This will put his ability to the test, but it should also enable him to improve upon his technical consistency and get into a groove as a pass defender.
As Zierlein alluded to, press coverage is an area in which scouts will be watching Ramsey closely this season. He was not used in that capacity much in 2014, but his size and length can be great assets in that regard, where he has shown the ability to succeed in limited engagements.
Even if Ramsey has a great season in coverage this upcoming year, his NFL home might still be at safety. Either way, he needs to give up fewer big plays this season while continuing to make big plays of his own if he is going to cement his status as an early first-round draft pick.
Coming Through in the Clutch
Clutch is a tough factor to quantify, but a clear trend in Ramsey’s tape is that he tends to be at his best in big moments. One of the biggest reasons Ramsey has become one of the 2016 draft class’ first household names is that he has a reputation for making big plays with the game on the line.
If you followed college football last season, you might recall that Florida State, despite going undefeated until its blowout loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, found itself in many close games. And on the many occasions the Seminoles needed their defense to get them out of a jam, Ramsey was more often than not a player who stepped up to make at least one big play.
The aforementioned interception against Miami was not the only instance in which Ramsey made a play that would all but seal a Florida State victory. Another came in the fourth quarter last September against North Carolina State. With his team clinging to an 11-point lead in a high-scoring game, Ramsey beat Wolfpack running back Shadrach Thornton on a blitz around the left side to hit quarterback Jacoby Brissett from behind for a strip sack.
Against Notre Dame in October, with his team leading 31-27 in what might have been Florida State’s closest call of the regular season, Ramsey came up huge twice in goal-to-go defense.
First, on 3rd-and-goal, Ramsey attacked downhill toward a short out route to C.J. Prosise, giving Prosise a hard push out of bounds behind the 2-yard line to stop the Notre Dame wide receiver from reaching the goal line.
Then, following an offensive pass-interference penalty against Notre Dame, Ramsey rang up another successful blitz, beating Notre Dame right guard Steve Elmer across his face to hit quarterback Everett Golson and force an errant throw that would be intercepted by Seminoles linebacker Jacob Pugh in the end zone to clinch victory.
Scouting purists might argue that clutchness is not a trait, but coaches love players who make a difference when the game is on the line. If Ramsey can continue to make big plays when they matter most this upcoming season, it will only further his standing as one of the most intriguing playmakers in the 2016 draft, assuming he declares.
Where Ramsey Fits and How Highly He Should Be Drafted
If you’re looking to compare Ramsey to a player currently in the NFL, the Florida State junior projects as a bigger, faster version of former LSU standout Tyrann Mathieu, and could play a similar role in the NFL.
While Mathieu struggled to regain his stride last season after suffering a torn ACL late in his rookie year, he was outstanding in 2013 in a hybrid defensive back role for the Arizona Cardinals that had him lining up as the starting free safety in base packages but as a slot cornerback in nickel packages. This position put Mathieu in a role in which he could make plays on the ball in coverage but also be a factor around the line of scrimmage as a blitzer and run defender.
If the NFL team that drafts Ramsey wants to maximize his skill set on its defense, it would be smart to play the prospective first-round pick in a similar role.
Like the "Honey Badger" and many of the NFL's other great defensive backs, Ramsey has an effusive swagger. His high self-confidence is evident both on the field and off it, as evidenced by his own Twitter.
With that being said, Ramsey has none of the off-field baggage that made Mathieu fall to the third round (No. 69 overall) in the 2013 draft. Ramsey briefly received negative press last August when he was kicked out of a practice for being overly physical, but he was praised by coach Jimbo Fisher after returning to the field the next day.
Assuming Ramsey is drafted where his talent dictates, he should be selected within the top half of the first round. While he does need to show some improvement this upcoming season, he has game-changing potential that is rare for a defensive back.
Because of that, John Harris of HoustonTexans.com considers Ramsey to be the best defensive prospect in college football.
Can Any Other Safety Prospects Challenge Ramsey?
All the players who are most likely to be drafted as safeties in Round 1—including Ramsey—are players who will not actually be defined as safeties on their rosters this year.
The safety prospect with the most potential to challenge Ramsey for draft position is USC junior Su’a Cravens. While Cravens moved to linebacker for the Trojans last season, the 6’1”, 225-pound defender is well-suited to play strong safety in the NFL, as he is a big hitter in the box but also a great athlete who is fluid dropping back into coverage.
Ole Miss junior Tony Conner, who plays the nickelback position like Ramsey did last year, is another top talent at defensive back who could end up in the first-round mix. Known for being a big hitter at 6’0” and 215 pounds, Conner projects as a strong safety to the NFL.
