NCAA Football News

SEC Football: Bold Predictions for 2016 Fall Camp

College football fall camp is just around the corner, which means many of the position battles around the SEC will begin to come into focus before we know it.

Which position battles will be settled? Which will linger? What other storylines will emerge during fall camp?

Based on history, talent, scheme and trajectory, let's walk through some bold predictions for SEC fall camp.

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B/R Recruiting CFB 200: Top Athletes of 2017 Class

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2017. Here we present the Top Athletes.

 

The success of two-way standouts such as UCLA's Myles Jack and USC's Adoree' Jackson in recent years continues to cast a light on prospects who can provide options across the field. Position-versatile prospects are perennially among the most prized players of each recruiting cycle.

That remains the case in this push toward national signing day 2017, as coaches across college football haven't shied away from targeting athletes who've yet to land a specific positional label. Some may arrive on campus working with receivers before stepping into the spotlight at defensive back and vice versa.

An impressive collection of 2017 playmakers remain in the "athletes" mix, not quite relegated to a singular segment of recruiting rankings. Though that could change as things progress—three such top-200 prospects recently received a position tag—this stretch of summer presents an opportune time to analyze each talent.

Our review included an assessment of athletes based on criteria of the position we believe they project strongest among collegiate competition. Here's a glimpse at these promising players, including the latest developments in their respective recruiting process.

 

Player order and star ratings based on 247Sports' composite rankings through July 21. Unless otherwise noted, player stats are courtesy of 247Sports. Quotes and information acquired firsthand by the authors. 

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Tennessee Football: Biggest Storylines Heading into Fall Camp

The three players who represented the Tennessee football program at SEC media days a couple of weeks back handled the questions from the media contingent like old pros.

By now, quarterback Joshua Dobbs, outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton are that. They're seasoned veterans, not only in front of the cameras, but also comfortable in the second skin of the orange and white uniforms.

Yes, they said, they know about the expectations and embrace them. No, they didn't want to respond to Florida's annual trash-talking games. Yes, they're more comfortable as leaders in this program because they know what to expect from each other and the coaching staff. No, they don't anticipate a letdown.

There were few surprises when the Vols spoke. Will there be any once they get on the field?

For the first time in nearly a decade, it'll be a stunner if UT isn't good. With so much talent, depth and experience—not to mention potentially dynamic players in important positions—the Vols should contend this year, at least for the SEC East title.

If they don't, they'll fall short of the buzz brewing on Rocky Top that is flowing like Jack Daniel's on a Neyland Stadium football Saturday.

With fall drills less than a week away now, expected to start on Aug. 1, there are several storylines UT fans need to pay close attention to once the players hit the field. Let's take a look at some of the important pressure points that need addressing in order for the Vols to meet their massive expectations.

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Kary Vincent to LSU: Tigers Land 4-Star CB Prospect

The LSU Tigers bolstered their future secondary Sunday, securing a commitment from highly touted cornerback recruit Kary Vincent Jr.

Vincent announced his decision in a video on Campus Insiders:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, the 4-star prospect is the No. 17 cornerback, No. 18 player from Texas and No. 122 prospect in the 2017 recruiting class.

Vincent was pursued heavily by in-state schools such as TCU, Texas A&M and Texas throughout his recruitment but also received interest from other high-profile programs across the nation such as Oregon, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida, per 247Sports.

The Port Arthur, Texas, native had no shortage of options, and he took a methodical approach when deciding, according to Andrew Nemec of the Oregonian:

I research and analyze things so when it comes down to it I'll be in a great position with who I visit. I won't waste any coaches' time, just like I wouldn't want them to waste mine. I'm very grateful for the offers I have. This summer, I plan on putting everything out and continuing my analysis of the schools I want to look into further.

After doing his homework on all the schools that courted him over the past year, Vincent came to the decision that LSU represents the best fit for him.

Vincent has the physical tools to be a star at the collegiate level. It starts with his bloodline, as his father was a wide receiver at Texas A&M.

