NCAA Football News

Projecting Every Big Ten Team's Quarterback for 2016 Season

When looking at the landscape of the Big Ten, there may not be a more interesting dynamic in the league than the current state of the conference's quarterbacks.

With nine returning starters and five players seeing the first significant playing time of their college careers, the Big Ten will feature a blend of well-known names and new players to know behind center in 2016. In some cases, incumbent starters will be looking to build on what they did in previous years, while others are simply looking to establish themselves as their teams' undisputed starters.

Not all quarterback battles in the conference have even begun yet, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to the coming season. With that in mind, let's take a look at who projects as each Big Ten team's starting quarterback in 2016.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Teams That Will Have the Most Hype-Filled Offseason

College football has the longest offseason in major American sports, and with so much extra time to kill—and no meaningful results—we spend much of that time engaging in hype.

The elements of hyped teams can vary. For one, they couldn't have been too good the previous season. They need to be good-to-average and ready to leap to another level. And there needs to be reason to think they will.

Those reasons include ending the season on a high note, returning key players (namely quarterbacks) and enjoying the services of a respected head coach (especially one in his first three seasons).

Sound off below and let us know whom you would add.

Begin Slideshow

Nick Saban vs. Bear Bryant: Who Is the Best Alabama Coach?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Three questions.

That’s how long it took for Nick Saban to be asked about his legacy in comparison to Paul W. “Bear” Bryant's after winning his fifth national championship last Monday night.

Under different circumstances, it probably would have been the first question, but with the way things unfolded during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, where the University of Alabama survived its thriller against Clemson, 45-40, the onside kick and coaching his last game with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart opened the postgame press conference.

Saban skillfully responded: “I really haven't thought about it,” but his place in history is something the rest of the college football world has started to extensively debate, along with if the Crimson Tide's ongoing dynasty is the best the sport has ever seen. With Alabama having won an unprecedented four of the last seven national titles, it just might be.

The coaches are from different eras and the game has changed tremendously over the years, but Bryant and Saban are the only ones who have won at least five national championships during the poll era (since 1936). The school claims six for Bryant and four for Saban, who won his first at LSU.

When it comes to iconic status, historical significance and longevity, there’s no comparison between them. Bryant is one of the most beloved figures in Southern history, whose status transcends sports. 

“I don't think there's any question that there's probably only a few people in college athletics history who have had as great an impact, maybe John Wooden at UCLA,” Saban said about Bryant on what would have been his 100th birthday, September 11, 2013.

“I don't think you can really kind of put words into what it really has meant and how it has affected the University of Alabama.”

It’s when you look at their accomplishments that Saban starts to step forward. 

For the purposes of this article and consistency, the following figures are for the consensus national champions—meaning if there’s a split title, only the team that the majority of ranking services consider the titleholder is considered.

That removes from this discussion Alabama’s 1973 championship, when the coaches’ poll submitted its final rankings before Alabama lost the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.

The timing of the Associated Press Poll was also instrumental in Alabama claiming the 1964 and 1965 titles, with one held before the bowls and the other after, and 1973 was one of three split national titles for Bryant (although, yes, on face value, the undefeated 1966 team probably should have been No. 1 in at least one poll). The others were 1965 and 1978.

Saban’s only split title was in 2003, when the Associated Press voted Southern California No. 1. However, LSU won the game that mattered most, against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, and took home the crystal football.

But here’s a snapshot of how a good of a coach Bryant was:

From 1946 to 1953, his teams enjoyed eight straight winning seasons to go with appearances in the Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls, and he captured his first Southeastern Conference title in 1950. His team capped that season off with an invitation to face Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, which may have seemed like a looming execution considering Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners were riding a 31-game winning streak.

Only Bryant came out on top, 13-7...with Kentucky.

Yes, the Wildcats, who have since won just one other SEC title, in 1976, and that was shared with Georgia. Bryant also made his mark at Texas A&M and was closing in on the 1957 national championship when the Tide lured him away and he made his famous statement: “Mama called, and when Mama calls, then you just have to come running.”

During his amazing 25 years with the Crimson Tide, Bryant lost just 46 games compared to 232 wins. No program in the nation won more than Alabama in the 1960s and 1970s, as he’s considered the only college football coach to successfully lead not one but two dynasties.

"He wasn't just a coach," former Southern California coach John McKay once said. "He was the coach."

“Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is,” Saban once said. “I think the biggest thing that impacts me is how many peoples' lives he affected in a positive way, players who played for him, because they all come back and say how he affected their life.

“They don't come back and say, ‘We won a championship in '78, '79, '61,’ whenever it was. They come back and say how he affected their lives. There's a lot of Bear Bryant stories that I've learned a lot from, that have made me a better person.”

