NCAA Football News

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Leonard Fournette, Alabama's LBs and More

No Pressure, Kid

The hype machine around LSU true freshman running back Leonard Fournette just keeps spinning.

After being compared to NBA legend Michael Jordan by head coach Les Miles and referred to as potentially one of the "best ever" by fellow running back Terrence Magee at media days last month, Miles doubled down while speaking at the Baton Rouge Rotary Club this week.

"Leonard Fournette is either the fastest or the second fastest guy on our team at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds," Miles said, according to Trey Labat of Nola.com. "He's going to get two A's in his summer classes and he's proved to be a quality young man."

Before LSU takes the field against Wisconsin, Fournette better have already run for a mile and a half, otherwise he's going to be viewed as a bust.

Let's be real for a second—Fournette may be "the next Adrian Peterson," but he's not going to be the next AD right away. With Magee and senior Kenny Hilliard in the backfield, a new quarterback, new wide receivers and a veteran offensive line, LSU needs all of its running backs to hit the ground running—especially early in the season.

On top of that, the Tigers have to do all they can to make their quarterback comfortable, whether it's sophomore Anthony Jennings or true freshman Brandon Harris. Blitz pickups are often the last piece of the puzzle for young running backs, so expect Magee and Hilliard to be featured early as Fournette eases his way into superstardom.

 

Not Rebuilding, Reloading

It's not easy replacing a legend, but that's exactly what either Reggie Ragland or Reuben Foster will be doing at Alabama.

With C.J. Mosley gone, Alabama is left looking for a replacement at "Will" linebacker alongside Trey DePriest. Andrew Gribble of AL.com surmised that junior Reggie Ragland will get the nod, while his colleague Michael Casagrande backed sophomore (and former recruiting lightning rod) Reuben Foster as the long-term solution.

What does this mean for head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart?

It means they have a "rich man's problem."

Choosing between Ragland and Foster is like choosing between a filet mignon and a bone-in ribeye at a fine steakhouse. You're not going to go wrong either way.

I'll throw my support toward the Ragland campaign. It's important for Alabama's middle linebackers to get the rest of the defense on the same page, so by coupling a senior DePriest with another veteran in Ragland, Alabama's defense will be in good hands.

 

Frustrating Injuries

Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell has all the potential in the world and is being counted on to be a major contributor to this year's Georgia Bulldogs.

He just has to find his way to the field.

The 2011 SEC All-Freshman Team member tore his ACL celebrating a touchdown in the season opener versus Clemson last year and then missed spring practice with another leg injury. As fall camp starts, Mitchell is looking at more missed time.

According to Seth Emerson of the Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, Mitchell will miss the start of fall camp in Athens due to another knee injury. The extent of that injury isn't known at this time, but the mounting injuries have to be getting frustrating for Mitchell, head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald reported the specifics of the injury.

UGA: WR Malcolm Mitchell underwent an arthroscopic procedure to address cartilage injury on right knee this week. No timetable for return.

— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) August 1, 2014

Georgia has weapons outside to compensate for Mitchell if he has to miss some time. Chris Conley is a bona fide star, Michael Bennett is a veteran who can be either a deep threat or a weapon over the middle and Justin Scott-Wesley—who also is coming back from an ACL injury—is a burner who can put pressure on the back end of a defense.

Add Mitchell and a punishing running game to that mix, and new starting quarterback Hutson Mason will be just fine.

 

Home Isn't Where The Heart Is

Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones might be the most underrated player in the SEC. 

Note the position: Defensive tackle.

Only don't tell Jones that because he sees himself more as a defensive end. 

"I tell them all the time, I'm not a D-tackle. That's just the position I'm playing right now," Jones told Michael Bonner of the The Clarion-Ledger. "I'm a defensive end at heart."

He says it with a smile, which suggests that the 6'5", 308-pound sophomore knows he'll be inside more than outside. As Bob Carskadon of HailState.com notes, he will do both.

@BarrettSallee and no matter what he's listed as, he'll get plenty of snaps at both. (Though yes, much more at DT.)

— Bob Carskadon (@bobcarskadon) July 30, 2014

Jones' heart may be outside, but in a few years, he's going to be a highly paid NFL defensive tackle. In this case, he should follow his mind, not his heart.

 

Aggie Swag

Who could forget this gem from Texas A&M when it entered the SEC?

Texas A&M's new locker room has "Aggie Swag" by the truckloads.

Designated LED screens over every player's locker? Yep. Television screens located within the mirror in front of each sink? Check. In-house barber shop? It's got that too. 

Texas A&M's locker room looks more like a five-star, all-inclusive resort than it does a football locker room.

Well done, Aggies.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.


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Malcolm Mitchell Injury: Updates on Georgia WR's Knee and Return

Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is dealing with another setback in his recovery from an ACL injury. No timetable for his return has been set following arthroscopic surgery.

Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Mitchell was running routes to get prepared for the Bulldogs' preseason camp when he suffered the latest injury. The school provided few details about his outlook after surgery:

UGA on Friday confirmed that Georgia's star wide receiver will miss at least "the first part" of Georgia's preseason practices after suffering the injury while running pass routes with teammates this week. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on Thursday to repair cartilage damage. A full recovery is anticipated, but his availability for the Bulldogs' season opener against Clemson will have to be determined later.

Mitchell was originally hurt in last season's opener against the same Tigers squad Georgia is slated to face to start this season. He missed the rest of the campaign, but was expected back at full strength in time for the Clemson rematch.

It hasn't been a smooth process, however.

In March, Jerry Hinnen of CBS Sports noted Mitchell was forced to miss the latter stages of spring practice after suffering an injury involving his left leg. The report stated he was expected to recover in time for fall practice.

Mitchell seemed on pace to reach that expectation and now he's forced to take another step back. It's an unfortunate string of issues for a wideout that showed so much potential over his first two seasons.

The junior caught 85 passes for over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns over that span. He emerged as a key target on third down and in the red zone for the run-first offense.

Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph provided some insight on how long the injury may keep the talented target sidelined:

Michael Bennett and Chris Conley will once again be expected to step up in his absence. They were the team's two leading receivers last season, but it's hard to expect the offense to reach it's full potential if Mitchell isn't ready to go for the opener.

The Bulldogs will hope he's able to make a quick recovery from his latest surgery. The key will then be getting him through a couple practice sessions without any further setbacks. Based on the last 12 months, it's unfortunately far from a guarantee.

 

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Florida Football: 5 Games That Could Ruin Gators' 2014 Season

It only takes one or two losses for a team’s college football season to be completely destroyed. While the Florida Gators should have a little more leeway than that, they saw last year just how quickly things can spiral out of control.

Whether it’s a trap game or a meeting capable of getting absolutely ugly, there are plenty of matchups on Florida’s schedule that could be the deciding factor between success and failure. It’s a battle each week for every team in the SEC.

Here are some of the key games that could make or break Florida’s season. 

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Amway Top 25 College Football Poll 2014: Season Predictions, Championship Odds

Now it's starting to get real.

Since the streamers and confetti were cleaned off the field at the Rose Bowl after Florida State's BCS championship game victory over Auburn, there's been little to do but look ahead to the 2014 college football season. There were minor attention-grabbers, like NFL draft declarations, signing day and spring football, but nothing as good as the real thing.

There's still just under four weeks until the first games, but like leaves changing color to signify the coming of fall, we're seeing signs that college football is right around the corner. One of those was Thursday's release of the first official preseason Top 25 poll, the Amway coaches poll.

Previously known as the USA Today coaches poll (and still released by that media outlet), the rankings are compiled from the votes cast by 62 FBS head coaches. Though this season's national champion will be determined via the first-ever College Football Playoff, the team that finishes No. 1 in this poll will receive the trophy shown above.

Not surprisingly, defending national champ Florida State starts at No. 1 and earned 56 of 62 first-place votes. Click through the slideshow to see projected records for all of the Amway-ranked teams, as well as their odds of winning the title, and reasons why or why not.

 

NOTE: Predicted records are based on regular-season games only.

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Georgia Football: Will the Bulldogs Feature the Spread Offense in 2014?

Most Bulldog fans know about new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and how the defense will have a slightly different look this season compared to the previous years with Todd Grantham.

But could the same changes come for the offense?

Mike Bobo is still the coordinator and has shown no indication that the Bulldogs are going to change things on offense. In fact, he has said (via Matt Maddux of al.com) that he’s going to focus on running the ball to help Hutson Mason get comfortable with the offense.

Mason is the new starter for Aaron Murray, who is now with the Kansas City Chiefs. But Mason has in-game experience and has the tools to take the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship. However, he comes from a high school program (Lassiter High School in Marietta, Georgia) that ran the spread offense, and he looks more comfortable when the offense is more uptempo and spreading the ball around.

So could the Bulldogs feature a spread offense package this season?

Other than Mason at quarterback, there are some other things to look at when it comes to the Bulldogs and their offense for this season.

The first aspect is the receivers. According to the official depth chart, which can be found in the media guide, the Bulldogs have three receivers starting in the base offense. Michael Bennett is the starting X receiver, Chris Conley is the starting Y receiver and Reggie Davis is the starting Z receiver.

That will all change this year because Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will be back from ACL injuries they suffered last season. And because the receiver position is very deep, there’s a chance the Bulldogs could run a lot of three- and four-receiver sets, so they could not only spread the ball around and score points quickly, their efforts could also take pressure off of running back Todd Gurley, who will be a focus for every opposing defense.

One of those four receivers could also be the H-back, which is something Bobo added to the offense this year. The starting H-back will be Quayvon Hicks, but newcomer tight end Jeb Blazevich has cross-trained to be an H-back as well, according to Gentry Estes of 247Sports (subscription needed).

Quayvon Hicks, Jay Rome, and Jeb Blazevich will all work at H-Back position. Looks like UGA will be in more of spread type offense this yr

— Trent Smallwood (@UgaRecruitingBI) July 30, 2014

The Bulldogs will still have their power sets, which will include the tight end and fullback. But Bobo mentioned that the Bulldogs were in a one-back set 74 percent of the time last season (via dawgsonline.com). So the H-back is not brand new to the Bulldogs, but it will be featured more than it has been in the past.

The last aspect is the defense. As it was mentioned earlier, the defense looks to be improved from last year with the addition of Pruitt and the return of eight starters. But they will still have some growing pains, especially at the start of the season when the Bulldogs face Clemson and South Carolina. So instead of UGA running the pro-style offense where it relies on the run first, it will likely have to sling the ball around more than normal, which does favor Mason because that’s the style he’s used to playing.

The Bulldogs are not going to change their style of offense, especially with Gurley carrying the load. But because of all the other skill players they have on offense and the emphasis on the H-back, there’s a chance that spread offense will be used more in Athens to keep the opposing defenses on their toes.

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2014 College Football Rankings: Most Underrated Teams in Opening Coaches Poll

The college football preseason polls are fun for debate, but they often look foolish by the end of the season.

A year ago at this time, Florida State was not considered a top-10 team and Auburn did not even get a vote in the AP Poll. By January, these two teams were competing for the national championship, which was eventually won by the Seminoles.

While Florida State will not sneak up on anyone this season, there are other teams looking to surprise the nation with great performances in 2014.

Here is a complete look at the preseason Amway Coaches Poll with a breakdown of the squads who are way too low on the list.

 

No. 10 Baylor

Baylor had the No. 1 offense in the nation last season, scoring an incredible 52.4 points per game. While some of the weapons have moved on, quarterback Bryce Petty is back in action and ready to lead the team to an even better season this year.

Petty finished 2013 as the No. 2 quarterback in the nation in efficiency, trailing only Heisman winner Jameis Winston. He totaled 4,200 passing yards and an outstanding 32 touchdowns to just three interceptions. 

