NCAA Football News

Bold Predictions for 2016 College Football Offseason

The 2015 college football season officially ended Monday night when Alabama held off Clemson 45-40 in a fantastic national title game, but the great thing about college football is that it never really ends. While no games are played, the offseason—from now until September—tends to generate a healthy share of news that impacts the games that unfold on the field.

Coaching-staff shuffles, realignment rumors, player arrests, head coaching smack talk—it’s all talk, but it fuels fans’ fires for the part of the college football calendar that truly matters. Here’s a look at some bold predictions for the 2016 college football offseason. “Bold” predictions doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll happen, but they’re certainly within the realm of possibility. Let’s go.

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Adam Kramer's College Football Notebook: Complete Offseason Preview

Thanks to industrial-sized fans and a crew the size of Alabama’s scout team, the confetti that blanketed University of Phoenix Stadium hours earlier was gathered in piles and slowly taken out of sight.

Not long after Alabama had retreated to the locker room to spark victory cigars, the grass on the empty stadium started to re-emerge, one patch after the next, until no traces of confetti were left. Another brilliant college football campaign—one of heartbreak, triumph and lasting individual moments—was tucked into storage.

This is the hard part.

There is no easy way to stomach this transition. No words will fill that football-less void. But the start of the offseason is not exclusively dreadful; we are now a wee bit closer to what might be the greatest Week 1 slate of games ever played.

Let us not look back. In fact, with everything still so fresh, let us look forward.

Feast your eyes on the delectable football buffet.

This is what's coming. And in time, we will get there. When we have exhausted every storyline, overrated and underrated every team, and undoubtedly been handed a fistful of unexpected turns along the way, we will be treated to a weekend-long celebration of the sport we already miss.

So do not bury yourself any deeper than you need to, friend. Do not let the end of the year overpower your senses. Just don’t lose sight on what’s ahead.

Here’s a look at what storylines may greet us before we get there, an early Top 25 that everyone will completely and totally agree on, and a checklist of important matters to accomplish before we do the whole thing all over again.

 

Five Important (and Unavoidable) Offseason Storylines

1. Playoff Aftershock: After a wonderful debut, here is the current state of the College Football Playoff. Ratings for semifinals plummeted on New Year’s Eve—a development expected by basically everyone except the people running the whole thing. Even a compelling title game saw a drop in viewership of more than 15 percent, according to John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal. As for the overall picture, John Consoli of Broadcasting & Cable magazine reported that ESPN might have to pony up more than $20 million in makegoods to sponsors for falling below projections.

The master puppeteers tasked with pulling all the playoff strings say all is well even though the walls are on fire. They say it’s only one year and semifinals will continue to be played on a night most people have other plans. They say the existing bowl contracts getting in the way of logic are no big deal.

The reality, however, is that no sport cherishes a full piggy bank more than this one. With so much ground lost, the topic of switching playing times and altering bowl contracts will persist over the months to follow.

 

2. New-Look Buckeyes: Nine Ohio State underclassmen decided they were ready for the NFL, which makes the Buckeyes one of the nation’s most curious teams moving forward. Add in the loss of a handful of seniors, and Urban Meyer will have to replace a significant portion of an immensely gifted roster. 

(Spoiler: It's still pretty darn gifted.)

It would be reckless to assume Ohio State could seamlessly fill the holes left by Joey Bosa and the likes. With that being said, this depth chart is densely packed with hungry, talented replacements. This is probably the closest assembly line to what Alabama has to offer out there.

In a sea of change, the return of quarterback J.T. Barrett cannot be emphasized enough. And while many might handicap a major drop-off come fall, it may not be as drastic as we’re led to believe. Stay tuned.

 

3. SEC West Meat Grinder: A year ago, if you told me that Gus Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin and Les Miles would be sitting on warm, uncomfortable chairs entering the 2016 season, I would have chortled at this take until losing consciousness. But this is where we are now after three different debacles ranging in severity.

All three, despite having vastly different situations and outsider perceptions, need big seasons to keep their jobs.

Looking at the rosters, the most logical of the three to do so appears to be Miles. More on that in a bit. Although at this point, nothing should be assumed for any of the three. The only thing known is that the SEC West will be somehow more cutthroat this spring than it already was, which is saying plenty.

 

4. Heisman Hysteria: We are on the cusp of one the most fascinating Heisman races the sport has seen in ages—a battle that will undoubtedly generate enough propaganda and declarations to rival this year’s presidential election. The campaigning began during bowl season and the playoff with huge performances, and it will persist until actual games are played.

Just think about the talent we have coming our way for one more season: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and many, many others will return with a vengeance in the fall.

The star power is extraordinary, and it’s going to be spectacular when the hype eventually takes a backseat to actual games. Please, for the love of everything, everyone stay healthy. Don’t practice. Don’t go outside. Wrap yourselves in bubble wrap, and let’s invent a time machine.

 

5. The Great Unknown: Piggybacking off the point above, the offseason’s most significant storylines are off in the distance—out of sight and buried beneath the surface. They are the things we couldn’t possibly predict.