Now Saban is taking what Bryant helped build to new heights. Consider the following:

• Alabama played nine teams that were ranked this season, the most ever of any national champion.

The most ranked opponents that Bryant’s championship teams faced were five in 1978. His 1941 and 1965 teams only faced one each. Only three of his title teams faced an opponent ranked in the top five (1964, 1965 and 1978), and none played more than one. 

• The victory against Clemson was Saban’s sixth against an opponent ranked No. 1. No one else in college football history has more than four (Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson and Jack Mollenkopf). In all his years, Bryant’s teams only beat three.

• Alabama extended its streak of being No. 1 at some point in a season to an incredible eight years.

He’s done all that while not only participating in the Southeastern Conference but in the game’s toughest division.

With each of the seven teams finishing above .500, the SEC West went a combined 65-27 this season for an incredible winning percentage of 70.6 (and average record of 9.3-3.9). Of those 27 losses, 21 were to other division opponents. It went 13-2 against East Division teams and 31-4 versus everyone else—one bowl loss and the other three in non-conference play.

Every team in the division was ranked at some point of the season, a first for the sport, and during a time when the spotlight has never shined brighter on college football or Alabama. There are more games, an 85-man scholarship limit and recruiting has become bigger than ever.

Besides, have you seen Alabama’s massive trophy case for individual awards lately? The number of players who have been named All-Americans? The recent success in the NFL draft?

Saban stands alone in all of those areas in addition to annual recruiting rankings.

“He's one of the greatest coaches of all time in my opinion, in a lot of guys' opinions,” junior tight end O.J. Howard said after being named the offensive MVP of the National Championship Game. “Just to be able to play for him is truly a great accomplishment, a blessing, and I think Coach Saban is going to go down as one of the greatest of all time.”

Choosing between Bryant and Saban is like trying to pick between your two favorite ice creams—there probably is no wrong answer. To many, the preference is a generational thing, like Gene Stallings telling The Opening Kickoff on WNSP-FM 105.5 (h/t AL.com) that he still gives a nod to his former friend and colleague. 

But Saban's five trumps Bryant's sort-of six, as this latest title put him over the top. For now, it may be that Saban is No. 1 and Bryant is 1A in the hierarchy of college football's most successful coach, but the gap can only grow from here because Saban's legacy is still a work in progress.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer and author of Nick Saban vs. College Football. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Projecting Every SEC Team's Quarterback for 2016 Season

The College Football Playoff National Championship Game is in the books, and national signing day is still around the corner. However, it's never too early to start looking forward toward the 2016 Southeastern Conference football season.

For the third straight season, quarterback battles will dominate headlines around the south, with only two jobs—Ole Miss and Tennessee—etched in stone.

Who will be the starting quarterback for each SEC team when toe meets leather in early September?

Our picks based on talent, compatibility and experience are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Football: Predicting the Starters for Each Wolverines Position in 2016

Returning starters are a primary reason the Michigan football program is already a trendy College Football Playoff and Big Ten Championship pick for the 2016 season.

The Wolverines return eight starters on the offense as well as six starters and six key rotational pieces defensively.

Many names—like Jehu Chesson, Jake Butt, Jabrill Peppers and Jourdan Lewis—are obvious starters, but Michigan will have a couple of new and important faces in the lineup.

Broken down by position, this list identifies leading candidates, top competition and possible developments before offering a final prediction for 2016 starters.

Begin Slideshow

Predicting Every Power 5 All-Conference Team for 2016 College Football Season

College football's annual exodus of talent, either through graduation or players turning pro early, leaves behind major voids for nearly every team in the country. It also does a number on the all-conference teams each season.

These teams honor the best players in a given conference and place added emphasis on how they performed against conference rivals. Some are chosen by the coaches, others by members of the media, but in either case, it's a reflection of who stood out most during the season.

It's never too early to predict who might get recognized during the 2016 season. Check out our picks for who will be make the all-conference teams in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.

Begin Slideshow

B/R CFB Recruiting 200 : Top 6 Dual-Threat QBs

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

We've seen mobile quarterbacks dominate college football at different stages, with versatile athletes such as Michael Vick, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson leading their teams to national championship games. These players have the ability to obliterate defenses through the air and on the ground.

Plenty of high school quarterbacks can run or pass with authority, but few are known for their high-level consistency in both aspects of the game. Here's a look at the most highly regarded dual-threat recruits of 2016, graded on arm strength, accuracy, pocket presence, mobility and the ability to orchestrate an offensive attack.

 

All prospects scouted by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. Players ordered by appearance in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Begin Slideshow

A.J. Epenesa to Iowa: Hawkeyes Land 5-Star DE Prospect

Class of 2016 defensive end prospect A.J. Epenesa announced on Twitter that he has committed to the University of Iowa on Sunday.  