Although the younger Vincent decided to become a force on the defensive side, he is still dangerous with the ball in his hands, as he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a high school junior in addition to intercepting three passes, per MaxPreps.

Vincent also has decent size for a defensive back at 5'11" and 170 pounds, which should allow him to avoid getting pushed around by big, physical receivers in the college game.

In addition, Vincent will enter the college ranks with the benefit of having played against a high level of competition in Texas.

There figures to be an adjustment period, especially since corners have to deal with some uptempo, prolific passing attacks in the SEC, but Vincent should be prepared to make the leap.

          

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Adarius Lemons to Florida: Gators Land 4-Star RB Prospect

The Florida Gators reportedly added some firepower to their future backfield on Sunday when running back recruit Adarius Lemons joined their 2017 class.     

Derek Tyson of ESPN and Blake Alderman of Rivals reported the news.

Lemons is a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, and the No. 139 overall player, No. 8 running back and No. 27 recruit from the state of Florida in the 2017 class.

The 6’0 ½” and 195-pound back hails from Clearwater, Florida, and mentioned playing close to home as one reason he chose the Gators, per Tyson: “I want them to see me, and the transportation, with the condition my family is now, it would probably be hard for them to come out and watch me perform if I am far away.”

Lemons committed to the North Carolina Tar Heels in March, but he flipped to the SEC’s Florida a mere two days after he visited the program for its Friday Night Lights camp, per Tyson.

Lemons took to Twitter to discuss his decision:

Florida wasn’t the only blue-chip program interested in Lemons. Schools such as Ohio State, Michigan, Miami (Florida), Tennessee, LSU and Auburn were all on 247Sports' college list for the youngster, and Hudl.com shared some highlights that captured why so many top-notch teams were pursuing him:

Lemons’ speed will help him make a difference at the next level. Scout.com said observers “see a track guy playing football” when the running back is streaking downfield, and that acceleration will allow him to burst through openings up front and turn small gains into game-changing plays. He is also physical enough to run through arm tackles. 

As of Sunday, there are no other running backs in Florida’s 2017 class on 247Sports. That means Lemons could have the opportunity to use that speed to challenge for early playing time once he arrives on campus.

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Jonathan Sutherland to Penn State: Nittany Lions Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

Talented safety Jonathan Sutherland announced Sunday he's committing to the Penn State Nittany Lions. 

"I'm so excited to be committed to Penn State," Sutherland said, per Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports. "It's an absolute honor to be part of this program."

Sutherland also tweeted about his decision:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Sutherland is the No. 23 safety and No. 266 player overall in the 2017 recruiting class.

PennLive.com's Greg Pickel wrote Penn State had been the heavy favorite to earn his commitment:

Penn State has been hosting the safety for camps since he was in eighth grade, and while the Lions have missed out on Sutherland's other training mates in Canada like corner Patrice Rene (who picked North Carolina) and Luiji Villian (an end verbally committed to Michigan), it is expected to land him after he visited campus for two days last weekend. It marked his first stop on campus in some time, and according to those close to Sutherland, the trip blew him away.

He's the second safety to commit to the school, joining 3-star recruit Brelin Faison-Walden, who ranks 31st at his position and 447th overall, per 247Sports. The Nittany Lions will further supplement the secondary with the arrival of 3-star D.J. Brown, who's the 115th-best cornerback in 2017.

Getting Sutherland on board is big for Penn State since head coach James Franklin hasn't enjoyed a ton of success on the recruiting trail. After ranking second in the Big Ten in 2015 and then fourth in 2016, the Nittany Lions are ninth in the conference for 2017, per 247Sports' composite team rankings.

Sutherland should become a reliable member of Penn State's secondary over the course of his college career, but he's unlikely to be an immediate hit.

He doesn't lack ideal size (6'0", 195 lbs) for his position, and he ran a 4.84-second 40-yard dash at The Opening Washington, D.C. in April, per StudentSportsEvents.com. Safeties don't often line up in man coverage against wideouts, but Sutherland's lack of speed could hinder his potential.