If that was not enough, the quarterback also added 14 touchdowns on the ground to prove his versatility.

While some might call Petty a system player, NFL draft analysts like Benjamin Allbright believe the quarterback is a quality prospect:

As long as Petty plays to his potential, the offense should be as good as last season. The question is whether the defense can handle its end of the bargain. 

Linebacker Bryce Hager does not think this will be a problem. The All-Big 12 player is confident he can be a leader for a great unit, explaining to Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated:

My first year, I didn’t know what was going on. I was confused, frustrated and having second thoughts about things. Now, the game itself is so much slower compared to practice. It really helps.

What our offense has is really special. But last year, I think our defense did a very good job of stepping up when needed.

The group has plenty of playmakers who will make a difference for what should be a national title contender in 2014. 

 

No. 15 USC

Although USC went through an up-and-down season in 2013, the squad still won 10 games, including a bowl win over Derek Carr and Fresno State. There is obviously a lot of talent on the roster, but Lane Kiffin struggled to get the most out of his players.

New head coach Steve Sarkisian has done a better job of this in the past and is hoping that he can create a culture change for a once-dominant program.

It all begins with quarterback Cody Kessler. The junior passed for almost 3,000 yards last season with 20 touchdowns, but inconsistency led to doubts over his ability to lead the offense. If he can put the work in, though, he has the potential to be a quality leader for this offense.

He is certainly setting his sights high for the upcoming season:

Both Javorius Allen and Nelson Agholor should take big jumps this year to help Kessler out offensively, finally catching up to a defense that carried the load for most of last season.

Although the Pac-12 should be tough with Oregon, UCLA and other elite squads, the Trojans will be right there in the hunt for a conference title.

 

No. 19 Ole Miss

A year ago, Ole Miss was a young but talented team trying to compete in the challenging SEC West. While the division has not gotten any easier, the Rebels have gotten better.

Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports believes this team could be a top squad if Bo Wallace lives up to his potential:

He will certainly get plenty of help in the form of receiver Laquon Treadwell. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller is excited about the young player's potential:

Meanwhile, the rest of the underclassmen who played a big role last season will all hope to improve, starting with defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche. He will anchor a unit that should be able to compete with Alabama, LSU and the rest of the division.

With Wallace becoming a leader as one of the few veteran quarterbacks in the conference, Ole Miss will surprise a lot of people with its play.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Nebraska: Best Quotes and Key Takeaways from Big Ten Media Days

Nebraska fans got their final look at the team as head coach Bo Pelini and members of the team appeared at Big Ten media days in Chicago this week. While these can be pretty scripted and buttoned-down affairs, there’s always a few interesting morsels of news that come out. Here are a few of the most interesting pieces of information.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the Big Ten’s official transcripts of Bo Pelini’s presentation.

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Miami Football: 5 Games That Could Ruin the Hurricanes' 2014 Season

Five games on the 2014 schedule could derail the Miami Hurricanes' chances at a Coastal Division title, which is the program's most realistic goal for the upcoming campaign.

Due to parity within the division, "The U" should be targeting six conference victories to earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game for the first time in program history.

A loss to rival and preseason No. 1 Florida State in mid-November will not necessarily ruin the 'Canes' season, but that's why the following contests are so important.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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Evolution of Team Recruiting Camps Leads to Commits in Huge Numbers

For 2016 quarterback recruit Jacob Eason, an early commitment was the last thing on his mind.

"I went down there just thinking I was going to check it out, have a good time," Eason told Bleacher Report of his visit to Georgia's "Dawg Night" camp, which concluded a Southeast swing that also featured Alabama and Florida State visits.

"But I just knew it was the place. When I went down there, I felt at home."

On the night following the camp, Eason—the nation's second-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2016 class, according to the 247Sports' composite rankings—verbally pledged to the Bulldogs. So did 5-star 2016 offensive tackle Ben Cleveland and two other camp participants.

Any time a school can get four verbal commitments from an event, it's considered an immense success. But Georgia's huge haul at "Dawg Night" has become par for the camp course this summer.

The practice of morphing camps into specialized, school-branded recruiting events is yielding commitments in huge numbers.

So, what is the formula?

Though nobody wants to give away secrets, a picture of this new breed of camp became clearer in the details offered by the coaches who host the events and the players who attend them.

These intimate environments allow the players and their families to spend time with coaches and players. Many are under the lights in the stadiums with jumbotrons, scoreboards and music blaring. Others thrive on competition; all thrive on peer recruiting.

No one camp has all those elements, but several of these characteristics are shared by all.

This is far from a new concept, but it didn't become must-attend until Urban Meyer's "Friday Night Lights" at Florida in 2005. Georgia's "Dawg Night" followed suit three years later.

These days, it seems everybody has a unique event.

Now at Ohio State, Meyer's "FNL" event last weekend produced two commitments.

At Tennessee, "Orange Carpet Day" resulted in seven commitments over two one-day events. Mississippi State had the most shocking camp commitment haul when eight players pledged to the Bulldogs during the "Big Dawg Camp," and another participant committed shortly after.

The list goes on and on.

"'Friday Night Lights' under Urban Meyer at Florida was the event that first had the biggest impact on the Richter scale, so to speak," said Barton Simmons, 247Sports' national director of scouting. "Meyer was smart enough to transition a college instructional camp into a showcase, an event. Kids started flocking, and back before events like The Opening sprung up, 'Friday Night Lights' was one of the best events in the country from a talent perspective. Now, almost all major programs have some sort of version of that.

"Every program's recruiting culture is different, so I don’t think an elite event is a necessity. Penn State has killed it recruiting under James Franklin this year without an under-the-lights type of event. Alabama is the best recruiting program in the nation and [Nick] Saban doesn't have a single 'Dawg Night'-style event. But when you look at Mississippi State adding seven or eight commits in one day at their 'Big Dawg Camp' or Georgia adding two five-stars in the class of 2016 in one evening, it's hard not to see a serious benefit to a well-run event."