Outside of national signing day, spring practice and media days, you don’t want to hear your team mentioned over the next seven months. No news is usually good news—especially after a season that saw an outbreak of injuries unlike any we have seen in some time.

The only constant over the months to follow is that there is no distinct pattern: injuries, legal issues (ugh), unexpected transfers and other unknown developments will ultimately shape where we go from here.

Hopefully these negative developments don’t involve your team. Hopefully they don’t involve any team, for that matter.

 

So…Will Alabama Still Be Good?

On the flight home from Arizona, Nick Saban was caught watching film of the national championship. He wasn’t celebrating or decompressing. He was watching film. After a brief nap, he woke up and tossed on the game tape without another game on the schedule—something ESPN caught a glimpse of while tagging along for the ride home.

"We always evaluate how we did in the game on offense, defense and special teams," Saban told ESPN’s Marty Smith. "We don't have a lot of time to do this when we get back because we have to go recruiting as soon as possible.”

In short, coaches, this is what you are up against. This is what you have to deal with until he says he’s had enough, which isn’t coming this year.

“I know you can't do this forever,” Saban said when asked about retirement. “But I certainly enjoy the moment and certainly look forward to the future challenges that we have and really have no timetable for ever not being a part of a team.”

To answer the question originally generated in the above subheadline: Yes.

Now, let’s dive a little deeper.

Saban has crafted the kind of machine that can lose a Heisman winner, its starting quarterback, plus a plethora of quality defensive talent and still return a team that will be a popular choice to repeat.

The focus will likely be at quarterback for the third consecutive offseason, and, more specifically, on soon-to-be redshirt freshman Blake Barnett. If Barnett struggles, Cooper Bateman could win the gig.

As for replacing Henry, Alabama will likely lean on two former 5-star talents who are both incredibly talented and gifted. Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris, while lacking experience, will give Alabama one of the most dynamic backfields in the country. (Seriously, if you have not seen Scarbrough yet, you are in for a treat.)

Defensively, Alabama will have to absorb the losses of some key members up front. But given the unbelievable depth (and youth) still on the roster, the drop-off between this year’s dominant unit and the one in line may not be much.

Alabama undoubtedly has questions entering this offseason, but these are the kind of questions only a team like Alabama has to answer.

It’s not a matter of good; it’s more like how good?

 

What About Clemson?

Keep in mind that the Tigers soared well beyond all reasonable expectations without Mike Williams, their talented wideout, who was lost in the very first week after suffering a serious neck injury.

So many offensive pieces, headlined by quarterback Deshaun Watson, will return next season. They will give opposing defensive coordinators night terrors. Watson has a chance to do something extraordinary, and he has everything around him to function at such an elevated level.

The big question, of course, is the defense. For the second year in a row, Clemson must replace a slew of NFL talent along that side of the ball. 

The Tigers filled these holes somewhat seamlessly in 2015. But now Mackensie Alexander, Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Travis Blanks, Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green will need to be replaced after saying farewell.

In most games, it won't matter. The Tigers offense will bury an opponent in so many points that the defense will just need to sign in. But that may not fly in games with higher stakes, like playoff games, and that's precisely what the expectations are moving forward.

The defense has questions, but you might as well start game-planning for Watson now, opposing coordinators. Did you see what he just did to one of the best defenses of the last five years?

 

Three Teams That Will Be Sold Excessively and Repeatedly This Offseason

Tennessee: THIS IS THE YEAR. THIS ONE—THIS ONE RIGHT HERE—IS MOST CERTAINLY THE YEAR.

You know what? The gentleman who commandeered my computer momentarily dressed as Smokey in a Peyton Manning jersey might not be wrong. The offense will remain almost entirely intact, and the defense, already chock-full of good, young players, will now have the services of recently acquired defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.

That’s an excellent hire at a critical time. It’s also an outstanding time to play in the SEC East—a division the Vols will be heavily favored to win.

It’s hard to argue with the building buzz here, quite honestly. I get it. But be prepared regardless.

 

LSU: Having survived The Great Baton Rogue Booster Apocalypse, Les Miles returns in 2015 with a team loaded in many places. Running back Leonard Fournette is back and could be better, which is moderately terrifying. The defense, having lured Dave Aranda from Madison, is poised to be one of the nation’s best.

The concern exists in a place it has existed before: quarterback.

Can Brandon Harris be just good enough—not outstanding, but acceptable—for this team to match significant expectations? The assumption for many will be probably, which is why it will be sold en masse and repackaged until fall.

 

Michigan: Let me start by saying that I will be one of many carrying the offseason Michigan torch. With the exception of quarterback—and even this part of the roster has options—the Wolverines have all of the ingredients, not to mention an elite recruiting class coming in, to be a team that competes for a national championship.

John O'Korn, a Houston transfer, is the quarterback who will be mentioned plenty this year. He could be the missing piece for a team with few questions outside of linebacker, which needs to be completely overhauled.