Sutherland is a good run defender, though, and Bleacher Report's Tyler Donahue shared a clip of Sutherland at The Opening showing off his agility in pass coverage:

The Alexandria, Virginia, native has a relatively high floor since he can contribute against both the run and pass. Even if he doesn't become an All-American-caliber safety, Sutherland should grow into a steady starter for Penn State.

     

Note: Recruit info is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Sam Foltz, Mike Sadler Die in Car Accident Following Football Camp

Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car accident Sunday morning.

Kevin Cole of the Omaha World-Herald reported Foltz's death, with Nebraska chancellor Ronnie Green confirming the accident occurred while he "was on his way home from a football camp at the University of Wisconsin."

Jon Johnston of Corn Nation reported that Sadler was killed in the same accident. SB Nation shared the police report, which noted LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was also involved in the crash:

Per Ross Dellenger of the Advocate, an LSU spokesman said Delahoussaye was hospitalized after the crash. He needed stitches and suffered burns to his legs.

Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio offered condolences to his former player's loved ones on Twitter:

"All of the University of Nebraska is heartbroken," Green said, according to Cole. "I don't know what else to say."

The Nebraska athletic department shared its thoughts on Twitter:

Kohl's Kicking Camps issued a release following the news of Foltz and Sadler's deaths:

Cornhuskers head football coach Mike Riley released a statement, via ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg: "Sam was universally loved and respected by everyone he touched and on whom he had a positive influence."

Foltz, 22, was entering his senior season with the Cornhuskers. He was named the Big Ten Punter of the Year in 2015 and was on the recently released preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation's top punter.

Sadler, 24, was a four-year starter at Michigan State from 2011-14 and a member of the 2013 team that won the school's first Rose Bowl since 1988. He had a key play in a 2013 win against Iowa, running a fake punt 25 yards for a first down on 4th-and-seven to set up a field goal that put the Spartans up 23-14.

According to Sadler's page on the Michigan State athletics website, he was a four-time Academic All-American and a semifinalist for the Guy Award in 2013.

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Iowa DL Faith Ekakitie Held at Gunpoint by Police While Playing 'Pokemon Go'

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie was stopped and searched by Iowa City Police on Wednesday, with four officers holding him at gunpoint.

Ekakitie wrote about the situation on Facebook, and his account of the events began getting attention over the weekend.

Ekakitie said he fit a suspect profile for a recent armed robbery but was simply playing Pokemon Go, had his headphones on and didn't realize cops were approaching him:

Today was the first time that I've ever truly feared for my life, and I have the media to thank for that.

Today I was surrounded and searched by approximately five Iowa City Police Officers. My pockets were checked, my backpack was opened up and searched carefully, and I was asked to lift up my shirt while they searched my waistband. Not once did they identify themselves to me as Iowa City Police officers, but with four gun barrels staring me in the face, I wouldn't dare question the authority of the men and woman in front of me. This is what happened from my point of view.

From the police officers['] point of view, all they knew was that a bank had just been robbed less than ten minutes ago. The suspect was a large black male, wearing all black, with something on top of his head and the suspect is armed. As they drive past an Iowa City park that was less than 3 minutes away from the bank that was just robbed, they notice a large black man, dressed in all black, with black goggles on his head. They quickly move to action and identify themselves as the Iowa City police and ask me to turn around and place my hands up. I do not comply, they ask again, and again no response from me. So they all draw their guns and begin to slowly approach the suspect. In this situation, what the media would fail to let people know is that the suspect had his headphones in the entire time the Police Officers approached him initially. The suspect had actually just pulled up to the park because he was playing a newly popular Game called Pokemon Go. The suspect didn't realize that there were four cops behind him because his music was blaring in his ears. The suspect had reached into his pockets, for something which was his phone, but for all the cops could have known, he was reaching for a gun. The suspect could very well become another statistic on this day.