 

The Forefathers of Showcase Recruiting Events

Georgia recruiting coordinator Bryan McClendon remembers when head coach Mark Richt and his staff were in the early stages of discussing a showcase recruiting event.

The rival Gators had changed the recruiting game with "FNL," and the Dawgs had all these resources they wanted to show off, too. Before long, the elements started coming together.

It would be a night camp under the lights at Sanford Stadium. They'd turn on the scoreboard and even open it up to media so the kids who didn't show could get a glimpse of what they missed. It would also be scheduled at a time when they weren't competing with AAU basketball or track for players' attention.

Most importantly, they'd make it cost-efficient.

"To be honest with you, one of the things we always want to do—and it's very, very tough to do now—is try to make it as cheap as possible," McClendon said. "This is a camp where you know you’re not going to get any kind of profit from in that regard. It's very available to them, and you’re able to attract people and say, 'This is too good of a deal to pass up.' It’s the cheapest camp we have.

"We wanted to make sure the bang for your buck was too good to pass up for people out-of-state to pass us to go do something else."

Almost immediately, Georgia had an immense success on its hands. It didn't take long for rivals to know it was time to worry if a target was heading to Athens that weekend.

This year, UGA made two important tweaks, splitting the event into a two-session, all-day camp, according to GoDawgs247's Rusty Mansell (subscription required). The Bulldogs also used utilized modern technology to sell it.

While "Dawg Night" has enjoyed major staying power, the pedigree from Florida's forerunning camp is unprecedented. From the year it started in 2005, "FNL" has become a national showcase.

The camp has featured 13 first-round NFL draft picks and 36 players taken in the draft, according to GatorBait's Thomas Goldkamp (subscription required). Several of those participants became Gators, especially in Meyer's tenure. That's a big reason he won two national championships in Gainesville.

Though Will Muschamp's uncertain future led to less star power than normal this year, according to ESPN.com's Derek Tyson, the Gators still hosted plenty of elite players like Martez Ivey, Jeffrey Holland and Byron Cowart.

These recruiting events aren't just huge recruiting tools for locals, either.

"The competition level down there (the Southeast) is just really not comparable to here," said Eason, a Lake Stevens, Washington, resident.  "You have guys from Florida, Alabama, Georgia at the (Dawg Night) camp—everywhere you go, the competition is pumped up.

"Everybody plays at a higher level down there, and you could really see it."

The best want to play with the best, and Eason said that played a factor in his ultimate decision to head south for his college career. Now, the quarterback becomes part of the camp's pedigree, woven into the fabric of why future prospects will keep thinking "Dawg Night" is special.

"Kids look forward to it every year," McClendon said. "Certain coaches look forward to it every year. As soon as it’s over with, guys are asking about when’s the next one we’re having. It’s one of the premiere camps in the country. It really is.

"It's kind of like that one party nobody likes to miss out on."

 

'Shocking the World'

Mississippi State—a school in the sticks of the state, far from any big-city lights—had its own recruiting party July 18 when the Bulldogs received eight commitments at its annual "Big Dawg Camp."

The historic haul elevated the Bulldogs from the nether regions of the recruiting rankings all the way up to 11th place, according to 247Sports Composite. It was the kind of day that veteran recruiting coordinator Tony Hughes said in more than 20 years of coaching he'd "never seen happen before."

"It was just one night that it all came together," Hughes said. "It was work over a long period of time, not just the one night. It's just like that one game you get in and you've got that great opponent and every play you call works and it's executed, and you say, 'Wow! Look at that!'"

The MSU coaches didn't do anything different this year, Hughes said. Like always, they turned on the lights at Davis Wade Stadium, lit up the scoreboard and the jumbotron and coached the prospects like they would if they were their own players.

The intensity level elevated, the swagger followed and, before long, multiple players began committing to spend the next four years in Starkville.

It was the kind of night reserved for the white-collar world of college football—teams such as Alabama, Ohio State, Southern Cal, Texas and Florida.

Perhaps it wasn't a surprise because of that last example. You see, MSU head coach Dan Mullen was on Meyer's staff when "FNL" originated.

There are elements from that foundation camp nearly a decade ago present in MSU's version.

"We try to be different and out-in-front, and you have to be at Mississippi State," Hughes said. "You have to use your imagination and do things to reach out. We can’t do what Alabama does, or what LSU does or Georgia does because we don’t have the same clientele, the same finances, the same budget, you know? If we can be different and use our imagination, we can shock the world like we did that weekend.

"Ours is the real deal because it comes from the original. Coach Mullen understands how it works and how to make it an event."

Another coach who obviously understands the gauntlet of SEC recruiting is Tennessee coach Butch Jones.

In his first two full recruiting classes at UT, Jones has escalated the talent level on Rocky Top. Already on campus are 32 signees from a class ranked seventh in the 2014 cycle. Joining them in the '15 class are 22 verbal pledges in another seventh-ranked group.

Eleven of UT's commitments have come since June 9, fueled by two "Orange Carpet Day" events that produced seven pledges, including 4-star former Alabama running back Alvin Kamara.

Though some "Orange Carpet Day" details are kept quiet, tight end commit Kyle Oliver said the players didn't even work out for UT's coaches. Instead, the event was set up to impress the prospects and to enable them to spend one-on-one time with Jones and his assistants.

It was also a paparazzi-style atmosphere, Oliver said, treating the players as if they were already stars.

"When I got there, there was an orange carpet waiting for us, and they took a lot of pictures," Oliver said. "It did set them apart. It was a very great experience, and I couldn't see a reason why I wouldn't want to commit.

"It was like a family day type of thing, and that's what I really wanted when I was looking for a college. I feel like it played a big role for me."

Jones reiterated the Vols tried to make both of their summer events a down-home atmosphere. It was such a success the first time, UT held another one in July.

These types of intimate settings have been staples at all three of Jones' head coaching stops, he said. Each year, they'll switch things up a bit, but the ultimate goal never changes.

