NCAA Football News

Amway Preseason College Football Rankings 2015: Top 25 Coaches Poll Released

The reigning national champion Ohio State Buckeyes kept most of their team intact, so it comes as little surprise that coach Urban Meyer's team sits atop the preseason Amway football coaches poll released Thursday.

SEC powerhouse Alabama will be seeking to reassert its superiority after losing to the Buckeyes in last year's inaugural College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide check in at No. 3 in the initial rankings, leading their conference ahead of rival Auburn, which is ranked seventh.

One team that was arguably snubbed out of the playoffs thanks to OSU's sensational finish to the season was TCU. This year, the Horned Frogs are starting high up in the college football hierarchy in second:

Ohio State garnered 62 of 64 first-place votes but still isn't settled at the all-important quarterback position. That's what happens when a team has three Heisman-caliber options.

Braxton Miller has the most experience, yet he is moving to play H-back/wide receiver this year, leaving the QB competition between J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones. Wide receivers coach Zach Smith believes Miller has huge upside as a pass-catcher.

"Braxton Miller can play wide receiver as long as he wants to play it," said Smith, per SI.com's Pete Thamel. "His speed, strength, talent, commitment and, really, lifestyle will allow him to be like Joey Galloway. It's going to be a matter of how quickly he grows into the position, but the sky is the limit for him."

Smart Football's Chris B. Brown believes Miller has the physical tools to make the transition:

Barrett was a Heisman candidate in 2014 before hurting his ankle in the Michigan game. Then the cannon-armed Jones came in to win the Big Ten title game and both postseason contests.

It will be fascinating to see who emerges, and OSU figures to be in good hands regardless. Sophomore back Ezekiel Elliott may be the best at his position in the country, taking pressure off whoever runs the show.

With a defense headlined by dynamic pass-rusher Joey Bosa and versatile linebacker Darron Lee, the Buckeyes are positioned for success on both sides of the ball.

The arrival of Will Muschamp as Auburn's defensive coordinator has the program setting its sights high ahead of the 2015 campaign. New QB Jeremy Johnson has flashed nicely and now has the chance to run the Tigers' run-heavy, uptempo offense.

ESPN Stats & Info showed how Johnson performed in 2014 in limited action:

All that may hold Alabama back is its quarterback play. Jake Coker seems to be the likely starter after losing out on head-to-head battles with Jameis Winston at Florida State and Blake Sims in Tuscaloosa as a transfer.

Speaking of players moving schools, Everett Golson bolted Notre Dame for the Seminoles and will now be the successor to the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in Winston. Those are big shoes for Golson to fill as he transitions to FSU's complex pro-style offense, but if he succeeds and beats out Sean Maguire, his prospects for a future in the pros go through the roof.

No. 4 Baylor and No. 5 Oregon, last year's runner-up, figure to be contenders with their explosive, high-octane offenses, but they have to replace two other NFL draftees in Bryce Petty and Marcus Mariota, respectively, at quarterback.

As can be discerned from this brief breakdown, the 2015 college football season figures to be highly competitive, and with so many uncertain QB situations, a lot of power shifts may occur. One certainty stands out, though: Ohio State is the team to beat.

The Buckeyes' schedule doesn't figure to be too tough until a home clash with Minnesota on November 7. Capping off the year is a showdown with No. 6 Michigan State in Ohio Stadium before a road trip to take on Michigan, now led by coach Jim Harbaugh.

Meyer versus Harbaugh will definitely add a new flavor to rivalry weekend. The game figures to feature immense stakes, and perhaps Harbaugh can upend the seemingly unstoppable Buckeyes in their quest for a national championship repeat.  

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4-Star OT Jean Delance Details How He Chose His Top 5 Schools

It's only fitting that a heavyweight recruit like Mesquite, Texas, offensive tackle Jean Delance have five traditional heavyweights in his final list of schools.

Early Wednesday evening, Delance announced via social media that Alabama, Michigan, reigning national champion Ohio State and in-state stalwarts Texas and Texas A&M comprised his top five. The 4-star offensive tackle chose those schools out of 25 reported offers.

The common denominator of the five schools? Delance said choosing wasn't as tough as some may assume.

"All the schools have showed me much love from day 1," Delance said. "These are some of the best schools, and I know they will fit me personally and my family. All the coaches are very down to earth. You can have real man-to-man talks with all of them."

Delance continued: "Honestly, it wasn't difficult. You know the coaches who have been with you and the coaches who are serious about having you. You break them down and see how they treat you as a man and a recruit. I just broke things down like that and got my five."

At 6'5", Delance has a 7-foot-plus wingspan and good footwork and technique, which makes him a candidate to see early game time in his college career. Add in the fact that he's bulked up to 291 pounds over the summer, and the future is bright for the North Mesquite High School prospect.

Missing from Delance's top five is the school he was once committed to. Delance gave a verbal commitment to Oklahoma on Nov. 25, 2014, but after seeing a video of a racist chant by members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, he decided against going to school at Oklahoma in March.

"I was disgusted. That's not anything I want to be a part of," Delance told Bleacher Report in March. "I know it's just those few select people, and it's not everybody [at Oklahoma]. It's not like cancer where it's going to spread all over."

Since then, school president David Boren removed the fraternity from the campus, and head coach Bob Stoops, his staff and members of the football team held a silent protest the actions. And while Delance kept Oklahoma on his list in May, he has decided to move on.

Whether they're winning national championships or bouncing back from sub-par seasons, each of Delance's top five garners respect in the college football world. He's chosen five schools with polarizing-yet-respected head coaches, all of whom he feels he can learn a lot from on and off the field.

He had a chance to get some personal time in with Michigan's Jim Harbaugh when he and the coaching staff were in the Dallas area for a satellite camp earlier this summer. Delance added that Alabama's Nick Saban and his staff "are recruiting me really hard," and they talk about everything.

Delance said Texas' Charlie Strong has made him a priority, as Strong wants to add quality offensive linemen to the Longhorns' growing 2016 class. Delance said he hasn't had as much contact with Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin as the other coaches, but he likes how Sumlin and the staff have turned things up with their recruiting.

Arguably the wild card of the group is Ohio State's Urban Meyer. While the Buckeyes are showing strong interest, Delance said he wants to get to Columbus, Ohio, and visit with Meyer personally.

"They're all phenomenal head coaches," he said. "I think they can help me for the next three or four years. I know I can be that man they need on campus."

Delance added that while his top five is set, two schools are still on the outside looking in. He said LSU and USC are two schools that intrigue him.

For now, he's primarily focused on is his five schools. He said he will take three out-of-state official visits to Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama. The Michigan visit will take place the weekend of Nov. 27, when the Wolverines play Ohio State. Ohio State and Alabama visits have yet to be determined, but he added he wanted to get to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in November, possibly for the home game against LSU.

As for Texas and Texas A&M, Delance said he's looking into unofficial visits before the start of the season. Both schools are in the running for official visits, as well.

 

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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Why Tennessee vs. Georgia Will Be the SEC East Game of the Year

When Tennessee was cooking at its highest level under former head coach Phillip Fulmer, the matchup versus Georgia used to mean the world. 