I am not one to usually rant on Facebook or anywhere else, but with all of the crazy things that have been happening in our world these past couple of weeks it is hard to stay silent. I am thankful to be alive, and I do now realize that it very well could have been me, a friend of mine, my brother, your cousin, your nephew etc. Misunderstandings happen all the time and just like that things can go south very quickly. It is extremely sad that our society has brainwashed us all to the point where we can't feel safe being approached by the police officers in our respective communities. Not all police officers are out to get you, but at the same time, not all people who fit a criminal profile are criminals.

To close his post, Ekakitie thanked the Iowa City Police for being professional and handling the situation well after the initially aggressive approach.

He also implored others to pay more attention to their surroundings and "at least to attempt to unlearn some of the prejudices that we have learned about each other and now plague our minds and our society."

As Marc Morehouse of the Gazette reported, police responded to the robbery at 1:53 p.m. local time Wednesday. According to the release Morehouse cited, the investigation into the case is ongoing.

Ekakitie is a senior-to-be who appeared in 12 games last season and tallied 13 total tackles and 0.5 sacks, per CFBStats.com.

Many athletes have recently spoken out about violence involving police officers.

NBA players LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul opened the ESPY Awards with an introduction that called for a stop to gun violence.

The WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, New York Liberty and Indiana Fever wore black warm-up shirts to raise awareness of the issue. All three teams and the participating players were initially fined, but WNBA President Lisa Borders announced Saturday that the league had withdrawn the fines, per ESPN.com.

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Ranking the Best 5th-Year Seniors in College Football in 2016

College football scholarships provide the opportunity for four seasons of competition spread over five years, which allows players who aren't ready or needed as freshmen to get a chance to ease into the college game. Even with more and more freshmen getting thrown into the fire right away, there are still quite a few who wear a redshirt that first season.

That means if they stick around until the end, they become fifth-year seniors, the highest level of experience in college.

The top fifth-year seniors tend to be a mixture of late bloomers and those who put academics over athletics, forgoing any dreams of playing football professionally until their college days are complete. Some also had to sit out a year somewhere in the middle, either because of injury or a change in schools. These are the 12 best, ranked in order of their individual abilities and what they will mean to their respective teams in the 2016 season.

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Jhavonte Dean to Alabama: Crimson Tide Land JUCO CB Prospect

The Alabama Crimson Tide reportedly bolstered their future defense on Saturday with a junior college recruit.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, cornerback Jhavonte Dean “verbally committed” to head coach Nick Saban’s program. The 6’2”, 180-pounder is a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports’ composite rankings.

More to follow.   

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Amir Riep to Ohio State: Buckeyes Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Coveted cornerback Amir Riep announced Saturday that he's going to play college football at Ohio State, providing a sizable boost to the Buckeyes' 2017 recruiting class.

Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com confirmed the defender's school choice.

Riep is a 4-star prospect from Cincinnati who rates as the No. 119 overall recruit in the 2017 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also checks in as the No. 15 corner in the country and the third-best incoming player from the football-rich state of Ohio.

While those are rock-solid rankings, the amount of interest he generated is usually reserved for players somewhere around the top 10. 247Sports noted he received more than three dozen offers, including interest from the nation's top programs.

He told Wasserman back in March that the sheer volume of interest came as a surprise, but he enjoyed going through the process.

"It's a lot of fun," Riep said. "It's kind of crazy. I never thought it would be like this. I knew I would get offers, but I didn't realize it would get [to this extent]."

The Colerain High School standout still needs more polish, especially in terms of being placed on an island in man coverage, but his raw tools are impressive. His combination of athleticism and football IQ is among the best in the class.

TOSU Recruiting showcased his read-and-react ability against both the pass and the run:

TriStateFootball.com also came away impressed with the corner's all-around upside:

He's probably best served playing a depth role at the outset and possibly gaining some experience on special teams at the same time. But if his development continues on its current trajectory, he should be a high-impact defender by some point in his second season.

Ultimately, Riep decided to stay in-state and join the Buckeyes. Being able to defend their home turf is important for head coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff. Given the wide-ranging interest in the intriguing corner, this represents an important get for Ohio State.