"The big thing for the 'Orange Carpet Day' was geared toward a lot of these individuals have been here a number of times, so how can we make it different?" Jones said. "But really, it’s just an opportunity to spend quality time, get to know one another, and have fun; kind of like a family reunion, so to speak.

"That's what it's all about—them getting to know us as people and coaches."

That family feel is something many coaches try to recreate. Few succeed.

Auburn, for instance, does it well at its "Big Cat Weekend," which has been a cornerstone of its recruiting success. AL.com's John Talty said the weekend is "essential" to the Tigers' recruiting philosophy.

Pick [a] Southeastern Conference school and they inevitably have their own catchy recruiting night. The difference is that Auburn's Big Cat Weekend doesn't focus much on football; it's all about bonding. During past Big Cat Weekends, top recruits participated in scavenger hunts and water balloon fights.

When the atmosphere strikes a chord with the players present, they take to Twitter, go to national camps and tell everybody about what is happening at School X. Before long, an event makes a name for itself.

With the world of recruiting shrinking, everybody talks to everybody else. That word-of-mouth buzz is the best advertisement colleges can get. If your camp is something kids are talking about, it spreads like wildfire.

Then, coaches know they've got a keeper.

"It's less of a cattle call and more of a true interaction with the coaching staff and a showcase of the best versus the best," Simmons said. "These events are the camp version of a VIP section. It's a velvet rope event for the camp season."

 

Imitation Is the Truest Form of Flattery

As long as these on-campus event camps are producing commitments, the concepts are going to be copied.

While recruiting is mostly about relationships, there's also a major element of not falling behind.

"A program's 'cool factor' has never been a bigger deal in the recruiting process than it is today," B/R recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue said. "Social media changed the game, and every team is trying new things to keep the attention of prospects."

With recruiting, it's difficult to find exclusive territory.

If one school sends 100 handwritten letters to a recruit, 10 more do the same. Georgia had a fresh idea with the hand-drawn portraits of players, and soon, others were doing the same thing with a different spin.

Camps are no different.

"Like anything and everything in our program, you're always looking to grow it, always looking to elevate it," Tennessee's Jones said. "We quality-control everything and ask, 'How do we make it better?' And we take input from our players as well, so there’s a lot that goes into the overall structure.

"It's pretty much standard at every school now. At the end of the day, it's just being who you are but spending that quality time just talking and maybe not just talking football but talking about life; getting to know aunts and uncles and grandparents."

McClendon is a guru at utilizing cutting-edge recruiting tactics and coming up with new ideas, and he was named 247Sports' recruiter of the year in 2014 for his success. It doesn't bother him that other schools out there have taken the "Dawg Night" concept and morphed it into their own.

Recruiting is a dog-eat-dog world, and one of the Dawgs who goes to war on the battlegrounds every day knows it as well as anybody.

"Once people see it, other people are going to copy it; it doesn’t surprise me at all," McClendon said. "But you're always trying to find a new way to kind of stand out to people, to grab people's attention and to keep Georgia on their mind."

These specialized camps may work for others, but it's still doing just fine for Georgia, too.

After all, Eason visited the past two national champions, Alabama and Florida State, prior to setting foot between the hedges. At "Dawg Night," he saw what he needed to see to ensure it was where he wanted to play his college football.

After all these years, that original concept is still producing Bulldogs.

"Part of me wanted to wait [the recruiting process] out, and another part of me wanted to get it over with," Eason said. "But Georgia came, and I thought, 'Why wait?' I wanted to commit to them before anybody else got that spot.

"A lot of the actual players were out there and down on the field. You look around and see all this competition, and there's music playing and a D.J., and it's just a fun environment to be around. I just knew."

 

All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports composite. All statistics gathered from CFBStats.com.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

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Winners and Losers from the Recruiting Trail for the Month of July

July is over, which also signals another month of college football recruiting has concluded. Although July Fourth is a great day of celebration, several schools had fireworks go off at other various times of the month.

Other programs are happy to see August has arrived, as they took some lumps on the recruiting trail in July. Clemson and USC scored a few key commitments, while Northwestern and Notre Dame saw key prospects opt against joining them.

Plus, July was a big month of recruiting news for Ohio State.

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Ohio State LB Joshua Perry Has Added a Lot of Muscle to His Body in 2 Years

If you saw a picture of Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry from 2012 and one from this summer, you probably wouldn't know that you were looking at the same person.

The Buckeyes linebacker has done a lot more in the past two years than just get a haircut. He is now 31 pounds heavier than he was at the beginning of 2012, and judging by the picture, he's put on a lot of muscle.

This is just another chapter added to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Last week, Michigan's Jabrill Peppers showed off how much muscle he has added in just four weeks. Some believed that Peppers' lack of flexing at the beginning may have made the final result look much better.

There's no denying that Perry's hard work has paid off. 

[Joshua Perry, h/t College Spun]

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Texas A&M Unveils Incredible New Locker Room for Football Team

Texas A&M is giving Kyle Field a $450 million makeover, so that means the Aggies football team is going to see a lot of cool new perks.

The team's locker room and football headquarters received a nice upgrade as well. From 100 flat-screen televisions to waterfalls to luxurious meeting rooms to a barbershop, there was a lot of money put into the football facility.

Judging by the pictures, the school got its money's worth: 

The players were big fans of the upgraded football facility:

It looks like Johnny Manziel picked a bad time to leave College Station.

[The Dallas Morning NewsAggieFBLifeCollege Spun]

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What 4-Star Rico McGraw's Flip from Georgia to Alabama Means for Dawgs, Tide

Alabama added its second 4-star defensive back commitment this week Thursday, while swiping a key prospect away from an SEC rival. Cornerback Rico McGraw decided to flip his pledge from Georgia to the Crimson Tide, he confirmed to Barton Simmons of 247Sports.

