NCAA Football News

Why Lovie Smith Will Be the Big Ten West's Jim Harbaugh

Despite all of the excitement in Champaign that accompanied his hiring, it didn't take long for the elephant in the room to make an appearance during Lovie Smith's introductory press conference as Illinois' new head coach on Monday.

Smith wasn't on Twitter—at least not yet.

And in the college football world in 2016, that's a problem for the Fighting Illini head coach, who now must use publicity—and not his team owner's checkbook—as his primary recruiting tool.

"It's a misnomer that I'm some old guy that doesn't know what's going on," Smith asserted.

While it didn't take long for the 57-year-old to send his first tweet, it wasn't hard to figure out what his message will be.

Recruiting—at least in an official capacity—hasn't been one of Smith's responsibilities since 1995, but his two-decade absence from the college ranks could ultimately work to his advantage. Pitching his career in the NFL, where he spent 11 seasons as a head coach, Smith will attempt to sell his pro football experience as a means to preparing prospects for professional football.

"Lovie is going to be a great recruiter," Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said, referencing Smith's NFL experience. "There’s not a living room in America that’s not going to open up their doors to Lovie Smith and his coaching staff."

It's not a new strategy, and it's one that's already worked well for the likes of Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and Jim Mora. Most recently, Jim Harbaugh has capitalized on his four seasons on the sideline of the San Francisco 49ers by signing the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class at Michigan.

And while the Illinois program doesn't possess the same pedigree from which Alabama, USC, UCLA or the Wolverines benefit, Smith's success and tenure at the professional level supersedes that of his pro-to-college predecessors. The former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach's .506 winning percentage was better than both Saban's, Carroll's and Mora's before their returns to the college ranks, and his 11 seasons as a head coach in the NFL nearly tripled Harbaugh's tenure in San Francisco.

Only seven coaches in history have served as the head coach in a Super Bowl before making the move to the college sidelines. Along with Harbaugh, Smith now becomes the second one still active as a head coach to do so.

That's not to say that Smith will win national championships in Champaign as Saban's done at Alabama and Carroll did at USC, or even that he'll put the Fighting Illini on the same trajectory both Michigan and UCLA appear to be on under the direction of their pro-caliber head coaches. But their success in selling NFL experience bodes well for Smith, who claims he won't have to knock off much rust on the recruiting trail.

"I’ve been recruiting and selling every year I’ve been a football coach, selling the way we’re going to win football games, asking free agents to come on board. And recruiting is just that," said Smith. "You go into homes, and people will trust you or they won’t, try to get them to buy into what you believe. And I feel like I can do that."

Smith doesn't have much of an official recruiting track record to fall back on, although in his last season coaching in college, he helped lure star defensive back Gary Berry to Ohio State in what many considered at the time to be the nation's top class. In the NFL, however, Smith did prove to be quite the "recruiter," consistently signing top-level free agents including Julius Peppers, Tim Jennings and Robert Garza during his nine seasons with the Bears and Josh McCown and Michael Johnson in his two-year stint with the Bucs.

In particular, Smith's tenure in Chicago should help bolster his recruiting efforts, as he spent nearly a decade in the spotlight of the city he plans on making Illinois' top recruiting region.

"When you’re in the state, you follow your professional football team in the state," Smith said of his time with the Bears. "I think most of them know who I am, and I think they will feel pretty good about [us] once we get our program in place and what it’ll look like."

Like Harbaugh, Smith should also benefit from a diverse set of potential recruiting pipelines that not only includes the Midwest but his home state of Texas and also Florida, thanks to his two years in Tampa Bay. Even for recruits too young to remember Smith's Super Bowl trip at the end of the 2006 season, his role in the development of first-overall pick Jameis Winston will be just another weapon in what's beginning to look like a war chest of recruiting assets.

With a boost in salary that will pay his assistants the third-highest salary pool in the Big Ten behind Michigan and Ohio State, Smith already appears to be eyeing an NFL-caliber staff, just as Harbaugh did when he arrived in Ann Arbor 14 months ago.

According to The Champaign Room, the new Fighting Illini coach has targeted several NFL assistants for his staff, including former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman, 49ers assistant Hardy Nickerson and Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Luke Butkus.

As for Twitter, Smith's crossed that off his list off as well, creating an account, following prospects and sending his fist tweet.

He may not display the same personality Harbaugh does in 140 characters or fewer, but the core of their approaches will very much be the same as each tries to sell an NFL background that sets them apart from the rest of the Big Ten.

With that will likely come rumors of Smith one day making a return back to the pros with each annual NFL coaching carousel. Smith, however, has already asserted that this is the start of the "third quarter" in his coaching career, as he attempts to become the Big Ten West's—and perhaps eventually, college football's—premier pros-to-prep head coach.