Among more traditional safety prospects—those being players who are actually lining up at the position on a regular basis for their college football teams—the top prospect going into the season is Duke senior Jeremy Cash. Coming off two excellent seasons for the Blue Devils since transferring from Ohio State, Cash projects as a likely second-round pick next spring.
Ramsey could potentially be joined near the top of the draft by another Florida State junior, Nate Andrews, who projects as a potential early-round pick in his own right should he declare for the draft. While Andrews lacks the elite physical tools that Ramsey has, he was likewise a big playmaker for the Seminoles in both coverage and run defense in 2014.
Other candidates to be early-round picks at the safety position in 2016 include Ohio State junior Vonn Bell, LSU senior Jalen Mills, Notre Dame junior Max Redfield and West Virginia senior Karl Joseph.
All of those players have the skills to be starting safeties in the NFL, and could make up a deep class at the position in the 2016 draft.
Even so, Ramsey stands out as a unique talent.
While the second-tier safety prospects might only appeal to teams who are specifically looking to add at that position, Ramsey is a player who should draw interest from the entire NFL. With his multitudinous versatility and all-around playmaking ability, Ramsey has the potential to be an impact player for any defense, even if that means creating a new role for him to play.
This article is the final installment of a series on the projected top prospects at each position for the 2016 NFL draft. Also read:
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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With SEC media days set to kick off this week, that means the season isn't far behind and it's time to start getting excited that this hype-fueled offseason of Tennessee football is nearly over.
The opportunity for coach Butch Jones' Volunteers to prove they're worthy of the buzz is nearing.
It's something that has everybody around Knoxville giddy with anticipation, including defensive coordinator John Jancek, who could be trotting out one of the most talented units in the entire SEC following an injury-riddled spring.
Jancek told the Knoxville News Sentinel's Dustin Dopirak (via GoVols247):
I think the biggest thing is we've improved our overall speed on the defense. From D-Line to linebacker to our secondary, I think we have guys in position that are able to run and make some plays for us, and we have a good mix of veteran players that have been in the system now that are really helping the young guys catch on. I do see our overall speed and athleticism improving, and I think we really addressed some size issues, especially on the defensive line. ... I'm excited to see what those guys can do.
That's pretty much echoed universally among everybody—coaches, players and fans alike—in Knoxville and around the program. The Vols are extremely young but also very talented. They also have experience and leadership in important places.
With an SEC East that appears wide open, it's time to see if Jones' team can take the next step forward from last year's 7-6 triumph in the wake of injuries, a daunting schedule and a starting lineup rife with freshmen. Less than two months from now, that journey will begin.
Let's take a look at some of UT's strengths, weaknesses and secret weapons for 2015.
The Duality of Dobbs
Some may say he's a wild card of sorts, but quarterback Joshua Dobbs has put together good starting stretches in each of his first two seasons on Rocky Top. His athleticism is unquestioned, and it appeared he turned a corner during a season-ending stretch that culminated with a TaxSlayer Bowl victory.
This spring, the rising junior took immense strides in his footwork and overall mechanics, which noticeably improved his accuracy.
As if all the positive vibes coming from Knoxville in the form of praise from Jones and UT coaches and media weren't enough, the national media noticed it, too, as Dobbs traveled west to be an Elite 11 coach.
The way Dobbs has hit it off with new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and with the improvements he already has shown under his tutelage, it's hard not to be excited. UT's offensive line may be a work in progress, but Dobbs' legs covered a lot of warts a season ago.
If his arm can match it, there's no reason to believe Dobbs' big numbers toward the end of 2014 can't translate into big performances against better competition. He's athletic, talented, intelligent and experienced. Basically, he's the kind of quarterback most teams covet.
He'll be a strength for the Vols throughout the season. If his receiving corps can overcome its struggles and live up to its ability, it'll be a big season for UT.
It may be difficult to label Tennessee's entire defense a team strength, but it's a couple of answerable question marks away from being very good on paper.
With some pretty considerable gaps last year, UT still put together a defense that was overwhelmingly better than it was in 2013. That unit was opportunistic and had special stretches that carried the team, such as the overtime session in a season-defining victory over South Carolina.
Fast-forward to this year, and the Vols return star defensive ends Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett along with everybody behind them. They return their leading tackler in weak-side linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who appears poised for an All-SEC campaign.
On the back end, the Vols have junior stud cornerback Cameron Sutton along with two senior safeties in Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil.
Even two areas of potential weakness have talented players who just need to prove they belong.
Last year, UT went through the season with essentially a three-man defensive tackle rotation. The Vols return starter Danny O'Brien but welcome stud prospects Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle into the mix. Add Kendal Vickers, who had a huge spring, and defensive tackle looks like it'll take a major step forward.