The 6'0", 190-pound Tennessee prospect initially committed to the Bulldogs in January. However, recent visits to Tuscaloosa and Knoxville suggested he may be open to joining another program within the conference.

His declaration Thursday ended speculation and provides Nick Saban with yet another blue-chip defender. Alabama landed former North Carolina commit Ronnie Harrison, a 4-star safety, on Tuesday.

McGraw made up his mind after substantial internal deliberations with family members.

"My mom and my parents have always thought Alabama was the best decision for me," he told 247Sports. "I finally decided to hear them out."

McGraw, a rising senior who intercepted three passes for state powerhouse Ensworth last season, adds to a 2015 class that continues to strengthen its stronghold atop 247Sports' composite class rankings. Alabama is well on its way to a fifth consecutive No. 1 recruiting class, stockpiling abundant talent in the secondary.

Harrison and McGraw join a group of defensive backs that already featured 5-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick and No. 2 overall safety prospect Deionte Thompson. Alabama signed a pair of 5-star cornerbacks during the 2014 recruiting cycle (Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown).

McGraw isn't the first cornerback to switch allegiances to Alabama from another SEC competitor. Montrell Custis flipped from Kentucky to the Tide in April.

Alabama's latest gain is Georgia's loss.

The Bulldogs netted a commitment from McGraw shortly after first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt arrived from Florida State. Now the former Saban assistant must search elsewhere for a solution in the secondary.

Throw in the fact that 5-star athlete Terry Godwin could also jump ship and there's a definite need for defensive secondary talent.

Godwin, who could excel at wide receiver or cornerback in college, could also end up in Tuscaloosa.

"There's been a lot of guys talking to me about my commitment and my recruitment," Godwin said at The Opening. "They're saying 'Come to Auburn', or 'Come down to Alabama' or 'We need you at Tennessee.' A lot of stuff like that. It'll come down to Feb. 2 (signing day)."

Georgia holds just two 2015 commitments from prospects definitively destined to compete in the defensive backfield. Florida products Deontai Williams and Deandre Baker—both 3-star recruits—pledged earlier this summer.

Pruitt and head coach Mark Rich must attempt to make inroads with other secondary targets in the class. In-state prospects Rashad Roundtree and Micah Abernathy present 4-star options on home turf.

Florida cornerback Tarvarus McFadden remains a prized uncommitted player but Georgia appears to be chasing at least LSU and Florida State in that pursuit. Don't be surprised if the Bulldogs adopt Alabama's approach and attempt to reel in a player currently committed elsewhere.

Georgia's 2015 class now rates 14th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings. The Bulldogs are listed eighth among SEC squads.

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting writer Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

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Previewing 2014 Fall Camp QB Battles to Watch

Not every quarterback battle was decided by the end of spring practice. Then again, what fun would that be? What would fans and media alike have to talk about?

Preseason quarterback battles are still going on all over the country as fall camp gets underway. Ideally, coaches would like to have those battles figured out sooner rather than later. The quicker one player emerges from the pack, the quicker the offense will know who to look to and the quicker it can come together. 

To be sure, some quarterback battles will bleed over into the regular season. That's unavoidable. 

Which quarterback battles will gain the most attention this August, and why? The answers are in the following slides. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

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Biggest Storylines Heading into Nebraska's Fall Camp

Nebraska begins fall camp this weekend. That means all of the questions that remained after spring practice will have a chance to be answered.

Bo Pelini will also be able to show off the changes he boasted about at Big Ten Media Days. With practice now open to the media, it will be easier than ever to see just how key storylines evolve before the first game of the season.

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on during the Huskers' fall camp.

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NCAA Football Preseason Rankings 2014: College Teams with Title or Bust Outlook

The Amway preseason college football rankings have been released and there are no real surprises at the top of the polls. 

The defending champion Florida State Seminoles are No. 1 and perennial national championship contenders, the Alabama Crimson Tide are No. 2. The Noles and Tide are just two of the teams that must have their seasons end with a title to call the campaign a success.

More than ever, these early rankings are to be seen, but not relied upon with too much confidence as it relates to college football's bottom line. 

Ultimately, the College Football Playoff Committee will decide which four teams vie for the national championship in January. Nevertheless, here's a look at the preseason Top 25:

 

Opening Amway Preseason Coaches' PollRankTeam 1 Florida State 2 Alabama 3 Oklahoma 4 Oregon 5 Auburn 6 Ohio State 7 UCLA 8 Michigan State 9 South Carolina 10 Baylor 11 Stanford 12 Georgia 13 LSU 14 Wisconsin 15 USC 16 Clemson 17 Notre Dame 18 Arizona State 19 Ole Miss 20 Texas A&M 21 Kansas State 22 Nebraska 23 North Carolina 24 Texas 25 Washington

USA Today

 

Run it Back

When a team has gone undefeated the previous season and returns the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, as well as several other offensive weapons and disruptive forces on the defensive side of the ball, anything short of a repeat national championship would be an epic failure.

That is, of course, the situation the Seminoles find themselves in heading into the 2014 season.

Jameis Winston is headed for his sophomore campaign and is expected to be even better than he was when he earned college football's top prize. 

Winston was already a leader for his team last season, but judging by this tweet from teammate Tyler Hunter, Winston is taking the next step in the leadership department:

The Noles' schedule features just two teams that are ranked in the top 25 in the preseason poll: Notre Dame and Clemson—and both of those games are at home. As Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports states, the Noles are properly set up to repeat:

The Seminoles own arguably the No. 1 roster in college football for 2014, one of the nation’s top coaches in Jimbo Fisher, and the defending Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. With a favorable schedule and a loaded roster, Florida State is positioned to repeat as college football’s national champions.

In some respects, the new playoff format makes it easier for a team like the Noles. If they do experience one week of flounder and drop a game. It's unlikely the committee wouldn't consider them a top-four team in the nation.

Thus the Noles would still get an opportunity to defend their title in the postseason.

 

Same Ol' Bama Expectations

Every year Alabama is expected to vie for a national championship. It's one of the most automatic things in all of sports. Credit head coach Nick Saban for the team's success. 