Oh, and then there’s that Harbaugh individual. That seems important. Last offseason really was The Jim Harbaugh Show. Let’s see what he has planned for an encore.

 

Five Names You Need to Know by Fall

Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State): Hopefully many of you know him by now. Penn State fans are certainly well aware. Saquon Barkley’s freshman season was one of production and jaw-dropping moves. He finished the year with more than 1,000 yards rushing and also caught 20 passes. Moving forward, he will be the key cog in James Franklin’s offense and a budding superstar.

Jake Browning (QB, Washington): Chris Petersen has his quarterback. That much became apparent late in the year when Jake Browning, only a freshman, started to get cozy in the offense. Browning had two four-touchdown games in the second half of the season. He made mistakes along the way, as most freshman QBs will do, but he improved a great deal. While the focus in the Pac-12 will be on UCLA’s Josh Rosen, don’t be surprised if Browning makes a big splash next year.

Sam Hubbard (DE, Ohio State): The next great defensive lineman for Ohio State—the one tasked with replacing Joey Bosa—is already on the roster. Sam Hubbard finished with 6.5 sacks in his redshirt season despite logging limited snaps, and he’s still only learning the position and growing into his body. By the end of 2016, Hubbard will be one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten. I'm not sure he's quite at Bosa's level, but he has a chance to be awfully close.

Marlon Mack (RB, South Florida): Next year’s running back class is unimaginably talented and deep. And while we salivate over known commodities, don’t forget Marlon Mack, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two years at the collegiate level. In 2015, he ran for nearly 1,400 yards and averaged 6.6. yards per carry. South Florida is poised for takeoff next season now that there is stable ground, and Mack could be in line for a monster 2016. 

Dakota Prukop (QB, Oregon): The Ducks are back to the graduate-transfer well once again. After hitting a home run with Vernon Adams Jr., Dakota Prukop is the new quarterback in Eugene, Oregon. At Montana State, Prukop was a star. He scored nearly 40 touchdowns last season and is a true dual-threat. He's big, fast and can push the ball downfield. He's a much different player than Adams, although he could provide a similar impact. At the moment, he seems like the favorite to be Oregon’s starting quarterback next fall.

 

The Entirely-Too-Early, Make-You-Unreasonably-Incensed Top 25

Here’s the thing about ranking teams days after the national championship and weeks before national signing day: It doesn’t carry much weight, and it enrages just about everyone.

With those factors fully recognized, let’s rank some teams.

Yes, things will look different. Players leave. Injuries (unfortunately) will reshape expectations. The rosters in mid-January will vary significantly from those in early August. Change is the only assurance.

Plus, anger is a good color on you.

1. Clemson

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma

4. Michigan

5. Florida State

6. Notre Dame

7. LSU

8. Ohio State

9. Houston

10. Tennessee

11. Baylor

12. Stanford

13. Ole Miss

14. Michigan State

15. Oklahoma State

16. USC

17. TCU

18. Iowa

19. North Carolina

20. Oregon

21. Washington

22. Georgia

23. Louisville

24. Florida

25. UCLA 

Teams that barely missed, aka the last chance to cool your Internet rage: Arkansas, Miami, Northwestern, South Florida, TCU, Washington State, Wisconsin.

 

Offseason Checklist Items

There is indeed a life outside of computer screens, box scores, stadiums and airports. Or, so I have been told.

It’s always hard to ease back into this life, but let’s attempt to do so regardless.

Family: Three days after I arrived home from the national championship, a new kitchen set arrived for my 16-month-old daughter. I assumed it would be a seamless assembly until I opened the box.

I will be putting together this kitchen until August. I also look forward to that extra family time—the most anticipated  perk of the season coming to a close.

Fitness: The season ruined me. It’s time to get back on the ol’ horse until I abandon that horse later in the year. I can report that the first few intense treadmill sessions have been slightly less awful than expected. Great start.

Golf: I love golf. I am bad at golf. I am writing this sentence while sitting in a house caked in snow and ice. But eventually, we will get to a point when I can go outside again and play bad golf. Come quickly.

Find New Television Shows: I am locked in for Better Call Saul and The Americans. That is about it. I am anxious to start BoJack Horseman after many reviews, although I need more. I welcome your suggestions.

Fallout 4: This is the Alabama football of games. It might consume me to the point where I do nothing else on this list.

Rearrange/Finish the Basement: Of all the things listed here, I feel quite comfortable saying that this is the least likely to get done. In fact, thinking about it now, this has almost no chance of happening. Maybe next year.

 

Thanks for a great season. Thank you for reading. This sport, as you know, doesn't have an offseason these days. There will be things to discuss. We'll get by.

That glorious Week 1 slate of games will be here before you know it. Cheers.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

B/R CFB Recruiting 200: Top 12 Interior Offensive Linemen

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report recruiting analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports Composite Rankings and provided in-depth analysis. As the summer camp circuit comes to a close, Bleacher Report provides a position-by-position breakdown of the best college football recruits. Today, we present the Top Interior Linemen.

 

The foundation for winning big in college football begins in the trenches. 