Despite the massive hype around McKenzie, there hasn't been anything since he arrived on campus to douse the excitement. He's expected to be a starter and a stud right away. Longtime Knoxville sports radio personality Jimmy Hyams recently tweeted a tidbit about McKenzie's weight-room prowess:
Emerging stars such as Emmanuel Moseley, Todd Kelly Jr., Rashaan Gaulden and Evan Berry made Tennessee's secondary deep and strong. Jancek told Dopirak in the story linked above:
I think with the secondary being in pretty good shape, that will allow us to be more flexible and get more (defensive backs) on the field. You see so many spread offenses with three and four wideouts. It's important that you match up with skill. I think that's what we’re going to be able to do. Couple that with the addition of our ability of our defensive line to get a pass rush that showed continuous improvement over this past year, that's going to play a major role as we want to progress as well.
The only real question is a big one at middle linebacker, but if UT can find a dependable player to man the middle, it's going to be a really difficult unit upon which to score.
Tennessee had success a season ago being versatile and multiple without really having all the personnel in place to do it. This year, the Vols are a lot closer to being where they need to be from a speed and talent standpoint, so if everything comes together, the group is going to be strong.
That Pesky Middle Linebacker Conundrum
It may be difficult to say a position that features two of the most highly coveted linebackers during the past two recruiting cycles among its vying personnel is a weakness.
But the fact is nobody has stepped up to claim UT's vacant middle linebacker role yet.
For the past four years, tackle-gobbler A.J. Johnson filled that position. With him gone, there's a group of Vols trying to fill the huge shoes.
This spring, the hope was athletic converted outside linebacker Dillon Bates could win the job, but the redshirt freshman hadn't fully recovered from season-ending surgery and was ineffective.
Fellow redshirt freshman Gavin Bryant wasn't ready to make any noise at the position, and sophomore Jakob Johnson was hurt. That left junior Kenny Bynum to enter and exit the spring as the starter though he's the least physically gifted of the bunch.
With Bates having more time to heal and with the addition of former 4-star stud Darrin Kirkland Jr., who missed spring after enrolling midterm due to a pectoral tear he suffered while working out, the Vols are going to be a lot more talented in the middle this fall.
Volquest.com's Paul Fortenberry recently said on the radio he felt like Kirkland or Bates ultimately would win the job.
There's quite a buzz surrounding Kirkland, who looks like he was formed from a cookie-cutter pattern labeled "SEC middle linebacker." He should win the job, and if he does, the Vols defense will be better for it. But until somebody surges forward, it's a weakness, plain and simple.
Blockers with an Edge
No matter how serviceable he can be at left tackle, redshirt senior Kyler Kerbyson will always be a guard forced to play the most important position on UT's line, protecting Dobbs' blind side.
That should tell you all you need to know about the Vols' offensive tackles.
There were some bright spots this spring with the emergence of redshirt sophomore Brett Kendrick, the improvement of redshirt junior Dontavius Blair and the future promise of freshman Jack Jones, but nothing is settled.
That's why when 4-star elite prospect Drew Richmond tells GoVols247's Ryan Callahan before he reported to Knoxville this summer, "I expect to start," it doesn't just sound like some cocky high schooler who is displaying the kind of unseasoned arrogance normally reserved for those his age. He really could start.
UT has talented tackles, and there are enough good players there to develop a stable rotation. Offensive line coach Don Mahoney and DeBord just have to find the right duo to start, and those two have to hold up against the Georgias, Oklahomas and Alabamas of the world.
It takes this long to recover from a depth perspective along the line when your former head coach goes an entire recruiting cycle without signing an offensive lineman the way Derek Dooley did. So now the Vols are trying to fill the gap between experience and talent.
Last year, a historically inefficient offensive line struggled from the outside in. That cannot happen again if the Vols are going to compete for the East.
Hungry Like the Wolf
Lost in the fact that Tennessee's receivers had a disappointing 2014 followed by a spring full of struggles is that talented freshman tight end Ethan Wolf hit a wall a year ago, too.
Expect him to bust through it as a sophomore.
After netting 13 catches in the season's first three games, he had just 10 during the final nine. From his head swimming thanks to being forced into a starting role as a first-year player to battling through a high ankle sprain and other nagging injuries, Wolf had his share of ups and downs.
But at 6'5", 240 pounds and with a season behind him, Wolf will have a huge 2015.
The way Dobbs rolls out and reads through his progressions, improvising on the fly, he'll need a safety valve. Every running quarterback does. That's where Wolf's size, route running and soft hands will be utilized.
It wouldn't be a stretch to see a lot of UT's passing game feed off Wolf. He has the ability to lead the team in catches, and with the Vols having a blossoming vertical passing game that is by no means mature yet, Wolf will thrive on dump-offs and in short-yardage situations.