The Crimson Tide has rarely disappointed. Because of how dominant Alabama has been, last season's berth in the Sugar Bowl was a bittersweet consolation prize..

The 45-31 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in the game made it simply bitter. When a team is as good as Bama, critics expect the wins and overreact to the losses.

The team has won three of the last five national championships and despite losing A.J. McCarron and others to the NFL, Bama will still boast one of the most stacked rosters in the nation.

According to 247 Sports, Alabama has had the No. 1 recruiting class ever since 2010. Even then the program was ranked No. 5. Bama is set up to seriously contend for a national championship for the next four years, and there's no sign of the expectations dropping.

The Tide have already received commitments from three 5-star prospects and are currently ranked No. 1 in the 2015 team recruiting rankings.

What's new?

 

High Pressure in the Northwest

With a legitimate Heisman candidate in Marcus Mariota and returning players like Arik Armstead and star defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon is again expected to do well.

Unfortunately for Duck Nation, the program has fallen short of the lofty expectations that have accompanied a proven offensive philosophy, and a solid stream of talent over the last five years.

The key game on the Ducks' schedule again this year will be against the No. 11 Stanford Cardinal.

The last two seasons Stanford has handed the Ducks their first loss of the season when the team seemed to be sailing toward a potential berth in the national championship game.

This year, Oregon's schedule is brutal. Before the team even faces the Cardinal, it will play two top-10 squads in Michigan State and UCLA, and No. 25 Washington. If the Ducks are still undefeated by the time they play Stanford it seems almost certain that they will be amongst the top-2 teams in every poll.

Getting over the Cardinal red hump in the road may be the last impediment toward reaching the playoff bracket. Stay tuned.

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Does Oklahoma Deserve to Be Ranked No. 3 in Amway Coaches Poll?

The 2014 Preseason Amway Coaches Poll was released Thursday afternoon, and listed at No. 3—directly above the Pac-12 favorite (Oregon) and the reigning national runner-up (Auburn)—sat Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners.

This is not altogether surprising given how OU finished last season. The Sooners snuck into the Sugar Bowl after beating Oklahoma State in Bedlam, and despite entering as heavy underdogs, they took down an Alabama team that some still considered the best in the country.

Did the Crimson Tide bring their A-game to New Orleans? It's debatable. Nick Saban said he had trouble motivating his team to "play in a consolation game," per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, but the energy it played with against Oklahoma suggested otherwise. That was not a team that looked like it was sleepwalking.

Still, there's a reason Oklahoma had to sneak into the Sugar Bowl in the first place. Its full, 13-game sample from 2013 was not that of a team that should debut at No. 3 the following season, and it definitely wasn't that of a team that warrants three first-place votes.

Oklahoma has the defense of a top-three team and national title contender. Outside linebacker Eric Striker made a name for himself with three sacks against Alabama, Charles Tapper is a force along the defensive line, inside linebacker Frank Shannon is the top returning tackler in the Big 12 and Zack Sanchez heads a talented secondary after making last year's FWAA Freshman All-America team.

Oklahoma's offense, however, is a major work in progress. It has the most offensive questions of any team in the top five and arguably even the top 10 (depending on how you feel about Michigan State).

The crux of those questions is quarterback Trevor Knight, a redshirt sophomore who starred in the win over Alabama. Before that, though, he had his ups and downs, oscillating in and out of the lineup with newly converted tight end Blake Bell.

On the whole, Knight threw only 134 passes last season. He had just 1,264 total yards (455 coming on the ground). Compare this with the four quarterbacks whose teams are directly behind Oklahoma:

*Note: Knight did not take enough snaps to qualify for the official Total QBR Rankings at ESPN.com, but this is where his score would have placed.

Football is the consummate team sport.

Quarterback play is not the only thing that matters, but it is, in many cases, the thing that matters most. Knight has only played two good games in his career (the other coming against Kansas State), and this year he loses his two leading rushers, Brennan Clay and Damien Williams, along with his leading receiver, Jalen Saunders. 

Would you really take OU over Marcus Mariota's Ducks, Nick Marshall's Tigers, Braxton Miller's Buckeyes or Brett Hundley's Bruins on a neutral field? Are we sure Knight can be trusted to keep up?

Of course, Knight could easily prove all this skepticism wrong. The physical tools are there for him to do so (remember, he showed well as the scout team's version of Johnny Manziel before the 2013 Cotton Bowl). It just seems like people are chugging his Kool-Aid instead of sipping it…and that's an easy way to end up with a brain freeze.

Even FoxSports.com's David Ubben, who covers the Big 12 primarily, admitted that the Sooners seem over-ranked:

The best thing Oklahoma has going for it this season is its defense, which should give it a chance to win any game, no matter how Knight and the offense fare. But a close second to the defense is the schedule, which sets the team up well to win the conference.

Of the three other Big 12 teams that were ranked in the coaches poll—No. 10 Baylor, No. 21 Kansas State and No. 24 Texas—two come to Norman and one, Texas, will play the Sooners on a neutral field. Texas Tech and…um…TCU, I guess, are the biggest road-game threats.

Because of that schedule, and because they are a legitimate top-10 team, Oklahoma should be considered a favorite to make the College Football Playoff. It has a good chance to finish the season in the top four created by the CFP selection committee.

But this poll is not supposed to be a ranking of teams that are likely to make the playoff; it's supposed to be a ranking of the best teams in order. Placing OU at No. 3 seems like a conflation of the two.

ESPN host Dari Nowkhah helps explain the difference:

The fact of the matter is this: Oklahoma was very good, but not great, during the lion's share of last season. It was very nearly great—but still not quite there—against Oklahoma State, and then it played one truly great game against Alabama.

That it finished the season on an upward trajectory and returns nine defensive starters is important; faring well in December/January and maintaining continuity is a proven recipe for offseason hype. It plays to all of our most overreaction-prone tendencies.