A quick glance at the top teams in the country shows that the interiors of their respective offensive lines are stout and able to control the action in the middle of the field.

The 2016 recruiting class features a number of intriguing guard and center prospects who are built to dominate at the next level. 

The latest edition of the B/R Recruiting CFB 200 series focuses on the top interior linemen in the 2016 class.

Bleacher Report scored the top offensive guards and centers on key metrics, such as strength (20 points), pass protection (30 points), run blocking (40 points) and explosion (10 points). The cumulative figures from those traits resulted in our overall grade for each prospect. 

How do the nation’s top interior offensive linemen grade out?

 

All analysis provided by B/R National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani. OG denotes offensive guard and OC denotes offensive center.

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Deshaun Watson's Goal Is to Make Clemson's Offense the 'Best Ever'

Fresh off a Vince Young-like performance in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game that ended on a sour note, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is not done.

Not even close.

The 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist threw for 405 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 73, and put up more yards against Alabama's defense himself than any other team did all year in the 45-40 loss on Monday night in Glendale, Arizona.

"Being able to improve on what we did this year with a lot more veterans, we have a chance to be one of the best offenses ever in college football," Watson said while accepting the 2015 Manning Award given to the nation's top quarterback.

"That's our motivation. To be the best ever."

A lofty goal, sure. But based on how they closed the season, even a small step forward might put the Tigers in the thick of that discussion.

They are currently on an 11-game streak in which the offense totaled more than 500 yards. The last time they fell under the 500-yard mark was at home in the 24-22 win over Notre Dame in a monsoon in Death Valley.

To put that in proper perspective, only 15 teams averaged 500 or more yards per game this year—nine of which were in Power Five conferences.

Clemson closed hot, and the loss to Alabama has Watson hungrier than ever.

"Even if we would have won the game and finished 15-0 and made history, it would still be the drive to achieve it again," he said. "We have to learn from the game. Everyone is very confident that we can play with the best. We went toe-to-toe with them to the last play, and it came down to that onside kick. We have a lot of confidence in this program, and Coach [Dabo] Swinney has been doing a great job over the last several years getting ready for moments like that, and we're going to come back stronger."

"I'm going to go back and watch the games from this year and fix the interceptions that I threw," he said. "Some throws I overthrew because I was kind of rushed, trusting my footwork and the guys around you. Little things like that...my mechanics, making sure I'm real polished with that. Reading defenses. I think I do a really good job of reading defenses, but I want to get better."

The core of the Tigers offense will be back in 2016, including stud receiver Artavis Scott and fellow receiver Mike Williams, who missed virtually the entire season after suffering a neck injury in the season opener. On top of that, the young offensive line—which was a question mark coming into the season—should be even better than it was in 2015, when it gave up just 1.2 sacks per game.

Wayne Gallman, who racked up 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns, announced this week that he will pass up the chance to jump at the NFL to return to Clemson in hopes of making another title-game run.

"It was great to hear that Wayne wanted to come back, graduate and take one more ride with us," Watson said. "It's going to be a special year. I feel like he's one of the best running backs in the country, and he has proven that."

Watson's return and the experience of the offense have set the goals awfully high in Clemson following the ACC title and appearance in the national championship.

The best offense ever?

Bold but not impossible.

Just take it from Watson: "Next year is going to be very special."

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com, 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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arkansas RB Alex Collins Has All the Makings of a 1st-Round Pick

The age of the first-round running back has long since come to pass as NFL teams devalue running backs' importance, and for good reason. But along with Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott, Arkansas RB Alex Collins has the unique skill set to buck the trend and match last year's draft with two Round 1 running back selections. While he'll have competition for draft position with Elliott and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, Collins will earn high marks throughout the draft process with his sights set on the top 32 picks.

The top-ranked running back in the country coming out of high school, per 247Sports, Collins emerged as the SEC Freshman of the Year en-route to a thriving career at Arkansas. Sharing time with Jonathan Williams, another NFL-worthy back, early in his career, Collins remains relatively fresh among NFL running back prospects, with three years of experience and under 700 career touches. 

Offering elite acceleration when he has space, Collins possesses top-end speed that should approach the 4.4-second level at the NFL combine's 40-yard dash, and he gets to that top speed in a hurry during live-game action. That type of acceleration, coupled with his sheer size and bulk, gives him a Le’Veon Bell-like impact in the open field, as he can win with speed or power in open space.

Offering plus-strength at first contact, Collins works through tacklers even before he’s built up speed. In this play against Texas Tech, Collins couples that initial break through contact with that elite acceleration, gaining speed at an alarmingly fast pace and leaving second- and third-level defenders behind him en route to a long touchdown run:

He can be a bit off balance and reckless laterally when initially getting to the hole. Offering a one-cut-and-go running style when his initial hole is open, Collins gains speed at a high level and turns into a downhill, remarkably physical open-field runner.

The occasional issues in his initial running angles stem from an overeagerness to get into one-on-one opportunities. He can get lost in his initial burst at times, and could stand to play with a bit more control as he approaches the hole on most non-draw plays.

