NCAA Football News

Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh Questions the Attractiveness of Whining in Tweet

When Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh has something on his mind, he's going to say what he is thinking.

Fortunately for the rest of us, we get to see those thoughts whenever they pop up thanks to social media.

On Tuesday, Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com reported that the Southeastern Conference is pushing for the NCAA "to prohibit college football teams from holding spring practice during spring break." That came after Harbaugh decided Michigan would be holding spring practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, during its spring break.

Coincidentally, Harbaugh took to Twitter on Wednesday to pose a question:

Is that a shot at the SEC? Only the Wolverines coach can say for sure. At the very least, it does make you wonder if the Subtweet Master has made another appearance.

Amusingly, Harbaugh is no stranger to, um, having his team's back on the sideline himself:

You can be the judge as to whether that's attractive.

[Jim Harbaugh, Yahoo Dr. Saturday]

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The Best Offensive Minds in College Football

No offense to a certain defensive-minded professional football championship game that just played out in front of millions of viewers over the weekend, but at the college level we still love our production.

It's as much a necessity as helmets and shoulder pads to have an effective offensive game plan at the college level in order to survive, and to do more than that requires plenty of innovation. Resting on tried-and-true tactics doesn't cut it anymore, not with the players becoming bigger, faster, stronger and more adaptive to what's happening on the field.

Alabama and Clemson had two of the country's most punishing defenses, but when they met in the national championship game, it ultimately came down to which team could do more with the ball. The result was 75 points and a combined 1,023 yards of offense.

Much credit goes to the players who take the play calls and turn them into positive results, but here we're focusing on the people who are making those calls. Particularly, those who come up with the game's most creative and productive schemes.

Follow along as we pick the brains of the best offensive minds in college football—chosen for not just the schemes that they run (and how well they've produced) but also for their ability to make it work in varying situations and environments.

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Where Should USC Turn to Replace Pat Haden as Athletic Director?

The Friday before the Super Bowl is always a perfect day to release some news that might garner a mixed reaction, and there were several organizations that did just that in order to fly under the radar.

One of the more interesting bits of information that surfaced on Feb. 5 was USC's announcement that athletic director Pat Haden would be stepping down from his current role at the end of June in order to focus on the burgeoning renovation project of the Trojans' historic home at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

It was a move many observers of the school expected at some point in the near future (Haden is 63 and battling health issues), but it nevertheless failed to register among some—because of the timing—just what a big moment this was for the school.

"It has been a tremendous honor serving my alma mater, a school I love so much, as well as serving Max Nikias, our coaches and staff and, most importantly, our student-athletes," Haden said in a statement. "I am proud of what has been accomplished here the past six years and knowing that USC Athletics is on an upward trajectory. I look forward to finishing out this academic year as athletic director and then spending time on the Coliseum project."

Yes, Haden has seen his fair share of tough press over his handling of recent matters regarding the football team, but he is still a respected member of the Trojan family who did plenty to leave his school in better shape than he found it upon taking over in 2010. His departure also signals a major opportunity for the school to hire a top-notch candidate to fill one of the more attractive jobs in college athletics.

After all, one does get to live in Los Angeles, get paid handsomely (USAToday believes Haden was the highest-paid AD in the country) and run a department that finds success in just about every Olympic sport in addition to fielding top-25 teams in revenue sports such as football and basketball.

The question is, especially at this critical time in the school’s history: Where does USC go from here? Can it lure a savvy outsider to come in and provide stability, or do power brokers in LA even want somebody from the outside? According to David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times, all but one of the school's seven athletic directors since 1926 had some previous connection to the Trojans.

Hiring an insider is not necessarily a bad thing, as the recent praise being heaped on Michigan for hiring former football player Warde Manuel can attest to. Still, USC has proved to be quite insular in its decision-making the past few years, which has resulted in some issues that were likely preventable.