"I signed a six-year contract," Smith said. "I’m not going anywhere."


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 Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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5-Star Tedarrell Slaton Breaks Down Recruitment, Talks Bond with Jim Harbaugh

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It’s no secret that Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has made the talent-rich state of Florida a top priority in the Wolverines’ recruiting efforts.

One player he has targeted in the 2017 cycle is 5-star offensive lineman Tedarrell Slaton from American Heritage High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The 6’4 ½”, 338-pounder, who rates as the nation’s No. 6 offensive tackle and the No. 22 player overall in the 2017 class, admits that the Wolverines are the school coming after him the hardest.

“I want to say Michigan,” Slaton told Bleacher Report. “I talked to Coach Harbaugh last night on Twitter. It was good. We talked about me getting back up there to get the full experience.”

Slaton said there’s something about Harbaugh and his approach that makes him feel very comfortable with the direction the Wolverines program is headed.

“[Harbaugh is] a nice dude. I like him. His demeanor sets him apart with a lot of things. He says a lot with his body language. He’s just a fun guy to talk to,” Slaton said.

With the spring and summer months usually earmarked as times to take visits, Slaton and his teammates at American Heritage figure to have a busy schedule.

First up will be a bus tour Slaton and his teammates take to a number of different schools—although when and where they visit is still to be determined.

“We have this big college tour coming up where our offensive coordinator [at AHHS] takes most of our OL and some of our skill players and we drive and visit different colleges,” Slaton explained. I have no idea [which schools we are visiting yet].”

However, there are a handful of schools he hopes to get to before his senior season begins with the Patriots.

“I want to visit Alabama and Ole Miss. I want to go back to Michigan so that I can get the full tour compared to what I had last time. I want to go see Virginia Tech,” he said.

In-state powers Florida, Florida State and Miami also figure to be in the mix with Slaton in the coming months.

While he doesn’t have a timeline in mind for making a decision, Slaton has one clear thing he’s looking for in a program he eventually commits to. 

“I want to see how the coaching staff brings me in. I just want to see the way they process things and handle certain situations,” Slaton said. "Here, my coaches [at American Heritage], they handle things a different way. They handle each kid differently. They never do the same thing with different kids. When its game time, they stay calm. They know how to approach things in a way that relates to the entire team.

"That’s what I’m looking for at the next level.”


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

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Tennessee Football: Injured Vols Who Will Be Missed the Most This Spring

This is an important spring for the Tennessee Volunteers, as a lot of hype surrounds the football program entering the 2016 season.

That's why it's vital that the Vols stay healthy.

Well, the good news is they're not quite as banged up as they were last spring, but they aren't exactly healthy, either. Coach Butch Jones noted at his introductory spring press conference that 11 Vols won't be available throughout March and April drills.

Some of those players, such as junior All-SEC defensive end Derek Barnett and junior star guard Jashon Robertson, aren't such big deals. UT knows what it has with those guys, and they will be written in ink into the starting lineup once they're healthy.

Neither is expected to miss any time once fall drills start.

But because of injuries along the offensive front, for instance, the Vols will try some different looks and position shuffling this spring. 

"Starting today, we'll start that process of evaluating all positions and rotating people at all positions," offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel's Dustin Dopirak. "We've always said we're going to play the five best guys. There might be somebody on the right side that goes over and gets reps at the left side, etc."

Backups getting extended looks could wind up being a positive depth-wise in the long run in the event of injuries. For instance, as many injuries as UT faced last year, players such as Shy Tuttle and Dylan Wiesman got long looks last spring and benefited from them.

For other players who are hurt, however, there's no benefit at all. Some Vols are at crucial stages of their development. Others were going to be relied upon, and their absence will hurt the team considerably.

Tennessee needs them all to come back healthy and ready to contribute to a season that could be special. Jones noted that he believes everybody will be ready to go for the fall, so that's good news. But how much will the absences hurt UT this spring?

Let's take a look at the injuries that the Vols will feel the most.

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10 Events to Get College Football Fans Through the Offseason

College football is a wonderful sport. It’s full of incredible rivalries, talented players, passionate fans and picturesque, stunning autumn scenes that inspire flowery prose and keep fans coming back year after year, generation after generation.

Trouble is, there’s a lot more of the year without college football games than there is with college football games. The season stretches from early September to early January thanks to the College Football Playoff, but it’s still shorter than either college basketball or college baseball. That means college football fans have a lot of time to fill in the cold, dark offseason and think about their teams and the season ahead.

How do fans fill the time? It’s not easy, but we have some suggestions. Here are 10 events that can help get fans through the college football offseason.

