NCAA Football News

Highlights and Analysis from The Opening New Orleans Regional

NEW ORLEANS — After a competitive day at New Orleans' Joe W. Brown Memorial Park, five athletes added their names to the growing list of competitors who will compete at The Opening finals, set July 5-10 in Beaverton, Oregon. That list is now 63 strong.

The five athletes—running back Cam Akers, safety Todd Harris, wide receiver Devonta Smith and offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and Nick Brahms—headlined a group of more than 400 athletes hoping to earn the summer trip. Here are some of the best stories of the day from the event:

 

2 OLs highlight event, 1 without player rating

Of the five invited to The Opening, two were offensive linemen. From a recruiting rankings perspective, on paper, the two entered Sunday's competition on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

On one hand, you had Alex Leatherwood, an Alabama commit and the nation's No. 9 offensive tackle. Leatherwood is listed via 247Sports' composite rankings as a 4-star offensive lineman. On the other hand, you had Nick Brahms, a player with 30-plus reported offers, but someone who not only wasn't ranked but also didn't have a composite rating as of early Sunday evening.

Ratings—or the lack thereof—never really bothered Brahms, he said following the competition. The composite rankings, per 247Sports, "compiles rankings and ratings listed in the public domain by the major media recruiting services, creating the industry's most comprehensive and unbiased prospect and team rankings."

Brahms said he was unsure why he didn't have a composite rating, but after Sunday, all that mattered was getting an invitation to compete against the elite athletes who did have ratings.

"It feels real good; it's amazing," Brahms said. "I've been working hard since freshman year or eighth grade to get to this moment. I'm looking forward to the season and everything coming up."

Brahms and Leatherwood both were impressive during linemen one-on-one battles. Leatherwood held things down at left tackle, while Brahms made an impression playing right guard.

"I came to put in work, and I came to be dominant," Leatherwood said. "I got the results. It feels good."

 

Mississippi's No. 1 recruit records 2nd-highest rating

There's a reason why 4-star running back Cam Akers is the top-ranked player in the state of Mississippi and the nation's No. 3 running back. He stays in the proverbial lab, perfecting his body, honing his skills and constantly tweaking his craft.

The extra work paid dividends Sunday, as Akers was invited to The Opening following an impressive showing not only in one-on-one competition but also in skills competition. His Sunday rating of 141.33—the second-highest rating of the 2016 circuit—caught the eyes of The Opening's representatives, and he was able to punch his ticket to Oregon.

"It's definitely a dream come true. It definitely shows that hard work does pay off," said Akers, who, at 5'11" and 212 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, completed the 20-yard shuttle in 4.09 seconds, threw the power ball 40 feet and recorded a 40.6 vertical jump. "I've been training really hard for this. It's a blessing."

A former Alabama commit, Akers said he is "wide open" with his recruiting process after decommitting from the Crimson Tide in March. He showed up to The Opening wearing an Ohio State hat and Georgia gloves. Both schools, as well as Arkansas, Ole Miss and others have extended offers.

For now, Akers is focused on getting better to showcase his skills at The Opening. He said he will continue working with his trainer and continue being someone who spends multiple hours in the weight room.

"Praying and working, that's what helped me get here," he said. "That, and just doing what I'm supposed to do."

 

Rich Rod on hand to watch son, Arizona QB commit

Arizona commit Rhett Rodriguez is a 3-star quarterback who attends Catalina Foothills High School just outside of Tucson, Arizona. He also is a native of New Orleans and made a trip back home for the first time in several years.

He's also the son of Arizona Wildcats head football coach Rich Rodriguez, who was a proud dad in the stands watching his son compete for a chance to attend the Elite 11 finals this summer in Los Angeles. Rhett has been an Arizona commit since January.

The elder Rodriguez said it's been fun watching his son mature into a college-bound quarterback. He also said he's been very upfront with making sure his son understands the recruiting process, even as an Arizona commit.

"It's kind of unique when you have a son who's a potential college player," Rich Rodriguez said. "He's grown up around it, and I think a lot of times, coaches' kids understand it more than others. But you still want to educate him on the process. As I told him, you want to make sure you're doing everything right so there are no negatives on the resume.

"Academics, work habits, leadership ... especially if you're at a position like quarterback, you want to do the right things. I'm proud of him. He's done all the right things and has had a great high school career. With one year left, I think he's primed for his best year."

Rhett Rodriguez is listed via 247Sports' composite rankings as a dual-threat quarterback. Per MaxPreps, he threw for 2,503 yards, 20 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 12 games as a junior for Catalina Foothills. He also rushed for 624 yards and 14 touchdowns.

 

4-star Harris the lone DB selected from NOLA event

Todd Harris remembers watching athletes get invited to The Opening at last year's New Orleans regional. He also remembers the feeling he had when he didn't hear his name called for an invitation to Oregon.

That was enough motivation for him to come back this year and compete. In the end, Harris, a 4-star athlete, a top-60 overall player and the nation's No. 4 safety, earned his stripes and punched his ticket.

"I saw guys get invited last year, and I kept saying, 'I can be in those guys' shoes,'" Harris said. "This year, I rested my body, and I came out and competed. Good things pay off."

Harris was a nuisance in one-on-one competition throughout Sunday, and he performed well in warm-up drills and seven-on-seven play. He was the only defensive back selected to compete at The Opening on Sunday—something he takes pride in.

"I just can't wait to ball," he said. "I was praying the whole time for it. It's amazing."

