NCAA Football News

4-Star DE Recruit Natrez Patrick Sets Decision Date

Dynamic defender Natrez Patrick is ready to pick with which university he'll spend the upcoming years of his football future. The 4-star Georgia product will announce Friday, May 16, and is down to four finalists, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Michael Carvell.

He named Ole Miss, Auburn, Georgia and Alabama as teams still jockeying for his commitment. The highly anticipated reveal will take place during his spring game at Mays High School (Atlanta).

Patrick, a 6'3", 220-pound edge-rusher, earned first-team all-state honors in 2013. He tallied 83 tackles, including 27 for loss, and 17 sacks.

His junior season also featured three defensive touchdowns. Mays reached the second round of postseason action with Patrick wreaking havoc up front.

He is rated No. 7 nationally among weak-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings but could spend the majority of collegiate snaps at outside linebacker.

The upcoming decision will cap a whirlwind recruitment that includes programs from across the country. LSU, Florida, Clemson, USC, Notre Dame and Tennessee are among teams left on the doorstep during the final stretch of his recruiting process.

A commitment will help quell the madness.

“I definitely wanted to do it before the season started,” Patrick told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I didn’t want to think about it during my senior season of high school football. Because my season comes first, so I just wanted to get it out of the way.”

Georgia is viewed as a strong favorite to land the in-state talent. Experts project Patrick to sign with the Bulldogs in 100 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions.

However, it's never smart to discount Nick Saban and Alabama. Patrick plays alongside a future Tuscaloosa lineman.

Offensive guard Dallas Warmack, his teammate at Mays, committed to the Crimson Tide last summer.

"If you get an offer from (Alabama), they should always be one of your top choices," Patrick told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

With four SEC squads in the mix, plenty of eyes will be on Patrick when a choice arrives Friday.

 

Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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LSU Head Coach Les Miles Jabs at Texas for Lack of Draft Picks

At this point of the offseason, with no spring football left and still a few months before real football begins, cheap shots are the only type of shots a school can levy.

LSU head coach Les Miles took full advantage of this opportunity Tuesday, taking a jab at the University of Texas—a school the Tigers haven't played in more than a decade—for not having any players selected in the 2014 NFL draft.

Per Ralph Malbrough of WWLTV.com:

According to Bryan Fischer of NFL.com, the Longhorns were shut out of the draft for the first time since 1937.

Even though it was an obvious down year for the program in terms of talent production, many expected pass-rushing specialist Jackson Jeffcoat to go in the later rounds. When he didn't, ostensibly because of his injury history and lack of a true NFL position, Texas' fate was sealed.

Adding insult to injury, SMU quarterback and former Longhorn Garrett Gilbert was drafted in the sixth round by the St. Louis Rams. In a worthwhile interview with Judy Battista of NFL.com before the draft, Gilbert explained that Texas fans essentially booed him out of Austin after he struggled in 2011.

In Gilbert's own words:

Hearing boos again, not really being able to shake that, at that point I kind of knew it might be time to start over and wipe the slate clean. It's tough to sum up quickly. For whatever reason, things didn't work out. I think that led to some forcing the ball, trying to force things to happen. Maybe I read the papers a little too much, as well.

LSU also had a quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, drafted in the sixth round (by the Tennessee Titans). He was one of nine former Tigers selected—more than any other school in the country—including five who went in the top-95 picks. LSU has had 18 players drafted the past two seasons, tying it with Florida State for the most of any program.

Miles has never coached against Texas since arriving in Death Valley, but he does recruit against it often. The Longhorns are ushering in a new era under head coach Charlie Strong, and this embarrassment does not impugn the new direction of the program, but Miles is wise to issue a reminder for any recruits that are on the fence.

Both schools have the pageantry, the fans and the winning tradition. Based on recent history, however, only one has the ability to make you some money in the league. Which one are you gonna choose?

Not a bad tactic, Mad Hatter.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Odds on Where 2015 5-Star WDE Josh Sweat Lands

The No. 1 WDE of the 2015 class, Josh Sweat, has the skills to have an immediate impact on any defense, and his recruitment is really heating up. The 6'5", 230-pound stud has offers from just about every top program in the country. 