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Ohio State Football: Evaluating the Buckeyes' Most Important Position Battles

Ohio State officially kicked off its spring practice on Tuesday, and Urban Meyer set out on the enormous task of replacing the 16 starters he lost from last year's team.

The Buckeyes, fresh off a 12-1 2015 campaign that actually fell short of their enormous expectations, will look completely different this fall without superstars Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa and Darron Lee suiting up for the Scarlet and Gray.

With so many holes to fill before kicking off the 2016 season against Bowling Green this September, Meyer is anticipating more competition than he's seen during his 15-year head coaching career.

"This is uncharted waters for me," Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors.

While the depth chart won't be finalized until fall camp, here are the most important position battles that will take place in spring practice.


Running Back

Ezekiel Elliott was the driving force during Ohio State's historic run through the 2014 postseason, and he was the only consistent presence in an offense that failed to establish an identity in 2015. 

With Elliott's departure to the NFL, the Buckeyes need to figure out what to do in a backfield that's fortunate enough to return J.T. Barrett at quarterback.

Over the last four seasons, the Buckeyes have identified lead backs and leaned on them heavily. From 2012-13, that role was filled by Carlos Hyde, who rumbled his way to 2,689 total yards and 35 touchdowns. Over the last two years, Elliott amassed 4,125 yards and 41 touchdowns.

But Meyer hinted on Tuesday that it could be a running-back-by-committee approach this fall.

“As I see it right now, you’ve got four guys carrying the ball for us in the fall,” Meyer said, via Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. “The two running backs and then Dontre and Curtis.”

The two running backs he referenced—Mike Weber and Bri'onte Dunn—will get long looks this spring. Both are in the bruising, bulldozing mold of Hyde, and they'll bring the physical edge back to Ohio State's running game.

Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel, who will rotate in from the H-back spot, will provide the change of pace from the perimeter. 

Weber, who surged in fall camp last year before a knee injury derailed his progress, has a great opportunity to continue the legacy left by Hyde and Elliott.


Wide Receiver

The wide receiver unit is undergoing a complete overhaul after starters Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall defected to the NFL early and Braxton Miller graduated.

That mass exodus has left the Buckeyes completely void of experience on the perimeter, as Samuel, Corey Smith and Noah Brown are all set to return in 2016. Those three will all be held out or limited in spring practice, though, as they're rehabbing from various injuries, per Doug Lesmerises of

Those injuries will open up huge opportunities for some of the younger guys in the unit. Redshirt freshman Torrance Gibson and true freshman Austin Mack, who graduated high school early to participate in spring drills, will be in the mix to fill Thomas' vacated spot.

But without three key contributors, Ohio State won't be able to solidify its perimeter attack until the fall.

"Guys we're really counting on that can't go because of injury, we have a lot of work to do," Meyer said on Tuesday, via Lesmerises. "That's the thing that kicks you in the teeth."



The safety position is facing the same obstacle as wide receiver after juniors Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell burned their final year of eligibility to make an early jump to the NFL.

The pair served as anchors in Ohio State's pass defense over the last two years. After the secondary bottomed out in 2013, Powell and Bell took over and fueled a turnaround in 2014. Last season, they were the last line of defense in a pass defense that ranked 16th nationally.

Erick Smith and Cam Burrows should factor into the mix this fall, but both were limited to open spring practice, per Lesmerises.

That opened the door for a pair of underclassmen who looked good on the first day of camp, according to's James Grega Jr.:

With Ohio State needing to find another corner to start opposite Gareon Conley this fall, the defense really needs a solid pair of safeties to tighten up the secondary.


All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Ryan Hoffman, Former UNC Football Player, Found to Have CTE in Postmortem Study

Former North Carolina Tar Heels left tackle Ryan Hoffman was found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in a study conducted by Boston University and Concussion Legacy Foundation researchers.   

Juliet Macur of the New York Times reported the news Tuesday, indicating Hoffman's family was notified of his postmortem CTE diagnosis this past Friday. Macur also reported what Hoffman's sister, Kira Soto, said about the findings in a phone call from Monday:

I wanted to know exactly what happened to my brother, and I just knew football did it. I've been looking into this for 15 years and defended him when people said it was just the drugs and judged him for something he couldn't help, something that he struggled with. Well, we know now. We know.

Boston University School of Medicine professor Dr. Ann McKee specified to Macur that Hoffman had Stage 2 CTE, which is the same as was found in the brain of legendary NFL linebacker Junior Seau. McKee's stages go from 0 to 4, with the latter being the most severe.

Hoffman died in November 2015 at only 41 years old in an accident when another vehicle struck him while he was riding a bicycle in Haines City, Florida.

Per Macur, according to the city's assistant police chief, Brian J. McNulty, the investigation into Hoffman's accident is still ongoing since his autopsy isn't yet complete.