 

The Opening alum offers advice to 2017s

Shyheim Carter was a part of The Opening festivities last year. The Alabama signee was on hand Sunday taking in all the action.

He also was reminiscing.

"It's very different being on this side of it," said Carter, the nation's No. 9 cornerback and No. 71 overall player in the 2016 class. "I wish I was out there again."

Carter watched the hundreds of athletes fight for limited invitations to play in Oregon, and while he watched, he gave some advice that he said helped him as he was looking to not only improve as an athlete but also play for the coveted golden ticket.

Carter also gave advice to athletes on recruiting. He originally committed to the Crimson Tide at the end of his sophomore year on July 15, 2014, but decommitted just before the start of his senior on Aug. 10, 2015, to weigh his options. He ultimately recommitted to Alabama on national signing day.

"Go out and compete," he said. "You have some of the best players around the country come to New Orleans just to compete and get an invite to The Opening. That's the main goal."

Carter continued: "Don't commit to a school too early. You want to weigh your options until you feel comfortable knowing where you want to be. Take your time with your recruitment."

Carter was in attendance as an Opening alum, as was Kristian Fulton, an LSU signee. Fulton was the nation's No. 2 cornerback and No. 21 overall player in the 2016 class.

 

Additional highlights from Sunday

Speed galore and the multiple highlight-reel catches were among the topics of discussion once The Opening New Orleans regional concluded.

To start the day, The Opening had its "Fastest Man" race, pitting those with the fastest times in the 40-yard dash testing. The race included running back Caleb Jolivette, who won the Houston regional's race after running the 40 in 4.35 seconds.

It was Travis Etienne Jr., however, who stole the show. Etienne, a 3-star running back with a dozen reported offers, ran the fastest time of the camp, recording a 4.43-second 40, and then won a five-player race.

Outstanding catches seemed to dominate the day. One of those catches belonged to Devonta Smith, who ultimately earned an invitation to The Opening with his play. In red-zone drills, Smith made a leaping catch over a defender where it appeared he took away a potential interception.

While that catch was great, the one that arguably received the most oohs and aahs came from Gregory Clayton. The 2018 receiver from Lutcher, Louisiana, shook his defender and then made a remarkable one-handed catch.

Clayton has early looks from in-state FCS schools McNeese State and Nicholls State.

 

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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5 Top-Performing Quarterback Recruits from 2016 New Orleans Elite 11 Regional

NEW ORLEANS — Clear blue skies and steady, but firm, winds greeted the number of quarterbacks hoping to punch a ticket to the Elite 11 finals with a strong performance at the 2016 New Orleans Elite 11 Regional.

While no one was able to earn that coveted invitation at the camp's conclusion, the Elite 11 coaching staff still had a handful of options to plug into the camp’s pressure-chamber showcase—which selects the five best passers to compete at the end of the camp in a half-skeleton drill against the camp’s best linebackers and defensive backs.

Brian Stumpf, who serves as the president of events for student sports, noted the strength of the group after watching film on the players prior to the event.

“I think we came in saying there might not be the guy that has the pre-camp resume combination of good tape and physical traits and that sort of stuff. But, I think they competed well,” Stumpf told Bleache Report. “I think at the end of the day, we talked about with this group that it was the closest race we’ve had for MVP with our coaches going back and forth on two or three guys. But overall, this was a really good group where eight or 10 guys could’ve made the final five for the showcase.” 

The group featured stud recruits such as 4-star Louisiana native Lowell Narcisse and other prospects such as 3-star Virginia standout Lindell Stone—who had already competed at one of the earlier regionals. 

In the end, a few under-the-radar field generals emerged—including a player who won MVP despite battling a case of food poisoning in the hours leading up to the camp. 

Which prospects were worthy of earning a spot among the camp’s top five overall performers?

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Ohio State Looking to Showcase All Kinds of Speed in 2016 Spring Game

Ohio State got an infusion of speed when head coach Urban Meyer took over the recruiting in 2012, but with preparations for the 2016 season in full swing, the Buckeyes are looking to get even faster. 

New names and faces will arrive in Columbus as Ohio State continues its quest to replace eight starters on both sides of the ball. Meyer and the Buckeyes coaching staff are struggling to establish a depth chart with all the youth and injuries, but one thing they can establish is a new pace and identity. 

That will be on display on Saturday, when the Buckeyes take the field in Ohio Stadium for the annual spring game. 

 

Defensive Speed

Ohio State's defense was fast a season ago, and a number of former Buckeyes—defensive backs Tyvis Powell and Eli Apple and linebacker Darron Lee—proved that by running 4.4 40-yard dashes at the NFL combine.

But despite the departure of a number of blazers, there are many who think Ohio State's 2016 defense will be even faster than the '15 edition.

"It's fast, it's a fast defense," defensive end Tyquan Lewis said, per Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone. "It's probably the fastest defense Coach [Larry] Johnson has ever seen. It's pretty good."

Johnson, Ohio State's defensive line coach, who held the same position at Penn State from 1996-2013, has seen some fast defenses in his day. The new projected starters will have to bring a decided edge for this to be true, but that's the feeling some have for the new guys.

"Dante is a way better athlete," middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan said when comparing projected outside linebacker Dante Booker to the departed Joshua Perry, per Marvin Fong of the Plain Dealer. "When he gets on the field, he does some things y'all haven't seen yet. He's one of the fastest guys on the defense regardless of position, and he just brings that pop."

