NCAA Football News

Which Powerhouse Teams Can Challenge Florida State for 4-Star CJ Cotman?

Florida prospect CJ Cotman enters this season primed to see his recruitment erupt, expanding a list of collegiate opportunities that already features several high-profile suitors.

The 5'10", 165-pound playmaker is one of the state's most scintillating high school juniors, considered a 4-star talent in composite rankings. Cotman rates sixth nationally among all-purpose backs in the 2017 class.

An in-state powerhouse appears to be strides ahead of other contending programs, as he named Florida State his top favorite during a discussion with Josh Newberg of 247Sports.

Cotman claimed a Seminoles scholarship offer shortly before his sophomore season. More than a year later, Florida State co-offensive coordinator and primary recruiter Lawrence Dawsey continues to make the young standout feel wanted in Tallahassee.

"He’s got me high on FSU," Cotman told Newberg.

The Seminoles currently claim each expert's commitment prediction in 247Sports' Crystal Ball. He plans to spend time on campus this fall, according to Newberg.

Florida State already holds four 4-star pledges in its 2017 class, including running back Zaquandre White. Cotman looks capable of doing damage out of the backfield or lined up at receiver.

He caught 66 passes for 1,040 yards as an underclassman, adding 1,157 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground, per MaxPreps. Cotman collected 215 total yards on 17 offensive touches in his 2015 season opener with Clearwater Central Catholic High School, scoring three times.

Florida State is certainly the early leader, but all indications are Cotman will take his time determining an ideal landing spot. Other possibilities include Clemson, Kentucky, Boston College and Louisville.

A pair of SEC programs may be destined to provide the strongest challenge for Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff. Cotman traveled to Georgia and Florida this summer, setting the stage for potential return trips during the season.

He expressed plans to visit both campuses again in the coming months, according to Newberg.

Cotman, arguably the premier prospect in talent-laden Pinellas County, would fill a need in either class. Both Florida and Georgia have secured top-tier 2017 quarterbacks and now aim to build versatile supporting casts for future offensive endeavors.

The Bulldogs are still searching for a fit at running back in the 2016 cycle, though in-state standout Elijah Holyfield may soon fill that slot. Florida added top-rated 2016 junior college running back Mark Thompson to its class in May, though the Gators are also without a rusher in the 2017 cycle.

Cotman could vie for immediate playing time in a variety of roles in either scheme as a true freshman. His quickest path to the field might ultimately be in the slot, where he can feast on defenders with elite shiftiness and impressive downfield awareness.

The Gators would be wise to ardently pursue Cotman, as head coach Jim McElwain attempts to revitalize an offense that has sputtered in recent years. Florida and Florida State typically cross paths on the recruiting trail, and he is the latest local standout to warrant shared interest.

Miami is also worth monitoring, though the situation is far more fluid in Coral Gables. Hurricanes head coach Al Golden holds top-10 classes in the 2016 and 2017 cycles, but another disappointing season may result in major changes.

"I haven’t been to Miami yet, but when I do get down there, I hope the staff catches my attention,” Cotman told Newberg.

This shapes up as a lengthy and nationwide pursuit, potentially lasting beyond his senior season. His offer list is likely to develop as things progress and film from his junior campaign is analyzed by coaches across the country.

Florida State is seemingly the team to beat at this stage, but expect plenty of developments down the road. Florida, Georgia and Miami are among those most likely to make a positive move on his hierarchy of college choices.


Tyler Donohue is a national recruiting analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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New Ole Miss Starting QB Chad Kelly Will Be a Star for the Rebels

Another domino in the SEC quarterback mystery has fallen.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze announced on Monday during his weekly press conference that junior college transfer Chad Kelly will take the first snap against UT-Martin on Saturday.

Kelly beat out sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, according to Ben Garrett of, but won't be the only quarterback to take snaps on Saturday.

The 6'2", 215-pounder who started his career at Clemson heading to East Mississippi Community College won a junior college national championship last year, running a similar offense to the one he's operating in Oxford.

Despite his relative inexperience at Ole Miss, that playing time at East Mississippi will certainly help him transition to his new starting role with the Rebels and will help make him a star in the SEC.

That's exactly what he will be: a star.

If this was truly a quarterback battle at this point, loyalty and familiarity to the program would likely take precedent, which would suggest that Freeze would give the nod to Buchanan or Kincade. Sure, Freeze is keeping his options open and giving himself an out, but why wouldn't he?

Ole Miss hosts Fresno State after UT-Martin, before heading to Tuscaloosa in Week 3. Keeping his offense as much of a mystery as possible prior to that big showdown with the Crimson Tide is probably a good idea, especially with a dual-threat weapon like Kelly.

Sure, he's new, and everybody always panics over first-year starting quarterbacks in the offseason. But it's not like former starter Bo Wallace was Tom Brady in Oxford. After all, "good Bo" and "bad Bo" became a popular Internet talking point for a reason.

One look at his tape and you'll see that Kelly is much more of a threat to be a home-run hitter on the ground than Wallace, has a much more fluid delivery, can complete the touch passes and has the arm strength to be successful in any system.

Kelly won't just take over from Wallace; he'll expand on what Wallace helped establish. Ole Miss' identity is as a downfield passing attack that thrives with a quarterback who's a threat with his legs and puts stress on defenses both north/south and east/west. 

Kelly has more upside than his predecessor and more weapons around him.

It's not just Laquon Treadwell in Oxford, although the junior is one of the top wide receivers in the game. There are veterans Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo, tight end Evan Engram and 6'2", 220-pound Washington transfer Damore'ea Stringfellow, too. Kelly should, at the very least, be able to match Wallace's production on the ground.

If Ole Miss can find a way to take some pressure off of him by running more effectively between the tackles, Kelly will blow past that production and squarely into the discussion for the Heisman Trophy.

Is that premature?

Well sure, but you don't get rich on Wall Street by buying stocks after they're established.

Buy into the Kelly hype. If he can stay out of trouble off of the field—which has been a problem in the past, as Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh noted this summer—he'll be a star on it.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93 XM 208. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Texas Will Start QB Tyrone Swoopes vs. Notre Dame, But Can He Keep the Job?

The Texas Longhorns have named their starting quarterback for Saturday's opener at Notre Dame, going with junior Tyrone Swoopes over redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard. How long it remains that way will depend on Swoopes' ability to handle the Longhorns' new offense and avoid the mistakes and tentative play that have plagued his career to this point.

Coach Charlie Strong made the move official on Monday, but also said that Heard will be in the mix against the Fighting Irish. Swoopes will be making his 13th career start, while for Heard, when he sets foot on the turf at Notre Dame Stadium it will mark his collegiate debut.

The 6'4", 244-pound Swoopes started the last 12 games of the 2014 season after David Ash's career came to an end because of concussion issues. He threw for 2,409 yards and 13 touchdowns but completed only 58.9 percent of his passes and was intercepted 11 times. Texas ranked 90th in FBS in passing offense last year at 199.9 yards per game.

The 6'2", 195-pound Heard is a former 4-star prospect and the No. 2-rated dual-threat passer in the 2014 recruiting class (per 247Sports) who spent his entire prep career running the spread offense that Texas switched to this offseason. However, both Swoopes and Heard fared well running the scheme during spring practice, which kept Swoopes out in front in the competition.

Swoopes ran for a TD in Texas' spring game while also throwing for 159 yards on 17-of-31 passing. Heard was 20-of-29 for 177 yards with an interception and a rushing score.

Swoopes might not have won the competition over Heard so much as not lose it, because Strong seemed at times unwilling to pull the plug on the junior and go with his younger quarterback despite a higher upside.

"I hope I don't have to go in there (to Notre Dame) and start a redshirt freshman," Strong said after Texas' spring game (h/t Associated Press). "I don't want to turn this into a quarterback controversy...I don't know if Heard has done anything yet to unseat him as the starter."

Strong said Monday the player who would get the starting job would do so because, among other reasons, he had to "win over the team" (h/t Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News). "He's won over the team." That bodes well for Texas, as last year there were many times that Swoopes did not look confident.

We could be seeing a far different player on Saturday, according to senior cornerback Duke Thomas.

"Before he calls a snap he's calling out cash money trash to me," Thomas told Chris Hummer of "He's really brought the offense an edge. I'm talking trash, and he's getting into it with me. He's really bringing that approach to the game we need on offense."

That extra swagger could come in handy since the official depth chart (h/t Finger) lists five true freshmen and three redshirt freshmen in starting roles. That includes two on the offensive line, left tackle Connor Williams and right guard Patrick Vahe.

But confidence alone won't ensure Swoopes can hold onto the starting job and keep Heard as just a complimentary player. With the offense more wide open than a year ago, Swoopes will need to show his ability to run more frequently and not just as a last resort.

In 2014, he averaged just 2.43 yards per carry with four TDs on 108 rushes, including 27 sacks.

Additionally, Swoopes has to be more accurate with his throws and not force them, as he did several times in 2014. He completed no better than 52 percent of his passes in four of his last six starts, including an 11-of-29 performance against West Virginia and the Texas Bowl outing against Arkansas when he was 13-of-25 for just 57 yards.

A strong mix of his arm and legs will be the best recipe for Swoopes' success, since that's exactly what Heard figures to do when he gets into the game. And as long as his blend doesn't spoil the offensive recipe, Swoopes should remain in the starting role beyond the first game.


Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Tyrone Swoopes Named Texas Starting QB: Latest Comments and Reaction

The Texas Longhorns quarterback battle is over, as head coach Charlie Strong announced Monday that junior Tyrone Swoopes will be the team's starter at the position, per the team's official Twitter account.  

"I'm convinced he's won over the locker room, "Strong told reporters, per Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman. "Even the players will tell you that... He's won over the team."

Indeed, one player did just that.

"We all have the utmost confidence in Swoopes," offensive lineman Taylor Doyle told the team's official Twitter account. "I think that's because of his work ethic."

Swoopes had been battling redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard for the starting gig. While Swoopes was always the front-runner, he was coming off of a mediocre 2014 that saw him throw for 2,409 yards, 13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and complete just 58.3 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 262 yards and four scores. 