When Macur wrote about Hoffman last year, he said he was addicted to prescription medication and alcohol. He also said he'd sold drugs to try to make ends meet since he was homeless.

Hoffman insisted his brain was "keeping him from being a productive member of society" and was "pretty sure that football had something to do with it." Stage 2 CTE, according to Dr. McKee, includes symptoms such as short-term memory loss, depression, mood swings and decreased impulse control.

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Grayshirting May Not Be for Everyone, but That Doesn't Mean It's a Bad Thing

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was approximately two weeks before national signing day in 2015 and Christian Bell suddenly had a major decision to make.

He had been committed to the University of Alabama for more than a year, and the defensive end at nearby Hoover High School who projected to play linebacker at the next level was asked if he would grayshirt the 2015 season, meaning he would delay his enrollment six months.

"My initial reaction, I was like, there's no way I was going to accept that," Bell said. "But then I sat down, prayed, talked to family members, coaches, people that helped me with my decision."

Bell said it eventually wasn't that difficult to make, especially since he had aspects of his game that needed improvement. So he worked with a trainer, gained a needed 20 pounds and coached a youth team—discovering a potential career path in the process.

"I learned that I love it," he said. "Now that I did that, I'm definitely gonna have to do that if football doesn't work out.

"Yeah. [Grayshirting] is worth it."

Although grayshirting has become an ugly word to some in the recruiting world, especially since it can be used to negatively recruit, it's one of those concepts that's in the eye of the beholder.

For some players, it's worth it. Others obviously hate it.

With its most recent recruiting class, Alabama asked three players to consider grayshirting and all balked. Specifically, linebacker Riley Cole de-committed and eventually signed with South Alabama, tight end Brendan Scales similarly landed at Missouri and safety Joshua Perry ended up at Memphis.

All three were rated as being 3-star prospects by the 247Sports composite rankings, with Scales ranked the No. 377 player in the nation, Perry 661 and Cole 934.

In other words, they were considered projects by Alabama's standards.

Last year, Alabama had the same number of players who had been considered 3-star prospects as recruits as consensus 5-star talents, 18 (to go with 49 4-star players). Not only was it the only program that could claim that, the Crimson Tide had nearly twice as many 5-star players as every other team (USC was second with 10).

For 2016, the reigning national champions lost just two of those 5-star players, running back Derrick Henry and defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson, and picked up three more in its latest recruiting class. So it seemed pretty obvious that any projects lacking experience wouldn't be expected to make immediate contributions.

Saban explained his outlook on grayshirting when asked about Bell on national signing day.

"I think that I view that as a real positive, because we want the player, but we feel that the player is probably going to get redshirted based on where he is in his development, whether he needs to get bigger or stronger, or whatever," he said.

"When we do that, we usually do that early in the process, so guys have a chance to weigh any other opportunity they may want to do that. But it does give them an opportunity to come to Alabama, and it does give them the time to develop. In most cases, the guys that we do that with, that's really our goal, and our intention for them.

"We recruit them. We want them to come here. We just think it would help their development if they matured before they enrolled."

Critics claim that what Saban's doing is skirting the rules, both the 25-man signing limit that exists in the Southeastern Conference (known as the Houston Nutt rule after Ole Miss signed 37 players in 2009), and the 85-man scholarship limit. Former Florida president Bernie Machen went so far as to call such efforts "disgusting" in a 2011 editorial he wrote for

Other conferences have been outspoken as well, including the Big Ten even though Urban Meyer has brought the practice to Ohio State and Jim Harbaugh has taken things to another level at Michigan.

After more than one prospect decommitted just before national signing day and claimed that they no longer had scholarship offers, Harbaugh made no apologies about how he handles recruiting.

"It's a meritocracy," Harbaugh told Nick Baumgadner of "They've got to continue to perform when there's early commitments. Both in the classroom, on the field and as a citizen in the community. That's how we're going about it.

"I don't hide from that at all and I won't. That's what we demand."

Meanwhile, proponents say Saban is merely demonstrating forward thinking and good planning because roster attrition is inevitable.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse only 52.9 percent of students who enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in the fall of 2009 earned a degree within six years.

Alabama football has one of the highest graduation rates in the nation (86, percent according to the latest NCAA Graduation Success Rate data that includes transfers as compared to 64 percent claimed by the federal rate), but it has never come close to having a recruiting class stay intact, with every prospect graduating.

That's what Saban factors in, whether it be through academic issues, players transferring for a better chance at playing time or whatever. Alabama has finished with the nation's top recruiting class for six straight years and won four of the last seven national championships, so it's hard to argue with the results.

But when it comes to grayshirting, they're mixed.