It's always difficult to project how a recruit will fit into the puzzle this far in advance. That said, the Buckeyes have a young secondary that should play itself out by the time Riep arrives on campus. It wouldn't be a surprise if he can work his way into select packages early in his college career.

Regardless of his role as a freshman, this signing is more about the long term for Ohio State. A couple of seasons of coaching and getting a chance to play against top-flight competition should put Riep in position to succeed in a major way as an upperclassman. 

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Every Power 5 Conference Team's Biggest Concern Heading into Fall Camp

It’s almost time. Across the nation, college football conference media days are in full swing. Watch lists are being populated with, well, let’s be honest, too many players from every league. And we’re not far away from players strapping on pads and helmets and beginning serious preparation for the 2016 college football season.

Graduation, attrition and the NFL draft mean that change is the only constant, and every team, from returning College Football Playoff qualifiers to a Kansas team that finished 0-12 in 2015, has questions. Some have more than others, of course, but all coaches will spend the next month trying to answer their most pressing queries before the regular season kicks off.

Here’s a look at the biggest concern for every Power Five team entering fall camp.

 

Note: All recruiting rankings are courtesy 247Sports.

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Hunter Echols Decommits from UCLA: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Hunter Echols, a 4-star prospect from the 2017 recruiting class, announced Friday he is no longer committed to the UCLA Bruins.

Echols took to Twitter to break the bad news for Bruins fans:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Echols is the seventh-best weak-side defensive end, 14th-best recruit from California and 97th-best overall prospect in the 2017 class. He hails from Cathedral High School in Los Angeles.

More to follow.

       

Star rating and rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Oklahoma Sooners 2016 College Football Betting Preview, Championship Odds

Two years ago, the Oklahoma Sooners ended their season with a 40-6 bowl blowout loss to Clemson, and last January they lost the rematch against the Tigers in a national semifinal bout. The Sooners rate among the favorites to return to the College Football Playoff this season, but so does Clemson.

 

2015 Oklahoma record: 11-2 SU, 9-4 ATS

2016 regular-season wins over/under: 10

2016 odds to win Big 12: -140 (bet $140 to win $100)

Odds to win national championship: +1200

 

Last Year in Review

Helped by a late rally at Tennessee, the Sooners started 4-0 last year. But they then lost a real puzzler to Texas as 16-point favorites on the college football betting lines at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. Oklahoma then beat up on the rest of the Big 12, winning its last seven games by an average score of 52-19 and going 6-1 against the spread in the process.

So the Big 12 got its CFP berth, but unfortunately the Sooners only carried that banner for about two quarters in the Orange Bowl before fading late in a 37-17 loss to Clemson. Oklahoma had better hope that showing doesn't affect its CFP chances later this season.

 

This Year in Preview

Oklahoma returns 13 starters this season, the same number it had for last season. Seven are back on offense, including Heisman-candidate quarterback Baker Mayfield (68 percent completions last year, 36/7 touchdowns/interceptions), record-setting running back Samaje Perine (3,000 rushing yards in two seasons), dual threat Joe Mixon (1,100 yards from scrimmage, 11 touchdowns last year) and three along the line. And six starters are back from a defense that held foes to 22 points per game last year.

 

Oklahoma 2016 Schedule

The Sooners open this season with a neutral-site match against a dangerous Houston outfit, and a couple of weeks later they host fellow national championship contender Ohio State. From there, OU visits TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia, hosts Baylor and Oklahoma State and, of course, plays the Shootout with Texas in Dallas. Oklahoma can afford one loss along the way and still have a shot at the CFP, but two would be too many.

 

Betting on the Sooners

OU has big expectations but little room for error. To reach the CFP they have to beat Houston and Ohio State and win the Big 12, and their futures odds don't provide enough value on a proposition like that. Week-to-week, the best value on the Sooners comes when they play on the road, where they're 13-6 ATS over the last four seasons.