But Swoopes took to the challenge this summer, knowing his starting job was anything but guaranteed. The biggest change appears to be to his demeanor, as he's shown a more determined and competitive drive in his play throughout camp, something that was noticeably missing at times last year. 

“He’s really brought the offense and edge,” cornerback Duke Thomas told Chris Hummer of 247Sports. “I’m talking trash, and he’s getting into it with me. He’s really bringing that approach to the game we need on offense.”

The real question will be whether his new demeanor carries over to the games. Texas, as always, has the talent to be a major player in the Big 12, but it'll only go as far as its junior quarterback takes them.


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Fox Sports 1 Ensuring Total Jim Harbaugh Coverage with 'Khaki Cam' at Utah Game

In the spirit of giving college football fans more Jim Harbaugh than they could ever hope to physically ingest, Fox Sports 1 will have a dedicated camera following the Michigan football coach wherever he goes during the Wolverines' season opener against Utah on Thursday night.

Dubbed the "Khaki Cam," the camera will be one of five Fox Sports 1 cameras in use for the game, according to the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder. 

As it sounds right now, the Khaki Cam will be a lot like the Johnny Football Cam from 2013, but more likely to argue politics at the dinner table:

So rest assured, America. If there is hiking or jostling of Harbaugh's waistline—Fox Sports 1 is all over it.

Any spittle that floats out of Harbaugh's mouth as he protests a holding penalty will be recorded and beamed directly into your living room in the kind of stunning high definition usually reserved for cheetahs in full stride on the Discovery Channel.

You'll presumably be able to count the number of veins in Harbaugh's eyes as they attempt to escape their sockets after an uncalled instance of pass interference. 

I know. We don't deserve this. But you take what the Khaki Cam gives you.


Dan is on Twitter. Harb Watch: Like Panda Watch, but with sweat rings. 

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Notre Dame Football: Top Takeaways from 2015 Fall Camp

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Finally, after the long months of winter workouts, spring and summer sessions and now weeks of fall camp, Notre Dame football's first game week is here, as the Irish prepare for their season opener against Texas on Saturday.

Before we preview the matchup with the Longhorns, let’s take one final look back at fall camp and assess our top takeaways.


Veteran Leadership

Just a few minutes into the start of his first fall press conference—before Notre Dame’s first official practice—Irish head coach Brian Kelly said that this team has some of the best leaders he’s had during his tenure at Notre Dame.

Kelly didn’t waver on that sentiment over the course of camp, as the sixth-year head coach went on to say a few weeks later that this is the deepest group of leaders he’s had in South Bend.

Fifth-year center Nick Martin, senior defensive lineman Sheldon Day, fifth-year linebacker Joe Schmidt, junior linebacker Jaylon Smith and fifth-year defensive back Matthias Farley are the team’s captains, Kelly announced Thursday.

Throughout the fall, the head coach said that Notre Dame could have had as many as 10 captains.

“I really had a hard time,” Kelly said. “I went back through the media guide to check what the most captains were, because I had seven. I had it whittled down to seven. I was trying to make the case for seven. I don’t think I could make the case for seven.”

Kelly’s comments, with no hint of humor, speak to the quality and quantity of leadership on this Irish squad. Beyond the five captains, senior left tackle Ronnie Stanley, redshirt sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire and senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, among others, have drawn praise as leaders over the past few weeks.

As is the case with many preseason takeaways and predictions, it’s tough to truly quantify the value of this leadership until it plays out over the course of a season. But with a veteran squad, Notre Dame seems well-positioned heading into the 2015 campaign.


Holes to Fill

While Russell has been cleared by the NCAA and Schmidt and fellow linebacker Jarrett Grace have returned from their respective injuries, Notre Dame has been hit with personnel losses in recent weeks.

Most notably, senior nose tackle Jarron Jones suffered an MCL injury during fall camp, underwent surgery and will miss the 2015 season. Jones’ absence is a major blow for Notre Dame, which must now turn to a pair of inexperienced replacement options: true freshman Jerry Tillery and sophomore Daniel Cage.

Tillery, who enrolled early for the spring semester, stood out in spring ball. Still, he’s in line for a sharp uptick in snap count. Kelly said Thursday that Tillery has maintained a high level of play for a rookie.

“There have been some of the dips there that you would see with a freshman, but not great dips,” Kelly said.

For what it’s worth, Kelly then praised Cage, citing his lightened playing weight of 307 pounds.

Notre Dame freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford suffered a torn ACL earlier this month and will also miss the upcoming season. Crawford had earned first-team reps at nickelback. Now, Russell will step into the nickel role, while junior corner Devin Butler will fill in on the perimeter in those situations.

It’ll be interesting to see how long Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stick with that plan, as the Irish do have options should things go awry, with Farley and backup cornerbacks Nick Coleman and Nick Watkins, for example.

And while it wasn’t a surprise, Kelly announced Thursday that fifth-year defensive lineman Ishaq Williams had his appeal denied by the NCAA and will not play for Notre Dame. The big-bodied end is not allowed to practice with Notre Dame, either, though he will have a locker and access to work out in Notre Dame’s facilities, Kelly said.

“I think Ishaq knew it was going to be an uphill fight there,” Kelly said. “But where he never wavered was coming back to school and getting his degree. The silver lining here is he’s in school and we’re very optimistic he’ll be able to finish his degree here in the short term.”

It’s clear Notre Dame has been prepared for this result. Still, adding Williams, though he’s only tallied one career sack, would have been a solid boost for the Irish. Williams’ pass-rushing production never met the potential of a blue-chip recruit, but Notre Dame will turn anywhere for pass-rushing help.

The Irish do have depth in second-year players such as Grant Blankenship, Jonathan Bonner and Andrew Trumbetti.


Freshmen Making Impact

We expected freshmen like Tillery, Crawford, tight end Alize Jones and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown to flash in the fall, staking their claim to spots in the rotation.

But fellow rookies such as Coleman and slot receiver C.J. Sanders impressed as well and could be in the mix for Notre Dame sooner than expected.

Kelly praised Coleman’s makeup speed on the perimeter, while Sanders brings an explosiveness and suddenness that makes him a dangerous threat out of the slot and, potentially, on punt returns.

Overall, Kelly said that the freshman class upped the overall competition level throughout camp. How much those freshmen actually contribute on Saturdays remains to be seen.


Depth at Wide Receiver, Tight End

Thanks in large part to the play of those freshmen (Sanders, St. Brown and Jones), Notre Dame’s depth at wide receiver and tight end is even more pronounced.

Between Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Corey Robinson, Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter Jr., the Irish have a wealth of options at receiver, even without factoring in the freshmen. Hunter, in particular, stood out in the fall, and Kelly expects the third-year athlete to contribute at each of Notre Dame’s three wideout positions, not just the slot.

Tight end, meanwhile, is still an uncertain position for the Irish, with Durham Smythe, Tyler Luatua, Nic Weishar, Chase Hounshell and Jones all jockeying for reps. Kelly has said that the tight ends can be used situationally, as he'll find roles for the different options and their respective strengths.

But while depth is great, the production at these spots isn’t certain. Smythe, who had one catch for seven yards against Arizona State last season, is the only tight end with a reception in his career. Robinson (40 catches for 539 yards and five touchdowns in 2014) and Brown (39-548-1) produced in secondary roles in 2014. Can they take the next steps as a junior and senior, respectively?


All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Alabama Commit B.J. Emmons Totals 173 Yards, 4 TDs in Week 2

After suffering a tough loss in his team’s season opener last week, 4-star running back and current Alabama commit B.J. Emmons was determined to get back on track and lead Morganton, North Carolina's, Freedom High School to a win.

Consider his mission accomplished after he found the end zone a total of four times in the first half and accounted for 173 yards of total offense in leading Freedom to a 61-0 rout over Draughn, according to Tommy Fleming of the Morganton News Herald.

The 5’10”, 232-pound sledgehammer made quick work of the Wildcats defense. He rushed eight times for 125 yards—including scoring runs of 50, 23 and 18 yards. He added four receptions for 48 yards and another score.

It was a strong performance that helped the Patriots rebound from a 40-28 loss to Shelby last week.

Emmons fits the prototype of freakish rushers who have called Alabama’s backfield home in recent years under Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban.

His versatility as a power back and a receiver out of the backfield help him project well to the Tide’s offense at the next level. As noted by Bleacher Report’s Damon Sayles, while he’s got plenty of size, he’s also shifty enough to create big plays and work well in open space.

After backing off an early pledge to the Georgia Bulldogs, he reopened his recruitment in June. He made subsequent visits to Tennessee and Alabama before committing to the Tide late last month.

While recruiting is never final, Emmons appears to be a solid pledge, as detailed by Scout’s John Garcia.

After his hot start to the 2015 season, Emmons is showing why Saban and his staff endured a battle with the rival Vols to land this pledge.


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.


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Oklahoma QB Commit Austin Kendall Throws for 355 Yards and 5 TDs in Week 2

Because of Austin Kendall's contributions over the weekend, Union County, North Carolina, could see high school football records change hands as early as next week.

The 4-star quarterback and Oklahoma commit was impressive in leading Cuthbertson High School to a 42-7 win over Parkwood. Kendall completed 19 of 22 passes for 355 yards and five touchdowns and was named Player of the Week by

Per the site, Kendall needs 204 yards and three touchdowns to set the career passing yards and touchdowns records, both held by Sun Valley's Ryan Smith (6,624 yards, 76 touchdowns).

As exciting as it is, and as appreciative as he is of every achievement, Kendall continues to prepare for the upcoming week in businesslike fashion.

"It's just another record, honestly," said Kendall, who owns the single-season record for the most passing yards (4,461) and touchdowns (47). "I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing since the beginning of my career and just go out and do my best."

Kendall, who also had a rushing touchdown in the win, has been committed to Oklahoma since April 7. He chose the Sooners over offers from Clemson, Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and several other schools.