In 2012, Alabama had two players it asked to grayshirt, who were both coming off knee injuries and likely wouldn't have contributed to the national championship team. Running back Justin Taylor initially agreed but then declined and signed with Kentucky, while Darius Philon headed to Arkansas.

Both players ended up redshirting their first season.

Taylor was given his release from Kentucky in 2013 and transferred to South Carolina State. Last season, he had 56 carries for 248 yards and three touchdowns and caught another pass for another score for the FCS school.

Philon stuck at Arkansas—sort of. In 2013, he started the final five games and had a career-high eight tackles against Alabama. The subsequent season, he started every game for the Razorbacks, but then declared himself eligible for the NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore.

With 92 career tackles, including 20.5 for a loss and seven sacks, the San Diego Chargers took a chance on him with the No. 192 selection in the sixth round. Philon missed roughly half of his rookie season with a hip injury and was credited five tackles.

In 2013, Alabama asked offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman, who was coming off a knee injury, if he would grayshirt, and after thinking it over, he agreed. However, when the Crimson Tide had an extra roster spot open up over the summer, coaches brought him in just before the start of training camp.

Bozeman redshirted, became the backup center in 2014, when he made two starts and played in nine games and participated in every game last season.

Saban's predecessor, Mike Shula, had both quarterback John Parker Wilson and offensive lineman Drew Davis grayshirt in 2004. Wilson used the time to gain 30 pounds, getting his weight up to 215, and Davis added 10 pounds to report at 285. Both ended up becoming starters.

The initial plan for William Vlachos was to grayshirt in 2007, but when Shula was fired, Saban decided to forego that and made him part of his initial recruiting class. Vlachos developed into a three-year starter who was named a finalist for the Rimington Award for the nation's top center, second-team All-American and first-team All-SEC.

"What was going through my mind was if he wanted me or not, because I was a Mike Shula guy," Vlachos said in 2011. "I committed here because this is where I always wanted to go."

That was the bottom line for Bell, the No. 445thprospect in 2015 who enrolled in January and will finally participate in his first Crimson Tide practice on Friday when Alabama holds its first official spring workout. Listed at 6'4", 240 pounds looks ready to go.

"I would just say it depends on your situation," Bell said about grayshirting. "People, kids our age, usually look at it as a bad thing. But in the long run, it can help you out."


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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How over 30 Offers in a Month's Span Led to 4-Star Justin Broiles' Commitment

There are impressive recruiting runs, and then there are those stretches of earning offers that only a handful of athletes get to experience.

Oklahoma City cornerback Justin Broiles committed to Oklahoma on Monday afternoon, but before he announced his verbal commitment, the 4-star athlete juggled 33 offers. And of those 33, 31 came in a month's span.

It's hard to believe that the first week of February, Broiles was balancing offers from Tulsa and Arkansas State. On Feb. 8, Kansas State offered. Then Nebraska. Then the same-day trio of SMU, Houston and Colorado State. Then a next-day trio of Arkansas, Iowa State and Ole Miss.

Consider the massive influx commenced.

"The recruiting process has been crazy," said Broiles, who plays for John Marshall High School. "You know, going from two offers to having 33 in a month is crazy. I didn't expect for me to blow up like I did this early, but it's all been a blessing, and I'm thankful for it."

Broiles, the No. 2 player in Oklahoma in the 2017 class (the No. 1 player, linebacker Levi Draper, also has committed to Oklahoma), picked up the Sooners' offer last month while at an Oklahoma junior day. He said he chose the Sooners over offers from Miami, Michigan, Ole Miss, Oregon, Arizona State and Red River rival Texas.

For Broiles, the decision was relatively simple.

"OU is just home," he said. "I've grown up an OU fan, and this is where I want to play my college ball."

The Sooners are getting an athletic, hungry cornerback in Broiles, a 6'0", 175-pound athlete who is a physical defender and a solid open-field tackler. Of his 47 tackles as a junior, 37 were unassisted. Broiles also saw time in John Marshall's offense as a receiver, catching 14 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

Broiles' second week of February was one he said he'll never forget. After entering the preceding week with two offers, he watched his recruitment skyrocket with nine offers in a six-day span. Oklahoma happened to be the ensuing offer after that.

Broiles was a big get for Oklahoma, which is currently a top-five team in 247Sports' team recruiting rankings for the 2017 class. The Sooners has seven commits, and all seven are 4-star athletes. Broiles is an added piece to a talented secondary class that also features Southlake, Texas, safety Robert Barnes and Miami cornerback Trajan Bandy.

Now an Oklahoma commit, Broiles said he can sit back and focus on getting better for his senior year at John Marshall. But Broiles said he'll never forget the roller-coaster ride he had with recruiting, primarily in the month of February.

He also is happy to be a part of the recruiting class of the team he's followed since he was a young boy.