However, that primarily stems from his understanding that few college tacklers can finish against him in one-on-one opportunities. His initial-step issues are a coachable fix, and with that being his biggest issue, it could simply be a matter of a year of development before Collins is trustworthy enough to not miss opportunities at the NFL level. 

He keeps his feet moving persistently at contact, and stays strong with a willingness to fight through double tackles. He’s willing to lower his head and bulldoze upfield, keeping his feet moving. He wasn’t asked to do this often at the college level thanks to his offense and the spread nature of his blocks, but he’s displayed the ability to throw off-balance defenders off him in the red zone and initiate physicality himself. Through contact and as he splits tight gaps at the second level, he’s able to both get skinny and balanced along with playing with great ball security.

His acceleration coupled with quick cuts laterally at the second level allow him to consistently gain separation and keep his top speed in the open field. His vertical speed rarely loses steam as he changes direction subtly in the open field, and despite appearing and playing like a bigger, more physical back, Collins offers elite open-field maneuvers to spring free.

In this play against Kansas State, notice how he works around the edge with a slower buildup, accelerates once he passes the first level and evades the open-field tackler easily with an inside cut, gaining speed at a remarkably high level for a tackle-breaking running back:

His initial vision and anticipation of defensive alignments could be improved, however, as his offensive system at times allowed for larger gaps than he’ll see at the pro level. But that’s generally true of many top running backs in offenses that threaten horizontally and vertically.

Finally, he received ample work as a pass-catcher in his junior season, including lining up in the slot, and has better than expected route-running footwork and spins his head back to the quarterback with control and readiness. Collins’ flashes as a receiver stem from confidence in space and in one-on-one matchups. He’s not an efficient route-runner yet, but he’s comfortable off of play action and in delayed routes.

Collins dips his head occasionally in pass protection on the perimeter, but he’s effective against both speed- and power-rushers. That said, he is much further along and has more experience, than most college running backs entering the NFL draft

To offer first-round value as a running back, a prospect needs to show rare running upside that can single-handedly lead an offense. With most of the NFL's top running backs being drafted after Round 1, or not at all, it's much easier to dismiss the position on the first day rather than appreciate the elite talent.

Collins doesn't have to be a Todd Gurley or Adrian Peterson type talent, but he needs to boast a skill set that can offer an offense an impact that few can provide at the NFL level. The former top-rated high school running back has the bulk, strength and acceleration combination that already puts him in the upper echelon of NFL running backs as soon as he's drafted.

It'll take at least a year in the NFL before his complete upside can be realized at the NFL level, but Collins will receive lofty draft comparisons and expectations throughout the draft process.

Collins has to earn a first-round grade from NFL teams, and at his position, with other top running backs vying for the same spot, it won't be an easy task. But he is one of the few elite skill-position talents in the 2016 NFL draft, and with so few franchise-changing players in each draft class, Collins may be too special to pass on in Round 1.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Defensive Recruits Who Could Fortify Bob Shoop's Inaugural Defense at Tennessee

New Tennessee Volunteers defensive coordinator Bob Shoop received two huge bits of good news in the six days since he's been on the job with outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton electing to return to Rocky Top for their senior seasons.

But even with those elite players being the best "recruits" the Volunteers could land between now and national signing day, there are still some actual prospects who could make an immediate impact and are still very much in the picture.

With the linebacker position relatively secure, any player UT adds at that position would be a luxury. That doesn't mean the Vols are done recruiting that position, however.

There are also still major needs on the defensive line and in the secondary that should be addressed in this class. And coach Butch Jones is awaiting the final decisions for several marquee players.

Shoop needs bodies to fill out some roles in the rotation, and there are still a few guys on the recruiting board who could step right in and play for Tennessee. Getting the right players could shore up what looks on paper to be an extremely strong unit.

That's why you'll see the Vols go official-visit heavy in this final remaining month, trying to find the right few players to fill the final handful of spots left in the 2016 class.

The ranking may not be as high as the previous couple of years, but the Vols still could wind up filling all their needs. The Vols are going to cast a wide net for the precious few spots left, and with a new coordinator and new names popping up every day, the board is fluid.

Let's take a look at some prospects who could make a very big splash right away for UT.

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Georgia Football: Why the Bulldogs Should Run More Spread-Offense Plays in 2016

When Mark Richt was the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, he ran a pro-style offense that quarterbacks such as David Greene, D.J. Shockley, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray were able to succeed in.

Now that Richt has moved on to Miami, Kirby Smart has arrived, and he comes from an Alabama program that runs a similar offense. The Crimson Tide ran a single-back, run-oriented scheme that throws off of play action. That offense, along with a stifling defense, has led Alabama to four national titles in a seven-year span.

So this means the Bulldogs will not change things when it comes to their offensive philosophy, right? That may not be the case, because there’s a good chance the Bulldogs will “spread” things out in 2016, if you know what I mean. And here’s why.