The Chesapeake, VA native is warm on the usual SEC schools, but which school in Virginia is making a push to land the defensive end?

Check out Adam Kramer break out the odds board and break down which schools are most likely to land Sweat. 

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital.

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USC QB Commit David Sills Among Top Targets for Alabama's 2015 Class

The 2015 recruiting cycle is in full swing, and many of the top quarterbacks of the class already committed, leaving Alabama with limited targets.

The No. 2 pro-style QB of 2015, Ricky Town, decommitted from Alabama in January and has since committed to USC. After a last-second effort from the Crimson Tide, Brandon Wimbush, the No. 6 dual-threat QB, committed to Penn State

Which QBs are Alabama going after in the 2015 class? David Sills committed to Lane Kiffin while he was at USC. Can the Tide land the longtime USC commit?

Check out Matt Scalici break down Alabama's top QB targets for the class of 2015. 

 

Highlights courtesy XOS Digital. All rankings from 247 Sports Composite

 

 

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College Football's All-NFL-Ready Team for 2014

What makes a player "ready" for the NFL?

This is something that scouts try to figure out when evaluating college talent, especially when looking at players outside of the senior class.

To use a draft choice on a player who might need more time to develop, whether it be physically or in terms of maturity, is the ultimate gamble that could result in a pink slip for those involved in the selection process.

But every year, there are a good number of college football stars who—for many reasons—just look like they're ready to be pros. You can easily envision them in an NFL uniform, playing on Sundays.

We've assembled an entire team of such ready-to-go players ahead of the 2014 season, which presumably will be their last year to hone their crafts as amateurs before getting paid big bucks to perform in the pros.

Think some—or all—of them aren't ready? Let us know in the comments section.

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SEC Football Recruiting: Most Exciting 2015 Prospects to Watch at Summer Camps

Even with the recent trend of earlier-than-ever commitments, summer camps mean coaches getting the opportunity to work with and watch top-notch recruits.

Some have already made their decisions. Others will walk onto different campuses across the Southeast looking to make names for themselves or to determine where they best fit.

Once camps end, commitments could come fast and furious for those reasons.

Recruiting has evolved into a 365-day-a-year process (and business, with a full marketplace now among 247Sports, Rivals and Scout).

When people need their football fix, these summer camps can help fill the void between spring games—where applicable—and the start of August camp.

Today we examine some of the most intriguing prospects heading into summer camps.

We are looking at several components, from overall hype to recruiting status. Five-star commitments who have already made commitments, for instance, probably aren’t as exciting to see this summer as are 4-star players who are wide open in the process.

Here is a high-overview look at 12 prospects who could make or break recruiting classes next February.

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Oklahoma State Football: Who Will Be the Next Justin Gilbert?

Since Mike Gundy became head coach of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the boys from Stillwater have consistently churned out quality defensive backs.

Perrish Cox, Andre Sexton, Markelle Martin and Broderick Brown are just a few of the names any Cowboys fan will remember fondly when thinking back on Coach Gundy's tenure with the team.

However, one name stands above the rest as one of the best defensive players ever to suit up for Oklahoma State: Justin Gilbert.

Gilbert's blend of prototypical size, track-star speed, otherworldly athleticism and great skill in man coverage made him one of 2013's best cover corners in college football. In fact, his senior campaign was so dominant that the Cleveland Browns decided to make him the eighth pick in the 2014 draft.

Replacing an All-American such as Gilbert is never going to be easy, but the Oklahoma State coaching staff has done an admirable job in building depth at the cornerback position while molding young players into potential stars.

The first option for Oklahoma State is probably either Kevin Peterson or Ashton Lampkin. Both are going to be juniors and have seen significant time in each of the last two years. Peterson has a little more experience, as he started opposite Gilbert last year, but the gap between the two isn't huge.

Further, Peterson and Lampkin possess comparable size to Gilbert, coming in at 5'11" to Gilbert's 6'0". Gilbert does outweigh them both by 15-20 pounds (at 180 pounds, Lampkin is listed as five pounds lighter than Peterson), but both players could easily bulk up a bit over the summer.

Though both basically match up to Gilbert's size, neither has his speed.