"When they offered, I kind of had a feeling to where I wanted to go," he said. "But after talking it over with my family and coaches, I came to the conclusion that this is where I want to play my college ball."


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

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Every Power 5 Team's 1 Position Battle That Could Last Until Opening Day

Nothing makes the interminably long college football offseason drag along even slower than a prolonged position battle. Spring practice takes care of some of the questions surrounding your favorite team, but not all of them, and in most cases the queries left standing are big ones.

Who will start at quarterback? Who's going to rush the passer? Is there someone who can run the ball effectively? Will the line be able to open holes? Why is there so much uncertainty!?

With spring practice underway at many schools—and set to begin at several others—battles will be waged for open starting positions. Several will get filled as a result of spring competitions, and many of these position battles will not only continue on into preseason camp but might not end up getting decided until just before kickoff of that first game in the 2016 season.

Here's our look at the position battle for each power-conference school (along with top independents BYU and Notre Dame) that has a chance to last that long.

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College Football's 10 Highest-Paid Assistant Coaches

The million-dollar club in college football isn't just for head coaches anymore.

As salaries for college football's head men continue to skyrocket, there's been a trickle-down effect to their top assistants. That's especially true if the assistant is a top-notch defensive coordinator, as those dominate the salary databases in today's offense-friendly age of football.

With the 2016 coaching carousel almost coming to a complete stop—Illinois decided to take it for one more spin this past weekend—let's take a look at the assistant coaches who will be paid the most for their services this upcoming season.

The bulk of the information for this top-10 list came from the excellent assistant coach salary database at USA Today, which totaled up the pay for the 2015 contract year. Each coach is listed with his 2015 salary and his projected 2016 salary, with numbers for several assistants in new roles based on reported figures. 

(For those who don't have a confirmed 2016 salary yet, their place on this list is based on their 2015 salary.)

Keep in mind that private schools such as Notre Dame, USC and Stanford aren't required to release their coaches' contract information like their public school counterparts. That's why that type of institution, with one notable exception, isn't found on salary lists like this one.

Which college football assistant do you think deserves the biggest payday? Find a name and salary amount that I missed in my research? Let me know in the comments below.

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Redshirt Freshmen Who Will Be Playmakers in 2016

Immediate-impact prospects are tremendous additions to any college football program, but a collection of redshirt freshmen will provide that kind of boost in 2016.

Perhaps they served as a backup to an incumbent starter last season, entered a loaded roster or simply needed a year to develop.

But next season, the following second-year players have favorable opportunities to become key contributors on their respective teams.

You might even see a couple of these guys occupying major roles during the College Football Playoff.

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Urban Meyer Prepping Ohio State for an Under-the-Radar Spring

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Fourteen minutes and 32 seconds.

That's how long it took for Urban Meyer to be asked about his quarterback and arguably the most important player on his roster, J.T. Barrett, following Ohio State's first practice of the spring on Tuesday.

The inquiry didn't come from a member of the national media, nor was the answer broadcast to millions of homes or even tweeted to tens of thousands of followers from the relatively small gathering of reporters inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center team meeting room.

In fact, the fifth-year Buckeyes head coach's opening spring practice press conference was pretty—for a lack of a better term—boring, in comparison to the three-ring circus that emanated from Columbus just a year ago.

"I was expecting high energy, and that's what we got. Our whole focus is on four-to-six [seconds], [point] A to B," Meyer said, repeating one of his signature mantras. "We've got a lot of work to do."

Such is life at Ohio State in 2016, where the TMZ-like atmosphere that surrounded the program 12 months ago and throughout the 2015 season has been replaced by a back-to-basics mentality necessary for a team with 16 open starting spots on its depth chart.

The Buckeyes might be the current national championship favorites according to oddsmakers, but don't tell that to Meyer, who's more concerned with a roster already bitten by injuries after just one day of spring practice.

"We have 11 right now—guys that we're counting on that can't go full-speed," Meyer said. "This is uncharted waters for me."

Ohio State's injury issue, however, underscores the larger theme in Columbus this spring, where intrigue and uncertainty has replaced a senior class responsible for 50 wins in four years and nine early departures-turned-NFL hopefuls from last year's team.

Even with a fully healthy roster, Meyer wouldn't yet know what he'll be able to count on, with 83.1 percent of his team's receiving yards, 73.1 percent of its rushing yards and seven of its top 10 tacklers from 2015 having walked out the door.

Indeed, it is "the year of development," as Meyer has called it on multiple occasions already—a clear departure from the known commodities last year's squad possessed after 2014's similarly young roster made its unexpected to the inaugural College Football Playoff championship.

The national media that flocked to Columbus to cover the eventual undisputed preseason No. 1 team was noticeably absent on Tuesday, instead delaying their travel plans to attend the Buckeyes' pro day on Friday.