 

Jim Chaney

New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has a ton of experience running offenses at the college level. He’s led Purdue, Arkansas, Tennessee and Pittsburgh, and all of those schools had different offensive styles.

Chaney is best known for his work at Purdue in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He ran a spread offense there led by quarterbacks Drew Brees and Kyle Orton. When Chaney was at Tennessee, he ran a pro-style offense that was more focused on passing. That led to quarterback Tyler Bray ranking 13th in the country in passing yards per game (301) and eighth in passing touchdowns (34) in 2012.

When Chaney got to Arkansas, he adopted a run-heavy offense, and that led to the Razorbacks averaging 208.7 rushing yards per game in 2013. In 2014, the Razorbacks improved on that total, averaging 218 rushing yards per game.

What Chaney is good at is finding the strengths of each player on the offensive side of the ball. And since he’s also been a quarterbacks coach, he knows how to make the starting quarterback as comfortable as possible.

 

Jacob Eason

And that leads to the next point. Jacob Eason will have a legitimate shot to win the starting job in 2016. And if he does get it, he will be working with an offensive coordinator who will put him in the best position to make plays.

247Sports has Eason listed as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback prospect in the country. However, he played in a spread offense in high school, and he threw 43 touchdowns and six interceptions his senior year.

Jacob Eason throwing strikes just over the defender. https://t.co/ER5auRR6eX

— Jake Reuse (@ReuseRecruiting) January 4, 2016

Eason has the tools to be a great quarterback in Athens because he has the arm strength, the size and the accuracy to do some damage against SEC opponents.

He needs to be put in a position where he is very comfortable, and while Chaney will likely use a pro-style offense in 2016, per Bill King of DawgNation, having some spread plays in the mix will be vital for the Bulldogs in terms of contending in the SEC.

 

Mixing It Up

When Richt was here, the Bulldogs were dead set on running the pro-style offense. And while it was efficient when everyone was on the same page, it was too predictable at times, which was a huge issue last season.

When Smart had his first press conference as the Bulldogs head coach, he said the offense can’t just be one style and there has to be some variety to it.

Smart discussed his offensive philosophy with Seth Emerson of DawgNation:

Now to say are you going to be spread or are you going to be pro? I don’t think you can pigeonhole yourself into that. I like to think you’ve got to be both in both situations. You’ve got to utilize the talent you have on your team. What kind of players do you have on your team? What does it set up to be successful?

The Bulldogs lacked explosive plays last season. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb were relied on too much to carry the offense, and the passing game suffered because of it. If the Bulldogs mix in spread plays, guys like Isaiah McKenzie and Terry Godwin will have more opportunities to make plays on the outside.

This makes the spring game really interesting. If we see the Bulldogs line up in the spread offense a few times on G-Day, fans could be in for an exciting 2016 season.

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Frank Wilson Reportedly Hired as UTSA Head Coach: Comments, Reaction

Frank Wilson, who has spent the past six seasons as an assistant coach with the LSU Tigers, was reportedly hired Thursday as the new head coach of the UTSA Roadrunners, per Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com.

UTSA finished 3-9 during the 2015 season, leading Larry Coker to step down after five years. The opening at coach was one of 26 among FBS schools this offseason, and Wilson became the fifth African-American to fill one of the spots, per David Ching of ESPN.com.

The hiring comes on the same day NCAA President Mark Emmert expressed "concern that women and minorities are not being given a fair shot to become coaches and administrators in college athletics," per Max Olson of ESPN.com.

LSU sophomore center Andy Dodd congratulated his former coach via Twitter:

If Wilson, who most recently served as running backs coach at LSU, is measured by the success of his former players, he is one of the nation's best. Ching noted Wilson is one of the top recruiters in college football, while three of his former players—Alfred Blue (Houston Texans), Spencer Ware (Kansas City Chiefs) and Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati Bengals)—led their respective teams in rushing in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs.

Wilson now has a tougher task ahead of him: leading a program that has played football for only five seasons, four of which have been at the FBS level. The Roadrunners are 26-32 in their short history, with their best season coming in 2012—their first in the FBS—with an 8-4 record.

He won't have the likes of Blue, Ware, Hill and Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns this past year, knocking down the door to come play for him next year. However, if social media is any indication, his former players have great respect for him. Former LSU running back Jacob Hester also praised Wilson while possibly lobbying for his old job:

Wilson will become just the second head coach in school history.

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Ohio State, Nike Agree to Contract Extension: Latest Details and Comments

The Ohio State Buckeyes have earned bragging rights on the football field after winning at least 12 games in each of the last four seasons under head coach Urban Meyer and winning last year’s inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship.

They now have more bragging rights in the financial aspect of college sports as well.

According to Chris Davey of OSU.edu, Ohio State and Nike signed a 15-year contract extension Thursday. “The majority of the benefits take effect in August 2018, when the previous contract would have expired,” per Davey.

Dave Briggs of the Toledo Blade added that the deal is worth $252 million in total, "including $215 million in cash and products."