As the nation's No. 8 pro-style quarterback and an Elite 11 semifinalist, Kendall is expected to make plays and be a leader at Oklahoma. He's excited about learning from head coach Bob Stoops, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and the rest of the Sooners staff.

In the meantime, Kendall said he's working hard to prepare for the Big 12 competition of the future. He's looking at his freshman year not as a time to develop, but as a time to show he's ready for the big stage.

Friday's performance serves as proof.

"Performances like this will help me at Oklahoma by the preparation my coaches put me through every week preparing for our opponents," he said. "[Head] Coach [David] Johnson and [assistant] Coach Spoon [Travis Witherspoon] have done a great job with that."


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Auburn Football: Top Takeaways from 2015 Fall Camp

It's finally game week on the Plains.

After a long offseason of huge hype, weeks-long worry and big-name battles, the Auburn Tigers return to action in less than a week.

Saturday's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against Louisville will put an official end to the offseason preparation for head coach Gus Malzahn and his team.

The past few weeks of fall camp have been especially important to what looks to be another dramatic season for the Tigers. Several players moved ahead in a number of competitions for starting jobs, while members of Auburn's star-studded recruiting class earned playing time during their first official practices with the program.

As the mood around Auburn shifts from offseason chatter to game-week focus, let's take a look at the three big takeaways from fall camp—one for each phase of play.


Offense relying on strength in numbers

This has been the offseason of quarterback Jeremy Johnson, the efficient, pocket-passing replacement to run-first weapon Nick Marshall. 

In a conference that features multiple quarterback battles that will most likely continue through the season opener, Johnson nailed down the starting job shortly after spring practice. Now the real challenge begins for the junior—establishing that rhythm with playmakers on a high-octane offense that returns only one starter at running back and wide receiver.

At running back, Auburn will use a by-committee approach at least through the first two games of the season, according to Marcello, with hopes that a starter will emerge by the Week 3 road trip to LSU.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said junior Jovon Robinson, sophomore Roc Thomas, junior Peyton Barber and true freshman Kerryon Johnson will each get reps early.

"We're going to need all four of them," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, per Crepea. "We're going to plan on playing them all and kind of see how that works itself out."

Thomas and Barber pulled ahead of a slow-starting Robinson ahead of fall camp, while the versatile Johnson has bounced back from a leg injury to figure into the rotation.

"Kerryon gives us flexibility in a lot of different things," Malzahn said, per Green. "He can do a lot of different things. He catches the ball extremely well, but, yes, we definitely can (use all four running backs)."

Over at wide receiver, the coaching staff has been mixing and matching roles to account for star Duke Williams' absences early in fall camp and the need to replace the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers from 2014.

Senior Ricardo Louis is still expected to line up wide opposite Williams, while the inside positions became trickier during fall camp. According to Crepea, junior Tony Stevens has moved to Auburn's "big slot" position with senior Melvin Ray after a good preseason of work. 

Other young players and JUCO transfer Jason Smith joined Stevens and junior Marcus Davis as potential breakout players at receiver for a team that needs several targets to step up for Johnson. While Auburn might not have much consistent experience at receiver outside of Williams and Louis, it has numbers and potential.

"Tony’s making plays. That’s been a bright spot. Tony’s been making plays at a more consistent level in practice," Lashlee said, per Ryan Black of Auburn Undercover. "All the other guys we count on have been doing pretty well. Jason Smith is doing a good job, and even a guy like Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis."


Expect to see plenty of freshmen on defense

Although Will Muschamp inherited several veteran playmakers when he took over as Auburn's defensive coordinator this offseason, he still is going to turn the kids loose this fall.

Muschamp rattled off a list of eight true freshmen—defensive end Byron Cowart, linebackers Jeff Holland and Darrell Williams, safeties Montavious Atkinson and Tim Irvin and cornerbacks Jeremiah Dinson, Carlton Davis and Ryan Davis—who are expected to contribute in 2015.

"I don’t know the multitude of snaps right now, so don’t hold me to that," Muschamp said Sunday, per Tom Green of the Opelika-Auburn News. "All that can vary, obviously, depending on practice week. We have a ways to go until Saturday."

Cowart, of course, is the biggest name on that list of freshmen from Muschamp. The nation's No. 3 overall player in the class of 2015, per 247Sports, has rebounded from his frustrations during fall camp—Muschamp said he'll feature heavily against Louisville.

"Byron is going to play," Muschamp said, per Brandon Marcello of "It doesn't matter first down, second down, third down. He's going to play in the game and play a lot."

Atkinson, Irvin, Dinson and the Davises perhaps have the biggest roles to play on the defense this fall. With Auburn's secondary depth lacking in established talent this fall, those five players will take on major reserve positions.

According to James Crepea of, both Davises are expected to be the first cornerbacks behind seniors Jonathan Jones and Blake Countess. Dinson is a reserve at the Nickel back, while Irvin is backing up the nickel and traditional safeties.

Crepea also wrote Holland, a backup for Carl Lawson at Buck and JaViere Mitchell at linebacker, is expected to be "a situational pass-rusher in the season opener."

Many of these true freshmen came into fall camp—their first official practices with the Tigers—and locked down roles heading into the season opener against Louisville. While having to rely on several true freshmen isn't ideal, Auburn is confident in its youth on defense.

"Those guys are doing really good," safety Johnathan "Rudy" Ford said, per Crepea. "All those guys, they come here, responded well straight out of high school. They're doing some great things out there."


Special teams focused on bounce-back season

One of the most overlooked aspects of Auburn's run to the BCS National Championship Game in 2013 was the standout play of the special teams unit—outside of Chris Davis' return heroics, of course.

But the effects of complete turnover were obvious last season. Quan Bray was a standout punt returner, but the Tigers dropped off in punting, kick returning and, toward the end of the season, placekicking.

Part of Auburn's woes included shared duties for then-redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson, who was the team's starting kicker and punter last year. The extra workload wore Carlson down throughout the season, and it all came to a head when he missed a potential game-tying field goal in Auburn's overtime loss to Wisconsin at the Outback Bowl.

While Auburn won't name a starting punter between JUCO transfer Kevin Phillips and true freshman Ian Shannon until Tuesday, it won't be Carlson—and that's exactly what he wants.

"It's definitely a relief," Carlson said earlier this month, according to Green. "That takes some pressure and stress off me. I’m hoping I’ll be that much better on kicking because I have that much more time to focus on that."

Both Phillips and Shannon have battled all throughout fall camp, and their presence has been a welcome sight for Auburn coaches and players.

"For Ian it's been a little bit more of an adjustment," special teams coach Scott Fountain said, per Wesley Sinor of "Kevin got to go through spring and he's played JUCO ball. That's given him an opportunity to be mentally further ahead in all the situations... Going into last year I was concerned [about the punter job], but this year I feel good about it."

As Marcus Davis prepares to replace Bray as the starting punt returner, Auburn hopes to rebound from the fall it had at kick return last season, when it ranked 83rd nationally in yards per return.

Fountain said he was pleased with the competition at kick returner between Thomas, Ford and Louis during fall camp.

"What we're trying to do is find some other guys that can balance us out that can return the ball as well," Fountain said, per Black. "But I think we have three good candidates at kickoff return."

Better play in special teams could be the difference between winning and losing close games in 2015 for the Tigers. Just like the offense, fall camp turned out to be an important time for establishing more depth and confidence at a unit that needed both.


All stats courtesy of Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Why SEC Football Will Return to Glory in 2015

With big nonconference season openers and enough preseason hype to fill not just the 11 states within the footprint but all 50 in the United States of America, the SEC again enters the season as the top conference in college football.

This year, though, is a little different. 

Instead of plowing through the season full steam ahead, the SEC is looking over its shoulder with the Pac-12, Big Ten and others close on its heels.

After winning seven straight national titles from the 2006-2012 seasons, the SEC has now gone two seasons without a major bowl win (BCS/"New Year's Six") and is perilously close to losing its foothold atop the college football world.

Will the SEC reverse the recent trend and not only re-assert itself as the best conference top-to-bottom in college football but also distance itself from the competition? 

Yes, and here's why:


Reality Check

It's safe to say that, after last year's rather lackluster 7-5 bowl record that included heavyweights Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State all losing in the postseason, the shine has worn off the SEC.

That reality check, though, brought major changes to several high-profile programs that are designed to specifically fix problems that have lingered far too long.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart were more hands-on with the secondary than any other position group on the field. But after giving up 133 passing plays of 10 or more yards last season—the worst mark in the conference—Saban brought in Mel Tucker as his new defensive backs coach to provide a fresh set of eyes to the defense's biggest sore spot.

"He does a really good job as a teacher with the kids," Smart said earlier this month according to Matt Zenitz of "He's helped me tremendously from the perspective of, what are new ways to create turnovers? How did we do it everywhere I've been? You get somebody with that much experience, with the people he's coached under and with, it's very efficient for us as a defense."

He has plenty of talent to work with thanks to a healthy Cyrus Jones (who improved tremendously week-to-week last year with a hurt hip), veteran pieces who have plenty of football under their belts, talented youngsters Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown and true freshmen Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kendall Sheffield.

Down on the Plains, Auburn brought in new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp with one goal in mind—just make the Auburn defense decent. The last time the Tigers finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense was in 2007—Muschamp's last season of his first stint as the their defensive coordinator. 

That's crazy considering Auburn used to be known for a stifling defense while former head coach Tommy Tuberville was roaming the sideline.

There's plenty of talent on the roster, including two veteran linebackers, stud defensive linemen Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams and a secondary led by corner Jonathan Jones that tied for the SEC lead with 22 picks last year.

"[Muschamp] just has that presence around him that he gives all the coaches confidence," head coach Gus Malzahn said at SEC media days. "He gives his players confidence. And he's got the 'it' factor. So we're very blessed to combine his defense with an offense that we've been running."

It's not too much to ask for Muschamp's presence to create a little consistency on the defense, and a little consistency will go a long way for a program that won a national title and played for another with defenses that were far from average.