He also should be much more of a weapon in the red zone than he was a season ago. That's why on the offensive side of the ball, Wolf is a no-brainer for Tennessee's secret weapon.
Primed to Shine
A season ago, Justin Coleman was an underrated cog on Tennessee's improved defense when he solidified the all-important nickelback position.
With him gone, the Vols have a major hole to fill. Thankfully for them, it appears they've got a potential rising star to fill it in sophomore Rashaan Gaulden.
After a breakout spring where he drew near-universal praise from coaches, Gaulden continues to get some positive buzz this offseason.
At 6'1", 184 pounds, Gaulden is the perfect size to play the hybrid nickel position. He is big enough to play up in the box and crunch slot receivers at the line of scrimmage, and he's athletic enough to be a playmaker in coverage. He also is smart enough to make all the perimeter lineups.
The Vols need Gaulden to shine at nickel so they don't have to do something drastic such as move Sutton to the position. He has the physical makeup, intelligence and showed the ability this spring to not only solidify the spot but to be a vital playmaker on the edge.
If he is consistent, Tennessee's secondary will be among the league's best.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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Shane Buechele certainly gave his prospective teammates something to think about with his performance at The Opening.
Texas' quarterback was absolutely lights-out at the Elite 11, finishing second in the quarterbacking phase of Nike's elite competition and standing toe-to-toe with some of the nation's top prospects.
Buechele had the kind of week that should get fans and recruits alike excited about the Horns. And based on what we saw from top targets like Devin Duvernay and Dontavious Jackson, the quarterback's work should change the entire complexion of what's been a pretty underwhelming 2016 class.
What Buechele's Performance Means for the Longhorns
Buechele proved he's the real deal last week. Plain and simple.
Ranked as the 11th-best quarterback in the event per 247Sports' Composite, Buechele made his case to climb up near the 5-star prospects he ran circles around all week. He started out by winning the Golden Gun accuracy award on Monday, then never looked back in leading the competition until the final day.
While an easy case can be argued that he should have won MVP honors, Buechele made his point. His all-around mastery of the football was obvious to everyone in attendance, prompting some sky-high praise from Trent Dilfer.
Also sporting some solid wheels, Buechele could be a devastating force in Texas' uptempo attack. Unlike current quarterbacks Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard and Kai Locksley, he's going to be ready to make college-level throws from the moment he steps on campus, and that was obvious the entire time he was in Oregon.
In the meantime, Buechele's showing will pay dividends on the recruiting trail. As of this writing, the Horns have just six commits in their 60th-ranked 2015 class, with only Buechele and Collin Johnson cracking the Top 247.
But now that Buechele has declared himself as an elite passer, in front of a slew of Texas targets no less, that should change. Malik Jefferson did the same thing last year when he showed off his freak athleticism and became one of the most powerful recruits college football has ever seen.
As with Jefferson, Buechele's performance has the potential to steer some of the nation's best players toward a commitment to the Longhorns.
Other Participants Who Could Commit Soon
Buechele was the only Longhorn commit to attend The Opening last week, but several of Texas' top targets were in attendance and showed well.
We'll start with athlete Christian Wallace, who is undoubtedly committing in the near future after getting a Bevo-themed hair design. According to 247Sports' EJ Holland, Wallace seemed disinterested at times during the event but was tremendous when he turned it on at safety. That's one of four positions he could end up playing, and it'll be interesting to see where Texas puts him.
Sticking with the defensive side of the ball, probable linebacker commits Jeffrey McCulloch and Dontavious Jackson each had big weeks. McCulloch posted a position-best 138.3 SPARQ score, while Jackson was unbeatable in drills, as noted by 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr.
As for the offensive side, it's hard not to get excited about Texas lean Devin Duvernay. Buechele's recruiting target ran an insane 4.32 and had one of the best catches at the event. He and current commit Collin Johnson would be a devastating combo on the outside.
The hope for Texas is that these four will feel better about committing to the Horns after seeing Buechele's readiness to contribute. Duvernay and Jackson especially have the potential to swing some of the other elite talent in the state and would completely change the complexion of this class.
There's no guarantee that any of this will happen. There's a reason these players are waiting to commit, but Buechele has given these targets a reason to get excited about playing for the Longhorns. That's a big development from a week ago.
So while the 2016 offseason has been mostly underwhelming to this point, its key member now has a national face. From here, it will really start to take shape.
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The UCLA football team will welcome numerous talented freshmen to its roster in 2015.
Jim Mora has demonstrated the propensity throughout his time in Westwood to liberally utilize his young talent at virtually every position. This upcoming season figures to be no different.
