NCAA Football News

Big Ten Football Coaches Facing the Toughest Tasks This Spring

Ohio State's quest to replace an incredible 16 starters, Michigan State's journey back from its blowout playoff loss and Michigan's search for its next great quarterback highlight a busy spring for the Big Ten.

The conference was the king of the college football world following a breakout 2014 postseason, when the Buckeyes won the first-ever College Football Playoff, the Spartans beat the Baylor Bears in one of the best games of the season and the Big Ten went 5-5 overall despite being underdogs in each matchup. 

The league went 5-5 again in the 2015 postseason, highlighted by Ohio State's drubbing of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. But the Big Ten took a hit with Michigan State's disastrous 38-0 defeat at the hands of Alabama in the playoff. 

The road back to college football's biggest stage starts this spring. From new coaches taking over to established ones trying to reload, here are five coaches facing some of the league's biggest challenges. 

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Highlights and Analysis from the Opening Dallas Regional

COPPELL, Texas — The Dallas regional for both The Opening and Elite 11 has a reputation of highlighting some of the nation's most talented players. Sunday proved to be nothing different, as more than 300 athletes showcased their skills at Coppell High School.

When the competition was over, nine athletes punched their tickets to The Opening finals, which will take place this summer in Beaverton, Oregon.

Linebackers shine, punch their tickets

Of the nine invitees, three who were consistent during the day will play college football as linebackers.

Baron Browning, Levi Draper and Anthony Hines III all left with invitations to The Opening—despite not claiming position MVP honors at the event. Mohamed Sanogo, a 3-star inside linebacker from Plano, Texas, won the MVP award.

It was Browning, Draper and Hines, however, who claimed summer invites to the nation's most prestigious high school football skills competition.

"I came out with the mindset of getting it. That's all I wanted," Browning said. "When they didn't call my name for [linebacker] MVP, I didn't trip because all I wanted was The Opening. It felt good to hear my name called, and when they called my name first, I was looking around hoping it wasn't another Baron."

Hines added: "Honestly, it's an awesome feeling. I'm really blessed to have this opportunity to compete in the first place. To get this, it's just a cherry on top."

Of the three linebackers, Draper is the only one who is currently committed. Draper, the No. 3 inside linebacker in the 2017 class, committed to Oklahoma on Dec. 5. Browning, a former Baylor commit, is the No. 2 outside linebacker, while Hines—who has 85 offers—is the No. 2 inside linebacker.

 

Sleeper no more: New Mexico RB makes his mark

Get to know the name O'Maury Samuels. He's expected to be a name that goes from one offer to many in a very short time.

A running back from Los Lunas, New Mexico, Samuels first made an impression Saturday by taking over the nation's top spot in the Nike+ Football Rating competition. After running the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, finishing the 20-yard shuttle in 4.14 seconds, throwing the power ball 43 feet and recording a vertical jump of 44.5 inches, Samuels scored a ratings score of 138.30, besting the previous ratings leader, 2018 running back DeMarcus Townsend, by nearly six points.

Samuels earned a spot in The Opening Dallas regional with the help of Saturday's performance. And on Sunday, he competed and impressed the event staff enough to earn his invitation to Beaverton. It's an outstanding feat for an athlete who only has one offer from New Mexico State.

"It's a blessing. Not a lot of athletes can say they'll be able to do this," said Samuels, who rushed for 1,468 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior for Los Lunas High School, according to MaxPreps.com. "This is the first major camp I've ever been to. I think I showed out."

Samuels said that while he only has one offer, he's also been in contact with Notre Dame, USC, Arizona and New Mexico, and he hopes to use his weekend performances to grow his recruitment.

 

DB skills training coach gets high praise

There are defensive backs—and linebackers looking to improve their coverage skills—from the states of Texas and Oklahoma who are big fans of Clay Mack. The skills training coach has built a reputation of improving athletes' overall skill set using intensity and positive reinforcement without publicly degrading an athlete.

Mack's level intensity was high Sunday, as he served as a defensive backs coach at the regional. Mack also saw two athletes he's trained, 5-star Texan Jeffrey Okudah and 4-star Oklahoman Tre Brown, earn invitations to The Opening finals.

"It's a testimony to how hard I worked this offseason, polishing my mechanics with Coach Mack," said Okudah—the nation's No. 1 safety in the 2017 class. "I've put in extra hours with him, and it's really paid off."

Mack has trained some of the best athletes to play college and pro football in recent years. Among them are Jacksonville Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson, LSU safety Jamal Adams and Texas safety Jason Hall.

Verone McKinley III, a 2018 cornerback with double-digit offers, gave Mack his stamp of approval, as well.

"Clay Mack's the real deal," McKinley said. "My technique and my football IQ, I think he's really helped out with those skill set. I don't care what anyone says; Clay Mack is my guy."