Burners such as linebackers Chris Worley and Jerome Baker and defensive backs Denzel Ward and Malik Hooker should bring more speed to an already-fast unit. 

 

Offensive Tempo

Ohio State's offense is working on a different kind of speed.

After last year's offense entered the season with high expectations that it failed to meet through 10 games (which ended in a sloppy 17-14 home loss to Michigan State), the Buckeyes moved co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner from the field to the booth and implemented an uptempo, hurry-up offense. 

The results were effective, as Ohio State torched respectable Michigan and Notre Dame defenses for an average of 43 points and 534 yards of total offense. 

The strategy worked so well that Meyer wanted to implement it for the entire 2016 season.

“The last two games, I want to say [the offense was] 80 percent tempo and it worked out really well,” Meyer said, per Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. “We’re going to do a lot more uptempo offense than we’ve done.”

Quarterback J.T. Barrett, who's at his best as a distributor, where he can make fast decisions in both the passing and running games, thrived at the helm of that kind of offense in 2014 and at the end of 2015. Now, co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck is trying to speed things up even more.

"The biggest thing right now is just getting [Barrett] to play fast, getting him to play consistent, kind of how he did toward the end of the year and how he did in '14," Beck said Thursday, per Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "I like what I see so far."

Buckeyes fans will get to see that progress and heightened pace for themselves this Saturday. 

 

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412. 

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Texas A&M OT Germain Ifedi's Upside Makes Him Worthy of 1st-Round Investment

The 2016 NFL draft will once again prove there is no exact science for predicting what will happen or the how the results will play out over the next few years. With 253 total players selected, some are bound to provide an instant impact. Others may take 2016 as a developmental season or even need multiple years to hit their strides.

Players with upside such as Texas A&M Aggies offensive tackle Germain Ifedi weren’t able to fully grasp the nuance of their positions in college. The term "upside" has become a buzzword in evaluation, but it doesn’t always apply. Prospects blessed with great athleticism who have not maximized their entire physical skill sets and have played at a high level in spite of technical shortcomings should be the only ones labeled like this.

Ifedi’s a special case because of his pedigree and the Aggies’ recent history. There has been a Texas A&M offensive tackle drafted in the first round in each of the last three drafts. The latest of the trio, Cedric Ogbuehi, was the Cincinnati Bengals’ first-round pick in 2015 despite having a torn ACL and essentially being a redshirt in his rookie season.

Ogbuehi going in the first was a good indicator that Ifedi should as well, even if they’re different players stylistically.

In the last six draft classes, a total of 39 offensive linemen have been selected in Round 1. The NFL is desperate for quality blocking, and it pushes developmental players up the board for the possible long-term payoff. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as the staff has patience for the individual to improve over time.

Looking at Ifedi, he was a 4-star guard prospect in the class of 2012, per 247Sports. With Johnny Manziel at quarterback and bookend tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, Ifedi played right guard before kicking out to tackle as a sophomore in 2014. He then spent two years at right tackle instead of moving over to fill in for Ogbuehi at left tackle.

People shouldn't view this as a negative, as the right tackle position is still valuable in the NFL. Right tackle is not just for road-graders like the old-school NFL. Poor pass protectors at the position will face edge-rushers like Von Miller, Cameron Wake and Jerry Hughes, so there’s no hiding them at the next level.

Everything from Ifedi’s 6’6”, 324-pound frame and 36-inch arms draws excitement as an evaluator. But it’s not just his frame that oozes potential; it’s how he moves. Below is an example of how easily he can cut off an edge-rusher’s speed using his own quickness and length.

Football comes easily to Ifedi when just looking at movement ability and how much he stands out in this regard. He kick-slides with ease and also hits the second level of the defense on run plays for someone with a high body density. This is commonly referred to as “planet theory.” There aren’t many humans who are that size with that kind of strength and explosiveness. The NFL commonly gravitates toward these individuals in the draft.

As far as effectiveness, there are certainly times when Ifedi shows why he’s an upside prospect and probably needs to redshirt his first season. He was able to get the job done well enough in his two seasons at tackle, but it was far from pretty. In six games I charted, he allowed 11 quarterback hurries in 275 passing attempts.

How Ifedi loses is directly related to inconsistent hand placement and footwork. His ability to win in a variety of ways is a great trump card, but he doesn’t yet know it nor consistently executes it. Below is Alabama’s Tim Williams using speed to get Ifedi to the edge of the pocket, then spinning inside to take advantage of Ifedi’s poor footwork.

Had Ifedi properly stayed balanced and used his length to engage Williams, he could have controlled the countermove or even shut it down before the attempt. These are nuances that a coaching staff and veteran offensive line can help teach Ifedi. His potential will be unlocked when he can mirror rushers like the play below consistently.

When Ifedi wins early in the snap and squares his lower body with his shoulders, he is hard to beat. Defenses tried to isolate him in space to give their rushers options to get around him, but Ifedi responded well to these opportunities.

According to Pro Football Focus, he had a pass-blocking efficiency of 96.2 percent. This ranked just 76th in the country, which is obviously lower than what his skill set would indicate where he should be. The 21-year-old has incredible peaks to his game, and those moments indicate first-round talent. It’s the valleys that’ll be challenging for him and a team’s coaching staff to overcome.

This dichotomy from where Ifedi is to where he can be as a lockdown pass-blocker will require the right blend of situation and hard work to be successful. His tendency to lean into defenders and mistime punches are death knells at the next level, and soothing out these issues won’t be done in one training camp.