Only this year, it will be the players actually participating in drills and not the ones standing on the sideline that scouts will be most interested in, as opposed to 12 months ago, when Ohio State's highly touted underclassmen overshadowed its outgoing seniors.

On this year's Buckeyes roster, surefire NFL prospects are few and far between, which isn't all that surprising given the lack of playing time available on last year's team.

"I do," Meyer answered when asked if he found himself missing the pro-ready talent that littered last year's team during Tuesday's practice session. "But it's part of growing up, I guess. When your daughter gets married and leaves home and when you see 14, 15, 16, 17 players who you really care about leave."

The difference, however, is you can replace those players—as difficult as it may be, given the gaping holes they left and the injuries that currently plague the Buckeyes roster.

That rings especially true with the wide receiver unit, where Ohio State was without Noah Brown, Curtis Samuel, Corey Smith and K.J. Hill on Tuesday. Brown, Samuel and Smith had previously been penciled in to be the Buckeyes' new starters, replacing the outgoing Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller.

Defensively, depth has suddenly become an issue as well, with Ohio State practicing with just two healthy scholarship safeties on Tuesday. Malik Hooker and cornerback-turned-safety Eric Glover-Williams worked with the Buckeyes' first team, while Erick Smith and Cam Burrows each found themselves sidelined with injury issues.

"With 11 guys out, that's the thing that kicks you in the teeth. If everybody's ready to go, I think you could do that," Meyer answered when asked if he thought he could make out a new depth chart from this spring. "But we're not."

That's not to say Ohio State doesn't have some certainty to fall back on, particularly in the form of Barrett, who at this time last year was dealing with an unprecedented quarterback competition involving himself, Miller and Cardale Jones. That makes for one less distraction this season for the Buckeyes, who will no longer have to answer questions pertaining to who their starting signal-caller will be.

And perhaps that's what will be most important for Ohio State this spring as Meyer attempts to eliminate what he terms "noise," in favor of a more football-focused approach to practice.

The uncertainty is there, but so is plenty the Buckeyes can count on. Just like the question about Barrett, it might just take a little longer to get to the destination than it did a year ago.


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 Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Auburn Football: Week 1 Spring Practice Report

AUBURN, Ala. — The unofficial start to the 2016 football season couldn't have come any sooner for the Auburn Tigers.

Last week, Gus Malzahn's team hit the field for the first time since capping a disappointing 7-6 campaign at the Birmingham Bowl. Back on the Plains, Auburn's players and coaches alike are eager to begin the work to make sure 2016 will be much different.

"Our guys are extremely excited to get out there," Malzahn said last Tuesday. "They’ve done a super job up to this point with our mat drills, in the weight room. You can tell this is a very close group. You can also tell that they’ve got a chip on their shoulder from last year, which I think is very healthy."

It's also a new-look group for Auburn, as the Tigers break in several new position coaches and start to fill in some gaps on the depth chart from last year's departures. That could also include a new No. 1 at quarterback.

Auburn will start its second full week of practice Tuesday afternoon. Before the Tigers return to the field, let's take a look back at all the action from Week 1.


Eyes on the skies

It's another spring, another quarterback situation to watch at Auburn.

After Jeremy Johnson and Sean White struggled while splitting time as the No. 1 quarterback last season, the Tigers are opening things back up again with what is currently a multi-player battle.

Johnson and White are focused on bouncing back from the disappointment of 2015, while JUCO transfer John Franklin III is looking to take over the job as the electric dual-threat that Auburn lacked last season.

"He looks very athletic," left guard Alex Kozan said. "I saw he juked the daylights out of a defensive end—something I really haven't seen in a while."

Redshirt freshman Tyler Queen is somewhat limited but still throwing, and new walk-on Devin Adams is on hand to create more competition.

While Auburn was focused on protecting Johnson last season, the staff is looking to create separation among its quarterbacks by making them take hits at times this spring. In 2013, that method produced starter Nick Marshall ahead of an SEC title season.

"We’re able to go live this spring," Malzahn said. "Usually when you do that, things separate a little quicker. If we do that it will be after spring break. That's something we've talked about, especially if no one really separates themselves."

Of course, there's two sides to an effective passing game, and Auburn is also looking for answers this spring at wide receiver. New wide receiver coach Kodi Burns is stepping into a situation in which Auburn must replace its top two receivers this offseason, with his returners combining for only 575 yards last season.

"We have some experience, but overall I think we're inexperienced," Malzahn said. "That's what it is, but I think that can be a good thing. ... We've got a couple of guys coming in that we feel like will have a chance to help, too, but I really think the big thing is that we will have some talent to work with there."