There are five freshmen with the potential to shine right away for UCLA. Each of the players mentioned in this piece have the chance to contribute at integral spots.
Playing time will likely be garnered with strong fall camps. In other words, UCLA needs these five to perform well in order to impact the team from the get-go.
*All recruiting rankings mentioned are per Scout.com.
Nebraska Cornhuskers football fans have seen six players depart from the team since spring practice. And while the attrition does ease fears in terms of the NCAA's 85-man scholarship limit, the question inevitably arises: Who benefits from those departures?
So let’s take a look at Nebraska’s roster and make some determinations as to who might benefit the most from each of the six departures this offseason.
Ohio State caught a glimpse of the future last week when 4-star wide receiver and current Buckeyes commit Austin Mack shined at The Opening—a high-end football camp that featured more than 160 of the nation's top prospects.
Mack, a 6'2", 205-pound standout from Fort Wayne, Indiana, is rated the No. 25 wide receiver and the No. 148 prospect overall in the 2016 class. But after showing out in Beaverton, Oregon last week, many are starting to think he's one of the more undervalued recruits in the country.
And those opinions gain validity quickly after watching his highlights from the week.
His ability to track the ball while it's in the air—without breaking stride—is similar to former Buckeyes star Devin Smith. That quality made Smith one of the best deep threats in all of college football last season, and it made Ohio State's offense exponentially more dangerous.
That's an element Mack will bring to Columbus. His long stride and 4.5 speed helped him burn some of the top defensive backs in the country last week.
Mack was a member of Team Lunar Beast, which won the 7-on-7 championship event in Beaverton. He was a pivotal part of that success, as was fellow Buckeyes commit Demario McCall, a 4-star prospect out of North Ridgeville, Ohio.
McCall, rated the country's No. 43 recruit and third-best running back, is projecting to the H-Back position for the Buckeyes—a wide receiver/running back hybrid made famous by Percy Harvin. He had a similarly impressive week as Mack, and he's confident that the success they shared last week will role over into their collegiate careers.
"It was great getting together with my future teammates and showing what we can do against the best in the country," McCall said, according to Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue. "I think we can do some big things together at Ohio State."
But the bright future may not be limited to the 2016 class.
Looking ahead to 2017, Meyer and the Buckeyes appear to have the inside track on a pair of 5-star wide receivers in Trevon Grimes and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Grimes is rated the top wideout for his class, and Peoples-Jones beat out the best prospects in the country to win the Nike Football Ratings National Championship in Beaverton last week.
Both are outstanding junior pass-catchers who are favored to land at Ohio State, according to 247 Sports' Crystal Ball Predictions.
Looking at the current roster, it's hard to imagine Ohio State getting more talent on the perimeter. The Buckeyes currently boast a dynamic wide receiver corps, anchored by guys such as Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson.
But looking ahead to the talent heading Ohio State's way in 2016-17, Meyer's teams could be even more explosive in the future.
All recruiting information via 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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As kickers continue to try to outdo each other, Texas Longhorns kicker Nick Rose has made it extremely tough for the competition.
Because not every kicker can boot an 80-yard field goal.
Rose recently took the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to get some kicks in. While there, the senior kicker showed that he has more than enough leg to top his career long of 51 yards:
Warning: Video contains NSFW language.
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The annual Elite 11 national finals provides a glimpse of college football's next crop of star quarterbacks. The event took place July 6-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, and allowed analysts and camp coaches to assess 18 premier passers.
Based on in-person assessment and film study to this point, we ranked the top five quarterbacks in an impressive 2016 class. Prospects are rated considering past accomplishments, fundamentals and future potential.
Tennessee didn't have any commitments dominate The Opening camp like it did when Kahlil McKenzie wreaked havoc a year ago, but the Vols did have a quality representation.
No fewer than 15 viable UT targets participated in Nike's prestigious showcase event held in Beaverton, Oregon, and several of them proved they belong among the most elite of the athletes in attendance.
One of those was Vols quarterback commitment Jarrett Guarantano, who showed out for much of the Elite 11 competition. The New Jersey product proved he has the arm strength, size and athleticism to develop into an exceptional signal-caller.
The whole time Guarantano was out West, he made sure the top recruits had the Vols on their mind, telling 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong of the players he was recruiting:
Trying for Kyle Davis, [Donnie] Corley, trying for [Binjimen] Victor out of Florida, of course you have Kareem [Walker], [Jordan] Fuller, Rashan [Gary], trying to see what’s going on with [Elijah] Holyfield. Of course there is the defensive tackle Derrick Brown and Nigel Warrior, Nigel Knott, those are a couple guys I know on the list for big-time guys.