From the hobnail boot game in 2001 to Peyton Manning's game-winning drive in 1995 and the stunner in 2007 that helped Tennessee win the SEC East, these two teams have produced some of the SEC's most thrilling and notable games.

Even over the last two years, with the Vols operating with a heavily depleted roster, the game has been incredibly tight. Pig Howard fumbled going into the end zone in the first overtime of the 2013 game, allowing Georgia a chip-shot field goal to win it.

Last year, the Vols and Bulldogs squared off in 38-35 shootout that saw head coach Butch Jones' crew overcome a mid-game injury to quarterback Justin Worley and press Mark Richt and Co. for a full 60 minutes.

When the two meet on Oct. 10 in Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, it will likely serve as the de facto SEC East title game and be the game of the year within the division.

For the first time in a long time, the Vols are on par with the Bulldogs in terms of overall talent on the roster. They return an experienced secondary, veteran linebackers Curt Maggitt and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a deep defensive line that helped them post the SEC's second-best third-down percentage last year, talented wide receivers, including Marquez North, a one-two punch at running back and a veteran playmaker at quarterback in Joshua Dobbs.

What's more, they should get a boost from a depth perspective with the arrival of talented freshmen, including receiver Preston Williams, defensive ends Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie, and tackle Drew Richmond.

This game was a classic when the rosters were incredibly unbalanced, and head coach Butch Jones has changed that by luring top-tier talent to Rocky Top over the last three recruiting cycles.

"This year's a little bit different," Jones said at SEC media days. "Obviously, the expectations have changed a little bit, but as we're all aware, when you're at the University of Tennessee, you always have high expectations. But this year is different for each and every player in our football program. But really that's what you want. You want the expectations to be exceptionally high."

At Georgia, Richt is used to playing big games.

The program has either won the SEC East or been in the discussion in mid-November in each of the last four seasons, has turned into a recruiting machine after Richt's "Dream Team" of 2011 and boasts the nation's top running back in Nick Chubb, maulers up front on the offensive line and the best set of outside linebackers in the country.

Richt knows just how important division games are.

"We're going to play eight games in league play, and most of them within the Eastern Division," he said at SEC media days. "Those head-to-head matchups are crucially important."

The two traditional powers were picked one-two in the SEC East by the media in Hoover in July, which makes their midseason matchup one of the most anticipated games of the season.

What's more, both of these teams are coming off of big-time games vs. SEC West opponents that love to make it hurt the week before.

The Vols will host an Arkansas team that's very similar to the Bulldogs in the sense that they get after teams in the trenches and pound the rock. The Bulldogs will host the always-physical Alabama Crimson Tide the prior week. Over the last four years, SEC teams are 10-13 the week after facing Nick Saban's crew, with only seven of those wins coming over conference teams.

For both schools, it's a chance to make a major statement regardless of where they are in the standings. 

Georgia has SEC games with Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Alabama prior to the matchup, while Tennessee will have already played Florida and Arkansas. Whether it's a game for SEC East front-runner status or a desperation game to stay alive in the division, or both, it's an enormous game on Rocky Top.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247SportsBarrett 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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CFB Recruiting 200: Top 11 Running Backs in Class of 2016

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

Other Positions

Are college football's pass-happy offenses phasing out the art of the running back? Most coaches will answer no, particularly with the caliber of running back talent in the 2016 class.

When it comes to playmakers out of the backfield, a running back's role is still as important as ever. In fact, running backs may have more of a role now that quarterbacks often look for the checkdown in passing situations.

Bleacher Report's CFB Recruiting 200 series breaks down the top running backs (all-purpose backs included) in the 2016 class and grades them on key factors such as ball security, power, vision, hands, speed and agility.

 

All analysis provided by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Damon Sayles. All player rankings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Georgia Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

The Georgia Bulldogs will start fall camp on Tuesday, which means the regular season will be only a month away.

After what some would say was a disappointing season for the Bulldogs last season (10-3, 6-2 in SEC play), they are looking to get back to where there were in 2011 and 2012, which is the SEC title game.

There are some talented players returning from last season, and they will be counted on to take the Bulldogs to the next level. However, there are some questions the Bulldogs need to answer before the season begins. Some of those questions have to do with key positions, and some have to do with the men in charge.

Here are the biggest storylines for the Bulldogs as they head into fall camp.

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2015: Date and Predictions for Amway Poll

Nothing says college football is right around the corner quite like the release of a major top-25 poll. Thursday will provide fans with the necessary excitement when the Amway Coaches Poll is revealed, though there's no mystery at the very top. 

Ohio State is the defending national champion. The Buckeyes return 14 starters from that team, including quarterbacks Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, star running back Ezekiel Elliott, and arguably the nation's best defensive end in Joey Bosa. 

It's a great time for Urban Meyer and everyone associated with the Buckeyes, but the drama opens up starting with the No. 2 spot in the polls. 

 

Amway Coaches Poll Top 25 Information

Release Date: Thursday, July 30

Time: 12 p.m. ET

Find: Various sports websites, USA Today

It's amazing how quickly Meyer has turned Ohio State into the nation's most powerful program. His first season in 2012 was met with cynicism because of the schedule despite the team's 12-0 record.

Two years ago, the Buckeyes lost the last two games of the season, including the Orange Bowl, which left lingering questions about their ability to handle the big stage against top-tier programs. Those doubts were squashed last season with wins over Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff. 

Now, everyone is expecting Ohio State to steamroll its way to another undefeated season. According to Todd Fuhrman of FoxSports.com, oddsmakers project the Buckeyes to be double-digit favorites in each of their 12 regular-season games. 

"The closest game for Ohio State in the eyes of oddsmakers is the November 21 home date against Michigan State, where OSU is currently listed as a 13.5-point favorite," Fuhrman wrote.

Fuhrman does note Ohio State's 2015 schedule, which includes only one game against a team predicted to be in the Top 25 (Michigan State), so it's not like the Buckeyes are facing a murderers' row of talent. 

Michigan State is the one team in the Big Ten that's had any success against Ohio State in the Meyer era. The Spartans handed the Buckeyes their only conference loss since 2012 in the conference title game two years ago.

Last year's matchup seemed like an opportunity for history to repeat itself, but Ohio State racked up 568 yards against Michigan State's defense en route to a 49-37 win. Now, it's on every other team to prove it can compete with the Buckeyes.

Beyond Ohio State, there's a lot of high-quality depth in college football this season. TCU gets a slight edge as the No. 2 team in these predictions because it's returning 10 offensive starters from a team that averaged 46.5 points per game in 2014.

Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com does try to keep some of the Horned Frogs' expectations in perspective, noting a lot of the buzz is likely to come because of a 42-3 win over Mississippi in the Peach Bowl:

Let's define a "surprisingly emphatic" victory as one in which (a) either an underdog won by 14 points or covered the spread by 21, or (b) a favorite of a field goal or less covered the spread by 21.