Per 247Sports, Epenesa is the No. 1 rated strong-side defensive end in the nation.

Coming out of Edwardsville, Illinois, Epenesa is also the top prospect in his state as well as the 13th-ranked recruit in the nation. 

At 6'5", 230 pounds, the high school senior already has the stature of a fully grown man. His physique creates a hulking presence on the defensive line, and he uses it to his advantage. 

Epenesa isn't the quickest defensive end out there, but he makes up for it with superior strength and athleticism. He is able to shed blocks with ease and has shown the kind of football sense needed to diagnose plays early. 

Iowa gets its second defensive end commit in Epenesa along with 3-star in-state recruit Coy Kirkpatrick. Epenesa is the Hawkeyes' fifth 2017 commit so far, per 247Sports. But Epenesa is Iowa's greatest prize so far, as the other four are 3-star recruits. 

HawkeyeNation.com's Rob Howe liked what he saw from Epenesa:

2015 was quite a season for the Hawkeyes, who rose through the ranks of college football and enjoyed a brief spell as a top-four team. They had a chance to compete for a national championship in the College Football Playoff but fell one win short in the Big Ten title game to Michigan State. 

Getting 5-star-caliber players like Epenesa will ensure that the Hawkeyes continue to build on the momentum they gained last year as they try to take that next step toward a national championship.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2016 NFL Draft: Why Jalen Ramsey Is the Next Eric Berry

The NFL features many of the best athletes in the world competing on the highest level of professional football. The standard for playing certain positions is higher than others based on the supply of elite playmakers.

Quarterback and safety are two positions that stand out the most as lacking quality.

Rarely do teams have the chance to acquire a top-end talent at safety. The last elite free safety prospects to come out of college were University of Tennessee's Eric Berry in 2010, when he was selected fifth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs and Earl Thomas out of the University of Texas at Austin, who went 14th overall to the Seattle Seahawks.

Florida State Seminoles defensive back Jalen Ramsey has the ability to be as good as either of those players.

The versatile playmaker has experience at safety, outside cornerback and nickel cornerback. Ramsey spent a majority of his time as a safety and nickel cornerback in 2014 then moved to cornerback full time in 2015.

The Seminoles desperately needed a talent boost there. Ramsey sacrificed for the team to make the switch and responded to the move as well as any player could.

It can take years for a cornerback to master the proper footwork, timing and feel for the position, if it ever comes. Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals is a good example of an athlete who mastered his body control and fulfilled his potential at the cornerback position. 

Ramsey was a terrific athlete playing cornerback throughout 2015 and would probably be a first-round prospect if teams look at him there.

But Ramsey should be viewed as a coverage safety, the value of which is so much higher than that of an outside cornerback. The chasm of talent at free safety is enormous, with most starters either being average or less. There is a small handful of great, impactful players at the position who defenses can morph around.

Ramsey has that ability, even if he’s often been more of a switchblade for Florida State. He spent 2014 playing the star position, which is a hybrid safety and slot cornerback role, and it showed off his skill repertoire and athleticism.

Similar to Berry, Ramsey is a quality player no matter the task he’s asked to perform. Berry has been a top-five NFL free safety since entering the league, largely because of his coverage talent and efficiency as a run defender. Kansas City doesn’t ask him to be a playmaker in the run game because of its other talent, but Berry was that type of player in his first three seasons.

Evaluating the single-high capability of a safety comes with the limitation of television broadcast angles. The NFL offers NFL Game Pass, so it is much easier to see how well cornerbacks and safeties perform. Collegiate games do not offer such an outlet, so we have to put a premium on plays the defensive backs are involved in.

What makes Ramsey so great as a prospect was encapsulated in his 2014 performance against the Miami Hurricanes Although it was just one game, I’ve seen only one better single performance in five years of draft analysis, and that was by University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack (now with the Oakland Raiders) against Ohio State in 2013.

Ramsey tallied three tackles, one interception, four passes defensed and one forced fumble in that game against Miami. Most impressively, he understood when to be aggressive. Knowing the perfect timing to play the ball or stick your nose into a running play comes from instinct and body control.

It’s usually not hard to find the best few players on the field. Ramsey is quite often one of those few, despite being in the defensive backfield. He is a tremendous athlete, with fluidity, quick feet and speed despite being 6’1”, 205 pounds. Take a look at this near-interception and defensed pass below.

Ramsey gives Miami tight end Clive Walford a two-year advantage on his cut inside, but Ramsey is never in danger of allowing a big completion. He shows impressive acceleration to close on the ball and should have secured it for the interception. His length and speed were paramount on this play and will continue to be a major asset in man coverage opportunities.

And covering a large amount of space quickly is critical for free safeties.

The ability to foresee how a play will develop and reach the catch point before the completion is the rarest of skills. Ramsey has enough examples of closing speed and instinct throughout his film to convince NFL teams that he will be able to execute that role in the pros.