Though cornerback pledge Marquill Osborne's name didn't come up often in superlatives, many of the nation's top programs are trying to steal him away from the Vols. He didn't have the type of performance at The Opening that will surge him up the rankings, but just getting the invitation was an accomplishment.
With coach Butch Jones having two future Opening participants in the fold and turning up the pressure on several of the uncommitted targets, let's take a look at some of the biggest takeaways from UT commits and targets from the event.
Guarantano's Skill Set Unreal But Undeveloped
Before he struggled in Thursday's seven-on-seven competition, Guarantano was in the top three of the Elite 11 rankings. He free-fell to 10th after that day but rallied enough to finish sixth in the final rankings.
Part of the reason for Guarantano's elevation up the rankings was because of his superb athleticism. At one point during the week, the buzz surrounding the quarterback's Nike SPARQ rating was that it was the highest ever posted at his position in the event, which was later refuted by GoVols247's Ryan Callahan.
Still, posting a 120.06 is nothing to sneeze at.
It was the highest by a quarterback this year and among the best scores ever posted in the event. It earned him "eye-popper" status from 247Sports' Barton Simmons.
Guarantano ran a 4.65 40-yard dash, had a 37.5-inch vertical jump, had a 4.08-second performance in agility testing and threw the power ball 40 feet, among other attributes. Then, he went out in workouts and impressed.
Without defenders breathing down his neck, Guarantano flashed his special skills and was consistent and accurate. Coupled with the athleticism ratings, you can easily see why some of the nation's top teams, such as national champion Ohio State, were hot on his trail.
But Guarantano is by no means a finished product.
His high school stats aren't going to catch many eyes, and he must produce bigger numbers playing against some of the top competition in the state during his senior season. He has a lot to prove, even on the high school level, and while those skills are impressive, they need to be honed.
The seven-on-seven struggles exemplify that, as several different updates had Guarantano failing to hook up with targets and struggling with his consistency for the first time all week once the defensive backs started closing those receiver windows.
Guarantano's final-day rally proved why Vols fans have every reason to be excited, though. B/R colleague Barrett Sallee wrote why UT got a gem in Guarantano.
Elite 11 coach and former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer told USA Today's Paul Myerberg: "He's almost too talented," he said. "He's got everything you could ever want."
The best thing about Guarantano? He isn't needed right away at UT. With Joshua Dobbs only entering his junior season and just now realizing his own skills, it's likely the school-first signal-caller will be around in Knoxville for two more seasons.
Tennessee also signed a trio of freshmen quarterbacks in Quinten Dormady, Sheriron Jones and Jauan Jennings who'll start out ahead of Guarantano on the depth chart if all three are still at UT and playing quarterback.
So, the Vols have the position in a stable enough place for Guarantano to marinate. And when he does, his Opening performance proves he could be something special down the road.
Freddie Swain Should Be Among the Top WR Targets
There's nothing wrong with that. All four are elite pass-catchers, and the Vols got some relatively good news on two of those at last week's event. Corley—long thought to be leaning toward Michigan State—put off announcing his college choice at The Opening.
Though he's still expected to be leaning toward the Spartans (the Detroit News' David Goricki reported he sported a MSU hat last week), it can't be viewed as anything but good news to the Vols and everybody else courting Corley that he didn't pledge.
Also, Davis' father told Al.com's Wesley Sinor that his son may not be the lock to Georgia that many think:
With the spread offense that Tennessee, Auburn and South Carolina run, they really compliment him. It's always good to go into something that you know. I just don't see UGA being one that would actually develop him as well as some of the other schools would. I know Georgia is giving him a lot of hype about what they're doing…but Kyle needs to go to a school that best enhances his skill and somewhere that can prepare him for the next level.
That's potentially a huge "Boom!" for the Vols' receiver recruiting efforts. Davis is the fifth-rated receiver in the country according to the 247Sports composite rankings and the No. 1 receiver on 247Sports. He won the seven-on-seven MVP honors at The Opening. He's truly an athletic freak.
But perhaps an overlooked receiver target who would definitely be a take and who showed out in Oregon is Florida product Freddie Swain.
UT holds a large advantage in the Crystal Ball ratings for the Citra, Florida, receiver's signature. Though USC is a big threat for the silky smooth receiver, Tennessee is right at the top of his list.
And against the best defenders in the country, he proved he's a stud.
B/R recruiting writer Sanjay Kirpalani called Swain the biggest surprise at The Opening. In the story, Swain named a top four of the Vols, USC, Miami and Alabama. He also said he had a chip on his shoulder coming into the event considering how little fanfare he had.
"I feel like I definitely have something to prove," Swain told Kirpalani. "I don't really like my rankings and where I fit in nationally. I wanted to come here and open some peoples' eyes."