Complicating things might be strong-minded school president Max Nikias, who resisted plenty of alumni pressure to clean house last year when the football team was swept up in controversy and Clay Helton was eventually tapped to be the full-time head coach over the objections of many.

Interestingly, the school has retained a search firm to find its next athletic director, but it has virtually zero experience in finding candidates in the athletics realm and is typically unitized for dean and CEO searches.

With all that in mind, here are a few candidates USC is likely to consider as the Trojans try to find the perfect person to replace Haden.

 

The insiders: Steve Lopes, John "J.K." McKay

Lopes has been a member of the Trojans athletic department since the mid-1980s and is one of the longest-serving administrators in Heritage Hall. He’s been a senior associate athletic director since 2002 as the right hand of both Mike Garrett and Pat Haden and is currently the COO and CFO of the athletic department.

He is likely to be the top candidate if USC chooses to go with an internal hire and very likely will be named the interim AD if a full-time replacement hasn’t been selected by June.

For Lopes, who is well-respected among boosters and department officials alike, his biggest advantage—being at the school for so long—may also be one of the things that will work against him. He has not been an athletic director elsewhere at a major school and may be guilty by association for simply being around during some turbulent times.

The other internal candidate likewise has to combat the fact that he’s been around for some messy issues. McKay is a Trojan through thick and thin however, and no doubt would draw on his connections to the program as a selling point.

The son of national title-winning USC head coach John McKay, J.K. is very accomplished in his own right. He was a star receiver for two national championship teams at the school in the 1970s, played briefly in the NFL and later became an accomplished lawyer for several firms in Southern California.

McKay was brought on board at Heritage Hall when Haden came aboard and currently serves as the senior associate athletic director for football. While he no doubt has the credentials and reputation to become the school’s next athletic director, the fact that he’s been the person directly responsible for overseeing four head coaches during his six years on campus is a big hill to climb. His age (he'll be 63 next month) doesn’t help, either.

 

The insider with outside experience: Mark Jackson

Timing is everything in the world of athletics, and one wonders if Jackson is kicking himself just a bit for leaving last August to become the athletic director of Villanova. A former senior associate athletic director at USC, he was a big factor in building one of the best football operations buildings in the country in the John McKay Center and was instrumental in pushing through the stunning renovation of venerable Heritage Hall.

Long considered an up-and-comer in the world of athletics, Jackson would likely have been named Haden’s replacement almost immediately had he remained in Los Angeles and would have been the welcome choice for many boosters and administrators. He will likely still be a top-tier candidate for the USC job, but it remains to be seen if he’d leave Philadelphia so soon after getting his first AD job, especially with the Wildcats sitting pretty at No. 1 in the men’s basketball top 25.

 

The sitting ADs: Chris Del Conte, Greg Byrne, Jim Phillips, John Currie

If USC is looking to land the best candidate for its opening, it would be wise to put in a call to this group and not take no for an answer.

Del Conte should likely top the list, as he’d bring the personality needed for the job to glad-hand boosters and deal with the L.A. media while also bringing an impressive administrative record to the table. USC is one of the few jobs he’d likely leave Fort Worth for, and he has numerous connections to the state of California that could help lure him west.

He checks off all the boxes when it comes to experience, and the fact that he helped deliver on major football and basketball stadium renovations has to be a big plus for a school looking to update the Coliseum.

Byrne is familiar to USC fans from his time running Arizona’s athletic department and has about as good a resume as they come in college sports. He has a phenomenal track record when it comes to hiring coaches, and his creativity in dealing with administrative matters would serve him well at a place like USC. He’s still among the younger ADs in the country, which could be very attractive for the Trojans in charge, given how they are hoping for some long-term stability with this hire.

As for Phillips and Currie, both seem like more long shots, but a premiere athletic department like USC should likely put in a call anyway. Phillips’ next move is probably to either Notre Dame or to replace Jim Delany as Big Ten commissioner, but it’s possible that Currie would listen to a big step up from Kansas State and a chance to be even more of a player on the national stage.