Texas A&M followed the same path by luring defensive coordinator John Chavis away from LSU to fix a unit that has been a laughing stock since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. Florida hired offensive guru Jim McElwain to spark some life into a Gators offense that has been wretched since Tim Tebow was quarterback. Georgia and Ole Miss welcomed transfer quarterbacks to provide depth and options in key spots on the roster.

The SEC got complacent, plain and simple.

While most of the lingering issues on teams were obvious, the talent level and week-in, week-out grind of the conference schedule created a sense of superiority within the conference that was wiped clean by the last two bowl seasons.

The complacency is gone—it's time to get to work, and that should vault several SEC teams back into the College Football Playoff discussion in 2015.


Quarterback Talent in Perfect Spots

The presence of a returning starting quarterback is, by far, the most overrated talking point of every offseason. Over the last six years, five first-year starters have won national titles and eight of the last 12 starters in the national championship game were in their first year as the top man on the depth chart.

Fans from around the country might not be intimately familiar with some of the names taking snaps, but that will change by the time the leaves change color this fall.

Texas A&M sophomore Kyle Allen will lead the potent Aggies offense all year after taking over in November for an ineffective Kenny Hill. On Rocky Top, dual-threat Joshua Dobbs will enter his first full season as a starter after serving as an injury fill-in each of the last two seasons for Tennessee. At Auburn, backup Jeremy Johnson will take over a loaded offense that is designed to put up video game numbers. In Oxford, whoever wins the starting job—likely junior college transfer Chad Kelly—has a wide receiving corps that mirrors some NBA rosters and a scheme that's ready-made for instant success.

If you're thinking that the SEC will suffer specifically because of its signal-callers in 2015, you will be sorely disappointed. While Mississippi State's Dak Prescott is the only real star of the group, that is only temporary. 

When all is said and done, the conference will be known as a quarterback-driven league by the end of the year provided everybody stays healthy. The combination of talent and exotic schemes that dominate the SEC will make this a banner year for quarterback play—despite that not looking like it's the case on paper in August.

As Edward Aschoff of notes, those offenses will help mitigate any issues that arise from inexperience.

Quarterback problems? That'll be strictly an offseason narrative once toe meets leather.


Safety Net

Look around at some of the teams that do have quarterback uncertainty heading into the 2015 season—Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn. What recurring theme do you see?

A traditionally dominant running game and/or an established superstar at running back. 

Whether it's the traditional ground-and-pound approach for Alabama and new starter (and last year's leading rusher) Derrick Henry, the Heisman hype of LSU's Leonard Fournette and Georgia's Nick Chubb or an Auburn system in which head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 12 1,000-yard rushers in nine seasons as a college head or assistant coach; the SEC's heavyweights can pound the rock.

"We'll get into the spread to some degree, but we still want to have a physical running game to complement a play-action passing game and complement our ability to spread and do those kinds of things," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said at SEC media days in July.

As the old cliche goes, what's the best way to win consistently in college football? Run the ball and stop the run.

The teams with quarterback battles will be able to establish the ground game, which will give the new starters plenty of wiggle room to find big passing lanes, work off play action and alleviate some of the pressure that's associated with starting under center in the SEC.

The demise of the SEC is greatly exaggerated. While the aura of invincibility is gone and the future doesn't look as bright as it once did, that's only temporary.

The 2015 season will be the light at the end of the tunnel.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93 XM 208. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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AP College Football Poll 2015: Official Top 25 Rankings, Week 1 Projections

It has been far too long since Ohio State took down Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship, but it is finally time. College football is back.

The Buckeyes are the preseason favorites and unanimous No. 1 team in the AP poll, but TCU, Alabama and many others are waiting in the wings to take over should Ohio State stumble.

With just one Top 25 matchup in Week 1—No. 3 Alabama taking on No. 20 Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas, Saturday at 8 p.m. ET—the slate of games doesn’t look appealing on the outside, but four of the top six teams face stiff tests in their openers.

Let’s take a look at the preseason AP Top 25 and some of the top matchups and storylines heading into the 2015 season.


Top Storylines to Watch in Week 1

Are suspensions and injuries enough to hurt Ohio State against Virginia Tech?

Coming out of spring camp in Columbus, Ohio, the only questions surrounding the Buckeyes were positive ones. Can Ezekiel Elliott break the school record for rushing yards? Who starts at quarterback? Is there any team that can beat the Buckeyes?

But just a few short months later, Urban Meyer’s squad faces a whole new set of questions, ones that could potentially derail Ohio State for a second consecutive season against Virginia Tech.

No Joey Bosa on an already thin defensive line for the opener could be detrimental, especially for a team that struggled to get the Hokies off the field on third down last season, but the real damage comes at the wide receiver position.

Once considered the deepest non-quarterback position for the Buckeyes, the suspension of Corey Smith, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson was tough, but the loss of Noah Brown to a broken leg, as reported by Ari Wasserman of, leaves Ohio State in dire straights.

Virginia Tech sports one of the best secondaries in the country, headlined by superstar cornerback Kendall Fuller, and was going to be tough to break down for the Buckeyes regardless, but now with four of its top five or six receivers out, there is genuine concern for the defending champs:

The position change of Braxton Miller and Curtis Samuel should cover some cracks, and Michael Thomas is still around to burn defenses, but arguably Ohio State’s toughest game of the early season just got that much harder and could be a potential early-season stumbling block in the Buckeyes' quest to repeat.

Prediction: Ohio State 27, Virginia Tech 21


Can Alabama overcome its questions at quarterback?

Almost every year since Nick Saban took over as Alabama’s head coach, quarterback questions were relatively meaningless for the Crimson Tide.

Find a player who is good enough to not turn the ball over regularly, put him behind an NFL-caliber offensive line, allow the defense to hold opponents to fewer than 20 points per game and watch the wins roll in.

An elite running game coupled with some superstar receivers allowed for the Alabama quarterbacks to manage games en route to title after title, even if the numbers occasionally looked great. Just look at last season: No one would argue Blake Sims was an elite signal-caller, but he finished seventh in the country in quarterback rating per largely thanks to the players around him.

This season, things might not be so easy in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The defensive line is still going to be elite—when isn’t it at this point—and Derrick Henry might be the best running back in the country if Lane Kiffin decides to actually use him, but there are more questions than usual:

A surprisingly porous secondary—ranked No. 59 in the country in pass defense, the first time the Crimson Tide finished outside of the top 15 since 2008—has to deal with the loss of Landon Collins and two other starters against a brutal schedule.

The Tide will also be without their top three receivers from last season, which could be tough on whichever of the trio of Jake Coker, Cooper Bateman or Alec Morris eventually wins the starting job. There are cracks showing in Alabama’s once-infallible empire, and Wisconsin could take advantage for a shocking early-season upset.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Wisconsin 21


Is Notre Dame really capable of making a run at the playoff?

Late in the fourth quarter in an Oct. 18 matchup against Florida State, Notre Dame was not only still in the hunt for a spot in the playoff, but arguably one of the favorites to be one of the four teams selected.

Then, Jameis Winston happened and the wheels came off. The Irish lost five of their last six regular-season games only to save some face with a hard-fought win against LSU in the Music City Bowl. So what do we do for a team that ended the year in such poor form and lost their starting quarterback? We rank them No. 11 in the AP poll and put them right back into the playoff hunt.

Perhaps outside of a couple of teams in the SEC and Pac-12, the Irish have the best schedule in terms of making an impression on the national scene. But it won’t be easy:

Matchups against Georgia Tech, Clemson and Stanford could all be big resume boosters for Notre Dame, especially if those three teams live up to the preseason hype while the road contest against rivals USC has the chance to be a playoff-elimination game.

It doesn’t stop there, though, with games against improved ACC squads Virginia and Boston College both having the potential to look like decent wins by season’s end, not to mention the rivalry against a tricky Navy team.

Week 1 provides an incredibly difficult opponent in Texas, who, while down compared to years past, will be looking to launch back into national relevancy against the Irish. The season could hinge on the development of Malik Zaire, who—if things break right—could lead the Irish to 10 or 11 wins and a spot in the playoff.

Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Texas 21

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Michigan vs. Utah: Complete Game Preview

Jim Harbaugh's long-awaited debut is almost here.

The Michigan Wolverines travel west to open the 2015 college football regular season, squaring off with the Utah Utes on Thursday, Sep. 3 in Salt Lake City.

Following a 5-7 campaign, Michigan fired head coach Brady Hoke and nabbed Harbaugh, who brings a power-run scheme back to the program where he played quarterback in the 1980s.

Utah, which finished 9-4 last season, is looking to establish itself as a Pac-12 contender. The Utes knocked off the Wolverines 26-10 at the Big House in 2014.

As of this writing, per, Utah is favored by 5.5 points. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

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Ohio State Football: Top Takeaways from 2015 Fall Camp

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Anytime you're the defending national champion, you can expect an extra amount of attention to be paid to anything you do—especially in today's day and age of 24/7 coverage.

For Ohio State, however, the past three weeks have truly been unlike anything else in college football.

From an unprecedented quarterback competition to the most talked-about position change in college football to unexpected question marks arising throughout, the Buckeyes' fall camp has contained no shortage of storylines in Columbus.

But with only seven days standing between Ohio State and its highly anticipated season opener with Virginia Tech, game week is finally here for the Buckeyes as they set out to defend the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the top takeaways from Ohio State's 2015 fall camp.


Oh Captain, My Captain?

With the Buckeyes entrenched in a rare quarterback competition between two candidates overqualified to be in such a situation, Urban Meyer has insisted that he won't name a starter between J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones in advance of his team's matchup with the Hokies.

But a clue as to who Ohio State's starting signal-caller will be may have come on Friday with the announcement of the Buckeyes' captains, which included Barrett as one of the team's six selections:

Barrett—and not Jones—being named a captain is not necessarily a dead giveaway that the reigning Big Ten Quarterback and National Freshman of the Year will be starting in favor of his national championship-winning counterpart.

It's worth noting that backup quarterback Kenny Guiton served as one of OSU's captains in 2013, although he was a fifth-year senior and not a third-year player like Barrett currently is.