Over the past five seasons, seven teams have claimed a bowl win matching those criteria and gone on to be ranked in the following season's AP preseason top 25; those teams have gone 0-for-7 in matching or exceeding that preseason ranking in the final AP poll.

While it is often foolish to expect a team will be successful because of the result of a game six months ago, the Horned Frogs have so much talent coming back that it would be a surprise if they weren't in the playoff mix once again. 

The three teams predicted to round out the Top Five—Auburn, Alabama and Baylor—all have the talent to be in the Top Two at some point in 2015, but immediate questions at the quarterback position keep them behind TCU. 

Despite losing Bryce Petty, Baylor seems like it's in the best position to succeed because Art Briles' system is so quarterback-friendly. The Bears averaged 44.5 points per game in 2012, the season after Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy and went to the NFL, for example. 

Auburn and Alabama are facing situations not unlike what LSU seems to go through every year. Jeremy Johnson is a 23-year-old junior playing for Auburn, but he's got 78 career attempts over the past two seasons. 

Nick Saban got a great performance from Blake Sims throughout most of 2014, but whoever the new starting quarterback is won't have the luxury of throwing to Amari Cooper.

Both the Tigers and the Crimson Tide are so good at recruiting talent and depth that they can win 10 games with a mediocre starting quarterback, but there's a difference between winning double-digit games and being a true title contender. 

Preseason polls rarely paint an accurate picture of what's going to happen in college football. South Carolina started 2014 ninth in the rankings, so there will be a lot of turnover. The only thing that seems like a given in 2015 is Ohio State will be fantastic. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Tigers Are Dark Horse Contenders to Make the College Football Playoff

The Clemson Tigers seem to be floating around the national championship race every season but are always left on the outside looking in. Still, Clemson has been one of the most consistent programs in the country over the past few years and should be a team to look out for in the 2015 College Football Playoff race. 

The Tigers have won 10 or more games in each of the last four seasons. Those 10-win seasons have ultimately amounted to an Orange Bowl victory in 2012 and an ACC Championship in 2011. But this season, Clemson should have its sights set on college football's biggest prize. 

Clemson is loaded with talent this season, especially on offense, and any talk of that talent starts with sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson. 

Watson took over for Cole Stoudt as the starter midway through the 2014 season. When he was on the field, Watson was spectacular. In eight games last season, he threw for 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Watson also rushed for another five scores. 

The problem was he had a tough time staying on the field. 

Watson dealt with a couple of nagging injuries last season. Most notably, a torn ACL kept him out of Clemson's win over Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl. But to the delight of Clemson fans, Watson plans to be back and healthy for the season opener against Wofford, per SI.com's Zac Ellis.

Head coach Dabo Swinney is extremely confident in the ability of his young quarterback, per 247 Sports.

"My confidence level comes from the young man’s ability, his aptitude, his work ethic, his commitment to being great. He’s above and beyond in all those areas – if the scale is 1 to 10, he’s a 12 in everything."

If he can stay healthy in 2015, Watson is a potential Heisman candidate, and he'll have plenty of weapons around him. The Tigers return top receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott for the upcoming season. Williams and Scott combined for just under 2,000 receiving yards last season. 

True freshman Deon Cain was the top receiver in the country out of high school and should also have some influence in the passing game for Clemson. Leading rusher Wayne Gallman will also be back for his sophomore season. 

The only real question on offense comes at the line of scrimmage where the Tigers will have to replace three starters from last season. 

The biggest hurdle for Clemson in 2015 will be replacing so many key players from a defensive unit that led the nation in total defense last season. 

Top tacklers Stephone Anthony and Robert Smith are out of eligibility, and premier pass-rusher Vic Beasley is now with the Atlanta Falcons. All-ACC performers Grady Jarrett and Garry Peters are also gone.

Junior linebacker Ben Boulware and defensive lineman Shaq Lawson will be asked to step up to fill some of the voids left on the defensive front. Christian Wilkins, a 5-star recruit, should also contribute right away to make up for some of the lost production. 

However, the secondary has less rebuilding to do as it returns starters at cornerback and safety from last season in Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse. Clemson ranked second in the country in pass defense last season, and that should once again be a strength. 

Swinney recognizes there might be a drop-off on defense from 2014, but he still believes in the potential of the 2015 group.

"I don’t know that we can lead the nation in 11 categories, but I don’t think we have to,” Swinney told Aaron Brenner of the Charleston Post and Courier. “But I do think we can be one of the best defenses in the country.”

Although Clemson has won 32 games in the past three seasons, the ACC Atlantic has been owned by Florida State since Clemson's conference title in 2011. Clemson has the chance to buck that trend this upcoming year. 

Florida State is bringing back 11 starters and lost most of its top playmakers on offense. Jameis Winston and Rashad Greene are both in the NFL, while running back Dalvin Cook is suspended indefinitely, per Yahoo Sports' Sam Cooper

The Seminoles have enough talent on the roster to reload, but for the first time in a while they don't seem to be head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference. That bodes well for Clemson's hopes to take back the ACC crown. 

The 2015 schedule also falls in Clemson's favor. Heading into the season, the biggest matchups for the Tigers appear to be against the Seminoles, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Clemson has the luxury of having all three of those game in Death Valley.

The closest thing that Clemson has to a daunting road test is probably their Week 3 game against the Louisville Cardinals. 

Obviously an undefeated team would be in the playoff, but a one-loss ACC champion would also have an excellent chance of being included. 

The Clemson Tigers have all the right ingredients of a championship-caliber team in 2015. They have a Heisman candidate quarterback surrounded by dynamic playmakers, a talented defense led by coordinator Brent Venables and a more than navigable schedule. 

This could be the season when the Tigers finally put it all together. If they do, you'll see them playing in a semifinal on New Year's Day. 

Recruiting info via 247Sports.com

Stats via cfbstats.com

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Chadarius Townsend to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

According to 247Sports' Hank South, 2017 4-star athlete Chadarius Townsend has committed to the University of Alabama. 

"He had a verbal commitment on June 3, but he wanted to have the opportunity to visit other colleges to see what they had to offer as well," Townsend's father said, according to South.

While Townsend's recruiting classification leaves his position a bit ambiguous, he's functioned as a dual-threat quarterback for Tanner High School throughout the early stages of his career. 

According to AL.com's Daniel Boyette, Townsend piled up 1,571 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore while toting the rock 153 times. He added 857 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air. 

Boyette added that Townsend rang up a 4.3 40-yard dash time to add to his growing resume. 

According to 247Sports, he also had offers from Auburn University and the University of Kentucky, but Alabama always remained the most likely destination for the Tanner, Alabama, native. 

The rising junior is the 20th-ranked athlete in the class of 2017, per 247Sports, and he should provide head coach Nick Saban with plenty of versatility on the offensive side of the ball in a couple years thanks to his elite speed.

With brief experience returning kicks, per Boyette, the nimble 6'0", 180-pound stud should have multiple avenues to acquiring playing time once he suits up for the Crimson Tide. 

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Mike Leach Makes Proposal for 64-Team College Football Playoff, Again

Washington State head coach Mike Leach is known for going against the grain. 