Ramsey showed an incredible knack for finding the football throughout his college career. He had just three total interceptions, but he forced four fumbles. His blitzing acumen led to five sacks and played a part in his 22 passes defensed.

When flying in from the secondary, Ramsey has distinct skill at clogging passing lanes. His length and timing force quarterbacks to second-guess their passing attempts and throw off the designed play. These types of plays don’t always result in a statistic but can greatly affect the outcome of games.

Ramsey’s physicality has stood out many times. He’s a solid tackler who is willing to challenge bigger ball-carriers around the line of scrimmage. I’d like to see him be a little more aggressive working through blockers, but this was a bigger issue at cornerback than safety.

He certainly has the ability to set the edge and dictate where a running back can go. He plays well within team defense—even filtering the ball-carrier back inside to his teammates on occasion. Again, this is a team-defense function and not something that shows up in the stats. Nonetheless, it is impressive.

While some teams that play Cover 3 press schemes may view Ramsey as a cornerback—and he is no slouch at the position—he is a much better safety prospect. He is a rare playmaker at a position that desperately needs more like him in the NFL. His great athleticism, feel for the game and impact on the field make him a clear top-five pick.

It is important for teams selecting high in the 2016 NFL draft to stockpile as much elite talent as possible to hasten the rebuild. Filling needs is nice but often causes teams to pass on more impactful talent. The supply and demand of certain positions must also be a factor for each selection.

Obtaining the next Eric Berry will likely cost a top-five selection, but Ramsey is a premium talent. He’s a fit for any system and will be well worth the investment.

 

All stats used are from sports-reference.com.

Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Brady Hoke Named Oregon Defensive Coordinator: Latest Contract Details, Reaction

Former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke was named Oregon's new defensive coordinator Saturday, the school announced

"We are extremely excited to welcome Coach Hoke to the Oregon family," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said, according to the school's press release. "He's passionate, knowledgeable and tough, and has an outstanding track record of success from a defensive standpoint."

Hoke's four-year stint with the Maize and Blue ended in 2014 after Michigan went 5-7 following three straight winning seasons. 

Before moving to Ann Arbor in 2011, Hoke spent six years as Ball State's head coach before he was hired by San Diego State in the same position. The 57-year-old also has ties to the Pacific Northwest after serving as an assistant coach at Oregon State from 1989 to 1994. 

As Oregon's press release noted, Hoke was renowned for turning around a fledgling Michigan defense. During the 2014 season, the Wolverines ranked 10th with 311 yards allowed per game and a respectable 28th in opponents' scoring (22.4 points per game). 

According to Sporting News' Lisa Horne, Hoke should help an Oregon defense that allowed a 114th-ranked 36.8 points per game in 2015: 

However, Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer noted the move was a bit strange for one glaring reason: 

While Hoke's lack of experience as a defensive coordinator is concerning to a degree, he shouldn't be hard-pressed to help the Ducks improve at least modestly on that side of the ball. Oregon ranked 116th last season by allowing 480 yards per game—more than 300 of which came through the air.

Hoke won't turn the Ducks defense around instantly, but his time at Michigan suggests Oregon stands to benefit from his presence on the sidelines. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jonathan Allen Returning to Alabama: Latest Comments and Reaction

Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen will return to the school for his senior season, according to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman on Saturday.

Allen led the Crimson Tide with 12 sacks, tied for sixth in the nation overall, as part of a vaunted defensive line. He also led the team in tackles for loss with 14.5.

At 6'3", 272 pounds, Allen showed off his arsenal in 2015, displaying dynamic speed that provided an explosive first step off the snap along with a strength that allowed him to power his way through the interior of the trenches. 

He put those skills on display during the Tide's national semifinal game against Michigan State, as NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah highlighted:

His versatility allows him to choose where on the offensive line he's going to attack. He's been successful rushing from both the inside and the outside, which gives pass protectors a difficult time deciphering where he is going to charge from. 

Allen certainly has impressed ESPN's Adam Rittenberg this season:

Walter Football had him slated as a mid-first-round selection, and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. ranked him fifth among all defensive ends, per Saturday Down South

Alabama receives a huge defensive boost with Allen returning for his senior season. The Tide are already losing senior defensive players like linemen Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway and linebacker Reggie Ragland.

The team also saw junior defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson declare for the draft, along with Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry. Getting Allen back ensures there will be a familiar face, and a good one at that, on the line to lead the defense and help lead a title defense next season. 

 

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SMU Coach Chad Morris Attempts to Dance to Celebrate New Recruiting Class

We can't decide what's worse: the so-called dance, the fact that Chad Morris was casually bumping 50 Cent like it's 2003 or that he thought it was OK to share a video of it on Twitter.