But in such a heated competition, it's hard to imagine Barrett's teammates voting him as a captain not meaning something to Meyer, who ultimately had the final say over the captain selection process.

While the fourth-year Buckeyes head coach has played it coy when it's come to discussing his quarterback competition, he has been quick to praise Barrett's leadership as one of his strongest traits. "Right now, he’s off the charts," Meyer said of Barrett's leadership at Big Ten media days in late July. "I have some leadership meetings throughout the summer and he’s off the charts."

Leadership won't be the only attribute that's evaluated by Meyer when it comes to making his final decision, but if on-field play is equal, it might be the defining one.

Following the team's second major scrimmage of the offseason, Meyer indicated that neither Barrett nor Jones had separated themselves when it came to their on-field performance. "I try to be as honest as I can," Meyer said. "They're neck and neck."

How much that changed—and in whose favor—throughout the final week of camp remains to be seen. We'll know soon enough who will be behind center for the Buckeyes during their defense of the national title.


Cause For Concern?

Entering a season in which it returns so much talent—including a combined 15 starters on both sides of the ball—there haven't been many question marks surrounding Ohio State's lineup for the upcoming campaign.

But even before fall camp started, Meyer knew what his biggest question mark for the coming season would be, as he attempts to find a replacement for the nation's best deep-ball threat in 2014 in wide receiver Devin Smith.

"That’s a problem," Meyer said of Smith's departure (second-round pick of the New York Jets). "If you walk into our offensive staff room, that’s what we have to find out right now."

With a deep corps at a position Meyer has recruited well since arriving in Columbus in 2012, there appeared to be plenty of options early on for the Buckeyes when it came to replacing Smith at the start of fall camp.

However, the unit took a hit when Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson and Corey Smith were each suspended for the Buckeyes' upcoming season opener due to violations of program rules.

A more significant blow, though, would come in the final week of camp when sophomore Noah Brown broke his leg—an injury that will cause him to miss the entirety of the 2015 campaign. The 6'2", 222-pounder isn't quite a speedster like Smith, but he was enjoying a breakout offseason this summer, according to his teammates.

"There was a point early in camp where nobody could cover him for a little bit," cornerback Eli Apple said just a day before Brown suffered his season-ending injury. "He was just so physical and really good with his hands. He just catches everything."

Meyer agreed, calling Brown one of the most improved players on the Ohio State roster.

But while the Buckeyes will now enter their matchup against Virginia Tech without four of their top pass-catchers, the OSU wideouts have enjoyed some unexpected additions this summer as well. One of which comes in the form of true freshman Torrance Gibson, who arrived in Columbus as a quarterback but will now find himself catching balls for the Buckeyes this fall.

"I approached Coach Meyer and I told him I wanted to get on the field," Gibson said of his position switch. "I didn’t want to sit the bench. I didn’t want to be a selfish guy and just sit on the bench for a whole year and just waste a year. I just wanted to come in right away and play."

At 6'4", 205 pounds and with a reported sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash time, per 247Sports' JC Shurburtt, Gibson has the potential to be the answer to Meyer's lingering question of who will replace Smith as the deep threat in the Buckeyes' lineup.

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native says that it's his intention to move back to quarterback once his sophomore season begins, but if he excels at wideout as a freshman, plans could change.

"It's going to be up to him," OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. "I think he could be one of the best quarterbacks in the country. That's a pretty important position. So if that's true, I don't know how you don't [play quarterback].

"But I do know this: From what I've seen, he can be a ridiculous receiver. It's a great problem to have."

It's also not the only position switch currently occurring in Smith's meeting room.


Miller's Move

After originally intending to make the Buckeyes' quarterback competition a three-man battle, Miller opted to make the move to wide receiver this summer after the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder prevented him from fully regaining the arm strength that helped him become a two-time Big Ten MVP as a signal-caller.

And while Miller's potential at his new position is apparent, as evidenced by his career rushing numbers (3,054 yards and 32 touchdowns) and highlight-reel plays, the transition hasn't been as seamless as originally thought.

Hamstring issues have caused him to miss portions of practice and scrimmages throughout fall camp.

"It's going good, other than my legs being so sore," Miller said. "That's the biggest difference from playing quarterback to receiver."

It's not an uncommon issue, one which former Buckeye Terrelle Pryor is also dealing with as he transitions to wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns. When Miller has been able to make it on the field, the versatility he gives the OSU offense has been clear, as he possesses the ability to line up at wide receiver, H-back, running back and, of course, quarterback.

"It's like playing a video game," Miller said. "You can put anybody anywhere."

Despite no longer being snapped the ball on every play, the 6'2", 215-pounder has still managed to put his joystick-like ability on display this summer, burning preseason All-American safety Vonn Bell on a deep ball early in camp.

He was also seen lining up behind Jones in the backfield during one Ohio State practice, creating visions of a seemingly unstoppable speed-option play.

But in order to continue to be a part of the Buckeyes' "video game" offense, Miller will have to continue to ensure that he'll be healthy enough to take the field as a wide receiver on a weekly basis this fall. And with the shortage of depth at the position for the opener against the Hokies, the importance of Miller doing just that has only increased.

According to Meyer, it's his intention to make Miller a starter, despite the Huber Heights, Ohio, native having only spent a few weeks of practice lining up at his new position.

But while he may no longer be a signal-caller, the two-time Buckeyes captain insists he'll remain a part of the Buckeyes' passing attack in one way or another.

"There's always gonna be two quarterbacks on the field at the same time," Miller said with a smile.

What exactly Miller meant by that still remains unclear.

But in just one week, we should have a much better idea—as should Virginia Tech.


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

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 4-Star Suffers Injury, Latest 2016 Commitments

Injuries, unfortunately, are a part of the game of football. Injuries become even more frustrating when they occur early during a player's senior season.

During a kickoff return, Chandler, Arizona, 4-star athlete Chase Lucas suffered a right knee injury and did not play the rest of Saturday's game against Las Vegas power Bishop Gorman. According to USA Today, Chandler coach Sean Aguano told reporters that Lucas was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday.

Lucas, the nation's No. 13 athlete and the No. 4 player from the state of Arizona, has offers from Washington, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Oregon State and in-state schools Arizona and Arizona State. As he awaits the results of his MRI, Lucas delivered a quick message to the recruiting world Saturday evening.

"I want to let everyone know that I will come back better than ever," said Lucas, who also thanked those who sent condolences via phone or social media.

Lucas, who measured 6'0" and 170 pounds at The Opening Los Angeles regional, rushed for more than 1,126 yards and 13 touchdowns, and caught 28 passes for 368 yards and three touchdowns last season for Chandler. He's expecting to make a full return from the knee injury and be ready for college play.


Penn State lands 4-star safety, legacy

Penn State picked up its 20th pledge Saturday when 4-star safety Andrew Pryts gave his verbal pledge to coach James Franklin. The commitment did two things for the Nittany Lions.

First, it gave Penn State its first safety commitment of the 2016 class. Second, it kept the Pryts name home. Pryts is the son of former Penn State linebacker Ed Pryts, who played for the Nittany Lions from 1978-81.

"Being a legacy is pretty cool thing, and I'm excited to embrace that," Pryts told Jeff Rice of 247Sports, "but to be honest it had no impact on my decision. My dad never pushed me in any direction; he encouraged me to find the right fit for me. Both my parents were very supportive through the whole process but it just turned out that it was the case."

Pryts will team up in the secondary with 4-star Lavert Hill and Zechariah McPhearson, two 4-star cornerbacks who committed in January and April, respectively.


Canada school becoming talent hotbed?

Now in its second year of existence, Canada Prep Football Academy, Canada's only high school football program to play a full United States schedule, has become a reliable stop for college coaches to find talent. Players like defensive tackle Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma) and wide receiver Brendan Orange (Nevada) were a part of the 2015 class.

Canada Prep's 2016 class is off to a good start, as safety Tosan Agbeyegbe verbally committed to play for Yale on Saturday. A 6'0", 196-pound defensive back, Agbeyegbe chose Yale over another Ivy League offer, Dartmouth.

Athletically, Agbeyegbe had 40 tackles, five pass breakups and an interception last season. Academically, Agbeyegbe carries a 4.0 grade-point average and has a 28 ACT score.

Agbeyegbe is one of a few players expected to play college ball either at the FBS or FCS level from Canada Prep. Offensive tackle Sage Doxtater and athlete Nick DeLuca are two players to keep an eye on from now until February's signing day.


Texas A&M gets help at key position

Texas A&M had 13 commitments entering the weekend but was still lacking a quarterback and running back pledge for the 2016 class.

The Aggies resolved their running back issues Saturday in picking up 3-star Rakeem Boyd from Houston's Stratford High School. They also landed a back who knows how to get yards on the ground.

Boyd picked up the offer on Aug. 23. He rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on Thursday, hinted toward making the commitment on Friday and made it public on Saturday.

What the Aggies are getting is a back who is near 6'0" and 200 pounds, and someone who rushed for 2,519 and 29 touchdowns last season. He averaged better than 10.2 yards per carry.


Pitt lands in-state pledge, gets win versus rival

Pittsburgh reached double digits with its 2016 class and kept one of its own in the city, as 3-star cornerback Therran Coleman announced his decision Sunday to play for the Panthers on KDKA-TV, CBS' local television affiliate in Pittsburgh.

Coleman, from Pittsburgh's Brashear High School, chose the Panthers over Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Arizona State. He also had Backyard Brawl rival West Virginia high on his list.

An unofficial visit to the campus last week helped Coleman ultimately make his decision, according to Chris Peak of

"At first, my mom wanted me to get out of the city, but now she's all for it," Coleman told Peak. "After she came back from that visit, she didn't have a problem with Pitt."


National sleeper watch: 2017 WR shines

As a sophomore, Gavin Holmes had 25 catches for 266 yards and two touchdowns for the year. At this rate, all of last year's totals will be eclipsed by this time next week.

Holmes, a 6'0," 175-pound receiver for Northwest High School in Justin, Texas, opened his junior year in monster fashion, catching 15 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns.