 

APB Williams shows skill, versatility

Cedar Hill (Texas) High School has a few stud 2017 athletes on its team. One of those players who made an impact Sunday is Kaegun Williams—a 3-star all-purpose back who walked away with running back MVP honors.

Chiseled at 5'9" and 190 pounds, Williams was solid in running back drills, as well as passing drills. He made a lasting impression in "Cat & Mouse," the popular, one-on-one drill pitting a running back against a linebacker.

Williams is classified as an all-purpose back because he is equally dangerous in the backfield as he is lined up as a receiver.

"I feel comfortable wherever I'm at on the field," Williams said. "I can catch and be comfortable at receiver, and I can run the ball."

Williams only has four offers thus far, but Tennessee is his most well-known offer. He also has SMU, Kansas and Tulsa offers and has been in contact with Stanford and Cal. Williams called his recruiting process "subtle and real smooth" and said he's expecting things to pick up during the spring.

 

Play of the day...with a kick

"Cat & Mouse" is a steady attraction at The Opening regional competitions, primarily because of the combination of intense linebacker-running back competition, the joking and trash-talking among the coaches and the punishment of 25 push-ups ultimately directed to the losing side.

Recently, the competition has been one where, if the running backs win, those in attendance will see running backs coach Jamal Robertson show his joy with a jump and a heel kick. It's been caught on video twice this circuit when the running backs win the battle in the final round.

Credit Hermitage, Arkansas, 3-star athlete Monta Thomas for Robertson's heel kick Sunday.

Robertson, who played in the NFL for San Francisco, Carolina and Atlanta and also saw time in the CFL, gave the same kick at The Opening Los Angeles regional when Jared Adelman made a winning move in favor of the running backs two weeks ago.

 

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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10 College Football Teams in Need of Uniform Redesign

When you look good, you play good. Some college football teams don't always display the former, however, and they could use a redesign to their uniforms.

To be clear, this is not necessarily a critique of a program's entire set of uniforms. Few teams have perfectly similar home and road uniforms merely differentiated by primary color.

Each uniform included was used during the 2015 season, so a disaster like the Connecticut helmet worn with anything is not eligible—yet it found a way to get mentioned anyway.

Personal opinion undoubtedly plays a notable role, and you might not share the following views. Believe it or not, that's actually OK! Head to the comments and defend your favorite team's ugly uniform.

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College Football Teams Set for Huge Turnarounds in 2016

The great thing about college football is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Want an example? Print out a preseason Top 25 poll and place it right next to the postseason Top 25 released following the national title game. The differences are often stark.

Look at 2015’s Associated Press preseason Top 25: Auburn at No. 6. Georgia at No. 9. Meanwhile, Clemson lingered at No. 12 and Oklahoma stood at No. 19. We know how those rankings looked by season's end.

Chances are, the polls released in August will look similarly shortsighted by January 2017. Highly touted teams will falter, and lightly regarded squads will rise. Which teams are in position to make the biggest turnarounds in 2016? We took a look. These squads were determined by factors like the number of starters and key starters returning, favorable schedules and overall opportunity within their respective leagues. Disagree? Let us know.

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Best Fits for the Top 10 Uncommitted 2017 QB Recruits

Quarterbacks are a hot commodity at every level of football, and the position's paramount importance is annually illustrated on the college recruiting trail. Most premier passers pick up scholarship offers as underclassmen and routinely announce collegiate intentions well in advance of their senior season. 

Among the nation's top 25 quarterback prospects in 247Sports' 2017 composite rankings, 15 are already committed to a university. That collection includes 5-star talents Tate Martell (Texas A&M), Dylan McCaffrey (Michigan) and Hunter Johnson (Clemson).

Here's a glimpse at the top 10 passers who remain uncommitted as their junior year approaches its conclusion, with a focus on where each may find an ideal fit for the future.

 

Players appear in order based on composite rankings.

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Ohio State Pro Day 2016: Live Results for Braxton Miller, Ezekiel Elliott, More

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With a nation-high 14 players invited to last month's NFL Scouting Combine, Ohio State knew it was in for a special day in what Urban Meyer called an "unprecedented" pro day.

And what a spectacle it was.

Representatives from all 32 NFL teams—including multiple head coaches and general managers—flocked to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Friday to watch a total of 22 prospects attempt to better their NFL hopes. Of the crop of talented ex-Buckeyes, seven currently project as first-round picks, according to Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller, with two others slotted to land in the second round.

"This is as big of a pro day probably in the history of the NFL and Ohio State," Meyer said midway through the exhibition.

With a handful of players having already excelled at the combine in Indianapolis, not every prospect participated in all of Friday's workouts. And while Ohio State doesn't release official results, below is the best collection of unofficial information that could be gathered on Friday.