For example, Leach's Air Raid attack with the Cougars averaged a gaudy 64 pass attempts per game last season, which was the first in the College Football Playoff era.

And that's the exact number of teams Leach wants to see in future editions of the playoff—64. 

According to Heather Dinich of ESPN.com, Leach said Wednesday in a playoff-specific interview with the network that he wants to see the four-team field expand exponentially.

"I don’t know why you don’t have 64 teams," Leach said. "The notion of pinpointing and selecting four perfectly, well that’s not going to happen. That can’t happen effectively."

This isn't the first time Leach has proposed the mega-playoff. He first made headlines with his idea back in 2012, when the plus-one system was picking up steam.

Leach's idea for a 64-team playoff, per Dinich, starts with all FBS teams playing a 10-game schedule. By the end of the playoff, the last team standing would have only played 16 games, which is just one more than 2014 champion Ohio State played last season.

The Washington State head coach told ESPN that narrowing the field of teams down to just four by the end of the season creates too much controversy.

"It would be indisputable that it was settled on the field and somebody that wins playoff games accordingly deserves to be champion and there’s no debate," Leach said. "It would be great fun to watch—just like it is at all the other levels."

Unfortunately for Leach, no other level of NCAA football has a playoff quite as large as the one Leach proposes.

FCS and Division II football currently have 24-team playoffs, with the top eight teams earning byes to the second round. Division III football has a standard 32-team playoff.

The 64-team concept has been a fun "what if?" scenario to talk about in the last few offseasons. Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer made the latest of his annual March Madness-style brackets in April.

Don't expect Leach's idea to get much traction, even with all the talk of playoff expansion just one year after the first four-team edition. The CFP is currently contracted to be the four-team format for the next 11 seasons

But like many things Leach has said in his coaching career, it's definitely going to grab attention—again.

 

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

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Offensive Coordinators Every Blue-Chip Recruit Should Want to Play For

Though high school football recruits should be choosing their colleges based on the school itself and what it has to offer them from an academic standpoint, we know this isn't always the case. It's the football program, and specifically the coaches they'll be working with, that often carries the most weight.

And for top offensive prospects, the coach calling the plays should be the most important one in the group.

The offensive coordinator is the one whose scheme and play selection help set the stage for his players' success. Without a good play-caller, even the most talented and athletic blue-chip recruits will have their development stunted. 

There's a group of OCs in the college game today who should be on the short list of every notable prospect, since their systems are such that they put the players in a position to shine on every snap.

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Power 5 College Football Teams Still in Search of 2016 QB Recruit

The recruiting process in general has accelerated, with early offers and commitments becoming the norm in recent years.

Perhaps no position illustrates that fact more so than the quarterback position. As noted by Bleacher Report’s Tyler Donohue, 66 of the nation’s top 80 quarterbacks in the 2016 class have already committed.

After his commitment to Arizona State earlier this week, 4-star Texas standout Dillon Sterling-Cole can be added to that list.

With his pledge and Florida earning a commitment from 2-star passer Kyle Trask, 54 of the nation’s 64 programs that makeup the Power Five conferences have at least one quarterback committed for the 2016 class. 

Which 10 schools are left out, and what reasons explain why their classes are devoid of a quality signal-caller?

Let’s break down the teams in each league still in search of a 2016 quarterback recruit.

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Jordan Smith Commits to South Carolina: Gamecocks Beat Georgia for 4-Star DE

The state of Georgia has an abundance of 5- and 4-star talent in the class of 2015, and the in-state Bulldogs are in the hunt for many of them. But one of the state's top 25 prospects is headed to an SEC East rival—South Carolina.

Jordan Smith, a 4-star defensive end from Lithonia, Georgia, committed to South Carolina on Wednesday afternoon. He is the Gamecocks' 13th commitment for their class of 2016, which is now ranked No. 30 nationally.

Smith had an impressive list of 24 scholarship offers, including ones from Georgia, Tennessee, Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

The 6'6" defensive end told reporters he liked several aspects of South Carolina, and they weren't limited to the football field.

"First, Coach (Jon) Hoke and the new defensive scheme he is putting in," Smith said, according to Tony Morrell of 247Sports. "Also, I just love South Carolina. I love the facilities, the place, Columbia, everything. ... Once I started looking at academics, scheme, everything, then I knew South Carolina was the choice."

South Carolina currently has two other defensive ends from Lithonia High School, where Smith plays, on its roster—senior Cedrick Cooper and sophomore David Johnson.

The Gamecocks made up plenty of ground in a short amount of time to snag a commitment from Smith. The talented defensive end released his list of top 10 schools in June, and South Carolina was fourth behind Clemson, Georgia and Alabama.

Smith made an unofficial visit to South Carolina later in June and named the school his new leader July 20.

"It’s South Carolina, then Georgia, Clemson, Florida and Tennessee in that order," Smith told JC Shurburtt of 247Sports. "(The Gamecocks) have taken the lead because I see that I can make an early impact there and be an early contributor."

Nine days later, he made it official with the Gamecocks.

According to Rusty Mansell of 247Sports, Smith has plenty of potential, but he needs to add some pounds to his tall frame. He currently weighs around 220 pounds—a small number for a future SEC defensive end.

"He has a 1 percent body to me," Mansell wrote in April. "I use that term, because he is a very small percentage of guys that can rush the passer in a 6'6" body. He is long and ridiculous reach in his wingspan. He is however around 215-220 pounds right now, and needs to get a lot stronger."

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Ranking the Top 5 Players in the SEC Heading into 2015 Season

The 2015 college football season is just around the corner. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee sat down with Stephen Nelson to list his top SEC players heading into the season.

Who do you think should be No. 1? Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top Takeaways from 247Sports' First Rankings for Class of 2018

College football's future standouts are currently tearing up the competition at high schools across the country. Attention typically surrounds senior athletes, but plenty of underclassmen warrant a closer look following stellar freshman seasons. 

The 2018 recruiting class, a star-studded assemblage of football's most promising sophomore players, stepped into the spotlight Wednesday when 247Sports unveiled top-100 rankings of the group.

It's an early glimpse at prospects who could someday develop into household names. Upon review of these rankings, here are a few takeaways worth highlighting as we acclimate ourselves with a new crop of coveted talents.

 

QB Trevor Lawrence Claims Top Spot

The 6'5", 191-pound Peach State passer finds himself sitting at No. 1 with a target on his back and three years remaining in high school. No relationship in recruiting commands more investment and trust than the bond between quarterbacks and college coaches, so it's no surprise Lawrence already holds nearly 20 scholarship offers.

His college options include Tennessee, Clemson, Ole Miss and in-state Georgia.

Lawrence led Cartersville High School to the state semifinals last fall, throwing for 3,042 yards and 26 touchdowns as a freshman, according to Barton Simmons of 247Sports. 

"I've had all these college coaches ask me, 'tell me about your quarterback'," Cartersville head coach Joey King told Simmons. "My response is that he's legit in whatever category you want to come up with. We clocked him at a 4.7 40. He's tall, strong. He cleans 230 pounds as a freshman. He's a solid student, he loves the game, he studies it and he's a humble kid."