Ifedi’s youth is another positive. He’s spent just two seasons at right tackle, and although there’s considerable work to be done, the possible payoff is huge. There aren’t many right tackles capable of performing with the fluidity of a finesse left tackle.

If he struggles or even fails to show growth at tackle, he has enough experience and good tape at right guard to believe he can make that transition. He doesn’t explode off the line as a run-blocker, but that was in part to the Aggies’ offensive scheme. Their run-pass combination plays limit what happens post-snap for linemen.

Above is the most common responsibility for Ifedi on run plays. Simply create an outside angle to entice the edge player to attack, then wall off the interior angle for the ball-carrier to attack. The promising part of this play is that Ifedi keeps his target engaged until the back is to the second level and does not allow him to chase down the back from behind.

Certain teams will have no interest in taking the time to craft a potential star like Ifedi. He wasn’t as dominant as the hype may have suggested, but he’s a solid player in his own right. With the proper support and coaching, he is well worth a first-round investment.

The Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs appear to be perfect landing spots for Ifedi in the late 20s of the 2016 draft. Seattle needs more immediate help, but it has shown a willingness to endure growing pains with its young linemen. The Chiefs could take Ifedi and start him at guard after losing Jeff Allen this offseason.

 

All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.

Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Texas A&M Football: Winners and Losers from the Aggies' 2016 Spring

The Texas A&M Aggies concluded spring practice on Saturday with their annual spring game that saw the Maroon squad defeat the White squad, 42-38.

Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight received the majority of playing time for the Aggies and took full advantage of his opportunity. Knight completed 25 of 36 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns, according to Travis Brown of My Aggie Nation.  

Fellow quarterback Jake Hubenak played some in the first half before departing with flu-like symptoms, per head coach Kevin Sumlin, via Suzanne Halliburton of the Austin American-Statesman

With spring practice now complete for the Aggies, we take a look at some of the winners and losers for A&M this spring. 

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Winners and Losers of Saturday's College Football Spring Games

The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and yes, there's college football in the air. Who cares if the scoring was modified and the stats don't count?

Saturday marked the first sizable batch of college football spring games—various forms of scrimmages meant to put a bow on offseason practice with an open-to-the-public workout. Intended to serve more as confidence-building events than true talent evaluations, these games aren't likely to have much bearing on how teams will look in the fall.

However, the performance of some players, position groups and teams did manage to stand out in either a good or bad way. We have your rundown of the biggest winners and losers from Saturday's spring action.

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VanDarius Cowan Flips Commitment from FSU to Alabama: Details, Reaction

There's been a change of heart for 4-star outside linebacker VanDarius Cowan.

On Saturday, the linebacker from Palm Beach Gardens High School (Florida) announced on Twitter he will not be playing for the Florida State Seminoles but instead will be suiting up for head coach Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Cowan provided a statement to explain his decision:

Listed at 6'4" and 217 pounds, Cowan is the fifth-best outside linebacker in the 2017 class and the No. 17 prospect from the state of Florida. He's also the 78th-best prospect in the nation, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

This is not the first time Cowan has backed out of playing for head coach Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles. Cowan first committed to FSU in June before changing his mind Oct. 25. Five days later, Alabama offered a scholarship to Cowan.

According to his recruiting timeline on 247Sports, he recommitted to Florida State on Dec. 29, but schools such as Tennessee, Ohio State and USC continued to push offers to him. Cowan took an unofficial visit to Alabama on Friday before officially flipping his commitment Saturday.

"It's better than Florida State," he said, per Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. "I felt I could play there and they produce good linebackers. Alabama has a good foundation. It's a family. If you play football in Tuscaloosa, you are the man. It's a college town."

Since 2010, six Alabama linebackers have landed in the NFL draft, with three going in the first round (C.J. Mosley, Dont'a Hightower, Rolando McClain) . Defense has been Alabama's calling card for years, and it starts with the linebackers.

However, to imply Florida State hasn't produced good linebackers would be a stretch. Since 2010, eight Florida State linebackers have landed in the NFL draft. Some have been late-round draft picks, but players such as Telvin Smith, Lawrence Timmons and Nigel Bradham have had solid NFL careers.

But this may turn out better for Florida State, knowing they avoided a player who decommitted from the program twice. Alabama got a skilled linebacker, and hopefully he'll stick with his decision this time.

 

All composite rankings courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Follow Danny Webster on Twitter.

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Auburn Football: Winners and Losers from Tigers' 2016 Spring

Three quarterbacks entered the spring game as co-leaders for the starting spot this fall. After watching the annual A-Day Game, it's probably safe to say that there are still three co-leaders for the job.

Despite hoping to see one of the three (Sean White, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III) step forward and take a leading spot in the race, we saw three quarterbacks who all had differing areas of strength and weakness. In short, the race is still very much wide open.

So, who really came out on top after Auburn's 2016 spring game? Let's go over our list of winners and losers.

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Deshaun Watson's Supporting Cast Looks Deeper and More Dangerous for 2016

CLEMSON, S.C. — Deshaun Watson got his first Clemson milestone of the 2016 season out of the way early Saturday.

When Watson stepped out onto the Memorial Stadium field for the second offensive series of Clemson's 2016 spring game, he officially became the first Tiger quarterback since Charlie Whitehurst in 2004 to play for both the Orange and the White teams.

The decision, which Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced, served a crucial purpose.

"There would've been a revolt if I hadn't have done that," Swinney joked.