Gilbert posted a 4.37 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, per NFL.com, which definitely helped his draft stock. Peterson was able to attain a 4.5 40 during his senior year of high school, per NCSA, and that number would likely be better if he was timed now; however, I doubt he could catch Gilbert in a race.

Lampkin, on the other hand, could only get a 4.83 40 in high school, per ESPN's Recruiting Nation, so there's no way he could compete with Gilbert on the race track.

Peterson and Lampkin do possess solid ball skills and have good instincts. Further, they're improving in man coverage as they get more experience, though they still aren't in Gilbert's league as cover corners.

These two guys will likely be your day-one starters this fall, and both are going to be quality corners in their own right. However, neither is likely to match Gilbert's talent.

So what about the younger guys behind them? Do any of them have that same dynamic talent that made Gilbert a star?

Of the guys behind Peterson and Lampkin, Darius Curry and Jerel Morrow are the most likely candidates given their size. Curry is bigger at 6'1", 190 pounds, but Morrow is right behind him at 6'0", 180 pounds.

We can probably throw Curry out, though, because even though he's bigger, his game differs from Gilbert's. Curry uses that frame well and really throws his weight around. He's a hard hitter and very aggressive, something no one would say about Gilbert.

In fact, it's possible Curry could make a move to safety if the Pokes struggle to replace Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary. He has the size and the mindset to play center field for Oklahoma State.

Morrow is pretty much the opposite of Curry, making him a strong candidate to be the next Justin Gilbert.

Like Gilbert, Morrow has elite athleticism and size. In fact, Morrow is a three-time state champion in the long jump, and a jump from his senior year would have qualified as the longest in the country if the wind had been a fraction of a second slower on the day of the meet.

Additionally, Morrow played wide receiver in high school and excelled out of the slot when he could get in space and use his speed. That means Morrow has good hands and ball skills, so it's not a stretch to assume that he'll probably get his fair share of interceptions.

The one knock on Morrow is probably his technique, given that he spent most of his time in high school on offense. However, Gilbert was a dual-threat quarterback in high school, so the position can be learned.

With that said, I would be remiss not to parse the crop of incoming freshman and JUCO recruits before making a final decision, so let's quickly examine Oklahoma State's 2014 recruiting class.

Chris Hardeman is probably the most field-ready of the young cornerbacks coming in, but he's only 5'8" and could have difficulty being put on an island against taller receivers.

Outside of Hardeman, the Pokes picked up Ramon Richards and Trevion Roberts as cornerback prospects. Both possess great size and speed, per 247Sports. Both played quarterback in high school (just like Gilbert). Both have great ball skills.

And both have minimal experience at the cornerback position. At this point, it's probably too early to tell if either of these players will have what it takes to play corner for the Cowboys; and Roberts, in particular, could easily move to safety.

However, though the potential is there, it's just too early to tell if either of them could become the next big man on campus.

Which brings us back to Jerel Morrow.

If anyone on the roster has the same blend of size, speed, and playmaking ability as the No. 8 overall draft pick in the 2014 NFL draft, it has to be Morrow. He's a great athlete and developed excellent ball skills as a wide receiver in high school; that said, he has to work on his technique if he wants to take the next step.

If Morrow puts in the time, I would not be surprised at all to see him compared to Gilbert in a year's time. He has all the talent; he just needs to put in the work on the practice field.

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Texas A&M Installs Arena Football League Field Goals to Improve Kicking Accuracy

Texas A&M has just made field goals a lot tougher for its practices, which should result in better accuracy for its games.

The team installed an Arena Football League-sized goalpost on its practice field. For those curious, NFL goalposts are just under 19 feet wide compared to Arena Football League's nine-foot-wide goalposts.

[Twitter, h/t Diehard Sport]

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Pac-12 Football Recruiting: Most Exciting 2015 Prospects to See in Summer Camps

With Pac-12 football being the most important aspect of our lives—wait, that's just me?—finding ways to stay connected to the sport we love in the offseason can be challenging.

However, the recent increase in recruiting information has helped us to get through the dark months away from the gridiron.

Nowadays, you can find lists of top recruits several years in advance, and there are a variety of camps being held for these young prospects to showcase their skills.

Once again, the conference has landed or is in the running for a number of top recruits.

We're taking a look at five of the most exciting prospects—either committed or still mulling a final destination—who will be participating in summer camps.