Lawrence is one of 12 quarterbacks featured in the initial 2018 rankings, joined by Matt Corral (California; No. 16), Joey Gatewood (Florida; No. 23), Allan Walters (New Jersey, No. 44), Chris Scott (Mississippi; No. 47), Casey Thompson (Oklahoma; No. 50), Emory Jones (Georgia; No. 56), Tyler Desue (Virginia; No. 62), Dorian Thompson-Robinson (Nevada; No. 66), Jack West (Alabama; No. 72), Jaelyn Nolan (Texas; No. 74) and Alontae Taylor (Tennessee; No. 89).

 

RB Zamir White Snatches Second 5-Star

Only two 5-star labels were handed out in these rankings. The first went to Lawrence. North Carolina running back Zamir White takes top honors as well, following a freshman campaign that featured 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns. 

"We don't like to make a lot of running backs 5-stars but because White has unique size, he already flashes game burst and he's a physical dude at 15 years old, he's got the kind of rare traits that we don't often see at the position. Todd Gurley is his ceiling," Simmons wrote.

White stands 6'1", 202 pounds and carries offers from Clemson, Georgia, Florida State and Ohio State, among other powerhouse programs.

 

More Dominant Defensive Ends on the Come Up

The 2016 recruiting class includes an expansive collection of elite defensive linemen. It appears this 2018 group could take similar shape.

Among the top seven recruits in these rankings, four players are projected to play defensive end. The list is led by Pennsylvania pass-rusher Micah Parsons.

The 6'3", 225-pound Central Dauphin High School sophomore already holds Big Ten offers from Penn State, Rutgers and Michigan. 

Southeast standouts Xavier Thomas (South Carolina) and Justin Mascoll (Georgia) claim several SEC opportunities, while 6'4", 235-pound Max Wright is the top-rated Lone Star State product.

 

Miami Mighty Strong Early in 2018 Cycle

The Hurricanes hold a nation-best three pledges from players who made this list. Cornerback Al Blades Jr. (No. 39), defensive end Billy Joseph (No. 81) and athlete Jalen Patterson are each 4-star prospects who made early commitments to Miami.

Alabama, LSU and Tennessee are the only other teams to carry top-100 commitments in the 2018 class. Each program landed one member of the list.

The Hurricanes' 2018 recruiting efforts have resulted in an NCAA-high five committed athletes.

 

Sunshine State Features the Most Stars

Florida annually produces an abundance of college football prospects who ultimately reach stardom in college and the NFL. This latest wave of athletes is apparently no different, as it features 15 players in top-100 rankings.

That total easily outpaces other states, as Texas and California follow behind with 10 apiece. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee each produced at least five top-ranked 2018 recruits, providing further evidence of how the SEC stays strong.

 

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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2017 QB Sam Ehlinger Gives Texas Another Dual-Threat Playmaker for the Future

As someone whose popularity is on a steady rise, 2017 quarterback Sam Ehlinger considers Texas his "dream school."

He always has.

On Tuesday, Ehlinger committed to the school he's been a fan of since he was a small child, per EJ Holland of 247Sports. There wasn't a need to take any out-of-state—or out-of-city—visits to help finalize his college plans.

His future college home literally is minutes away from his current Austin, Texas, residence. Ehlinger, a 3-star prospect and the nation's No. 11 dual-threat quarterback, committed to the Longhorns over early offers from Houston, SMU and McNeese State. He joins 4-star wide receiver Damion Miller in Texas' 2017 class.

Ehlinger's pledge says a lot about the Longhorns. They've yet to play a down in the 2015 season, and they already have quarterback plans for the next three seasons.

"I've always loved Texas," Ehlinger told Holland. "It's always been my dream school. My family loves Texas, too. We grew up watching them, so I always knew that I wanted to play at Texas. We're all really excited about it."

Ehlinger's commitment gives Westlake High School another quarterback to be on the lookout for. Westlake has a nice lineage of quarterbacks, including Super Bowl champion Drew Brees and Pro Bowler Nick Foles.

Additionally, Westlake is coached by Todd Dodge, who played quarterback for the Longhorns in the 1980s. Ehlinger's parents also attended Texas.

"I know of a lot of kids wait really long to see how many offers they can pick up," Ehlinger told Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman. "To me, it was about waiting to get the offer from Texas. I didn't see any point in waiting any longer.

"I grew up going to DKR [Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium] and watching football games. It was my childhood school and childhood dream."

Texas is getting an athlete who is riding a streak of confidence. Ehlinger led Westlake to a 7-on-7 state championship earlier this month, and he shined during the Longhorns' Under the Lights Camp. The camp was on July 18, and when he went back to the campus the following day, he received the offer.

At 6'1" and 207 pounds, Ehlinger isn't the biggest quarterback, but he's a game manager who makes minimal turnovers. As a sophomore, Ehlinger threw for 2,300 yards and 24 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He completed 179 of 272 passes (65.8 percent)—and he still has two years of varsity play to improve.

Additionally, Ehlinger rushed for 722 yards and nine scores, which says a lot about his footwork, versatility and overall ability to evade defenders. Having Ehlinger on campus with 2016 commit and Elite 11 quarterback Shane Buechele gives Longhorns fans much to cheer about for the future at the position.

"I think the offense is a perfect fit for me," Ehlinger told Holland. "What they're planning to do this year is really similar to what we're doing at Westlake. I think it really fits what I can do."

Quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson will have his stable of athletic quarterbacks to choose from when Ehlinger is a freshman. Jerrod Heard will be a redshirt junior, Kai Locksley will have been on campus three years and Buechele will have been there two years.

And when his name is called, expect Ehlinger to be a competitor for the school he's rooted for all his life.

 

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

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Auburn Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

This summer on the Plains, the only things hotter than the sky-high temperatures have been the takes on where Auburn's football team will finish in 2015.

Some experts pencil Auburn as a potential national title contender. Others have the Tigers finishing with another middle-of-the-road season.

But the time for talking is about to be over, because fall camp is right around the corner.

Auburn will open fall camp August 4 with eyes on September's season opener against Louisville in the Georgia Dome.

This 2015 Auburn team has plenty of talent and potential, but it will also have its fair share of question marks when it returns to the practice field next week.

Here are three major storylines to watch as Gus Malzahn's Tigers head into fall camp.

 

Wanted: More than one go-to receiver

Auburn's offense might be inexperienced, but Malzahn and his staff have a lot to work with this fall. Jeremy Johnson is getting legitimate Heisman buzz at quarterback. The running back room will be led by two former 5-star recruits, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber, and the offensive line has three players with starting experience.

That leaves the wide receivers—a position where the Tigers have their most established offensive star—and not much else in terms of consistency.

D'haquille "Duke" Williams had 24 more catches last season than the second-best returning receiver, former Georgia game hero Ricardo Louis. The reception counts drop down to 13 with Marcus Davis and then bottom out into single digits.