 

The executive suite: Dan Bane, Rich McKay

It’s been a recent trend of late for schools to look outside college athletics and pick somebody with a more business-oriented approach to run their athletic departments. This has backfired tremendously at places like Michigan and Texas lately, but it’s possible that is still a direction USC could go, especially when factoring in its search firm’s lack of athletics placement experience.

That could open the door for USC to lure somebody like Dan Bane to the job, the current CEO of Trader Joe’s and a former baseball player at the school under legendary coach Rod Dedeaux. It seems like a long stretch that Nikias could convince him to give up such a high-profile job (Bane is also relatively press-shy and even older than Haden), but finding a successful businessman like that with ties to the school wouldn’t be a stretch by any imagination.

Also a possibility? Atlanta Falcons CEO Rich McKay, the brother of J.K. and son of famed head coach John. He’s both younger than his brother and, perhaps more importantly, has enough ties to the school without really at risk of being labeled as a big-time insider. He’s had success on the field as general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they won the Super Bowl, and his involvement in building a new stadium in Atlanta is also a big plus.

Either way, the search for the Trojans' next athletic director will be fascinating and capable of taking many twists and turns as the school looks to replace Pat Haden. As one of just three athletic departments in the country with over 100 NCAA titles and a very prestigious football brand, it’s a marquee job in college athletics that pays handsomely.

While it is an attractive opening for somebody, figuring just who that is appears to be a big challenge for those in charge at USC.

 

Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Latest Allegations a Damaging Blow to Tennessee Football Program

On the field, everything seems to be going right for Tennessee.

The Vols return a ton of talent on both sides of the football, are expected to contend for the 2016-17 College Football Playoff, according to Odds Shark, and boast two Heisman Trophy contenders in quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd.

Off the field, though, it's a different story.

According to Anita Wadhwani and Nate Rau of the Tennessean, six women filed a federal lawsuit against Tennessee on Tuesday, claiming that the school "created a student culture that enables sexual assaults by student-athletes, especially football players, and then uses an unusual, legalistic adjudication process that is biased against victims who step forward."

Here's just a sampling of the allegations in the report:

  • Five athletes, including former football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams and Riyahd Jones and an unidentified current player, accused of sexual assault.
  • Violation of Title IX laws and creating a hostile sexual environment for female students. The blame for this environment, according to the lawsuit, falls at the top of the Tennessee administration, including chancellor Jimmy Cheek, athletics director Dave Hart and head football coach Butch Jones.
  • Investigation processes delayed until the alleged perpetrators either transferred or graduated.

In addition to the initial report, Dustin Dopirak of the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported on Wednesday that the lawsuit alleges that former wide receiver Drae Bowles, who transferred to Chattanooga following the 2014 season, was assaulted twice by football players for assisting the woman who accused Johnson and Williams of rape.

The school responded to the lawsuit on Tuesday (via the Tennessean):

Like the many other college campuses facing the challenges of sexual assault, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has devoted significant time and energy to provide a safe environment for our students, to educate and raise awareness about sexual assault, and to encourage students to come forward and report sexual assault. When the University receives a report of sexual assault, we offer care and support to the person who came forward and work to investigate and resolve the matter in a timely, thorough, and equitable manner. When warranted, the University takes disciplinary action but will not do so in a manner that violates state law or the constitutional due process rights of our students.

In the situations identified in the lawsuit filed today; the University acted lawfully and in good faith, and we expect a court to agree. Any assertion that we do not take sexual assault seriously enough is simply not true. To claim that we have allowed a culture to exist contrary to our institutional commitment to providing a safe environment for our students or that we do not support those who report sexual assault is just false. The University will provide a detailed response to the lawsuit and looks forward to doing so at the appropriate time, and in the proper manner.

This is potentially devastating to the university, and it will take years to recover from the allegations, regardless of the outcome of the federal lawsuit.