In addition to Marcus Davis, Jason Smith and Tony Stevens—along with high-potential underclassmen such as Darius Slayton—Auburn has one of the top wide receiver classes of 2016 coming to campus. 

One of the biggest stars of the class, Georgia native Kyle Davis, enrolled early and wasted no time wowing his new team with his skill set.

"He's got the ability," Malzahn said. "He's got that ability that could definitely help us next year. ... The 'earn it' attitude, he understands that."


Steele's stamp on defense

First-year Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele got right to the point when asked what he wants to see from his new unit.

In fact, he repeated the same phrase multiple times in the first answer of his Saturday press conference.

"What we are trying to create right to be a physical, dominating group that plays with relentless effort," Steele said. "The thing that is the most encouraging at this point over the first three days is we’ve got a really, really good attitude, and we have really tried to play with great effort on every play."

It's a similar style to what former coordinator Will Muschamp sought to install during his one brief season on the Plains. 

"That's what he's been preaching the whole practice: effort, and you build off of that," defensive tackle Dontavius Russell said. "Making sure we all got good effort to the ball and stuff like that. ... We're trying to build an identity as a team, and that's with effort."

And in order to make things easier on a defense that is going through its fifth defensive coordinator in six seasons, Steele is keeping the transition simple.

"We've tried to facilitate the learning curve a little bit," Steele said. "The dictionary is pretty similar. We've tried to keep as much of it the same as possible, which makes it friendly for the players."

For example, the pass-rushing defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid that Carl Lawson played last year is still called the "Buck." The Tigers will line up in similar fronts in Steele's scheme, too.

When it comes to the on-field coaching, Steele and Muschamp have different demeanors—most of the time.

Defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence has already seen firsthand that the Tigers' new defensive coordinator has some fire inside him.

"He's more calm [than Muschamp], but at the same thing you've got to realize he's still going to bite, too," Lawrence said. "He's got an edge to him, you know what I'm saying?"


In the trenches

The strength of Auburn's 2016 team should be found on the defensive line, where the Tigers return Montravius Adams, Lawson, Russell, Lawrence, Byron Cowart and other highly touted players.

Adams and Lawson both decided to stay in school for 2016 instead of enter the NFL draft early—decisions Adams said were made with some help from each other.

"We decided to come back so we could play a whole season together," Adams said. "We came in as freshmen and played together in the Under Armour game and Rising Seniors game when we were in the 11th grade. Now just coming here, we haven’t played a complete season yet."

Auburn could start up to four former 5-star recruits on the defensive line this season, with plenty of blue-chip names filling in the depth chart behind them, including 2016 signee Marlon Davidson. Right now, the newcomers are having to make the tough adjustment to life under veteran line coach Rodney Garner.

"I use the example as they meet Rodney Garner when they are a recruit," Adams said. "But when they get there—that's Coach G."

On the other side of the ball, Auburn should stay strong on the offensive line with the return of its entire interior and a couple of new leaders emerging on the outside.

Auburn returns left guard Kozan, center Austin Golson and right guard Braden Smith for 2016. The line also picks up the newly eligible Darius James, a transfer from Texas who has the ability to play anywhere on the offensive line.

"Darius James has impressed me so far," Kozan said. "He's been able to set the edges as an offensive tackle and keep up with those speed guys, which I wasn't really sure if he could do. But he's proven himself so far. ... He's got a great energy."

Longtime backup Robert Leff took most of the first-team snaps at left tackle during the first week of spring camp, but new offensive line coach Herb Hand is moving players around quite a bit in order to get a handle on his best five. Kozan said he was even taking snaps at center.

"I probably expect to stay at left guard, but at the same time, you never know," Kozan said. "[In] spring of 2014, everybody thought we'd be in our spots, and I got hurt. It's important to learn other spots for right now and long term for your career." 


Quick hits

  • Safety Tray Matthews (shoulder), running back Kerryon Johnson (shoulder) and cornerback Jeremiah Dinson (knee) will miss the entire spring. Safety Rudy Ford and JUCO defensive end Paul James III missed all of Week 1 with injuries, but Malzahn said Monday he hopes both will return this week.
  • Malzahn announced four new graduate assistants—including former Auburn quarterback Jonathan Wallace and defensive end Craig Sanders—and four new analysts to the 2016 staff. 
  • Defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence has massive goals for himself in 2016. Lawrence told reporters Saturday he wants to win the Lombardi and the Outland this year, a feat which Tom Green of the Opelika-Auburn News noted has only been done 13 times since 1970.
  • Malzahn's new BMW i8 sports car has made headlines recently, and the head coach revealed Thursday he bought it for himself as a 50th birthday present. 
  • Auburn will practice Tuesday and Thursday before taking next week off for the university's spring break.


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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