Holmes said he has early interest from Texas Tech, Colorado State, Kansas, San Diego State, North Texas and Tulsa.


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Michigan QB Commit Brandon Peters Throws for 381 Yards, Totals 5 TDs in Week 2

Michigan Wolverines quarterback commit Brandon Peters continued his hot start to the season Friday night, firing four touchdown tosses in a back-and-forth affair between Avon High School and Ben Davis High School in Indiana.

The high-profile programs exchanged explosive offensive plays throughout the contest, which ended with Peters' Avon squad suffering a 49-42 defeat. He finished the game with 26 pass completions for 381 yards, per Kyle Neddenriep of the Indianapolis Star.

Peters, who committed to Michigan in April, added a short score on the ground to give him five total touchdowns. 

“I think I did pretty good, but what I did wasn’t enough. We should have won," he told Brice Marich of

The 4-star recruit is red-hot so far as a senior.

Peters threw five touchdowns in the team's Aug. 21 season opener, a 41-0 victory over Plainfield. His 65-percent completion rate helped result in 637 passing yards during the first two games, per MaxPreps.

His latest effort occurred in a matchup that included fellow Wolverines commit Chris Evans. The Ben Davis running back was limited to just 36 rushing yards, but he beat Avon defenders for a 50-yard touchdown reception.

Peters, a 6'5", 205-pound prospect, is rated seventh nationally among pro-style quarterbacks. He competed in the national Elite 11 finals this summer at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon.

Aside from Michigan, his list of scholarship offers includes Nebraska, Wisconsin and LSU. First-year Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh ultimately helped lure him to Ann Arbor. 

"It plays a pretty big factor," Peters told Bleacher Report. "You have a head coach who has experienced it all at the position and can help you progress through your career. It was definitely a big emphasis with Michigan."

He is on pace to post career-best statistics this season. Peters threw for 1,876 yards, 21 touchdowns and six interceptions in 11 games as a junior.

His early 2015 results have already sent him soaring in 247Sports' rankings. The site bumped Peters up to No. 46 overall after he entered the fall listed at No. 143.


Tyler Donohue is a national recruiting analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Georgia Football: Top Takeaways from 2015 Fall Camp

Fall camp has come to an end for the Georgia Bulldogs, and now it’s game week as they get ready for the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.

The Bulldogs did a ton of work during the month of August, and now it’s time for the players to stop hitting each other and gear up for what’s going to be a wild 2015 season.

But before we get into the 2015 season, we need to look back at fall camp. What were the things that we learned about the Bulldogs this month, who will be the new faces that make an impact? And can the Bulldogs really make a run at the SEC title and College Football Playoff?


The Quarterback Race Is Not Over

This is really not a surprise, but the quarterback competition is still going strong, and it probably will not end until after the first week of the season.

However, the three-man race is now down to two. Seth Emerson of and the Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreported last week that Faton Bauta has been relegated to the third team.

Brice Ramsey and Greyson Lambert flip-flopped; Ramsey with 1s today, Lambert with 2s. Faton Bauta was with the 3s, as he was yesterday.

— Seth Emerson (@SethEmersonAJC) August 25, 2015

This means the competition is down to Brice Ramsey and Greyson Lambert, and both are getting the same amount of reps with the first-team offense. Emerson noted that both looked good throwing the football, and head coach Mark Richt was watching both of them very closely.

With the first game being against Louisiana-Monroe, this gives both Ramsey and Lambert an opportunity to show what they can do. And no matter who wins the spot, he will have a very experienced cast surrounding him.


Trent Thompson Can Be a Superstar

Trent Thompson has been going through the grind of fall camp, and the 5-star recruit is learning how to become a defensive lineman in the SEC.

The media can only see a little of what Thompson can do, but defensive line coach Tracy Rocker sees Thompson all the time, and he told Jake Rowe of 247Sports that while Thompson has some work to do, he can be a great defensive lineman for the Bulldogs. Rocker said:

Right now I don’t know because we’re out there going against each other and then all of a sudden you see greatness. Then all of a sudden you see high schooler. Then you see greatness. Then you see high schooler. I think the more and more he gets comfortable, the better he understands the speed of the game in the SEC, understands the techniques and the blocks that he’s getting, he’s going to be a decent player in this league.

If You Don't Know, Now You Know #78 Trent Thompson Is The #RealDeal The #StrongWay | #AllDawgAllTheTime#GoDAWGS🔴⚫💯

— HowBoutThemDawgs™ (@HBTD_DawgNation) August 20, 2015

Thompson will likely be a part of the defensive line rotation that features veterans John Atkins, James DeLoach and Chris Mayes. With good coaching and senior leadership, Thompson will have a chance to do some big things this upcoming season.


The Receivers Are Talented but Need to Prove It

Malcolm Mitchell is looking to bounce back after having a 2014 season where he only averaged eight receiving yards per catch. In his defense, he was recovering from an ACL injury he suffered in 2013. Isaiah McKenzie is looking to be the No. 2 receiver, but he only had six catches last season.

Both Mitchell and McKenzie have the speed and hands to be a great tandem. But Mitchell has not been able to be that deep threat since 2012, and McKenzie has only made plays on special teams.

There is also a group of inexperienced receivers that are part of the rotation, according to Emerson.

Shakenneth Williams, Michael Chigbu and Terry Godwin have been working with the first team, and receivers coach Bryan McClendon said those three are ready to play. All five are looking to do big things this season, but with a new quarterback at the helm, it might take some time to get the timing down, and that could mean a slow start for the unit.

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Auburn QB Commit Woody Barrett Totals 306 Yards, 3 TDs in Week 1

As the crown jewel of Auburn's 2016 recruiting class, 4-star quarterback and current Tigers pledge Woody Barrett couldn't have pictured a better start to his senior season at West Orange (Florida) High School. 

The 6'2", 225-pound Barrett amassed 308 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns in the Warriors' 45-0 season-opening win over Foundation, according to Christian Malone of the Orlando Sentinel.

Through the air, Barrett accounted for 178 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes to 3-star wide receiver Eddie McDoom. The nation's No. 6 dual-threat passer also carried the ball eight times for 128 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run.

It was exactly the type of performance that highlights why Barrett projects as a perfect fit in the offense of Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.

It's also a signal that he's getting more comfortable being the triggerman operating a high-octane, no-huddle attack.

As noted by Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, Barrett operates a system similar to what he will see on the Plains, and he has the physical tools to be a star at the next level.

He committed to Auburn in June over programs such as Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas.

Barrett was on the Auburn campus last month for a visit, and he told Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover that he's solid in his commitment. In fact, his arrival could come a little earlier than expected.

"The road I'm going on, I will graduate in December," Barrett told Niebuhr. "It's really important to me. The quicker I can come here, learn the plays, learn the offense, the better chance I have on the field."

Before he heads off to college, he has a little unfinished business at the prep level.

If the first act of his senior season is any indication, Barrett is primed to have a monster year.


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.


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Tennessee Football: Top Takeaways from 2015 Fall Camp

Game week is upon us, and for the Tennessee football team and its fans, it couldn't come soon enough.

Maybe if the Vols get to beat up on another team, they'll quit beating up on each other (more on that in a minute).

Coach Butch Jones will carry his No. 25-ranked team to Nashville for a home game away from home this Saturday against Mid-American Conference upstart Bowling Green. While that may not be one of the marquee showdowns of Week 1, it will provide some challenges.

UT has spent most of preseason camp preparing itself rather than preparing for the Falcons.

From getting a huge class of freshmen prepared to mixing and matching players all over the field to finding the best personnel groupings for every situation, this fall has been about experimentation on Rocky Top.

It's also been about seeing how far this team's limits are—and there were times, as the injuries show, when they may have gone past the brink. As Volquest's John Brice wrote this week:

…[I]t's no secret Butch Jones prides himself in believing he constantly knows the pulse of his team. I give the coach credit, especially if the Vols find the success they believe possible this season, for pushing his team to the brink during a late-camp practice in which he forced a couple of restarts, from stadium to complex, and then got his squad's legs and minds back thereafter.

The Vols have a team full of talented players, but no matter how much the media wants to trumpet an upstart sleeping giant ready to wake up and start devouring opponents, this offseason showed chinks in the armor: particularly depth.

As deeper, more experienced teams pop up on Tennessee's schedule, it'll be interesting to see how the young product Jones has assembled stacks up.

We learned some things about the 2015 version of the Vols during the past month, but what we can't know until the season starts is how much headway they made toward closing the gap between themselves and legit contenders.

Let's take a look at some of the top takeaways from the past few weeks.


Plague of injury bugs swarm on Knoxville

By the end of fall camp, things got ridiculous.

Tennessee fans are at the point now where they're almost afraid to boot up the computer and go to message boards or news sites after practice for fear of hearing about the latest key contributor who was going to be lost for an extended period of time because of injury.

You'd be hard-pressed to name a handful of players on UT's roster who weren't held out at times throughout the past month because of some bump or bruise. 

A lot of those, such as starting guard Jashon Robertson, who missed time with an ankle injury and a digestive issue, are at least back on the field.

Some were much more serious than that.

  • Starting left guard Marcus Jackson was lost for the season with a torn biceps. He had more starts than any lineman on UT's roster and would have almost certainly played a prominent role.
  • Then, in a bizarre case of deja vu, reserve guard Austin Sanders was lost for the year with the same injury.
  • Surging sophomore Rashaan Gaulden—a sophomore nickelback who had impressed in the spring and again this fall and was poised to win the job—broke his foot and is also out for the season.
  • Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Brown that starting safety LaDarrell McNeil will miss an "extended period of time" with a neck injury. If it's a lingering issue, it could end his UT career.
  • Freshman slot receiver Vincent Perry tore the meniscus in his knee, will have surgery and is likely headed for a redshirt season.
  • Finally, redshirt junior Jason Croom, who could be a very valuable receiving target for Dobbs, got his knee scoped this week and is expected to miss at least a month of the season.

When you throw in key cogs such as receiver Marquez North and cornerback Justin Martin, who have been gimpy throughout fall camp and still aren't practicing at full strength, it's been a really difficult month.