Rob Kunz of Time Warner Cable SportsChannel Ohio reacted to the contract:

Ohio State University President Michael V. Drake commented on the deal, per Davey: “The comprehensive nature of this partnership is a win for all Ohio State students. The expanded commitment by Nike will support access, affordability and excellence for Buckeye students and student-athletes across our campus.”

President and general manager of Nike North America Joaquin Hidalgo also remarked on the contract extension, per Davey:

The Ohio State University has been a NIKE partner for over two decades and we’re delighted to extend that partnership with the school through the 2033 academic year. NIKE and Ohio State share similar values of innovation and a commitment to excellence, and we look forward to an exciting future both on and off the field for years to come.

This is not the first time the Buckeyes have been in the news for their financial windfall in the offseason. Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal recently noted that Ohio State’s football team was the most valuable program in the country in 2015 at a value of $946.6 million. It was the program’s second straight year on top of those rankings.

In regard to Thursday’s contract extension with Nike, DJ Byrnes of Eleven Warriors pointed out that “the deal surpasses Nike's then-record 15-year, $250 million agreement with Texas and its 11-year, $169 million deal with Michigan.”

Buckeyes fans have watched their football team handle the archrival Wolverines in 11 of the last 12 years, including a 42-13 beatdown in Ann Arbor during the 2015 season, which was Jim Harbaugh’s first campaign as Michigan’s head coach.

Now, Buckeye Nation can add Thursday’s Nike deal as another way their program has surpassed Michigan’s in recent years.

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Leaders and Wild Cards for Every Uncommitted 2016 5-Star Recruit

The 2016 college football recruiting cycle continues to wind down, and we're now less than three weeks shy of national signing day. This final stretch will be defined by pivotal official visits, late pursuits from new coaching staffs and, undoubtedly, some surprises.

While many of America's marquee high school prospects already announced collegiate commitments or actually enrolled on campus early, 10 5-star recruits remain undecided. Many of these athletes started to receive substantial amounts of scholarship offers as underclassmen, so it's a process that extends years for them and their families. 

We examined the recruitments of these top-tier talents, identifying leading contenders and wild-card candidates for each prized prospect at this point.

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Auburn Football: 5 Reasons the Tigers Should Be Optimistic About 2016

At first glance, there might not be a lot to be overly optimistic about for the 2016 Auburn Tigers. 

The Tigers will be coming off a highly disappointing 7-6 campaign that started with championship hype. They'll be on their fifth defensive coordinator in six years. The quarterback situation doesn't have a clear answer, and Auburn will have to reload at several position groups.

This combination of factors and question marks put Auburn at No. 9 in Bleacher Report lead SEC writer Barrett Sallee's way-too-early power rankings for the conference. 

But this is Auburn, a program that doesn't quite stick to preseason expectations. The Tigers' best seasons in the last couple of decades all came when they didn't open the year inside the Top 20. 

Auburn still has plenty of talent and resources needed for a successful season—it's just a matter of it all coming together for Gus Malzahn and his roster. Here are five reasons why Tigers fans can be hopeful that will happen in 2016.

 

The return of Carl Lawson 

Auburn wasn't able to retain what it hoped would be the architect of a strong defense, but its biggest difference-maker is staying put for 2016.

A few weeks after one-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was officially announced as South Carolina's head coach, Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson announced he would not enter the 2016 NFL draft in a Wolf of Wall Street-inspired tweet:

Lawson's father confirmed the news to Brandon Marcello of AL.com and gave some insight on why his son was staying at Auburn:

He does love Auburn and he wants to get his degree, which he's close to doing. He feels like he personally set some goals for himself when he came, he hasn't accomplished them yet and he wants to get that done. He just figures he hasn't played his best football and he certainly wants to win a national championship ring. There's a lot of things he wants to do and show he can come back and get better.

While Lawson is just one player, he has been crucial to Auburn's defensive success since he enrolled prior to the 2013 season.

The pass-rush specialist missed virtually one half of the 2015 season—the second half of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against Louisville and the next six games—because of a hip injury. 

When Lawson returned, Auburn's defensive numbers improved.

If Byron Cowart can develop into a force alongside tackles Montravius Adams and Dontavius Russell, Lawson should lead a fierce Auburn defensive line into 2016. A consistent pass rush has been Auburn's biggest defensive weakness these last two seasons, and that lineup should be able to get great pressure.

 

A deep group of experienced running backs 

It's no secret Malzahn's offense works at its absolute best with a dual-threat quarterback.

And with Auburn picking up two such signal-callers in this year's recruiting class—JUCO transfer John Franklin III and incoming freshman Woody Barrett—a move back to the run-heavy system of offense could be in store for 2016.

That would be the best move for Malzahn, whose play-calling received plenty of deserved criticism in 2015. His roster has a giant question mark at quarterback, an underdeveloped group of wide receivers and a stacked running back depth chart.

Peyton Barber, Jovon Robinson, Roc Thomas and Kerryon Johnson are all set to return this fall, and they each averaged at least four yards per carry in 2015.

Barber kept the Auburn offense from completely sinking during Jeremy Johnson's early struggles, and Robinson was getting nearly six yards a touch at the end of the season.