Does your school have a chance to land any of these top-notch talents? Perhaps one is already committed, and every rocket pass or stone-wall tackle has you envisioning the player being a force in your favorite program.

In any case, here is another piece to help you along in your quest to stay sane in the offseason. Take a look at the five most exciting Pac-12 prospects to watch throughout the summer.

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Breaking Down Ole Miss Wide Receiver Markell Pack's Highlight Tape

Markell Pack is a speedy 4-star receiver who signed with Ole Miss in February. At 6'2" and 180 pounds, Pack has the explosiveness to be a constant threat to secondaries in the SEC.

Pressing Pack at the line is a dangerous gamble for a cornerback. If he gets on top of them after the snap, chances are the play will result in a touchdown. Pack should become one of the Rebels' top offensive weapons over time.

His highlight tape warrants a closer breakdown.

 

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports' Composite Rankings.

Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports

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Clemson Football: 5 Freshmen Who Will Make an Impact in 2014

Every year, a freshman arrives on the scene and has all of college football buzzing. Two years ago, it was Johnny Football. Last season, it was Jameis Winston.

While those two high-profile players went on to win the Heisman in their rookie campaigns, they weren't the only freshmen to make an impact in college football.

Every team, in every conference, has freshmen who contribute. Some lead the team in sacks, touchdowns or receptions, while others start on the path to becoming solid four-year starters along the offensive line. In this day and age, coaches expect more and more from their first- and second-year players. 

The Clemson Tigers lost several talented players to the NFL last week. While some upperclassmen will help fill the voids vacated by the likes of Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd and Bashaud Breeland, several talented freshmen are waiting in the wings to become the next big star for Clemson.

Here are five freshmen who will make a big impact for the Tigers in 2014.  

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10 College Football Recruits Most Likely to Commit This Summer

With summer approaching, many recruits will be out of school. That means they will be able to focus on taking visits and narrowing their lists.

However, some of them will use the summer to decide where they want to attend college. While many surprises are likely in store for the 2015 recruiting cycle, several prospects have already stated they will be committing to a program sometime in the summer.

A 4-star receiver could decide to make things official with an SEC school soon, while a talented dual-threat quarterback could also do the same. Plus, a 4-star defensive end will be announcing his decision toward the end of the summer.

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Notre Dame Football: Realistic Expectations for the Irish's 2014 Season

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Following the Pinstripe Bowl in December, Brian Kelly reflected on what constitutes a good versus a great season for Notre Dame football.

The Irish head coach looked back on the 9-4 campaign—a season highlighted by wins against USC, Michigan State and Arizona State, yet stained by close losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan.

Kelly’s evaluation?

“A good year that could have been a great year,” Kelly said. “I would say a couple of missed opportunities in some games where we very easily could have been a team that’s looking at double-digit wins,” Kelly said. “And that’s where we want to be every year.”

Yes, double-digit wins. That’s what the Irish—and any program, for that matter—strive for.

“9-4 is a good year for Notre Dame, [but] it’s not what we sign up for every year,” Kelly added.

Heading into 2014, the Irish will look to reach 10 (or more) wins. But what are the realistic expectations for Notre Dame this season?

Before we even begin to look at the Notre Dame team, it’s worth analyzing a schedule that Kelly called “very, very challenging” in late February.

It’s inherently challenging to predict how Notre Dame and its opponents will look when the season begins in late August, much less how the teams will be playing when they meet throughout the regular season. But we’ll make an early attempt at handicapping the matchups.

Florida State will almost undoubtedly be favored against the Irish and rightfully so. The Seminoles are the defending national champions, and they still boast Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

Stanford also should claim an edge over Notre Dame. The Cardinal lost a slew of defensive playmakers but return quarterback Kevin Hogan and wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste, among others. Our own Barrett Sallee recently predicted the Top 25 and slotted Stanford at No. 11 (three spots ahead of Notre Dame).

At this early stage, there doesn’t appear to be any overwhelming separation between Notre Dame and the likes of Michigan, Arizona State and USC. The Wolverines and Trojans always pose tough matchups for the Irish, and the Sun Devils hung with the Irish until losing by three points last season.