The Vols may wind up looking like a M.A.S.H. unit against Bowling Green, and it's essential that they wind up minimizing injuries from now until the season opener. 

Considering injuries always happen throughout the course of a rigorous season, the Vols are a couple of bumps and bruises at vital positions away from being in dire straits. This isn't a great start for a team that may be talented but isn't deep all over the field.

They'll be tested.


Skill-position talent could be spectacular

Recruiting has been very good to Tennessee, and this is the year the Vols should really start seeing the fruits of their labor on the football field.

While the most noticeable areas of the talent upgrade may be on coordinator John Jancek's defense, the offense has its share of potential playmakers.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has made some strides since last season, and him taking the next step toward becoming a dual-threat star is essential to UT's success. The difference is in his accuracy, which offensive coordinator Mike DeBord told GoVols247's Wes Rucker was "really good" recently.

Can Dobbs take his game to another level against Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama? If he doesn't, the Vols will have a hard time having a breakthrough season.

Even so, he won't have to do it alone.

Running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara have been lauded all spring and again during fall camp. They've shown the ability to get tough yards and run away from defenders.

If you can do that against UT's defense, unlike in years before, you should be able to do it against most others as well.

Running backs coach Robert Gillespie is known for his tough-love approach to his players, but even he has been gushing over what he has in positional meetings.

The third player to which Gillespie was referring is a mystery, but after Hurd and Kamara, UT has senior transfer Ralph David Abernathy IV and the freshman tandem of John Kelly and Joe Young. All have shown flashes of brilliance this fall, so it's anybody's guess who the third is.

When you throw those guys in with a receiving corps that can still go eight or nine deep even with the injuries and add sophomore Ethan Wolf, who appears poised for a breakout season, and you see why there are so many weapons on that side of the ball.

It's not out of the realm of possibility that UT could score a lot of points this year, but in order for that to happen, one major area needs answers:


Offensive line is still a question mark

DeBord and offensive line coach Don Mahoney spent much of the past month trying linemen virtually everywhere across the front to find their best five, six and seven players.

They likely didn't do that because they're comfortable, either.

On one hand, UT doesn't know exactly what it has. On the other, at least all this mixing and matching will help UT be versatile.

"We try not to have any guys that are one-trick ponies," sophomore guard Jashon Robertson told Brown. "We try to have a group of versatile guys that can play in various positions. It don't matter who plays beside me, or who plays beside the next guy. We all know that we've all got each other's back."

Only redshirt senior left tackle Kyler Kerbyson stayed in his allotted position during the majority of camp. The Vols have switched out guards, replaced the right tackle and tried a veritable revolving door at center to see who is ready to play.

In the process, freshmen Jack Jones and Chance Hall have proven they belong in the mix of playing time. In Jones' case, that may be as a starter at guard.

Sophomore Coleman Thomas has played right tackle, guard and center at various times throughout camp as the coaching staff decides where his skills best match.

Coming off a forgettable season and with a mix of less talented upperclassmen and less experienced freshmen, this is simply the position in which the Vols find themselves.


Mid-state recruiting was strong again

Jones has made the corridor from Murfreesboro to Nashville a priority since coming on as Tennessee's head coach, and this spring is further evidence why.

A year after stalwarts such as Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone, Jashon Robertson and Gaulden proved why that area is a region the Vols need to make a pipeline to Knoxville, this year's haul may even wind up stronger and deeper.

It all starts this season with Jauan Jennings, a converted quarterback-turned-receiver who is the story of the entire fall camp. Not only is he pushing to play a ton of football, he may just wind up starting.

Weeks before the preseason started, the former Blackman High School signal-caller sat down with coaches and discussed a position move. With Dobbs entrenched at quarterback and the way the Vols are recruiting at the position, it just seemed like the right thing to do to move to another spot.

It definitely has worked out for everyone. Jennings told GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

I thought I could play this year. Josh Dobbs, he's earned the position, so I didn't want to sit down on the sideline. I wanted to explore my talents and see what I could do. Playing receiver, I mean, I didn't really play it 'til I got here. I never played received before. But it's just something, with my talent and skill set, it kind of is natural. 

He has elevated everybody's level of play at the position and may just become UT's next great pass-catcher.

Jennings isn't the only player from the area thriving. The talk of camp on the defensive side of the ball is former Hillsboro High standout defensive end Kyle Phillips. 

He was an elite high school talent that was rated a 5-star by 247Sports. Though his path to start is supposedly blocked by UT's duo of talented pass-rushers Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, Phillips could find himself in line to start when Maggitt takes a step back to play linebacker.

Phillips is big and strong and can chase down ball-carriers with receiver-like speed. A kid that big shouldn't be able to run like that. He has star written all over him.

Offensive guard Jack Jones made the move inside from tackle where he was playing this spring, and he's right there in the mix to start right away for the Vols a week before the season starts.

The lifelong Vols fan had offers from many of the SEC's top teams but chose to come to Knoxville, and he may wind up being a four-year starter. He's a technician and very strong, and he's benefited from being in a college weight program since January. It looks like he's found a home at guard.

Throw in Martin (who is originally from Overton High School in Nashville) and Perry, who was impressing before he got injured, and that area is going to wind up producing the core to UT's recruiting class.

All those kids who are healthy will play a lot this year. Some of them will star.


Defensive line will be nasty

Last but not least, the offensive line may wind up having some deep-rooted issues, but one thing's for certain: They won't go against many defensive lines as deep and talented as their teammates this year.

Maybe Alabama and Georgia are going to be the only comparable units.

Everybody knows about Barnett and Maggitt, and they could be special when it comes to getting after the quarterback. The duo combined for more sacks than any returning tandem in the nation, and once Maggitt got fully healthy toward the end of the '14 season, he was unblockable.

Phillips has earned significant snaps with his freakish abilities, and he'll produce right away. That's not even mentioning players such as Corey Vereen and LaTroy Lewis, who've been valuable contributors and even starters in the past for UT. They're providing quality depth off the bench along with Dimarya Mixon.

Senior Chris Weatherd will do a nice job in "rabbit" packages designed to get after the quarterback, and he'll back up Maggitt, pin his ears back and speed rush.

When highly rated prospects Andrew Butcher and Darrell Taylor probably will redshirt after strong high school careers, you know you're loaded.

On the interior, UT isn't quite as deep, but there is plenty of talent. The trio of returning starter Danny O'Brien along with Kendal Vickers and Owen Williams enjoyed strong camps and will see plenty of action.

Vaunted freshmen Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle are living up to the hype, and while neither will likely start the season as starters, they'll be entrenched in the rotation and play a lot, especially against run-heavy teams. If UT needs another body in there, true freshman Quay Picou can help.

Defensive line depth is a luxury position coach Steve Stripling didn't have a season ago. It's one that UT has built through quality recruiting.

The unit has a chance to be a major strength along with the secondary and offensive skill players. If the Vols can find a stellar group of offensive lineman and a viable middle linebacker, and they can stay healthy from now on, 2015 may wind up being the year where the Vols make it all the way back.


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

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

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NCAA Football Rankings 2015: Analysis for Latest Polls Before Week 1

Are the Ohio State Buckeyes truly worthy of coronation as the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation at the start of the season?

That's where Urban Meyer's team finished in the preseason AP poll, something that none of the other legendary teams in college football history have ever achieved.

Miami (Florida), Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame and even previous Ohio State teams fell short of a unanimous vote at the top. Talk about high expectations.

The Buckeyes earned last year's national title in impressive fashion, beating Alabama and Oregon in college football's first postseason playoff. They are being glorified with an HBO-style inside look at the program as the team gets ready for its season on BTN, the Big Ten's own television network.

They have all the trappings of greatness, and they also have a favorable schedule. However, they are not infallible, and they just may struggle when they have to meet fifth-ranked Michigan State in November.

Ohio State football: Why it's OK that the Big Ten still isn't the SEC - Buck Dynasty, Part 2

— Ari Wasserman (@AriWasserman) August 25, 2015

The Buckeyes have a potential Heisman candidate in running back Ezekiel Elliott and a dominating defensive lineman in Joey Bosa, who had 13.5 sacks during last year's 14-0 season.

While Meyer still has to figure out what he is going to do at quarterback with Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, an argument can be made that the Buckeyes have the strongest position groupings at every spot among their competition in the Big Ten.

Since the nonconference competition includes Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan after an opening test at Virginia Tech, that ranking is significant. 

They deserve the No. 1 ranking, and it would be a surprise if any opponent other than the Spartans can challenge them.

The second-ranked TCU Horned Frogs have the kind of explosive offense that should give head coach Gary Patterson many enjoyable Saturdays. Quarterback Trevone Boykin is the key to an offense that averaged 46.5 points per game a year ago and may be even more explosive this season.

The problem TCU could face is its end-of-season schedule. There's no reason it shouldn't run off and stay undefeated through October, but November will see the Horned Frogs confront Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and fourth-ranked Baylor.

#Big12FB: Atop the #Big12 preseason poll, @TCUFootball looks to 'Prove Them Right' -

— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) August 29, 2015

Patterson's teams have regularly been dominant on defense, but the Horned Frogs have just five starters back on that side of the ball. If there is any problem in the secondary, it could result in some very high point totals allowed and real vulnerability.

The third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide are not used to taking a back seat behind two teams at the start of the season. Head coach Nick Saban only wants the top spot, and he is not the least bit satisfied.

The Tide won't have running back T.J. Yeldon or wideout Amari Cooper, and they lack experience at the starting quarterback position. Saban has won the national championship twice with first-year starters at quarterback, and he has a pounding running back in Derrick Henry, who can impose his will on opposing defenses.

Who will start for @AlabamaFTBL a week from today? The QB race is 'What to Watch For For'

— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) August 29, 2015

The Tide have an overpowering front seven on defense, and while they could get challenged by Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Georgia and Auburn, they have an excellent chance to end up in their second College Football Playoff.