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Winners and Losers of 2016 ACC Media Days

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — College football's "talking season" got into full swing this week for the ACC, and the conference found itself having more reasons to speak loudly and proudly for this year's edition of its media days kickoff.

All 14 members of the ACC, which kicked things off with a major announcement for its future in the college football landscape, had their time in the spotlight at the Westin Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina.

With the continued greatness of defending conference titleholder Clemson and recent national champion Florida State combining with the excitement generated by high-profile hires throughout the league, the ACC is heading into what could be its best college football season in recent memory.

The topics of discussion in the Queen City ranged from the typical preseason depth chart chatter to the bigger-picture issues that are dominating offseason coverage across the country. Some players and coaches stood out with their comments to the media, including one player who had an outfit one has to see to believe.

Here's a recap from the best and the worst from the interview sessions in Charlotte, featuring several winners and losers from the 2016 ACC Football Kickoff.

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Cristian Garcia, Florida LB, Helped Stop Sexual Assault Behind Gainesville Bar

Florida Gators linebacker Cristian Garcia stopped an alleged sexual assault behind a bar early Thursday morning, according to Gainesville, Florida, police. 

Per First Coast News WTLV, the junior walk-on works security at 101 Cantina, and he rushed to the 19-year-old victim's defense after witnessing 34-year-old Christopher Shaw allegedly raping her while she was unconscious.

Shaw was arrested and charged with sexual battery.

Garcia is a Miami native who appeared in one game for the Gators last season.

Per First Coast News WTLV, Garcia had the following to say regarding the incident and his decision to stop it: "The girl was basically unconscious, so I knew there was no way she could be giving consent. ... I hold strong moral values and I don't think anyone should be taken advantage of in that kind of way."

Shaw escaped after a struggle with Garcia and a co-worker, but Gainesville police were able to apprehend him.

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Ovie Oghoufo to Notre Dame: Fighting Irish Land 4-Star OLB Prospect

Notre Dame boosted its class of 2018 recruiting haul in a big way Friday by securing a commitment from outside linebacker Ovie Oghoufo. 

The Farmington, Michigan, native announced his intention to play for the Fighting Irish with the following tweet:

According to 247Sports, Oghoufo is a 4-star prospect who ranks as the No. 22 outside linebacker, No. 5 player from the state of Michigan and No. 271 overall recruit in his class.

Per 247Sports, the 6'3", 207-pound standout chose Notre Dame over offers from other big-name schools such as Michigan and Michigan State. The Fighting Irish scored a major coup by swiping Oghoufo from his home state and outflanking a pair of rivals for his commitment.

While Oghoufo is still a couple of years away from attending Notre Dame and could be even further away from becoming a major contributor, landing him is significant after the Irish lost a heart-and-soul linebacker in Jaylon Smith to the NFL draft.

It is difficult to project how players will fare at the collegiate level years in advance, but Oghoufo already has the combination of size, speed, athleticism and instincts that suggests he could become a force shortly after arriving in South Bend, Indiana.

Notre Dame has produced some big-time linebackers in recent years such as Smith and Manti Te'o, and Oghoufo seemingly has a talent level that could match or even rival theirs.

    

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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2016 Fall Camp Previews for Each College Football Top 25 Team

The first game of the 2016 college football season is just over a month away, and the season kicks into full gear in less than six weeks. That means preseason training camps are just around the corner.

Camp is when programs start to formulate the game plan for the upcoming year, as new arrivals mix with returning veterans to form the best possible lineup and rotation. Position battles have to be decided, and previously injured players get a chance to show they can contribute again.

Using Bleacher Report's most recent Top 25 rankings, here's our look at what to expect during preseason training camp for college football's best teams.

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B/R Recruiting CFB 200: Top Running Backs of 2017 Class

After thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analysts Damon Sayles, Sanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 200 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and provided in-depth analysis on each young athlete. Bleacher Report will run a position-by-position breakdown series of the best college football recruits in the class of 2017. Here we present the Top Running Backs.