Swain may not have been discussed as much around UT message boards as he needed to be. But after a week of production, he will be now. He also may have plenty more suitors. Getting him would be a major coup for UT passing game coordinator and his lead recruiter Zach Azzanni.
The Nigels Should Be at the Top of the Wish List
A pair of star prospects who share the same first names are at the top of Tennessee's wish list at defensive back along with Joejuan Williams. The Opening proved why.
Nigel Warrior and Nigel Knott were two of the top performers there.
Knott was an athletic freak who displayed time after time his ability. Though the Vols may quietly have positioned themselves well in his recruitment, the Madison, Mississippi, cornerback told 247Sports' Chris Nee that Ole Miss and Mississippi State are his two current leaders.
The Ole Miss legacy did freakishly athletic things at the event, such as this:
He finished third in the overall SPARQ ratings. Knott also tested well when he went against receivers.
Meanwhile, Warrior was dominant. The Atlanta-area native and Tennessee legacy (he's the son of Vol legend Dale Carter) was pointed out all week as being a stud.
Kipp Adams of 247Sports named Warrior the "Alpha Dog" of the event one day.
The Fly Rush secondary played lockdown defense on Thursday, and Nigel Warrior was the best of the bunch. Warrior gets the nod first because of his instinctive ability to track the ball down and position himself well to make plays on intermediate and deep routes. Warrior had four interceptions and 13 pass breakups on the day, anticipating routes and taking great angles to close passing windows. Schools like Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Ohio State are lining up for the U.S. Army All-American.
Though UT will be in the race until the end, it's not a slam dunk that he will follow in his father's footsteps. Warrior and Knott are top-notch priorities for Jones, as they should be.
In-state Duo Needs to Be a Focus
Not unnoticed in that Adams piece is this blurb on Hendersonville, Tennessee, defensive back Williams:
Williams almost matched Warrior on big plays, with two interceptions of his own and eight pass breakups Thursday. Williams used his size and closing speed to cut off routes throughout the day, providing cornerback-like coverage on short and intermediate routes. Williams seems to be in wait-and-see mode as far as his top schools go.
The Vols are in a battle with USC and all the top SEC schools to try to convince Williams to play for them. The 6'2", 195-pound defender is extremely versatile and can play either safety or cornerback. He flashed more in-competition ability than Knott, and he will continue to be the biggest remaining in-state priority for UT.
Finally, though other receivers showed out, Memphis target and Oregon commitment Dillon Mitchell was solid all week. With the Vols needing pass-catchers, he's still a prospect UT wants to keep in-state.
Volquest.com's Paul Fortenberry said recently there's a chance he could still wind up in Knoxville.
"Tennessee is still working there and Dillon is still listening. He's talked about getting back to Tennessee this fall for an official visit. But, in all my conversations with him he maintains he's pretty firmly committed. Now, some close to him think that could change once he takes some officials so we will see."
The Vols have other Tennessee prospects they're courting, such as linebacker Daniel Bituli, offensive tackle Bryce Mathews and defensive lineman Emmit Gooden, but Williams and Mitchell need to be the primary targets moving forward.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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BEAVERTON, Ore. — Reigning national champion Ohio State was well-represented at The Opening this week, as several future Buckeyes battled alongside and against America's top college football recruits.
The event included more than 160 high school standouts, some already committed to Ohio State and others among head coach Urban Meyer's top targets. Bleacher Report enjoyed a close-up look throughout the event at Nike's world headquarters, picking up some interesting notes on Ohio State's potential future playmakers.
Here's a look at takeaways that should pique the interest of Buckeyes fans.
Jonathan Cooper Could Earn a Fifth Star
Columbus native Jonathan Cooper committed to Ohio State last fall and remains the program's highest-ranked defensive pledge. The 6'3½", 230-pound pass-rusher is a key component of a class that currently rates third nationally in composite rankings.
The group features an FBS-best 14 4-star prospects, but it doesn't contain a composite 5-star recruit. That may change soon, following Cooper's impressive performance in Beaverton.
The Gahanna Lincoln High School product kept elite offensive linemen off balance and broke through with several highlight-reel efforts. He actually landed atop a top-10 list of plays in a video presented at the event's closing ceremonies.
Cooper seemed to be on a mission from the start and took several opponents to school, including 4-star Michigan State pledge Michael Onwenu on this rep:
Discussions in The Opening media room about players who warranted elevated star status continued to circle back to Cooper by the end of the week. Notre Dame commit Tommy Kraemer provided rave reviews.
"Cooper is the guy who stood out to me because he really makes you work for everything," Kraemer told Bleacher Report. "He'll take advantage of any mistake, and that combination of power and quickness isn't easy to deal with."