 

Jones-ing for a Shot 

After being unable to participate in extensive workouts at the combine because of a hamstring injury, Friday's pro day was especially important for quarterback Cardale Jones. After an up-and-down 2015 that saw him saw him move in and out of the Buckeyes' starting lineup, the national championship-winning quarterback had plenty to prove in his last significant action before individual team workouts begin.

"The stakes are already high," Jones said after his workout.

Attempting 82 passes in 31 minutes, according to ESPN's Austin Ward, Jones put on quite the show in what felt like the main event of Friday's festivities. Throwing to his former teammates and fellow NFL hopefuls, the 6'5", 250-pound Jones wasn't shy to put the deep ball that helped him carry the Buckeyes to the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship on display.

In addition to his cannon-like arm, Jones also hoped to show that he was more than just a one-trick pony during his workout.

"That was one of my main focus points of today, showing touch and accuracy," Jones said. "I don’t think anyone in their right mind would question my arm strength."

Grading his efforts as a B-plus on the day, it remains to be seen just how much Jones helped or hurt his draft stock with his pro-day performance. Of all the Ohio State prospects, Jones might be the toughest player to pin a projection to, as he could land anywhere from the second day of the draft to potentially going undrafted.

"I don't feed into all that," the Cleveland native insisted. "I just want to get my foot in the door."

 

Braxton Back in Action

After running a relatively disappointing 4.50-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, quarterback-turned-wideout Braxton Miller set out to prove that he is indeed one of the draft's fastest players.

Based on the 40 time he ran on Friday, it'd be tough to argue otherwise, as the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year clocked in with an unofficial—and, if accurate, blazing—4.35.

"Just show that I wasn’t a 4.5 at the combine," Miller said of his pro-day goal. "My speed, I cherish that, I take pride in that, so I had to come out here and showcase what I did today."

With his speed no longer in question—as if it ever was—Miller remains a work in progress as a wideout as evidenced by his workout with Jones. On some routes, the 6'2", 210-pounder looked like the natural that he is, gliding down the field both before and after snagging impressive catches. On others, he looked like a player less than a year into playing the position on a full-time basis.

Voted the Senior Bowl's most impressive player in practice by NFL executives, Miller has seemingly done nothing but boost his draft stock throughout the past few months. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller currently projects the Cincinnati Bengals to take him in the first round with the draft's No. 24 pick.

Still with plenty to polish as a route-runner, Miller will ultimately be drafted more on his potential than anything else. But after Friday, this much is certain: The ability is there—and so is the speed.

"I've never ran a 4.5. I've never ran that. That’s why I was so upset," Miller said of his combine time. "Something isn’t right with that laser timer."

 

Bosa's Big Day

Of all of the sights in Columbus on Friday, perhaps the most interesting didn't come from a former Buckeye but a future one.

In town to support his brother, Ohio State signee and 2016 5-star prospect Nick Bosa watched from the sideline as Joey Bosa ran through drills. Breaking Meyer's cardinal rule of wearing blue in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the younger Bosa donned both a shirt and hat representing the Tennessee Titans, who just so happen to hold the NFL draft's No. 1 pick.

"That was his idea," Nick and Joey's father, John Bosa, a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1987, said of his younger son's wardrobe choice.

Having seen his draft stock seemingly slip in the past few weeks after a ho-hum combine performance, Bosa looked good on Friday, improving both his bench press (28 reps) and 40-yard dash (4.78, per the NFL Network). In his latest mock, Matt Miller had the All-American defensive end sliding to the Baltimore Ravens at the No. 6 pick after he entered the draft process in contention for its No. 1 overall slot.

With more than a month left until the draft's first round on April 28, Bosa has plenty of time to further better his draft stock as he appeared to do on Friday.

And while the younger Bosa may ultimately have to invest in a new selection of NFL team gear come the draft, it will only be a few more years until he's the one garnering all of the attention at the Ohio State pro day.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ranking Every SEC Team's 2016 Schedule from Easiest to Hardest

Life in the SEC is tough. No other conference had a better record against Power Five competition in 2015, and no other conference won more postseason games last year.

And considering all SEC teams have to play eight games against the members of their powerful conference each season, everyone has a hard schedule of some kind. That strength of schedule will only increase moving forward, as 2016 will mark the first year that every member has to play at least one other Power Five team in nonconference play.

But not all schedules are created equal, especially in a conference that isn't exactly balanced between its two divisions. Some SEC teams are bolder than others when it comes to scheduling nonconference games, too.

With that in mind, let's rank every SEC team's 2016 schedule from the easiest to the hardest. These rankings are based on the combined 2015 records of a team's 2016 FBS opponents, number of 2015 bowl and 2016 composite preseason Top 25 teams, location of games and spacing of the toughest opponents.

Which SEC team do you think has the toughest schedule in 2016? Which one do you think has a slate that deserves more preseason respect? Sound off in the comments below.

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