Auburn has plenty of players behind Williams, and they will need for them to step up this fall.

Sammie Coates was a deep-ball specialist, shaky hands and all, with speed to stretch defenses past their breaking points. Louis has the potential to be his replacement, along with Tony Stevens.

"I've been progressing as a receiver, getting better and learning," Louis said in January, according to Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. "I've been learning from Duke as well. Next year, we're going to be 'them guys.' We're going to be those guys the quarterback looks to."

Davis' steady hands make him a top contender for a starting job, while Melvin Ray and Stanton Truitt have shown flashes of big-play potential in the past. Myron Burton Jr., Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis haven't had much of a chance to prove themselves.

Now that Auburn has a stronger presence in the pocket with Johnson, the team needs to see improvement from its receiving corps outside of Williams.

Fall camp will be a great chance for a receiver or two to step up and earn some major playing time.

 

How will the freshmen fit in?

Auburn had several top recruits from the class of 2015 enroll early, most notably the JUCO trio of Jovon Robinson, Jason Smith and Maurice Swain.

But fall camp will be the first chance for the rest of Auburn's newcomers to hit the practice field.

The 5-star defensive end Byron Cowart headlines this list, and there's a real chance he could carve out a major role in a defense that struggled in the trenches for most of the 2014 season.

"At worst, Cowart will start the season as a situational pass-rusher. At best, he wins a starting job immediately," James Crepea of AL.com wrote. "The only thing slowing Cowart from seeing the field instantly would be a subpar fall camp or if easing him into the action is part of Will Muschamp's grand plan for managing the hype that surrounds the heralded defensive end."

Another top freshman to watch is 4-star running back Kerryon Johnson. The electrifying former Mr. Football winner could break into the backfield like Thomas did last season or find a way to contribute as a return man.

"I really feel like he will factor," Malzahn told Phillip Marshall of AuburnUndercover. "He’s a guy we expect to play. He has a unique skill set and can do a lot of different things. He can do a lot of things with the ball in his hands."

Other names to watch during fall camp will be defensive pickups Jeff Holland, Darrell Williams and Jordan Colbert. The young players will get their first major opportunities to impress Muschamp and the rest of the staff as Auburn rebuilds its defense in 2015.

 

Cornerback depth

A special group of newcomers will have even bigger pressure to perform in 2015—the cornerbacks.

Auburn signed the trio of Carlton Davis, Javarius Davis and Jeremiah Dinson in February. While they lack the name recognition of a Cowart or Holland, these freshmen will play big roles in a thin position group.

"We’re going to depend on some freshmen. We’re going to need a few guys to step up and play the way we need them," senior cornerback Jonathan Jones told Ryan Black of AuburnUndercover. "I think the older guys are going to get them ready and once we get to fall camp and we get the chance to be out there with the coaches, the younger guys who are going to need to help us are going to be ready to work."

The Tigers lost cornerbacks Kamryn Melton, Joe Turner and Kalvaraz Bessent to transfers this offseason. Spring injuries to backups such as T.J. Davis forced the staff to start walk-ons at cornerback for the A-Day Game.

With Josh Holsey transitioning to nickel back in Muschamp's system, Auburn needs bodies at cornerback behind Jones and Michigan transfer Blake Countess.

"That was part of the deal in the recruiting process," defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson told Black. "Right now we just lack numbers. ... We're going to need some guys that can finish down the field."

Auburn's pass defense has ranked 12th or worse in the SEC in four of the last five seasons. Last year, the Tigers ranked 91st nationally in allowing pass plays of 20 yards or more.

As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee has said multiple times this offseason, Auburn doesn't need great defense in order to compete for championships.

Malzahn's offense makes it so that the Tigers need "just enough" defense, and they'll have to rely on some brand-new players in order to cross that threshold this season.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Biggest Obstacles to Ohio State Buckeyes Repeating as National Champions

Ohio State enters the 2015 season as the favorite to win the national championship once more and for good reason. 

The Buckeyes return 15 starters from a team that was dominant down the stretch despite being forced to use its third-string quarterback in the Big Ten championship and the College Football Playoff. 

Head coach Urban Meyer sports a ridiculous 38-3 in three seasons in Columbus, and this year’s team is looking like his best yet. Quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones and Heisman Trophy front-runner Ezekiel Elliott return on offense, while possible future No.1 overall NFL draft pick Joey Bosa is back to lead the defense. 

Ohio State is not perfect, and there will be some challenges to repeat as the team replaces some key players while getting by some tough opponents. 

Here is a look at three concerning hurdles the Buckeyes must overcome to remain atop the college football universe.

 

Defensive Line Depth Issues 

Ohio State’s defense impressed last season, especially in the final three games. 

The unit was strong and disruptive up front while displaying plenty of speed and playmaking ability throughout the linebacker and defensive back groups. 

The defense finished 29th nationally in total yards in 2014, but the strength of the unit was pass defense. Ohio State racked up 45 sacks, seventh in the nation, and 25 interceptions, second most in the country. 

The run defense was a slightly different story. The team ended up 45th nationally, which is decent. However, strong competition was able to gash the Buckeyes on the ground. Navy gained 370 rushing yards, Indiana totaled 281 and Alabama had 170. 

Those numbers could end up even worse this season, as the team had to replace three big contributors on the defensive line in Michael Bennett, Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier. Other than Bosa, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington, there is very little experience up front. 

Players like Tyquan Lewis and Donovan Munger will need to prove themselves as capable rotation pieces, or Ohio State could be in trouble. Michigan State is a strong team in the trenches, and if the Buckeyes make it back to the playoffs, power-running teams like Alabama, Auburn and Georgia could fare well if matched up with Meyer’s squad. 

Ohio State has enough talent on defense to make up for any deficiencies against the run, and the team will still be able to dominate most of its schedule. If the unit can finish around where it did last year, the Buckeyes will be in good shape. If they fail to find any answers to the depth problem up front, it could lead to some close calls and possibly the wearing out of Bosa and Washington.

 

Replacing Devin Smith 

Ohio State possesses a plethora of playmakers on offense this season with Elliott, Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel, yet none can duplicate what receiver Devin Smith brought to the unit. 

With his blazing speed and tremendous leaping ability, Smith was arguably the nation’s best deep threat for much of his career. Last season was his best yet, as he finished with 933 yards, 12 touchdowns and an absurd average of 28 yards per catch. 

Take a look at his highlight reel, which displays the wide array of skills Smith brought to Ohio State that resulted in game-changing plays: 

Not only are plays like these exciting for fans, but they also change the momentum of games and can change the defense’s entire game plan. Smith was able to stretch the field and make defenses play with help over the top nearly every play. This created more space for Elliott in the run game as well as giving his fellow receivers more cushion. According to SB Nation’s analytics, Smith was the second-most explosive receiver in college football last season. 

The Buckeyes still have a lot of talent at receiver. Michael Thomas led the team in receptions in 2014, Corey Smith was effective out of the slot and tight end Nick Vannett is a reliable security blanket. Also, sophomore Noah Brown may be ready for a breakout season after a strong spring, per Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com: 

Smith’s 30 career touchdowns will not be easy to replace. Ohio State does not seem to have a big-play receiver, which could hurt in must-pass situations. However, the depth at the position should provide enough relief for the Buckeyes to still excel through the air.