But to each his own, and what a gift this is to the Internet.

The SMU head football coach was apparently excited about the Mustangs' recruiting class, so what better way to celebrate the 18-day countdown to signing day than with a little number to "In Da Club" in your living room?

You do you, coach.

[Chad Morris]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Oklahoma Sooners Betting Odds, Analysis

Two of the Big 12’s best teams not named the Kansas Jayhawks will meet in Norman on Saturday when the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (14-1) host the 11th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers (15-1).

The top-ranked Jayhawks (14-2) suffered their second loss of the season at West Virginia as one-point road favorites, 74-63, on Wednesday and could be giving up their ranking to the Sooners pending this result.

Oklahoma is listed as a six-point home favorite at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark and will try to avoid being the next upset victim of the Mountaineers, who are a perfect 4-0 in Big 12 play.

The Sooners suffered their lone setback at Kansas in triple overtime but beat the spread as seven-point road dogs on January 4. They have won two in a row since then against the Kansas State Wildcats and Oklahoma State Cowboys, although they did not cover either game.

West Virginia’s only loss took place on the road against the Virginia Cavaliers, 70-54, as 4.5-point road dogs on December 8 of last year, with the team currently riding an eight-game winning streak and going 4-4 against the spread during that stretch.

The Mountaineers are 3-3 ATS on the road and will be trying to cover their third straight overall.

The key for West Virginia will be holding Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield in check. Hield ranks second in the country in scoring with 26.6 points per game, and he totaled 21 in each of the two meetings a year ago.

The Mountaineers won the first game between the teams, 86-65, at home as 4.5-point favorites and lost the second, 71-52, on the road as 5.5-point dogs. The Sooners had won five of the previous six meetings both straight up and ATS, according to the Odds Shark College Basketball Database.

Hield scored a career-high 46 points on 13-of-23 shooting (57 percent) in the loss to the Jayhawks, and he has stayed hot in the last two games. He scored 31 against Kansas State and had 26 versus Oklahoma State, making 21 of 31 shots from the field (68 percent), including 12-of-20 (60 percent) from beyond the three-point arc.

The over is 5-1 in Oklahoma’s last six, with Hield averaging 31 points per game.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Derrick Henry Discusses NFL Draft Grade, Preferred Destination, More

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry racked up the yards, accolades and trophies during a junior season that was one for the record books.

However, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner didn't agree with the second-round draft grade the NFL's draft advisory board handed him.

"I feel like, just because I got my grade, it doesn't mean I'm not going to be first round," Henry said. "I feel like what I do and how I test at the combine and work out. I feel like I will be first round. There's no doubt in my mind that I won't be."

After racking up 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns—both SEC records—Henry expected a first-round grade. Yet many consider the Ohio State Buckeyes' Ezekiel Elliott to be the No. 1 back in the draft, while Henry sits at No. 2.

Even with just one running back ahead of him, CBS Sports projects the player who ran for 158 yards and three touchdowns in a national championship game win over the Clemson Tigers to go in the late first or early second round.

Henry, who told Casagrande he hopes to land with the Dallas Cowboys, will have one advantage over other backs. 

"Nobody is going to outwork me," he said. "I'm going to push and work hard every day. I feel fee like hard work pushes you over the limit and makes you who you are. I'm going to work hard every day. Nobody is going to outwork me."

However, no amount of hard work is going to land Henry with the Cowboyswho hold the No. 4 selection—in the first round unless they trade down.

One knock on Henry is that some experts feel like he benefited from a talented offensive line at Alabama. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller provided a stat that proves he ran behind talented run-blockers:

Dane Brugler of CBS Sports wrote about Henry's weaknesses:

Like most big backs, Henry needs some space to get moving. He's not nearly as powerful running east to west. He also lacks ideal balance for the position, sporting a top-heavy frame and long legs which make it easier for defenders to tackle him low. This forces Henry to lunge, on occasion, rather than drive forward.

However, Henry is confident in his abilities and is going to focus on what he can do to get better.

"No, I'm not satisfied," he said, per Casagrande. "I'm never really satisfied. But all I worry about [is] what I can control."

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down Alabama's Depth Chart Following NFL Draft Departures

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Apparently playing in Dallas twice this season, where the University of Alabama football team won more games at AT&T Stadium than the National Football League’s Cowboys, made quite an impression on running back Derrick Henry.

When asked if there’s any NFL team in particular he’d like to play for, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner said “the Cowboys, but any team that drafts me."

"(They’re) not my favorite team, just a team that I feel like has a great organization."

Henry hasn’t gone as far as look at any team’s roster, but even with his and A’Shawn Robinson’s departure, as the junior defensive lineman also declared himself eligible for the 2016 draft on Friday, the team they’re leaving behind remains pretty loaded as well.