But let's not forget that Oklahoma was lucky in those final games, too. Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall harped on this point in his preview of the Sooners, saying he "can't get past" the fact that OU recovered all nine fumbles during the last three games of its season.

Recovering a fumble is "almost entirely random," as Football Outsiders puts it, so even recovering five or six of nine is considered lucky. Recovering nine of nine is considered very lucky, and Connelly explains why we should be wary of Oklahoma because of it:

If Oklahoma had recovered only six of those nine fumbles, it might have cost the Sooners one of the last three games. Recover only three of those nine, and they probably lose two of three without changing any other aspect of their performance. Yes, they won each of those games by more than one possession. But on a per-play basis, they were outgained in each one -- 7.3 to 6.5 against KSU, 5.7 per play to 4.9 against OSU, and a whopping 7.9 to 5.8 against Alabama.…

If Oklahoma doesn't benefit from epic fumbles luck in the last three games of the season, then heading into the 2014 season, we're looking at them as a solid team. They're definitely ranked in the preseason, perhaps in the No. 15-20 range. We're definitely talking about their strong offensive line, their great sack rates, their potentially excellent secondary, and maybe their potential-heavy sophomore quarterback.

But we would also be talking about their wholly mediocre run defense and the fact that they must replace virtually every skill position weapon. The limitations they showed in blowout losses to Baylor (understandable) and Texas (not so much) would be the focus of our attention. But in part because of nine fumble recoveries, they're supposed to be a national title contender. It's hard for me to buy that.

The coaches poll matters even less in the post-BCS era than it did in the previous almost-decade (when it was used as an element of the BCS formula). No matter where Oklahoma—or any other team from a power-five conference—got ranked Thursday afternoon, how it plays on the field will be the thing that defines its season.

Not where it starts in the polls.

Still, it feels wrong to see the Sooners above Oregon and Auburn when they'd probably be underdogs against them on a neutral field.

Isn't that technically what these rankings should reflect?

Hopefully, all will go according to plan, and OU and Oregon can settle this dispute on the field. Before that, though, the Sooners have to prove they've fixed the problems—inconsistent quarterback play, run defense, etc.—that cost them the Big 12 last season.

The proving process starts against Louisiana Tech on August 30.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Alabama Football: 5 Questions Everybody Wants to Ask Lane Kiffin

This weekend, we’ll see something on par with a sighting of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

It’s the only time of the year that Alabama coach Nick Saban makes assistant coaches available to the media. The only other opportunity comes during the bowl games, when bowls traditionally mandate press conferences with coordinators.

But the start of fall camp marks Alabama’s annual media day, where in addition to a bevy of players and Saban himself, each coordinator takes questions for about 15 minutes or so at the podium at the Naylor Stone Media Suite inside the Mal Moore Athletic Facility.

Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will make his seventh appearance in the pre-fall camp press conference, but there’s no doubt that the attention will be squarely on new offensive coordinator and lightning rod Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin has already had a few months in Tuscaloosa to get acclimated  and put players through spring practice. But outside of a fundraiser in Mobile over the summer, Kiffin hasn’t made any public comments since being hired.

Here are five questions that everybody will want to ask Kiffin.

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Deondre Francois to Florida State: Seminoles Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Following a long recruiting process that was whittled down to just two teams earlier this week, Deondre Francois verbally committed to the Florida State Seminoles Thursday afternoon.

Noles 247 reported the news following the announcement:

Josh Newberg of 247 Sports shared a vine of Francois sporting the FSU hat:

Newberg also revealed how Francois perceived today's commitment of Kai Locksley, another 4-star quarterback:

Francois is a 4-star player who ranks as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. The site also lists him as a pro-style signal-caller, showing his ability to throw from the pocket or create with his legs.

Prior to his decision, Francois spoke about what went into his final announcement, per Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports (subscription required):

Right now, it's between Florida State and Auburn. It's really a no-brainer what my top two schools are. I'm probably going to commit on the 31st [of July]. I'm just going to take this week to soak everything in, call some people, talk to my family and then commit.

After that week of taking it all in, it appears the rich keep getting richer.

With Florida State adding Francois to its already strong 2015 class, it now has a chance to replace a great signal-caller with another potential star.

Leading up to Francois' commitment, one quarterback already planning to play for FSU made it clear that he planned on beating him out. De'Andre Johnson, the No. 14 dual-threat QB, according to 247Sports, told Rivals.com what would happen if Francois came to Florida State:

That triggered a response from Francois later Monday afternoon:

Oh, we should mention that Johnson was left off the Elite 11 list. Let's just say the second was another shot fired at Johnson.

Following all of the buzz, Tyler Donohue of Bleacher Report believed it would end in good news for the Tigers:

Apparently, Francois chose to embrace the drama with his commitment to the Seminoles. While nearly every quarterback battle is interesting, the one that will take place soon for Florida State could get nasty. Francois is the better prospect for now, but rankings don't always translate into great college careers. For Johnson, he will have to live up to those words after missing out on the Elite 11 while Francois made the cut.

Following in the footsteps of Heisman winner Jameis Winston won't be easy, but the Seminoles now have options. Whichever signal-caller rises to the top, many coaches would love to be in Jimbo Fisher's shoes.

Along with Francois and Johnson, the ACC powerhouse has two outstanding defensive prospects in Derwin James and Tyrek Cole in the 2015 class. Whichever quarterback takes over, the future looks bright for the 2013 national champions. 

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Elite QB Deondre Francois Commits to FSU; Meet the Future Jameis Winston

Deondre Francois is a top quarterback in the 2015 class out of the Sunshine State and has officially committed to the Florida State Seminoles.

Jimbo Fisher and his staff should be thrilled about having this stud head to Tallahassee. His athleticism and arm strength will allow for him to compete for the starting spot as soon as Jameis Winston heads to the NFL. 

How well do you think this stud will do at the collegiate level?

Watch Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee break down exactly what Francois' commitment means to FSU.

 

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings

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