 

Michigan State 

Looking at Ohio State’s schedule, it is a safe bet to think the team will roll through its opponents. One game does stick out, though. 

Michigan State is responsible for Urban Meyer’s only Big Ten loss, as the two teams have been the class of the conference the past few seasons. This year is no different, and in order to get back to the College Football Playoff, Ohio State will need to knock off Sparty on Nov. 21. 

Head coach Mark Dantonio’s team returns 13 starters from last season, which ended with an 11-2 record. The biggest name is quarterback Connor Cook, who turned down a possible first-round draft destination to return for his senior year. 

The team will also likely have the conference’s best offensive line, which will be anchored by senior Jack Allen, who earned All-American honors in 2014. This could give the Buckeyes trouble, especially if they do not find some depth on the defensive line.

The Spartans do have to replace some big-time contributors from last season, including running back Jeremy Langford, receiver Tony Lippett and defensive backs Kurtis Drummond and Trae Waynes. Also, Pat Narduzzi, who coordinated a defense that finished in the top nationally the past four seasons, has left to lead Pittsburgh’s program. 

So how do these teams match up? The Buckeyes offense will have its hands full with returning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Shilique Calhoun, but it has enough talent to gain the slight edge here. 

On defense, Bosa will need to consistently pressure Cook or else he could pick apart the secondary. Michigan State returns enough quality receivers to give Ohio State trouble, but the running back position is still not settled. Whoever ends up carrying the rock for the Spartans will be the difference in this game, as the Buckeyes’ only slight weakness is defending the run. 

In the end, Ohio State should prevail, as Michigan State may not be able to produce enough on the ground to win. The game will also be in Columbus, which greatly helps the Buckeyes. Look for Ohio State to be undefeated once more heading into the Big Ten championship game.

All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.

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LSU Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

Was last season's 8-5 record the exception to the rule, or is LSU regressing as a program?

That question won't be answered until the end of November, but the college football world will get clues this August when LSU opens fall camp for head coach Les Miles' 11th season as the head coach of the Tigers.

It's an important season for Miles and his staff.

The quarterback position has been a near-constant sore spot ever since Matt Flynn brought a national title to Baton Rouge after the 2007 season. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is in the final year of a three-year deal, and another underwhelming season will almost certainly create a situation in 2016 where Miles is coaching for his job.

What should you keep an eye on this August during LSU's fall camp?

 

Fix The Glitch

Whether it's junior returning starter Anthony Jennings or sophomore Brandon Harris who wins the starting quarterback job this summer, the play has to improve.

Aside from Zach Mettenberger's senior season in 2013, an LSU quarterback hasn't finished higher than eighth in the conference in yards per game since Jarrett Lee finished fifth in 2008 with 170.3. 

Miles hopes last season's struggles by both Jennings and Harris will be a blessing in disguise in 2015.

"Well, experience isn't something that you can just will on a guy," Miles said at SEC media days. "The good news is we have a guy who's started eight games or so, and we have a guy that's been around it now and played through two springs and been through a fall. So our quarterback play will be better, legitimately better."

LSU fans have heard that before, and at this point, it's hard to believe it until one of those guys proves it on the field.

Harris has a bit of an edge right now. Jennings was suspended indefinitely following an arrest for unauthorized entry into an inhabited dwelling, which has given Harris—a dual-threat weapon from Bossier City, Louisiana, uninterrupted first-team snaps during summer workouts.

"He's changed a lot. He's stepping up," said running back Leonard Fournette at SEC media days. "Brandon has improved tremendously. He's making the right reads, reading defenses and making a lot of plays."

Will those snaps be what creates separation? Miles has said Jennings will be given a chance to win the job back once his case is resolved, according to Ross Dellenger of the Advocate.

If that happens between now and fall camp, the battle between Harris and Jennings will be the most important battle in the SEC. LSU has the talent to be a division title contender if Miles can find just a little consistency from one of his signal-callers, and one of them has to earn that confidence in August. 

 

What's the Identity?

Miles brought in former Alabama linebackers coach and Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to replace John Chavis. The 57-year-old has typically worked in 3-4 schemes, and LSU has been primarily run and recruited for a 4-3.

What will the identity be this year?

The Tigers lost starting defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco from last year's defense—a defense that totaled just 19 sacks, second-worst in the conference. That has to change if LSU is going to contend for a division title. The secondary is second to none (or maybe "second to Florida") in the SEC, but it simply won't be as consistent as it needs to be if quarterbacks have all day to throw.

As CBS Sports analyst Gary Danielson told ESPN 104.5 in Baton Rouge earlier this month, new defensive line coach Ed Orgeron could help in that department.

Can Tashawn Bower be that edge threat in a more hybrid system this year? How will Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture develop inside? How will Steele mix in 3-4 looks with 4-3 personnel?

There's no shortage of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, but they all need to settle into their roles in the new scheme this summer.

 

A Little Help?

Fournette is getting a ton of Heisman love after rushing for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman a year ago. 

But this is LSU—a program that typically spreads carries around to a number of ball-carriers in an effort to keep everybody fresh for a full four quarters and full 12-game season.

That could be even more of a goal for this particular LSU team because Fournette, who returned 24 kickoffs for 625 yards and a touchdown last year, could see more time on special teams this year. After all, if LSU's offense is going to struggle and Fournette can make life a little easier, why wouldn't Miles put his best offensive player back deep? 

"He'll certainly get that opportunity. He sure was good last year," Miles said earlier this month, according to Dellenger.

It seems as though you can probably write his name down in ink as a consistent special teams mainstay based on Miles' comments Wednesday (via Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com):

Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette were signed as part of the 2015 class and could come in and contribute right away. Both of the newcomers are true all-purpose backs who are big enough to take the punishment between the tackles and fast enough to be dangerous in space.

Will they push sophomore Darrel Williams for primary backup carries?

"Darrel Williams has had a great summer, another, in my opinion, will be an elite back," Miles said at SEC media days.

Whether that's this year or not really doesn't matter. The trio of Williams, Brossette and Guice need to combine to be one elite back behind Fournette.

It'll be up to Miles and Cameron to figure out how that rotation is going to work in fall camp so the Tigers can hit the ground running during a critical September that includes games against division foes Mississippi State and Auburn.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 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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Alabama's Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake May Be SEC's Most Dangerous RB Tandem

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There’s something that’s a little different about Alabama senior running back Kenyan Drake, and we’re not talking about his impressive speed.

Shortly after suffering a season-ending injury at Ole Miss—a fractured leg and dislocated ankle that were nothing short of horrific—Drake asked to be shown the video of the play.

“I’m completely comfortable with it,” he recently told a group of disbelieving reporters at SEC media days.

“I actually wanted to see it. I heard it was pretty crazy. I know they didn’t show it on the scoreboard so I wanted to see how loud I was screaming on national TV.”