Of the 85 scholarship players Nick Saban compiled for the 2015-16 season, 18 were initially considered 5-star recruits by 247Sports and another 47 were 4-star players. That worked out to 76.5 percent of the roster.

Here’s the scary part:

Of all the players leaving the program, only two were considered 5-star recruits. They just happened to be the two who just declared for the NFL draft together, Henry and Robinson.

“I didn't do a draft grade,” said Robinson, who could be the first defensive lineman selected and appears to be almost a first-round lock. “Coach Saban talked to coaches for me to see where they'd draft me.”

Heading into the weekend the Crimson Tide already know they're losing:

Seniors: Quarterback Jake Coker, linebacker Denzel Devall, running back Kenyan Drake, tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith, tackle Dominick Jackson, cornerback Cyrus Jones, center Ryan Kelly, nose guard Darren Lake, linebacker Dillon Lee, guard Isaac Luatua, safety Geno Matias-Smith, wide receiver Richard Mullaney, tight end Michael Nysewander, defensive lineman D.J. Pettway, linebacker Reggie Ragland, defensive lineman Jarran Reed, cornerback Bradley Sylve and defensive back Jabriel Washington.

Juniors declaring for the draft: Henry and Robinson.

Transfers: Quarterback Alec Morris and wide receiver Chris Black.

All indications are that defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and tight end O.J. Howard are still weighing their NFL options (and both were 5-star recruits).

Linebackers Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams have already announced their return, as has starting strong safety Eddie Jackson—who just made the move from cornerback this past season.

Players have until Monday afternoon to declare early for the draft.

“A lot of guys will step up next year,” Matias-Smith said. “Alabama will be back.”

Although playing until mid-January will delay the team’s offseason conditioning program, the next position battles will begin during spring practices sometime in March. But there may not be as many competitions as expected.

On offense there are just four. Alabama will have another quarterback competition, this time between just three players instead of last year’s five: Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell and Blake Barnett.

At running back, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough are expected to form the tandem to handle the majority of snaps, while the offensive line has to replace center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Dominick Jackson. Alabama already has players who could step in tomorrow if it had a game.  

On defense, the entire starting line will need to be replaced should Allen bolt, but Alabama had a nine-man rotation, 14 if you include the linebackers serving as pass-rushers, so the losses figure to be felt more on the back end.

At linebacker it appears that Reuben Foster will return in hopes of becoming Alabama’s next great player in the interior.

“When you think about Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Mosley the next in line is Reggie Ragland, and Reuben Foster will next year be a first-round possibility,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I think it would be smart for him to go back and be the leader of that defense just as Reggie Ragland was.”

Williams and Rashaan Evans will try to take the next steps in their development with Anderson a natural fit to be the full-time Jack, the full-time linebacker/defensive end hybrid position in Saban’s scheme.

Meanwhile, the secondary will lose the leadership of Cyrus Jones, but Saban started restocking a couple of years ago, and the back end could be a real team strength.

All in all, with so many players getting experience this national championship season, there’s really not much retooling that has to be done, and Alabama will sign another top-notch recruiting class next month as well.

One has to wonder how many of them might eventually leave early for the NFL, which has become a pretty regular thing every year as the coaches reload the roster.

"We've had 20 guys go out early since 2009 and 13 of them have been first-round draft picks, which we're very, very proud of,” Saban said. “I think as always, every player—which was really demonstrated at the national championship game out in Phoenix this year when we had over 20 guys that were former players here that played in the NFL now—they were all on the sidelines with their team and in the locker room as if they were a part of the team.

“These guys know and it's a part of our tradition that we're very proud of their accomplishments, we're very concerned about their futures, and we're always here to support them. They're always welcome to come back to Alabama, and we certainly encourage them to come back and get their degree."

Robinson made a point of saying that he will get his degree.

“I'll miss everything,” Henry said. “This program is…just everything. I loved playing here. I loved going to school here. I'll miss everything about it. The fans, football, everything.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Top Targets Heading into Final Stretch of 2016 Recruiting Cycle

Auburn's coaches resurrected from the "dead period" earlier this week. Now it's time for them to nail down what they hope will be another strong top-10 recruiting class.

Gus Malzahn and his transitioning staff currently have the No. 10 class in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings—a collection of the industry's top rankings. What's impressive is that Auburn has already achieved that high ranking while only landing pledges from 17 recruits.

That means there is still plenty of room left for Auburn to pick up even more highly touted recruits between now and the end of signing day in less than three weeks. 

This upcoming weekend is set to be a huge one for the Tigers' recruiting efforts, with a mixture of 11 top targets and current commitments currently scheduled to be on the Plains, per Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports. 

With just a short time remaining until the end of the 2016 cycle, here are 10 of Auburn's top targets left on the board and where they stand with the Tigers at this point in the frenzy.