(In another confusing decision from the coaching staff, Robinson would disappear at times in close games. That also has to change.)

Thomas and Johnson both have the explosiveness to become even better big-play weapons in the running and the passing games. 

If Auburn goes back to the Wing T-style offense that tormented the SEC in the days of Cam Newton and Nick Marshall, the starting quarterback will be able to rely on four established rushers.

With a running quarterback alongside them, these skilled backs would present a lot of challenges for any defense.

 

Malzahn's reunion with Herb Hand 

Malzahn's latest addition to his coaching staff following J.B. Grimes' departure to Penn State was met with concerns from some fans.

But don't let Penn State's offensive line performance this season fool you. Herb Hand is potentially the best hire Malzahn has made in his Auburn career.

The former Penn State offensive line coach was the quick front-runner to replace Grimes as soon as the job became available, and Malzahn wasted no time signing on his close friend and former co-worker.

Malzahn and Hand were co-offensive coordinators at Tulsa in 2007 and 2008. As football writer Chris B. Brown noted in a Grantland story from 2014, Hand introduced zone-read rushing concepts to Malzahn and created the nation's most potent offense:

Tulsa led the country in total offense in both of Malzahn’s two seasons, sporting a slightly different style each time: In 2007, Tulsa finished third in the nation in passing offense, as quarterback Paul Smith threw for more than 5,000 yards and 47 touchdowns. The next season, Tulsa finished fifth in rushing, as Malzahn merged his wing-T-infused run game with the zone-read ideas Hand brought from West Virginia, where he’d coached under Rich Rodriguez. 

Now, after one of Malzahn's worst offensive seasons as a college coach, he's reuniting with the man who helped him build a No. 1 offense.

While Hand's offensive lines at Penn State ranked 113th and 124th nationally in sacks allowed, keep in mind he was dealing with a roster that had been crippled by NCAA sanctions.

According to Marcello, Hand had to bring two players over from defense to help build a depth chart with the Nittany Lions:

Auburn doesn't have depth issues on the offensive line, as Grimes built one of the best units in the entire SEC during his three seasons with the program. Hand will have to replace NFL-bound tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young, but he won't have to do it with defensive players.

From a total offensive perspective, Hand is a great hire for Auburn. He could be the key in helping Malzahn find that play-calling magic that made the Tigers so fearsome in 2013 and 2014.

 

Strong recruiting finish in store 

With less than three full weeks to go until national signing day, Auburn is in a great position to close out the year with another top-10 recruiting class.

The Tigers are currently No. 10 in 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings, which combine scores from the major recruiting outlets.

There's still great room for improvement between now and the beginning of February, too, as Auburn is tied for the second-fewest commitments among Top 10 teams.

Auburn currently has 17 pledges and has five blue-chip players listed as "top targets" in 247Sports' database.

Those targets include No. 8 overall player Derrick Brown, a defensive tackle, and former wide receiver commitment Nate Craig-Myers—the No. 3 player at his position.

The way the Tigers are succeeding on the recruiting trail despite a lackluster 7-6 season has to be encouraging for Malzahn and his new-look staff.

Some of his newest assistants, such as defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff, have plenty of experience at getting highly ranked recruiting classes.

McGriff played a major role in helping Ole Miss land its star-studded 2013 recruiting class, one that featured Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell.

"McGriff could have a domino impact on those players because it’s players that Auburn have gotten late interest from and he’s able to tell them that he knows how to get talent to the NFL, which is where every player wants to be," Jason Caldwell of Scout told Matthew Stevens of the Montgomery Advertiser

If Auburn can add a few more instant-impact players in the 2016 class, the Tigers should have a much brighter outlook for the fall.

 

Five home games to start the season 

An even-numbered year means only one thing for Auburn: the all-road "Amen Corner" duo.

Auburn will have to face its two biggest rivals, Georgia and Alabama, away from home in 2016. The Tigers lost both legs of the road series in 2014, the first time the SEC schedule had changed to the new format.

However, while the 2016 schedule looks brutal for Auburn, there is one big positive.

Auburn will start 2016 with five straight home games, opening with defending national runner-up Clemson on September 3 and concluding with an October 1 meeting with Louisiana-Monroe.

The season opener will undoubtedly be a huge challenge for Auburn, as Clemson will return Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson and several other star players from a team that took Alabama to the brink in the national championship game.

However, the five-game home stand to open the year is a great place for Auburn to build momentum in what is sure to be a make-or-break season for Malzahn and his staff.

Being able to rely on a loud home-field advantage at Jordan-Hare Stadium for games against LSU and Texas A&M can be a real difference-maker.

Momentum is everything in college football, and if Auburn can get off to a strong start in 2016 with several home wins in a row, then the Tigers should be in much better shape when they hit the tough road games in the back half of the slate.

With just four true road games on the 2016 schedule, the odds might not be as highly stacked against Auburn as they seem. The first five contests will be a good opportunity to set the tone for a bounce-back campaign. 

 

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

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