Between those three teams, Florida State and Stanford, Notre Dame can probably grab two wins. Thus, a three-loss regular season seems in play, as Notre Dame likely holds the edge on paper against Rice, Purdue, Syracuse, North Carolina, Navy, Northwestern and Louisville.

But much of Notre Dame’s fate will be determined by how quickly and effectively the young and inexperienced Irish talent develops.

The defense replaces five starters in the front seven and has been learning a new system under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Still, following the Blue-Gold Game, linebacker Jaylon Smith laid out his high expectations for the group.

“It’s going to be a great year,” Smith said. “We’re coming together. We’re building that culture to where we can all communicate and be as one. We’re young, so that’s really good, it plays a big part when you’re all fetching to get better and continuing trying to learn. We’re going to be nice this year.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Irish are young as well, especially at wide receiver.

So, realistically, a 9-3 regular season seems an appropriate starting point for expectations surrounding Notre Dame in 2014.

There’s plenty of potential. How much the youth shows itself will play a major role for the Irish in trying to reach double-digit wins.

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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USC Football: RB Becomes a Recruiting Priority Now with Ty Isaac Transferring

According to Lindsey Thiry of Scout.com, Ty Isaac announced his plans to transfer out of USC to be closer to home (Illinois) on Wednesday. USC's recruiting strategy for 2015 now takes a major turn. 

The former 4-star running back showed glimpses of being a great addition to the Trojans' stable of running backs in 2013, but limited playing time was likely a contributing factor to his decision as well.

With Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden, Justin Davis and D.J. Morgan ahead of him on the depth chart, Isaac would have remained in his role as a backup in 2014.

The Trojans can take the hit this season because of that quartet, but Steve Sarkisian and his staff now have to start seriously recruiting some running backs, effective immediately.

Morgan is a redshirt senior this season, and both Allen and Madden are redshirt juniors. It's possible all three don't return to Troy in 2015, and if that were to happen, that would leave Davis as the only tailback on the roster with game experience.

Realistically, either Allen or Madden elects to stay based on who receives fewer reps this coming season, but it's still really important for the Trojans to get a jump on keeping the stable loaded going forward.

Sark said during his signing-day press conference that USC will look to take two running backs in 2015, and now it's time to make good on that statement. In looking at the 247Sports.com composite for this recruiting cycle, USC was previously not pursing any running backs that aggressively.

So who should the Trojans turn their sights to now?

USC has offered and expressed interest in 5-star Damien Harris, who decommitted from Michigan in January. He's considered the No. 1 running back in his class, but for now, Harris looks to be a Big 10 lean. He's still considering Michigan as well as Ohio State, among others.

Then there's Jacques Patrick, a 4-star talent out of Florida. He's the No. 2 running back in the 2015 class, and given USC's success in recruiting in the Sunshine State, he could be a talent the Trojans start to court more heavily.

Another target USC could turn its attention to is 4-star Austin Joyner, a former commit of Sark's while he was still at Washington.

Interestingly, USC has yet to extend an offer to Joyner, but that might change in light of Isaac's transfer.

With all that said, it's worth noting that the Trojans have struggled to hold on to their running backs over the past few seasons.

As Hank Shaw of Reign of Troy points out, USC has had no trouble recruiting blue-chip running backs, but keeping them on roster is another story entirely:

Having a highly touted running back transfer away from USC isn’t anything new for the Trojans, and in fact it’s been somewhat of a trend. In recent years, Troy has lost Emmanuel Moody to Florida, Broderick Green to Arkansas and Amir Carlisle to Notre Dame. Add in the loss of Dillon Baxter and it’s remarkable how many four and five-star backs have concluded their collegiate careers elsewhere.

So when Sark does ultimately get the two tailbacks he wants for 2015, it's even more important that he can keep them on roster.

The success of Allen, Madden and Davis this season will go a long way in showing future running backs what they can expect if they commit to USC. Right now, however, Sark and his staff need to sell the targets on a grassroots effort to return USC to the days of Running Back U.

With Bishop Sankey's recent transition to the NFL after a strong career under Sark and running backs coach Johnny Nansen at Washington—who has since joined Sark at USC—it shouldn't be that hard of a sell.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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SEC Football: Ranking the Top 25 Players Heading into 2014

The SEC led all conferences, once again, with 49 players drafted in 2014. Some of its marquee players from last season such as Loucheiz Purifoy (Florida) and Anthony Johnson (LSU) didn't hear their names called but also won't return in 2014.