That he could be heard along the sidelines and even up in the press box at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium made most people cringe, if not seeing Drake’s leg and foot sticking out in odd directions. But he didn’t want to shy away from it then, and he still doesn’t now.

Perhaps it’ll only help Drake when he takes his first real hits on a football field since the injury.

“Kenyan is a huge part of this team,” senior center Ryan Kelly said. “If you were at the Ole Miss game, and you see him doing sprints, running and cutting, and all those things in the springtime and it’s just amazing. I think it shows you the kind of man Kenyan is and the kind of guy he’s become.”

With Drake poised to be ready when the Crimson Tide open training camp next week, Alabama’s backfield might not only be a real strength in 2015, but with Derrick Henry could feature the most dangerous duo in college football.

That’s not to say that they’ll have the most rushing yards. Arkansas senior Jonathan Williams and junior Alex Collins are the obvious preseason choice for that, as they’re both coming off 1,000-yard rushing seasons, the Razorbacks love to run the ball and Bret Bielema has put them behind yet another huge offensive line.

There are some other terrific tandems in the league as well, including at Auburn, Missouri and Tennessee, while LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb sort of stand out on their own. 

But when you consider which two running backs may be the most complementary for each other, Henry and Drake stand out because they can be used simultaneously as offensive weapons. In addition to taking handoffs, Drake spent part of the spring running routes with the wide receivers.

So if Henry’s in the backfield and Drake goes in motion, should the defense expect a run or a pass?

“You can spread him out, put him in the backfield, throw him a little slant and if that first guy misses he might go all the way,” Alabama senior linebacker Reggie Ragland said about Drake.  

A perfect example was the first snap against Florida last season, as Alabama had noticed in certain situations the Gators almost always put a linebacker on a running back when he shifted out wide. If the defender played off of him the play would be a slant pass, but if he moved up, the call was a slant-and-go because there was probably no way the linebacker could keep up with Drake.

When Antonio Morrison gave Drake a 10-yard cushion, quarterback Blake Sims couldn’t get the ball out fast enough. The result was an 87-yard touchdown that let the Gators know they were in for a long day.

“It obviously worked out to perfection,” Drake said.

It’s because of plays like that, and Henry’s physical prowess (6'3", 242 pounds), that fans are quick to call them a thunder-and-lightning backfield. Their styles also draw comparisons to two players who won the Heisman Trophy: Eddie George and Reggie Bush.

While it’s unrealistic to expect that either player will post similar numbers, Henry more than physically resembles what George looked like at Ohio State, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin made the comparison between Drake and his former standout at Southern California.

“When I was younger Reggie Bush was definitely a back I looked up to,” Drake said. “It’s very humbling to be mentioned in that same air with Reggie Bush, but it I also know that I’m Kenyan Drake and I’m going to try and accomplish something that I want to accomplish.”

Overall, Drake’s played in 29 career games with 1,087 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns while the top of the depth chart featured Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Henry. He’s averaged 7.0 yards per carry, 17.3 with each reception, and a touchdown every 8.65 times he’s touched the ball on offense.

A lot of players would have gotten frustrated at not contributing more, and Alabama has had numerous running backs leave for a variety of reasons, but Drake says the last three years have given him a chance to develop and grow physically and mentally.

Had his injury occurred when he was a “snot-nosed freshman,” he might not have handled it as well. Age and experience have instead put him in position to be one of Kiffin’s key contributors.

“He has so many things that he does well,” Nick Saban said. “He has great speed. He has very good running skills and running instincts, but he's a fantastic receiver.

“In his position, it's a little bit easier to almost create mismatches for him to be able to use those skills as a receiver than it would be if we played him at receiver, because I think if we played him at receiver he would be one of the better receivers on our team. And I think this is one of the assets that he's going to possess moving forward that's going to make him a very, very effective player in the future for us and as well as probably being a really good professional player.”

Regardless, with Drake back the HD backfield is something Alabama is very eager to see.

“It’s going to be a fun year watching him play,” Ragland said.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.

Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Nigel Warrior Releases Top 10: Which School Is Best Fit for 4-Star DB?

After a standout performance at The Opening earlier this month, 4-star safety Nigel Warrior proved why he’s one of the nation’s premier defensive backs in the 2016 cycle.

While a host of top programs are coming after him, Warrior announced on Tuesday via Twitter he has cut his list to a lucky group of 10 schools.

Warrior, whose father is former Tennessee and NFL defensive back Dale Carter, has the Volunteers among his final group.

Also among the schools in the running for the 5’11”, 188-pounder are Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oregon. 

But which program provides him with the best fit at the next level?

Warrior flashed his range and ball-hawking ability at The Opening—which revealed his propensity for being a center fielder in the secondary.

Many schools could use a player with those capabilities, including a handful of programs found in Warrior’s current top 10.

The in-state Georgia Bulldogs have a defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt who has a lengthy history in developing standout defensive backs dating back to previous stops at Alabama and Florida State.

In fact, the Bulldogs are pitching the nation’s No. 4 safety on being a perfect fit for what they are looking for at the position, as detailed by Kipp Adams of Dawgs247.

"Georgia actually tells me they really need a safety like me, and they let me know how being a safety would be a great thing," Warrior told Adams. "They need immediate help on defense."

Another place where Warrior could make an impact would be Ohio State. The last time Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer went into the Peach State to pluck an elite safety he ended up landing 5-star Vonn Bell, who led the Buckeyes with six interceptions last season.

Besides possessing similar measurables to Bell, Warrior also has a game that resembles the current Buckeyes standout.

If Bell decides to test the NFL draft waters following the upcoming season, Warrior could be a fitting candidate to replace him should he opt to head to Columbus.

As an added bonus, the Buckeyes did not take a safety in their 2015 class and have yet to land a pledge from a prospect at that position in the current cycle.

Alabama’s Kirby Smart and Auburn’s Will Muschamp are also two gifted defensive minds who have had success in developing standout safeties throughout their careers.

As noted by Ourlads, the Tide have a pair of upperclassmen in junior Eddie Jackson and senior Geno Smith slated to start this season—which could help Warrior find the field early if he signs with Alabama.

Meanwhile, similar to when Pruitt took over at Georgia last year, Muschamp is hoping to revitalize the Tigers defense—with overhauling the secondary among his chief priorities. Adding a piece such as Warrior would be a huge boost to a unit that has struggled mightily in recent years.

Finally, the Volunteers are on the rise under third-year head coach Butch Jones. With senior starters LaDarrell McNeil and Brian Randolph set to exhaust their eligibility after this season, the Vols could also present Warrior with an opportunity to get on the field early.

The Vols had a loaded defensive class in 2015, but it only featured one safety in 3-star Stephen Griffin. Considering that Warrior is a legacy recruit who could fill a primary need, he fits the bill as a priority recruit for Jones and his staff in the months leading up to national signing day.

Warrior is a versatile player who could fit in well at any one of his finalists. But when you factor in his ties to the Volunteers and their need at the safety position, Tennessee gets the slight nod as presenting him with the best opportunity to flourish at the next level.

 

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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