In addition to ensuring his safety, Swinney's decision gave Watson an opportunity to play with the entirety of his supporting cast—one that is heavy on both depth and talent heading into 2016.

"It was good for him—it was the first spring game he's played in—to get out in front of the crowd a little bit and go for both teams," Swinney said. "Unfortunately, he had more success for one team than the other when he was in there."

The victorious Orange team version of Watson went 5-of-6 passing for 140 yards, while the White team version went 2-of-5 through the air for just one yard. 

The Jekyll-and-Hyde box score and 17-9 final score wasn't a complete reflection of the story of Saturday's game, which included a running-clock second half that featured plenty of reserves.

The fast offensive start with Watson at the helm, however, had the Memorial Stadium crowd buzzing.

"I'd be really disappointed if we're not one of the best offenses in the country," Swinney said. "That's our expectation, and it should be, with the people we have."

In his four series of action, Watson looked a lot like the Heisman finalist who became the first member of college football's 4,000/1,000-yard club last season, per B/R Insights. Two of Clemson's three touchdowns came from his precise arm.

"It was good, even though it was short," Watson said. "It's good to just go out there and just compete with a whole bunch of different guys and see who was ready and who wasn't."

Watson didn't waste any time spreading the ball around to his receivers for explosive gains. The second play of the game was a 47-yard connection between Watson and national championship game breakout star Hunter Renfrow.

Renfrow caught two more passes from Watson on that drive, and he finished with a six-yard touchdown reception on a slick rollout. The sophomore looks like he will have an even bigger role in the Watson-led offense in 2016 after picking up where he left off in the title game.

"That was a reflection of what we've been doing all spring," Renfrow said. "We're just trying to keep that competitive depth. That's what we did last year. We had six or seven [receivers] that we could roll in there."

Clemson showed Saturday it could go even deeper out wide for Watson in 2016. The Tigers had eight receivers catch multiple passes, with Renfrow, Artavis Scott, Trevion Thompson (who led all receivers with six catches for 87 yards), Seth Ryan and Ray-Ray McCloud all recording explosive plays of 15 or more yards.

And that production came without two probable starting wideouts.

Last year's No. 3 wide receiver Deon Cain and Mike Williams—the Tigers' top receiver in 2014, who missed almost all of 2015 with a neck injury—were held out of the game, but the passing attack didn't miss a beat.

"We have the potential to be even better this year," Watson said. "But we can't just talk about it. We have to prove it and put in the work."

Renfrow's quick start with Watson was an especially welcome sight to Swinney, who also raved about Ryan—a redshirt sophomore who had only one catch last year but stood out in spring ball. 

"I was telling [Renfrow] in the pregame that the legend of Renfrow is diminishing because of Seth Ryan," Swinney said with a smile. "Seth made a couple of big plays today, and he's made two or three of those every day in practice. Whether he's going against the first team or the second team, it doesn't matter."

Like Ryan's performance, McCloud's 61-yard touchdown late in the first quarter from Watson was another display of Clemson's greater offensive depth, which Watson got to take full advantage of while playing for both teams. The sophomore receiver only had 251 yards last year after missing three games because of an MCL sprain.

But on Saturday, a healthy McCloud got more snaps out wide, joining seven other Tigers who made catches in the first half alone. Watson got to build more chemistry with the receivers as a whole, as well as a running back group that went four-deep before halftime.

"It was important for him to get a feel for everybody and see who was ready," McCloud said. "All our quarterbacks threw great, too. With [the backups] following him, they have a good role model in front of them. And I look up to him, too. He pushes me as well."

After his fourth series, Watson was moved to a pseudo quarterbacks coach role, standing behind the offense with Swinney and offering advice to his backups. 

The game transitioned to a more ground-based one in the second half, with backup running backs Adam Choice (17 carries for 88 yards) and C.J. Fuller (16 carries for 58 yards) providing solid burst out of the backfield with starter Wayne Gallman (eight carries for 58 yards).

Add the deeper group of explosive backs and receivers to a solid offensive line that kept Watson's pocket clean against a strong defensive line, and one can see why the offensive hype continues to grow for Clemson.

The Tigers, who averaged 514.5 yards per game and 38.5 points en route to an ACC title and a national championship game appearance, will challenge for the title of best attack in college football this fall.

They return nine starters with Williams back in the fold, and their schedule is ripe for big numbers in 2016.

"What I think about a lot is, 'Man, we've got a lot of personnel,'" Swinney said. "This ought to be fun."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Auburn's Spring Game Raises More Questions Than Answers for Tigers' QB Battle

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn built a reputation and won a national title as an assistant and an SEC title as a head coach based on his high-octane offense that has worked at every stop over the last decade—regardless of the style of quarterback.

That reputation is on the verge of being reversed after last year's struggles that saw Malzahn swing and miss by naming Jeremy Johnson his starting quarterback after spring practice and with an offense that finished 10th in the SEC in total offense (370 yards per game) and 11th in yards per play (5.39).

Saturday's spring game was an indication that the slide could continue, and it raised more questions than answers in the three-man battle for the top spot on the depth chart at quarterback.

Johnson completed just six of 13 passes for 35 yards and an eight-yard touchdown to Roc Thomas. Junior college transfer John Franklin III did complete seven of 11 passes but for only 61 yards—40 of which came on a touchdown pass to Marcus Davis that somehow made it through the arms of two waiting defenders.