The point of this column isn't to lay blame on one side or the other.

That's what the lawsuit is for.

If the allegations are true and the lawsuit is successful, Cheek, Hart and Jones should have their roles within the athletic department called into question, the football program should be burdened with heavy sanctions—both financially and through whatever avenues the NCAA is willing to pursue—and anyone who had a hand in creating this atmosphere should be held accountable.

Adults are paid to be the adults in the situation, and if football players were protected from their roles in potentially serious crimes by a program, the head—or heads—of that program has to feel the pain.

If the allegations aren't true, and some or all of the six anonymous women who brought forth this lawsuit aren't being honest, there should be accountability on that end as well.

For the program, though, the damage is done.

This is part of the new identity of the Vols football program, and there's not much that can help it shed the label other than time.

Take Florida State, for example.

The rape accusation against former quarterback Jameis Winston became public in November 2013, nearly a year after the incident allegedly occurred.

Winston's saga lasted for years, despite Winston never being charged. It resulted in the school's shelling out $950,000 late last month to the accuser to settle its federal Title IX lawsuit, according to USA Today's Rachel Axon. In addition to the financial settlement, FSU agreed to "a five-year commitment to awareness, prevention and training programs."

There's no reason a school should be forced to commit to the safety of students, though. That should be a commitment every day, hour and minute of a university's existence.

Tennessee needs to re-commit to it now, regardless of the outcome.

On the field, Tennessee has a lot going for it. The Vols should be in the mix for an SEC East title in 2016, perhaps more, and Jones has successfully built the program "brick by brick" to a point where it is nationally relevant for the first time since playing in the SEC Championship Game in 2007.

If that foundation was built by cutting corners and protecting players, it will crumble like a house of cards.

The perception of the university is damaged, and whether it's deserved or not—we will leave that to the legal system to determine—it has to take enormous steps to make sure its student body is as safe as possible and the players within the program who break laws pay for it like anybody else would.

But then again, that seems like common sense.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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College Football QBs Poised to Become Stars in 2016

The 2015 season was not an especially quarterback-friendly year in college football. Rather, '15 was the year of the running back. But '16 could be far different. Deshaun Watson (Clemson) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) are two of the stars returning. 

But where will the breakout quarterbacks come from? That's what this list projects. 

With few exceptions, we stayed away from quarterbacks who have already put up huge numbers. In other words, the entire college football world may not know about Washington State's Luke Falk and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes II, but it's not like they're not already established stars. Both led their respective conferences in passing. They're underrated perhaps but certainly not unproven. 

So, chances are, if there's a quarterback missing from this list, it's probably because he's already recognized as it is. 

Rather, in the following slides are quarterbacks primed under the right circumstances to take a huge jump forward in 2016. Whether they thrive immediately as first-year starters or are simply ready to put up video game-type stats, these are quarterbacks looking to become household names by season's end. 

Who's your breakout quarterback of 2016? Sound off in the comment section below. 

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Drae Bowles Allegedly Assaulted by Tennessee Football Players: Details, Reaction

A federal lawsuit alleged Tuesday that former University of Tennessee and current University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wide receiver Drae Bowles was twice beaten by teammates in 2014 for "assisting" the woman who accused two players of rape.  

According to Dustin Dopirak of the Knoxville News Sentinel, the alleged incidents took place in November 2014 in relation to rape allegations against former Tennessee players Michael Williams and A.J. Johnson, who are awaiting separate trials.

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All-Purpose Back Anthony McFarland Jr. 'Hungry' to Earn Coveted 5-Star Ranking

There are 30 athletes in the 2017 class who have earned 5-star composite ratings.

Player No. 31, Hyattsville, Maryland, all-purpose back Anthony McFarland Jr., first noticed the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2017 class Tuesday evening. And while McFarland is happy about his current position in the rankings, he now has a new goal to shoot for.