Begin Slideshow

The Epic College Football Legacy of Alabama Running Back Derrick Henry

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When the clock expired and the confetti started to fall at University of Phoenix Stadium, Deshaun Watson wanted to find one player in particular from the opposing sideline, Derrick Henry.

The University of Alabama running back and Watson had gotten to know one another and it was a relationship that the Clemson quarterback wanted to continue. Not only had they become friends, but Henry had achieved the two things that had barely eluded him during the 2015-16 season: the Heisman Trophy and national championship.

“I'm trying to do the same thing and just learn from guys who have been there and done it,” Watson said.

There are a lot of people who will be studying Henry’s Crimson Tide career, which officially came to a close with the announcement of his decision to enter the 2016 NFL draft on Friday.

Although offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin sort of gave away the decision by saying at the Cotton Bowl: “We’ll replace a Heisman Trophy winner just like we did a Biletnikoff winner the year before,” there really wasn’t much for Henry to come back for, especially when compared to the money he’ll soon be making.

"I just felt like this is the way to go out," Henry said. "With everything that happened this year I've been very fortunate."

Granted, Henry may soon be doing Heisman House ads, but he may not end up being a first-round selection, which is usually the standard Nick Saban uses for giving his blessing for players considering leaving school early unless one probably can't improve his draft stock.

The NFL's advisory committee gave Henry a second-round grade. 

"Henry doesn’t have enough wiggle and change of direction to attract first- and maybe second-round interest," ESPN draft analyst Kel Kiper Jr. said. "Maybe third round for him. He’s a build-up-to-speed kind of guy, he doesn’t have that initial quickness through the hole kind type of player you need for the NFL.

"For Henry I’ll say third round, maybe second."

Nevertheless, he's already considered the best running back in Crimson Tide history.

Among Henry's accomplishments:

  • Even though he wasn’t considered Alabama’s starting running back until this season, he’s already the program’s all-time leading rusher. Henry had 3,591 yards to top Shaun Alexander’s 3,565 (1996-99).
  • His 2,219 rushing yards for the season shattered Trent Richardson’s record of 1,679 (2011), a difference of 540 yards.
  • Henry had 10 100-yard performances in 2015 and 16 for his career, both setting a school record.
  • His 28 rushing touchdowns set a season record, and the career mark of 42 tied Mark Ingram (2008-10).
  • The last time Henry failed to score a touchdown in a game was against LSU in 2014. His 28 rushing touchdowns set both a school and Southeastern Conference record that was previously 23 (Tim Tebow and Tre Mason).
  • Henry became the 25th back in NCAA history to rush for 2,000 or more yards in a single season but the first in the SEC. He topped Herschel Walker’s league record of 1,891 yards on 385 carries set in 1981.

The numbers are even more remarkable considering that Alabama’s initial approach this past season was to use a two-back attack.

“I didn't know who would be more productive, Derrick Henry or Kenyan Drake,” Saban said.

But while Drake ran into some injury issues and the only other running backs on the roster were freshmen, Henry carried more and more of the offense, especially during the second half of the season. When he started approaching and surpassing the benchmark numbers achieved by Bo Jackson and Walker, awards voters couldn’t ignore him.

Since the Doak Walker Award for best running back started being handed out in 1990, Henry’s just the fourth player to win it along with the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp player of the years awards all in the same season (Ron Dayne in 1999, Ricky Williams in 1998 and Eddie George in 1995).

Against nine ranked teams he ended up rushing for 166.6 yards per game (1,499), exceeding 200 against three of them. The only one in which Henry didn’t get at least 125 yards against was Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, a 38-0 victory during which the coaches clearly held him back.

“We haven't really played anyone that big” Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough said. “But what he does well is he doesn't go down. Takes him two, three, four guys to take him down and he's always falling forward. So he makes the two-yard gains turn into five or six. If you continue to do that for an entire game, you know, it wears down the defenses. That's what you see what happens as the third, fourth quarter comes around.”

He did get his yards against Clemson on the biggest stage of his career, rushing for 158 yards on 36 carries and scoring three touchdowns after Dabo Swinney called him “A whole different animal.” Henry probably would have been named the offensive MVP of the national championship game if junior tight end O.J. Howard hadn’t had 208 receiving yards.

“It's tough to go one-on-one with him,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said. “It's like old-school football, if you're not ready to go before he touches the ball, then it won't work out.”

Consequently, when it comes to Henry’s legacy he’s in very exclusive company, and you’re splitting hairs when trying to separate him from the best running backs to ever play the game.

Overall, there have been only four running backs in SEC history to have four 200-yard games in one season: Walker, Jackson, Henry and LSU’s Leonard Fournette just joined them with his 212-yard performance in the Texas Bowl. He’ll have a better shot of challenging Walker’s 171.9 rushing yards per game in 1981 and 159.4 for his collegiate career.