Redshirt sophomore Sean White showed the most touch and completed eight of 14 passes for 125 yards. But he fumbled once on a zone read in the red zone and had a surefire interception dropped by T.J. Davis.

"The big negative for me was when our quarterbacks who have had the reps with the first-team running backs put the ball on the ground on the zone read," Malzahn said. "That was probably the biggest negative from an offensive standpoint all day."

The offense featured an abundance of bubble screens and timing routes, with very few shots deep to receivers. 

"We were pretty vanilla offensively," Malzahn said. "That was by design."

That's OK in spring games, since the last thing a coach wants to do is give away too much of the playbook to early-season opponents—the first of which is national runner-up Clemson. 

But Auburn's biggest issue last year was a vanilla, predictable offense; and Saturday's spring game did nothing to calm the fears of the Auburn Family that 2015 was the aberration, not the start of a trend.

What's even more concerning than the lack of a deep passing threat is that, even in a vanilla offense, Auburn went 1-of-22 combined on third downs on the afternoon.

Even vanilla offenses need to do better than that, whether it's in a real game, spring game, scrimmage or video game. The primary goal for Auburn moving forward in the offseason is to create some sort explosiveness.

"The fluidity of the offense (is something we need to work on)," White said. "We have to put more touchdowns on the board. I know it was a shortened game, but we have to put more touchdowns up and get the offense rolling to be back where Coach Malzahn wants it."

Somebody needs to step up at quarterback to create the explosiveness that Auburn needs.

Can any of the quarterbacks on the roster stretch the field deep to take pressure off running back Jovon Robinson?

Can Franklin become consistent enough to become a weapon as a dual-threat quarterback in a more multidimensional offense that mirrors the one that Nick Marshall ran when he led Auburn to the 2013 SEC title?

Can Auburn protect the football when it matters most?

All of those questions remain unanswered, due in part to the vanilla game plan (which is OK) but mostly due to the inability of the quarterbacks to consistently stretch the field when shots were called and the inability to move the chains (which are not OK).

What Auburn showed off to the 45,723 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday and many more watching on the SEC Network was an offense that was pretty much identical to the one that led to the 7-6 season in 2015.

Auburn's quarterback situation is murky, and it got even murkier in the spring game. 

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is 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 SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Alabama Football: Takeaways and Stats from Tide's 2nd Spring Scrimmage

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban borrowed one of the favorite teachings of Tony Dungy, who was on hand for the Crimson Tide’s annual coaching clinic this weekend, when describing his team’s second spring scrimmage.

Specifically, Saban related to what the former NFL coach said he learned from Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers—that champions don’t have to do extraordinary things, they just have to do ordinary things extraordinarily.

“I think that really speaks a lot about the scrimmage that we had today, the spring practice as a whole,” Saban said.

Although Alabama didn’t release any passing statistics, which has become the norm whenever there’s a quarterback competition, the players whom one would expect to post the best statistics pretty much did just that Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Running back Bo Scarbrough topped 100 rushing yards for the second straight scrimmage. Wide receiver Robert Foster, who is coming off a shoulder injury, topped that same number in receiving yards.

With linebacker Reuben Foster posting a team-high nine tackles, the first-team defense scored three touchdowns—two on interceptions and the other on a fumble recovery.

“But past that I think we have a lot of guys who need to learn how to play winning football, which is really taking care of the ordinary things well,” Saban explained. “Things like take care of the ball, discipline not to get penalties, don’t have mental errors, be able to go out there and do your job well.

“[The second-team players], they’re trying to make plays and they don’t play with a lot of discipline, which affects their ability to go out there and do their job like they need to. This is the goal for the rest of this spring, to get more and more guys to play winning football.”

The wide receivers appeared to demonstrate the difference. The three likely to start—Robert Foster, Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart—combined for 12 receptions, 228 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think we have three guys who are ahead of the rest,” Saban said, before adding that Cam Sims and Derek Kief have both had a good spring and are right behind the trio in the rotation.

Foster, who had a 50-yard touchdown in the closed scrimmage, is the biggest question mark of the front-runners. He’s coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him for all but three games of 2015.

“Robert has struggled at times this spring and is not 100 percent healthy, but I think he’s gotten better and better,” Saban said. “I’m just really happy to see he made some plays today because that probably did a lot for his confidence.” 

 

Quarterback competition 

After specifically praising David Cornwell’s performance last week, the coach didn’t single out any of the quarterbacks during his post-scrimmage press conference.

“I think that what you look at it is how do they move the team?” he said. “Not just their stats or completions and all that kind of stuff. How did they move the team? I think Cooper [Bateman] moved the team a lot. I think Jalen Hurts did a nice job today and David Cornwell did a pretty good job.”

Redshirt freshman Blake Barnett is the other player competing for the starting job, but all indications are that he’s behind the two older quarterbacks, Bateman and Cornwell.

“I think there’s still a lot of competition with these positions,” Saban added. “Taking care of the ball is a big thing. I don’t know how many times you’ve heard me say it before, if every series on offense ends with a kick, whether it’s a punt, field goal or an extra point, we’re OK with that.

“The game we lost last year we turned it over five times. That’s probably the single statistic that determines winning and losing.”

 

Offensive line update

Outside of quarterback, the Crimson Tide’s biggest competition battle is on the offensive line, where only two spots are set: Cam Robinson (who is out with a shoulder injury) at left tackle and Ross Pierschbacher at center.