   

Big-play ability out of the offensive backfield provides a pivotal boost for an entire attack by keeping a defense honest. Consistent effectiveness from a team's collection of running backs can keep heat off its quarterback and wear down an opposing defense over the course of four quarters.

The 2017 recruiting class is loaded with elite talent at the position, providing perhaps as much promise of any group since a 2014 crop that included current college football stars such as Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, Royce Freeman and Dalvin Cook.

Immense expectations will greet many of these playmakers when they arrive on the college campus of their choice. Several members of this collection can make an immediate difference as ball-carriers or pass targets, placing them in the mix to play key roles during a pursuit for 2017 College Football Playoff spots.

Our B/R Recruiting CFB 200 series rolls on with a closer look at top-rated running backs, who were assessed based on a criteria of speed, power, agility, vision, ball security and receiving skills.

   

Player order and star ratings based on 247Sports' composite rankings through July 21. Unless otherwise noted, player stats are courtesy of 247Sports.

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Is Kevin Sumlin's Confidence a Front, or a Sign That Texas A&M Could Be Back?

I've spoken with Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin face-to-face twice over the last three months—once at SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, in early June, and again in mid-July at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama.

The overwhelming impression that I received from the fifth-year head coach of the Aggies, who enters the 2015 season on one of the hottest seats in the country, is that he is brimming with confidence.

It's not the most shocking thing in the world.

After all, everybody's undefeated at this point of the season; coaches generally understand that the team is a work-in-progress at this point and have faith in their own ability. 

But is Sumlin's confidence a front to fend off mounting pressure to win now, or a sign that Texas A&M could be back?

It's the latter.

Here's a sample of some of Sumlin's confidence from Hoover:

"I like where we are," he said. "I like the chemistry of this football team. I like where the locker room is. I like where their mind is. And I think the three guys that we brought are pretty reflective of that, as you get a chance to know them and as you get a chance to talk to them."

Part of that chemistry stems from graduate transfer quarterback Trevor Knight. The former Oklahoma signal-caller represented the Sooners at Big 12 media days twice—including once when he had already lost the starting job—and was named as the team's captain in 2015 while backing up starter Baker Mayfield.

"[Knight] filled a void for us as a quarterback who was not just a transfer quarterback, but a guy who had real game experience and had some success," Sumlin said. "So, for us, it was a great match and I think has led to really a drama-free offseason."

The "drama-free offseason" line that has been prevalent in College Station this offseason might seem like lip service to outsiders.

After all, this is the same program that saw two former 5-star quarterbacks, who started games in 2015, leave the program within a week of each other in December and had an assistant coach go rouge on Twitter after a quarterback commit backed out and underwent some coaching upheaval within the staff.

It's not, though.

Sumlin has every right to be confident in his team, which should be in the conversation for the SEC West title when the calendar flips to November. 

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the defense is a disaster.

Yeah, the Aggies finished next-to-last in rushing defense a year ago at 213.69 yards per game, but that wasn't the real problem. The defense, led by end Myles Garrett and safety Armani Watts, kept the Aggies in every game. Had former quarterback Kyle Allen not turned into a pick-six machine and former coordinator Jake Spavital not fallen into his typical play-calling rut midseason, then the Aggies could have made noise in the West last year. 

"If there's something that we got to be able to get better at, as I said before, it's stopping the run," Sumlin said. "And if [Garrett] needs to improve somewhere, that's probably where that is."

A slight improvement from Garrett coupled with a full season of sophomore Daylon Mack in the middle, and that line should shore up that run defense a little bit, which will go a long way toward minimizing the improvement the offense—Texas A&M's real problem from a year ago—must make.

With new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and his power-rushing attack that's founded in spreading defenses out and using tempo, Knight doesn't always have to be the guy who lit up Alabama with four touchdown passes in the 2014 Sugar Bowl following the 2013 season. He just has to give off the impression of being that guy from time-to-time. 

It's not a front by Sumlin in order to calm what could be a growing firestorm. 

The confidence is genuine and could lead to a turnaround in 2016 that will stabilize the program and give Sumlin some much-needed job security.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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