Moreover, Henry was technically only a starter for one season and is not in the top 10 of all-time SEC rushing leaders, a prestigious list topped by Walker with 5,259 yards from 1980-82, followed by Arkansas’ Darren McFadden (4,590), LSU’s Kevin Faulk (4,557) and Jackson (4,303).

But none of them led his team to a conference and national championship while playing a schedule like Alabama’s, nor as a co-captain of his team. They also never quite did what Henry accomplished in back-to-back games against Auburn and Florida in the SEC Championship Game.

“I didn't think I would see that ever, 90 carries in seven days—and then I think he could have kept going,” Kiffin said. “He was in the locker room afterwards like he just was warming up.

“Somehow he just continues to get stronger, and that goes back to how he works, the way that he practices, the way that we're in the sprints in the practice—and he's not worried about anything else except for getting himself better.”

“I think our team kind of [took] on his persona and physical nature,” former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said.

Perhaps that’s Henry’s true legacy and the one that will be widely overlooked. He didn’t just have as much drive and determination as anyone else, but the Crimson Tide did as well.

That’s what earned him the honor of being a co-captain on the nation’s most high-profile team despite being just a junior. It's also what helps make him comparable to college football's greatest running backs.

“That's just the culture that our program and our coaching staff has created here at Alabama,” Henry said. “We work as hard as we can and try to get better week after week. It all comes down to hard work.” 

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

A'Shawn Robinson Declares for 2016 NFL Draft: Latest Comments and Reaction

One of college football's most dominant defensive players is making the leap to the pros, as Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson declared for the 2016 NFL draft on Friday.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports reported Robinson's intentions.

The 6'4", 312-pound Robinson was dominant during his junior campaign in 2015, as he registered 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide. 

While the Fort Worth, Texas, native was excellent in each of his first two seasons at Alabama, he made some changes leading up to the 2015 campaign that made him even more dangerous and difficult for opposing offensive lines to handle.

According to Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated's Campus Rush, Robinson dropped some weight, which added to his athleticism and ability to wreak havoc.

"It's been good for me. I feel great. My body feels a lot better," Robinson said. "I'm stronger and quicker. I'm faster off the ball."

That certainly manifested itself, as Robinson was a handful all season long. He was a factor in essentially every game, but the contest that truly put him on the map was the Tide's victory over the LSU Tigers.

In addition to holding running back Leonard Fournette to just 31 yards, Robinson blocked an extra point by leaping over the offensive line in remarkable fashion.

While the national audience was taken aback by seeing a 300-plus-pound player pull off such an incredible feat, Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson claimed he and the rest of his teammates weren't surprised.

"That's just A'Shawn," Anderson said, per John Zenor of the Associated Press. "He can do that kind of stuff. Most people don't believe it, but he's a freak. That's what kind of stuff we're used to seeing him do."

That level of athleticism should serve Robinson well in the NFL, and all signs point toward it making him a first-round pick, although the lengthy draft process still has to play out.

With defensive linemen such as Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack and Leonard Williams making an instant impact as rookies in the NFL over the past couple of seasons, there is likely to be plenty of interest in Robinson.

He appears to be NFL-ready in terms of his body and physicality, which is why it is tough to argue with his decision to leave Alabama a year early.

Robinson accomplished essentially everything at the collegiate level, and his NFL stock may never be higher than it is right now.

There is no question that Robinson upheld Alabama's reputation as a defensive power, and he promises to be the latest in a long line of Crimson Tide defensive players to thrive professionally.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Teams with Biggest Question Marks Heading into Offseason

Every college football team has some questions it hopes to answer before the 2016 season comes around, and there's plenty of time to get this done. For some teams, though, these puzzles aren't that simple to solve.

Not every team has the luxury of just plugging in backups for departed stars and expecting the same results, since most don't know for certain yet who the replacements will be. Other teams are dealing with staff changes and don't know how that will affect their success.

The questions vary from team to team, and there's at least one for every school in FBS. We're focusing on the ones whose question marks stand out more than others.

Begin Slideshow

Way-Too-Early 2016 Big 12 Football Power Rankings

The Big 12 finally made it into the College Football Playoff in 2015, though the appearance was short-lived. Despite being one of the hottest teams in college football in November, Oklahoma fell to No. 1 Clemson, 37-17, in the Orange Bowl.

However, the Sooners are looking to reload and get back to the playoff in 2016-17. Do head coach Bob Stoops and Co. have what it takes to win yet another conference championship and finish in the top four? Let's take a peek at the way-too-early power rankings for the Big 12 based on returning starters and talent, as well as trajectory. 

Begin Slideshow

Pages