McFarland, who represents Maryland powerhouse DeMatha Catholic, is a high 4-star recruit looking to prove that he deserves a fifth star. The upcoming camp and combine circuits will serve as perfect opportunities for him to impress the right people.

"I know people can say they really don't care about stars, but it's a big thing to me; it motivates me," McFarland said. "To be honest, it makes me a little more hungry. I feel like I should be one of those 5-stars. It makes me want to go out and line up against the best and prove myself."

McFarland, a 5'9", 189-pound athlete, is the No. 2 all-purpose back in the country. The No. 1 all-purpose back, Philadelphia's D'Andre Swift, holds the No. 30 spot in the overall rankings. He's also the last 5-star recruit. Their composite rating scores are separated by all of one one-thousandth of a point.

McFarland will be the first to admit that rankings are more for entertainment purposes, but being that close to adding a fifth star to his profile page serves as motivation for him as he prepares for nationwide camps and combines. He currently is rated a 4-star prospect by 247Sports, Rivals, Scout and ESPN.

While McFarland continues his chase for that coveted fifth star, he is also looking to find a winning program where he can continue to thrive as a student-athlete in college. McFarland has 26 reported offers, the latest coming from Syracuse on Feb. 1.

McFarland has offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Penn State, Georgia, Baylor, in-state school Maryland and a host of other programs. He said he's planning on attending Maryland's junior day this weekend. Although he isn't planning on making any major decisions anytime soon, McFarland said he knows what he wants in a winning program.

"I'm looking, most definitely, to see which schools play their freshmen," he said. "Of course, I'm looking at a good education, too. I just want to go where I feel good about going to an institution. Where will I feel like I am at home? That's what I want to know. To me, it's not just about football; it's everything around football.

"Honestly, I'm just blessed to have all of [the offers]. You only get one chance to do a process like this. It's really a blessing."

And what will a program get in McFarland? For starters, McFarland brings tons of speed to the table. He said he's been clocked in the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds (fully automated time) and 4.29 (handheld time). McFarland is also an explosive, athletic individual who can do a variety of things from a variety of positions.

"I feel like I'm one of the best players and most versatile players," he said. "I can play running back, I can play slot, or I can line up wide and run deep routes. I can run out of the Wildcat [quarterback], or I can throw out of the Wildcat.

"I feel like you've got to have confidence if you want to be versatile, and I feel like I can score every play when I get the ball in my hands. When I go to camps, I just want to show my ability."

It's not hard to tell that McFarland is ready for what spring competition has in store. And thanks to one one-thousandth of a point, he now has added incentive to perform above and beyond his own expectations.

"Do I want it?" he said of a fifth star. "Most definitely."

 

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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Very Quietly, Florida HC Jim McElwain Developing Versatile WR Corps

The days of the "fun and gun" that Steve Spurrier made famous in Gainesville are gone.

Long gone.

Florida hasn't produced a 1,000-yard receiver since Taylor Jacobs hauled in 71 passes for 1,088 yards in 2002—when the 2016 class was still a year shy of kindergarten.

Some of that had to do with the multidimensional running game former head coach Urban Meyer implemented with star quarterback Tim Tebow, but the absence of game-breakers at wide receiver has become the Achilles' heel of the program for a generation—especially over the last half-decade. Only once since 2010 has Florida's team leader in receiving yards had more than 700 (Demarcus Robinson had 810 in 2014).

That could change in 2016, because very quietly, second-year head coach Jim McElwain has given himself depth, versatility and the ability to get creative with the current corps of wide receivers on the roster. 

Antonio Callaway had a team-high 678 yards last year as a true freshman, including four touchdowns and 23 receptions that went for first downs. The 5'11", 198-pound sophomore from Miami missed out on freshman All-SEC honors due to breakout campaigns from Alabama's Calvin Ridley and Texas A&M's Christian Kirk, but is already considered one of the most important pieces of McElwain's puzzle.