During Saturday’s media observation period, the offensive line’s front five consisted of Korren Kirven, Lester Cotton, Pierschbacher, Brandon Kennedy and Jonah Williams. The second unit had Bradley Bozeman, Dallas Warmack, J.C. Hassenauer, Alphonse Taylor and Matt Womack.

“Lester Cotton has had a really good spring, and if I had to say is he one of the top five linemen based on what he has done in the spring, I would say probably yes,” Saban said. “Can I say where he would play? I don’t know for sure. He could play right tackle, he could play right or left guard.

“Some of the younger guys are making a lot of progress. Jonah has done a nice job. So we’ll just see how they continue to progress."

 

Injury report 

Saban did not announce any new injuries after the scrimmage.

Robert Foster (shoulder) and safety Eddie Jackson (leg) wore black no-contact jerseys.

Among those who were held out as a precautionary measure were defensive linemen Jonathan Allen (shoulder) and Dakota Ball (foot), Robinson, linebacker Shawn Jennings (knee) and wide receiver Raheem Falkins (leg).

Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand was sidelined this past week due to back spasms but could return before the end of spring.

Reserve offensive lineman Richie Petitbon suffered a knee injury during Alabama’s first scrimmage and had surgery last week.

“We anticipate a full recovery,” Saban said. 

Alabama’s final week of spring football will feature two practices and the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, April 16. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET on ESPN.

 

Alabama scrimmage statistics

Stats include 11-on-11, situational drills, red area, goal line, two-minute

Rushing leaders

  • Bo Scarbrough: 12 attempts, 112 yards, 1 touchdown
  • Damien Harris: 8 attempts, 56 yards
  • Ronnie Clark: 7 attempts, 31 yards

Receiving leaders

  • Robert Foster: 4 catches, 106 yards, 2 touchdowns
  • Calvin Ridley: 3 catches, 62 yards
  • ArDarius Stewart: 5 catches, 60 yards
  • Cam Sims: 2 catches, 47 yards

Defensive leaders

  • Reuben Foster: 9 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble
  • Ryan Anderson: 7 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
  • Rashaan Evans: 7 tackles, 1 sack
  • Christian Miller: 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
  • Minkah Fitzpatrick: 5 tackles, 1 interception (returned for touchdown)

 

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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Clemson Football: Winners and Losers from Tigers' 2016 Spring

Clemson football wrapped up the spring Saturday with a 17-9 win by the Orange squad, and the Tigers will now move to their next phase of the offseason. 

There are many questions about the amount of experience returning on defense, but the spring game showed that there is still talent to be found on head coach Dabo Swinney's roster. 

Who came out of the spring practices with momentum, and who came out needing to make improvements? Here's a list of our winners and losers from Clemson's spring practices. 

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Where Florida State's QB Battle Stands Post-2016 Spring Game

Much to the approval of Florida State Seminoles fans, Deondre Francois and Malik Henry put on a show during the final minutes of the 2016 Garnet & Gold Game.

Trailing 17-14 late in the fourth quarter, Francois rifled a back-shoulder beauty to Auden Tate for what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher had a different idea.

Instead of making Henry launch a prayer or two with 13 seconds remaining, Fisher put 1:30 on the clock and allowed the true freshman to potentially engineer a scoring drive of his own. Four snaps later, Henry connected with Travis Rudolph for a 43-yard touchdown.

Francois quickly responded, helping the Gold set up Ricky Aguayo for a game-tying 46-yard field goal that ultimately ended the scrimmage.

While the teams left the field tied 24-24, fans exited the Citrus Bowl excited about the future under center.

But, everyone say it together, this was the spring game—one in which incumbent starter Sean Maguire was unavailable due to an ankle injury. He sat out the entire spring.

Francois, to his credit was poised in the pocket and showcased terrific arm strength throughout the scrimmage. Though his two best throws were both touchdowns to Tate, many of the redshirt freshman's 20 completions came at the expense of walk-ons and reserves.

Now, it's not a problem Francois did the smart thing and capitalized on favorable matchups. But opponents in the fall would certainly be more difficult.

FSU's best defenders pounced on Francois' mistakes. Nate Andrews snatched an end-zone interception the quarterback didn't throw far enough to the corner. Francois tried to force a ball down the middle, where Ro'Derrick Hoskins was already standing.

Overall, Francois finished 20-of-33 with 246 yards, two touchdowns, a pair of picks and one lost fumble that Fisher executively decided wouldn't count. Francois stared down a couple receivers, executed a fair share of quick-hitting routes and hit some checkdowns.

Henry wasn't much different, settling down after a couple overthrown passes. He found a rhythm thanks to a handful of simple play-action rollouts and hitches, some of the most basic offensive calls.

The true freshman's 41-yard bomb to George Campbell set up an earlier touchdown, then Henry relied on underneath targets before finding Rudolph.

After 60-plus minutes, Henry registered a respectable line, completing 15-of-22 passes for 205 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

But Francois' repeated mistakes and Henry's (expected) inconsistency are too glaring for anyone to make a snap judgment that Maguire has somehow lost the job. Fisher confirmed that thought, per Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.

And that's not a slight on Francois or Henry. Their combined performance suggested Florida State will have one heck of a competition in 2017.

Yet Maguire's knowledge of the system is an overwhelming positive for the senior, who Fisher previously said could be "full speed" in June, according to Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post.

Remember, Maguire threw nine touchdowns to just two interceptions when not playing on a broken ankle. He's a proven player, not simply the veteran on the roster.

That experience will be a notable factor in the competition. Either Francois or Henry would have to absolutely overwhelm the rest of the competition to overtake Maguire.