Blue-Chip Targets Eyeing Visits to Columbus
Expect this Buckeyes recruiting class to grow stronger in the coming months, as more top-tier talents jump on the bandwagon. Several sensational athletes revealed plans to spend time on campus as things progress toward national signing day.
Antwuan Jackson, a 4-star defensive tackle from Georgia, identified Auburn and Ohio State as co-leaders. He anticipates a trip to Columbus in the near future.
"I love both programs. I love both communities," he said, pointing to his strong relationship with Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
Lyndell Wilson, a 5-star Alabama linebacker, is viewed as a Crimson Tide lean, but Ohio State remains in the mix.
"I will take my officials to Oregon, USC and Ohio State. That’s the only three I know right now," Wilson said.
He is currently rated No. 1 overall among 2016 linebackers so any possibility is worth monitoring moving forward.
Florida wide receiver Binjimen Victor enjoyed a strong performance in Beaverton, displaying superb athleticism and mid-air adjustments. He is expected to attend Ohio State's Friday Night Lights event later this month, potentially joined by fellow uncommitted Opening competitors Damar Hamlin (cornerback) and Donnie Corley (wide receiver).
Top overall 2016 recruit Rashan Gary is the biggest fish in the pond at this point and previously visited Columbus this spring. The Buckeyes will work to welcome him yet again, and he's already a fan of assistant Larry Johnson.
"He got their defensive line play to increase a lot. The stats speak for itself. When he came in, he developed them, and you can tell on film," Gary said.
Ohio State Commits Propel Team to Seven-on-Seven Title
A star-studded seven-on-seven tournament ended with Team Lunar Beast capturing the championship trophy. It's a squad that featured multiple Buckeyes pledges.
Wide receiver Austin Mack, a 4-star talent who committed to Ohio State in June, came up huge throughout the tournament. His performance featured this phenomenal grab along the sideline:
Following the championship-game victory, Mack showed Buckeyes fans some love:
"It was great getting together with my future teammates and showing what we can do against the best in the country," McCall said. "I think we can do some big things together at Ohio State."
Mack shared that sentiment.
"We won a championship here, and I think we can do the same thing in college," he said. "It's been an amazing experience and gave us an opportunity to bond before we all head to Columbus."
Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Tyler Donohue and Sanjay Kirpalani.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
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Florida State Seminoles head football coach Jimbo Fisher is reportedly laying down the internal law to keep his players out of trouble by banning them from bars.
Jim Henry of the Tallahassee Democrat reported on the strict disciplinary measure Saturday, which comes in response to multiple arrests and controversy surrounding the university's football program.
Freshman quarterback De'Andre Johnson was dismissed from the team July 6 after video surfaced (Warning: Footage is graphic) of him punching a young woman in a bar on June 24. Per Cassandra Vinograd and Gabe Gutierrez of NBC News, Johnson was allegedly provoked by "racial epithets," according to his lawyer.
Running back Dalvin Cook turned himself in on a misdemeanor battery charge Friday after allegedly punching a woman multiple times outside of a bar just one day before Johnson's incident, per the Democrat's Safid Deen and Karl Etters.
Florida State President John Thatcher released a statement in response to the legal issues Seminoles football players have encountered of late, an excerpt of which is below, courtesy of Henry:
As I have previously said, I have no tolerance for the type of behavior alleged in these cases. We expect all of our students, especially our student-athletes who represent this university in the public spotlight, to adhere to the highest standards.
I have asked Coach Fisher and Athletics Director Stan Wilcox to develop a plan to help our student-athletes understand the consequences of these kinds of actions. This will include Coach Fisher meeting immediately with his team to reiterate, in no uncertain terms, our expectations of them. I also plan to meet with the team, and we will be asking professionals who deal with these matters, including State Attorney Willie Meggs, to speak with them.
The article also included a statement from Fisher. The final line of it was a vow to "do better," and Fisher said he wouldn't accept anything short of that.
In swift response to the university president's request, Fisher has taken a big step toward ensuring his other players don't put themselves in compromising situations. The policy may be viewed as extreme to those who stay in line away from the gridiron, but recent events suggest such actions are necessary.
These incidents involving Johnson and Cook and prior quarterback Jameis Winston's multiple off-field issues leave the Seminoles with work to do to shore up the negative reputation they've gained.
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Another edition of The Opening wrapped up Friday, following three days of constant action at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. The event annually features more than 160 elite college football prospects, who compete against the very best of their peers.
Plenty of players proved themselves on a national stage and can expect their stock to rise in the recruiting landscape. Others arrived in Oregon already anointed among the nation's elite.
We kept a close eye on the upper echelon of athletes who arrived with lofty expectations, highlighting the top 10 competitors in 247Sports' composite rankings.
Order based on players' appearance in composite rankings.