But the SEC doesn't rebuild; it reloads. I want to go wash my fingers out with soap for typing that, but hackneyed or not, it's the truth. How else could the conference have 49 players drafted this year after having 63 players drafted in 2013? That was a record-sized exodus!

There is still plenty of talent in the SEC, and all 25 names on this list are proof of that. So are the barely undeserving players who didn't make this list, as they will be the ones replacing a good portion of this crop after the 2015 NFL draft rolls around.

In order to decide on the 25 best players, more than just statistics were considered. Past production played a big role, but so did age and projected improvement. A junior defender with 10 tackles for loss might have been better last season than a freshman with seven. That doesn't mean he will be again in 2014.

Enjoy!

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4-Star Dual-Threat QB Deondre Francois Names Top 6

Florida standout Deondre Francois is less than two months away from announcing a college commitment. According to a recent conversation with 247Sports reporter Josh Newberg (subscription required), the quarterback has begun to focus on a cluster of favorites. 

“My top schools are Oregon, Florida State, Florida, Ohio State, Auburn and Tennessee," Francois told Newberg.

The 4-star prospect holds nearly two dozen offers, including other in-state options at UCF, USF and Miami. His list of opportunities also includes Clemson, Michigan State, Louisville and North Carolina.

Francois told 247Sports that he plans to commit while attending "The Opening", an elite Nike camp that occurs July 7-10 in Beaverton, Oregon. The playmaker's goal is to spend time with each top university before concluding his recruitment process.

"I just want to get out and see the atmosphere at those places, see what the campuses are like and meet the players and coaches to see how I feel," he said.

Francois announced his transfer from Olympia High School (Orlando, Florida) to IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida) in March. He totaled nearly 3,200 yards and 28 touchdowns through the air in two seasons as a starter at Olympia, per the Orlando Sentinel.

IMG is led by head coach Chris Weinke, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2000 as Florida State's quarterback. That shouldn't hurt the Seminoles' outlook in this recruiting race.

Francois identified Florida State and Florida as his favorites during a February discussion with 247Sports reporter Chris Nee.

“I would say it is pretty even race right now between FSU and Florida,” Francois said at the time.

While the list of potential landing spots has expanded, analysts still project the Sunshine State powers as programs to beat. The Seminoles and Gators each hold 50 percent of expert signing day predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

Ohio State and Tennessee remain in search of 2015 quarterback recruits. Auburn picked up a pledge from Georgia passer Tyler Queen last summer, but seems intent on acquiring another prospect at the position.

Tennessee and Auburn are listed at No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the recently revealed top 15 list of 5-star quarterback Torrance Gibson. Ohio State (No. 4), Florida (No. 8) and Oregon (No. 10) also made the cut for the coveted Fort Lauderdale recruit.

Francois, rated No. 9 nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings, clearly presents an alternative option for each team. Florida State could view him as the eventual heir apparent for 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

Francois told 247Sports in February that he plans to enroll early at the school of his choice.

Recruit information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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5 FSU Players Who Will Make or Break Jameis Winston's 2nd Heisman Quest

Winning the Heisman Trophy two years in a row is, to put it lightly, not one of the easier things to do in football. 

Which, should be noted, is a pretty hard sport to begin with. 

So much has to go right with the added bonus of having a target on your back. That's what Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is facing in 2014 as he tries to become only the second player in history to win back-to-back Heismans. 

Can he do it? He's going to need help. Here are five players who can make, or break, those hopes. 

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Pac-12 Football to Move Championship Game to San Francisco 49ers' Levi's Stadium

The Pac-12 only started playing a conference championship game in 2011. Since its institution, it has been unique among power conferences for an easy-to-see reason: Unlike the others, which have taken place on a neutral field, the Pac-12' version has been played at one of the participants' home stadiums.