After the spring game, via the ESPN stream, Fisher said there were "not enough" flashes of excellence.

"But you saw what we can be," he added.

The Seminoles' future under center is dazzling, but they'll likely be waiting one more season to let the young talent shine.

Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Florida State Football: Winners and Losers from Seminoles' 2016 Spring

The 2016 Florida State spring season is officially over, and now it's a countdown to the fall. 

With 11 returning offensive starters, the Seminoles have plenty to look forward to this coming season. But there's still many questions left, and Saturday's spring game was the last glimpse into any answers we'll get for now. 

With that, let's take a look at the winners and losers of the Florida State spring camp. 

Begin Slideshow

Auburn Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The blue and orange side of Alabama might want to try to forget about last season. Auburn football went 7-6 in 2015, its worst mark since 2012, while watching the University of Alabama win its 16th national championship.   

Tigers fans had a chance to look ahead on Saturday with the school's annual A-Day—Auburn's version of its spring game—as the Blue team defeated the White team, 19-10. 

There are some big-time questions that need answering, especially under center. A transfer from East Mississippi Community College is expected to be the man to lead Auburn. 

John Franklin III, who has made his name in football by utilizing his blazing speed, wasn't consistently lighting it up with his arm, as Brandon Marcello of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted:

However, he did show off his throwing ability on his lone touchdown pass, via Dana Sulonen of the Opelika-Auburn News:

Franklin might have some competition in Sean White, who had a decent outing himself. But neither came out of A-Day exhibiting the skill or confidence to lead a threatening SEC program. Saturday Down South tried to pick between the two:

Franklin's day was done after the first two quarters, and Auburn Gold Mine took a look at the two quarterbacks' stats at halftime:

The busiest member of Auburn and probably the most valuable player of A-Day was kicker Daniel Carlson, who booted five field goals for both teams in the first half alone. 

He hit two from 25 yards out, one from 33, another from 52 and another from 55, his longest of the day. Auburn Football had a look at the 55-yarder:

While Carlson was succeeding, Auburn's offense—whether it be the Blue or White team—had problems punching the ball into the end zone, which concerned Marcello:

The Blue team managed to build on its 12-10 halftime lead when quarterback Jeremy Johnson hit Roc Davis for an eight-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter in the last score of the day. 

With mental mistakes and sloppy play galore, Auburn has a lot of work to do if it wants to challenge in the always-difficult SEC next season. It will all start at the quarterback position, and if Franklin does get the nod as the team's starter, it might be best for the Tigers to keep the offense simple and utilize him as a dual threat. 

Once Franklin's able to grasp the offense, Auburn can play a quick-tempo style and could possibly be a dangerous team to meet in 2016. 

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Clemson Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

It's been about three months since the Clemson Tigers fell short in the national championship game to the University of Alabama.   

On Saturday, Clemson fans got another opportunity to see their Tigers play before the 2016 season starts in their annual spring game.

The Orange team took down the White team 17-9 as quarterback Deshaun Watson reminded everyone he's one of the elite quarterbacks in the nation.

In the first quarter—the only one in which he took snaps for both teams—Watson went a combined 7-of-11 for 141 yards and two touchdowns for the Orange team as it hopped out to a 14-3 lead. 

The Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner broke down Watson's stats:

ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson already saw everything she needed from him:

ESPN.com's Jared Shanker was just happy to see Watson back out on the field:

Watson is going to have some big standards to live up to as he looks to follow up a 2015 season in which he threw for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for an additional 1,105 yards. 

There is some competition to find Watson's main backup, though, between Nick Schuessler and Kelly Bryant.

Schuessler brought the White team within five points at 14-9 in the second quarter with its first touchdown of the game after starting 7-of-7 for 47 yards. 

Shakin The Southland liked what it saw from Schuessler:

But a missed extra point and field goal by Alex Spence held back the White team from gaining even more ground before halftime.

While Watson remains a constant, Clemson will have a new look on defense, as it is returning just four starters. 

It lost some big names in the process too, including defensive end Shaq Lawson, lineman Kevin Dodd and cornerback Mackensie Alexander. 

With the defense not allowed contact with the quarterbacks, the line could not fully be scouted, but the secondary looked decent with a pair of interceptions in the first half off of Bryant. 

Brenner once again showed the quarterback comparisons:

Bryant finished the day with a 9-of-17 mark for 128 yards.

One defensive player in particular who did have a solid outing on Saturday was linebacker Kendall Joseph, a redshirt freshman who recorded seven tackles on the day as he displayed his ability to diagnose plays and run down ball-carriers.

Clemson splits its team into three units called the White, Purple and Pride teams instead of labeling them the first, second and third units. 

In the second half, the younger players and those not expected to see much playing time next season, better known as the Pride team, took over to close out the game. 

Regardless of the result, this gave head coach Dabo Swinney a nice opportunity to see which players he could perhaps start to rely on moving toward the 2016 season. If the coach likes what he sees, especially on the defensive side of the ball, then Clemson will be just fine as long as Watson is under center. 

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Texas A&M Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

Maroon 28, White 28—Halftime

The 2016 Texas A&M spring game is underway in College Station as the Maroon squad takes on the White squad at Kyle Field. 

You can watch the game live on the SEC Network, but make sure to stay right here for the latest news, notes and analysis. Also, make sure to stick with us after the game wraps up, too, as we take a look at some of A&M's top performers from this spring.  

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