The fifth-rated Michigan State Spartans control their own destiny this season. If they can get by Oregon at home in the second game of the season, head coach Mark Dantonio's team won't get tested again until they travel to Columbus November 21.

The Spartans have won 11 games or more in four of the last five seasons, and four straight bowl games. Despite that success, all the Spartans seem to hear is talk about the great Ohio State Buckeyes and the impact of Jim Harbaugh on Michigan.

Big Ten Football Preview: Michigan State Spartans Swing Game, Trap Game & Game of the Yea...

— BucksInsider (@bucksinsider) August 22, 2015

That has left them with a king-sized chip on their shoulders, and they have the right triggerman in Connor Cook to take them a long way again this season. He is coming off a season in which he threw 24 TD passes with just eight interceptions, and he should be ready to improve on those numbers this year.

Mark Richt could have one of the most dangerous teams in the country with his ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. He brought in new defensive coaches in 2014, and this year Brian Schottenheimer joins his coaching staff to upgrade the offensive coordinator position. 

The Bulldogs have a running back in Nick Chubb who should be able to provide the same kind of thrills that Todd Gurley gave them prior to his knee injury last year. The sophomore rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he should be good for even more production this year.

Georgia has a brutal two-game stretch against Alabama and at Tennessee in early October, and a mid-November game at Auburn that could be its undoing.

While most of the attention in the Pac-12 is going to USC, don't sleep on 13th-ranked UCLA. Jim Mora has built a powerful team that returns 18 starters.

The running back position appears to be dominant with Paul Perkins and Jordan Payton, although the quarterback position is not set. The Bruins have a potential midseason pitfall at Stanford, and their end-of-season confrontation with USC comes right after a tough game at Utah. 

If UCLA can win on the road against the Cardinal, the West Coast hype machine will go into overdrive, and the team may just deserve the high-level consideration that will come its way.

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Deshaun Watson Is the Superstar College Football Needs

I have spent the last seven minutes trying to entice Deshaun Watson into saying what the rest of us are thinking: that one year from now—maybe one month from now—Clemson’s blossoming quarterback will be the face of college football, reassembled knee and all.

He won't take the bait. He refuses to celebrate his record-setting, expectation-shaping high school career. He doesn’t puff about scoring four touchdowns against South Carolina on one leg as a true freshman. He doesn't predict the touchdowns still to come. 

The soft-spoken sophomore walks me through his rehab and even breezes by his recently acquired passion for fashion. He doesn’t speak of individual greatness; he talks about his maturing sneaker collection.

Then, suddenly, a breakthrough.

“I am an all-around player,” Watson says, as his voice kicks up to the appropriate gear. “I’m like LeBron James.”

There it is. The most electrifying young quarterback in college football just compared himself to the greatest athlete of our generation. My goodness, the page views. 

As I celebrate my efforts, laughter engulfs the air. And not just any laugh. A kind of deep belly laugh that exudes comfort and confidence, and I realize—he's not even talking about football. 

“I can drive, I can shoot, I can pull up,” he continues, tactically keeping his skill sets in the present. “To be honest, you can't game-plan against me.”

Watson isn’t the least bit concerned with football for the time being; right now he wants to talk about his high school hardwood exploits.  

A three-year starter for the Gainesville High School basketball team, Watson once scored 21 points in a single quarter—doing so on seven three pointers. His high school football coach was in the building that night and couldn’t believe that one of the greatest football players he has ever coached was doing these things in a different sport.

“The kid could have made it as a college basketball player,” Gainesville High School football coach Bruce Miller said. “He could shoot the eyes out of it.”

Talk to anyone who has worked with the young man, and they will tell you a Watson story: basketball, football or life in general. They will all rave about his physical gifts and then slip seamlessly into a deep appreciation for a young man mature beyond his years.  Completely aware of the hype around him, yet unfazed by it. 

As we continue our conversation, I move past the comparisons to LeBron, hoping to steer things closer to his upcoming coronation as the face of college football. Despite his unwillingness to embrace the title, at no time did he tell me I was wrong.

Brasher than Marcus Mariota but calmer than Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, the quietly confident Watson could be just the superstar college football needs. 


Hello World

There are two kinds of superstars in college football.  There are those who develop into stars, and there are those whose talent overwhelms development and thrusts them into the spotlight immediately. Watson has always been the second kind.

After Gainesville senior Blake Sims exhausted his high school eligibility and took his talents to Alabama, Bruce Miller had his next quarterback figured out. It was practically etched in stone.

The spring after Sims left, however, a lanky eighth grader joined the Georgia high school program a few months ahead of schedule, giving Miller another option at quarterback. In his more than 40 years in coaching, only one freshman quarterback had ever started.

Then he watched Deshaun Watson throw. Then he watched the 14-year-old complete 22 of 25 passes in the team’s spring game. 

“When I first saw him, I just couldn’t believe I would coach somebody that good for four years,” Miller said. “We had a quarterback in place, and Deshaun just flat came in here and beat him out. He never played a down for JV. Once he started, he started 48 straight games for us.”

In those 48 games, Watson accounted for 17,134 total yards—nearly 10 miles in football production—155 passing touchdowns and found the end zone 218 times in total. Setting the Georgia state record in all three categories.

He won a state championship his junior season. That same season the self-proclaimed 'LeBron James' came within a few points of a second state championship in basketball.  And just like that, a legend began. 

What happened next was predictable. Coaches flocked to Gainesville en masse hoping they could get Watson to reconsider his verbal commitment to Clemson, a decision he made as a sophomore. Urban Meyer and Jimbo Fisher knew it would be tough to convince him to look elsewhere, but each still came and delivered their finest pitches in person.

Ultimately, Watson stuck by the coach who saw him as the next Vince Young before anyone else—the coach who is no longer at Clemson.


The Coach Who Almost Couldn’t Say Goodbye

Offered an opportunity to go back home and coach a sleeping football giant, Chad Morris’ dream had come true.

When the SMU job opened, the former Clemson offensive coordinator was a natural fit given his Texas high school coaching roots. And as much as he knew he couldn’t possibly say no, he nearly didn’t pull the trigger on his dream position because of his young quarterback.

“It was almost to the point I didn’t take the job,” Morris said. “I was very, very close—even after the South Carolina game when all the stuff was starting to come out—to just saying that I can’t leave this kid. That’s how much he means to me and my family.”

For nearly his entire coaching tenure at Clemson, Morris was focused on landing one player—this player. He watched him play football extensively. He watched him play basketball. He got to know Watson and his family.

He saw flashes of Vince Young, something he reiterated to head coach Dabo Swinney when he saw him early on. Morris knew he had to have him.

“I basically took him over,” Morris said. “Everyone else was recruiting kids year in and year out and I was recruiting one kid for four years. Essentially it felt that way.”

Watson committed to Clemson in February 2012. It was up to Morris to ensure his verbal would be put on paper nearly two years later. Helping him along the way was a natural fit that was impossible to duplicate. When Watson visited Clemson, he didn’t want to leave.

“It was different and very unique,” Watson said. “It was close to home, but the supporting cast was amazing. I just loved everything about it and felt at home here.”

After his successful—albeit injury-plagued freshman season—Morris decided to take the SMU job after some deliberation.

While these situations are often delicate, this particular change in scenery was unique. There were no regrets; no ill will on Watson’s end. The two shared an emotional goodbye before he left. While Watson was sad to see his biggest supporter leave, he was happy for his friend.

“We knew what was best for each other,” Watson said. “I wish he could have stayed, but he had to take the next step to be a head coach. I am going to be his biggest fan out there.”


To Infinity and Beyond

His first collegiate touchdown pass was a masterpiece—a moment of magnificent, unaltered football physics.

Tossed into one of the nation’s most hostile environments, with the masses of his home state hoping to watch the prodigy who left them fall flat on his face, Watson uncorked a throw against Georgia that told a tremendous tale.

“My mindset was to show the world what I was about and what I could do at this level,” Watson said. “Just go out and dominate. And that’s what I did on my first drive. It was easier than I what expected. Just overall, I was ahead of the game.”

The confidence has started to crystallize. The superstar suddenly sounds the part—not arrogant or brash, but supremely at ease with who he is and what he can become. Given the turbulent nature of this past year, his mindset has had to be reworked.

On November 29 last year, having battled back from a broken finger that sidelined him earlier in the season, Watson scored four touchdowns against rival South Carolina with a torn ACL. On one leg, the true freshman completed 14 of 19 passes for 269 yards and those four touchdowns. 

After toying with the idea of playing him in the bowl game, his season ended there. Even with extremely limited reps, Watson accounted for 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions.


Back with a Vengeance 

The days after his surgery, Watson locked himself inside with tight end Stanton Seckinger, who also had his knee repaired. “We laid around, played games and got fat,” Watson joked. 

Since then, he’s done everything in his power to ensure he is ready for September 5.

His rehab included a solid dosage of film. Mike Vick, Cam Newton, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are all regulars in the Watson film catalog. “They were and are successful at their jobs,” Watson said. “I try not basing my game off of theirs because I’m my own player, but I want to see what they did to be successful.”

His name isn’t parallel to those who he’s trying to emulate to a point—not yet, at least. But expectations for the young man have started to reach a point of no return, even with such a limited sample size.

“I embrace it all. I embrace and really enjoy everything that comes with the business that I am in,” Watson said on living up to such immense expectations. “I have seen guys take bad steps and good steps from it. Going through the recruiting process, I knew what was coming. This is the position I wanted to be in and I knew I was going to be in. I want to take full advantage of it.”

Given the plethora of gifted skill position talent he will have to work with—wideouts Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, for starters—Watson will not go at it alone. Pencil in last year’s production over the course of a full season with so many other pieces and place, and a spectacular opportunity comes into focus.

The momentum has reached a point where we can talk about Clemson as a title contender and actually mean it. We can put to bed all tired talks of "Clemsoning," that this power will never be able to soar beyond this elevated plateau.

“The ceiling is winning the opener, of course. Then it’s about taking that next step,” Watson said. “Not just winning 10 games like the last four years, but winning it all. Winning every game, winning a conference championship and going to the Playoff.”

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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