That will no longer be the case in 2014, as Michael Yam of Pac-12 Network announced Tuesday that the league will start holding its title game at Levi's Stadium in San Francisco, home of the 49ers:

According to a joint report from SI.com, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott confirmed "discussions" were going on before Yam broke the news but wouldn't confirm it for sure. The report also explains some of the logistical problems with the previous model, which ostensibly helped foster this change:

The league found difficulties for schools hosting the game on short notice. Ticket sales were rushed, and athletic directors voiced concerns about potential issues with luxury boxes and season tickets holders needing to be moved to make room for corporate entities. With a game branded in one city -- just like the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta -- the league can sell tickets to the event year-round, not exclusively as a game tied to two specific schools.

The Big 12 only has 10 members and does not play a championship game, but this new model falls more in line with the three power conferences that do: the ACC, Big Ten and SEC.

All three of those leagues don't use just any neutral field but an NFL stadium for their respective title games.

The ACC Championship Game is played in Bank of America Stadium (Carolina Panthers), the Big Ten Championship Game is played in Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis Colts) and the SEC Championship Game is played in the Georgia Dome (Atlanta Falcons).

Now the Pac-12 can join the club—and in style. Levi's Stadium is brand new and considered one of the most modern football stadiums in the country. Even though some, such B/R's Ben Kercheval, were fans of the home-field championship game model, it is hard to argue with the Pac-12's choice of venue:

We'll keep you updated if/when this becomes official.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Brian Kelly Doesn't Want to Play Two QBs, but Here's Why It Could Work

When Brian Kelly says he wants to play one quarterback, we're supposed to believe him. But should we? 

Kelly's the coach that played musical chairs with his quarterbacks at Cincinnati. And looking back at the past four seasons, it hasn't been much different at Notre Dame. 

Granted, it hasn't been Kelly's fault. But after inheriting Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees (he was already committed to the Irish when Kelly was hired), we saw Crist, Rees and Andrew Hendrix get shots at becoming the Irish's starting quarterback before Kelly turned the keys over to Everett Golson in 2012. 

Even Golson couldn't hold onto the job, with an academic snafu and Gunner Kiel's transfer putting Rees back at the helm for 2013. But with Golson back and still capable of being a three-year starter, just about every sign points to long-awaited stability at the position. 

Last week, Kelly gave a few updates on the state of his quarterback depth chart. While talking at a charity event, the Irish head coach said he's still not quite ready to call the race between Golson and redshirt freshman Malik Zaire. 

"I’d rather clearly have somebody be the guy," Kelly said, according to Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune. "We’re not at that point, where there’s a clear separation between the two yet. I think that could happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.

"I think Everett has more games under his belt, but you still have to respond when the lights go on. Malik has shown the ability to play better than he practices. Everett has practiced better than he plays. And so we’ve got to continue to work through that and Everett’s got to — when it’s time to shine, he’s got to go take it over.

"We’ve got to get Everett to really grow and develop and then go from there. But nobody has really said yet, ‘Hey, this is my job.’ They’re still competing."

That competition can reboot this June, thanks to some tweaks to NCAA rules. But come August, even though just about everybody following the Irish expects Golson to be the starting quarterback, it might not be the worst idea in the world to keep opponents guessing and use Zaire in situational packages.

The most obvious reason to get Zaire playing time early is because the odds are he'll be seeing the field eventually. Even with 15 pounds of heft added to his frame, nobody is confusing Golson for an ironman. His playing style, not to mention Kelly's preferred offensive system, will have Golson taking hits as a ball-carrier and a passer. 

In 2012, Golson sat out portions of multiple games because of assorted injuries. He struggled to practice for most of the season. A concussion held him out of the end of the Stanford game and forced him to miss the following week's game against BYU as well. That was in an offense that didn't utilize Golson as a ball-carrier for the season's first month.

The quarterback will be a critical part of the run game in 2014, so dictating the terms for Zaire's debut are better than having an injury to Golson do it. Wouldn't it make more sense to script a series of plays for Zaire to execute against Rice than force him into a game on a moment's notice? 

There's also reason to believe that Zaire could help optimize the Irish offense. The past two seasons, Notre Dame has struggled in the red zone. While Golson led the Irish in rushing scores in 2012, the Irish were a horrible 112th in the nation in converting red-zone appearances into touchdowns.

With Rees, the Irish weren't much better, clocking in at 100th. One of the most adept option quarterbacks in his recruiting class, Zaire would immediately add a new wrinkle in the scoring area. (For reference, Navy has been in the top 25 converting red-zone touchdowns in three of the past five seasons.)

Perhaps the biggest misconception carried into this spring was Golson's readiness to come in and lead the Irish offense. Make no mistake, his freshman season was impressive. But after returning to campus and seeing the spread attack that Kelly wanted to fully install, it because clear that this was a steeper challenge than the one Golson faced as a first-year starter. 

Kelly spoke with Jack Arute and Gino Torretta on SiriusXM's College Sports Nation last week, detailing the work Golson still needs to do.

"He recognizes that in his first year here at Notre Dame he had training wheels on and we played to the strength of our defense," Kelly told Arute and Torretta. "Then he took a year off, and then when he came here, he didn't know as much as he thought he did. 

"So that's a real positive thing for a young man to come in and know that he's got a lot more to learn as it relates to the quarterback position ... Everett came in very humbled, knowing that he's got a lot to learn to be the quarterback he needs to be."

Playing multiple quarterbacks is a challenge for a variety of reasons, especially when it could signal a leadership void on offense. But even though he was gone last season, Golson has quickly earned back the respect of his teammates, especially as a senior on an offense filled with young talent. 

Just as important, Kelly has done this before. Pulling strings and swapping quarterbacks is a skill. For a head coach like Kelly or Steve Spurrier, it's business as usual. For a lesser established coach, it might be a problem. 

So while the opportunity to turn the keys to the offense over to Golson has to be tempting after four seasons of instability at quarterback, you can't help but wonder if Kelly embraces the chaos.

"Malik is a really good player, and that’s just the way it is," Kelly told the charity event. "And Everett’s just going to have to continue to grow, and that’s a good thing. I kind of like the fact that we have a guy that’s really pushing him."

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Nick Saban Is on the Right Track with Proposal to Change Bowl Selection Process

Alabama head coach Nick Saban didn't get his way and get a ninth conference game in the SEC's scheduling debate, but he's still campaigning for his vision of the future of college football.

Next on his agenda is apparently bowl selection.

According to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, Saban stumped for the College Football Playoff selection committee to not only decide the four best teams in the country, but place all teams in postseason bowls.

Saban explained his stance at the Montgomery stop of the Crimson Caravan tour (via Casagrande):

The committee that's going to pick the top four teams for the playoff are really picking the top 12 teams for all six sort of championship bowl games, whatever they call it now. Well, why don't we do it like basketball and let them pick all the teams for all the bowl games. Then it doesn't matter what your record is.

Saban's stance is simple. The selection committee is picking the four most worthy teams to play in the national semifinals, so why not do the same to create compelling bowl matchups in the middle- and lower-tier bowls?

He's certainly on the right track.

The SEC is already doing something similar starting after this season with six of its bowl games. After teams are selected for the national semifinals, the group of six bowls in the semifinal rotation and the Capital One Bowl, the conference will place teams in the Outback, Music City, Gator, Liberty, Texas and Belk Bowls based on matchups, locations and ticket sales.

Talking control of the selection process out of the lower-tier bowls themselves and giving more to the conferences or an independent group like the selection committee would, in theory, create compelling matchups throughout the bowl season.

Saban is on the right track, but he may be taking it a step too far.

Instead of letting a committee place all teams in bowl games, a better solution would be the road the SEC is going down with its "group of six" lower-tier bowls. Those games are tied into the conference for fans, coaches and recruits.

Why are there so many Big Ten versus SEC bowl games in Florida? It isn't just SEC schools that want to have a presence in the Sunshine State, the Big Ten does too. 

We've seen more options in the bowl process over the last few years outside of the SEC. Either the ACC or Big Ten will play an SEC opponent in the Gator and Music City Bowls starting after this season. Let's follow that same path and create more options with flexible conference tie-ins for licensed bowls without scrapping the tie-in format altogether.

The College Football Playoff selection committee—or another committee charged with placing teams in bowl games—would still have the ability to create compelling matchups across the board but would also have some structure to work with based on the desires of the conferences and bowls.

There will be a total of 40 bowl games following the 2015 season, which, as I wrote last month, is great for college football.

They'd be be even better with more matchup flexibility, which is the ultimate goal Saban has in mind.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.

 


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