"This is a guy that this conference is going to hear about for awhile to come, and rightfully so," McElwain said prior to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. "Not only what he does as a receiver, but obviously as a return guy. He's energized us and he is a true playmaker. He's a get-it-to-guy and we're going to make sure he gets his touches."

Callaway is a known commodity, as is slot weapon Brandon Powell.

The 5'9", 184-pound junior who moved from running back to receiver prior to last season caught 29 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns a year ago, and was a big help to former quarterback Will Grier and quarterback-turned-receiver Treon Harris, who were forced to deal with offensive line issues all year. 

Harris is interesting too, because the 5'11", 195-pound rising junior clearly has the athleticism to be a difference-maker, and can be used in a variety of ways by McElwain as a receiver or Wildcat quarterback who is actually a threat to throw.

What's more, three new wide receivers will be in Gainesville this spring—all of whom have the chance to make an immediate impact. Freddie Swain and Joshua Hammond are both 4-star prospects who have the ability to serve as possession receivers or threats downfield, and Dre Massey is a 5'9", 184-pound junior college speedster who gives McElwain even more options in the slot.

"Just to see them interact and just get involved in how we go about our daily business is something that's huge," McElwain said of the early enrollee wide receivers and fellow early enrollee quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask in quotes emailed by Florida. "I'm really proud of those guys. I'm proud of all those guys that chose to do a little extra work, you know, when it's a little uncomfortable to get in here and start their college careers a semester early."

Additionally, Tyrie Cleveland, a 6'2 1/2", 189-pound, 4-star prospect from Houston who was a bit of a signing day surprise, should grow into a big-time possession weapon once he gets into a college strength and conditioning program.

"He's a guy that came by this summer and always had a lot of interest in the Gators, right there in Duval County, before he moved to Texas, so he's not necessarily, you know, stuck and into the Texas part of it," McElwain said on national signing day, according to quotes emailed by Florida.

On top of those weapons, McElwain already has highly touted senior Ahmad Fulwood, who hasn't been able to put it together over three years in a stagnant offense. The 6'4", 208-pounder from Jacksonville, Florida, is a huge target with long arms, and he is joined by fellow receivers C.J. Worton, Alvin Bailey and Chris Thompson.

The combination of experience and talented newcomers should make life easy for the new quarterback—likely Franks, Luke Del Rio or Purdue transfer Austin Appleby. 

Florida has been lacking playmakers outside for a full generation, but McElwain has done a very good job replenishing that cupboard over the last couple of years through recruiting and position changes. That should benefit the Gators in 2016, the players who were already in house and the eventual winner of the battle to become the starting quarterback.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Bailey Hockman Tweets Visits Plan: Which Team Needs 4-Star QB Most?

Months after decommiting from the Georgia Bulldogs, coveted quarterback recruit Bailey Hockman plans to expand his process during upcoming weeks.

The 4-star prospect, rated No. 7 overall among pro-style passers in the class of 2017, shared that outlook Tuesday on Twitter:

Hockman, a 6'2", 210-pound junior at McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, backed off his sixth-month verbal pledge to the in-state Bulldogs on Dec. 14. The decision occurred shortly after the departure of former Georgia head coach Mark Richt. On Twitter, Hockman expressed motivation to "open back up my recruitment and make sure I am at the best place for myself and development as a student-athlete."

He received scholarship offers from Michigan and Arizona State within days of his decommitment, presenting him with several options a year shy of national signing day. Hockman commanded widespread collegiate interest with a breakout 2014 campaign, recording 3,597 passing yards and 42 touchdowns, according to Jeff Sentell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Among his scheduled visits, all four coaching staffs are still searching for a quarterback who can become the centerpiece of their 2017 offensive hauls. Though each program is fresh off signing at least one 2016 prospect at the position, it's imperative for teams to stockpile talent, given the propensity for injuries, transfers and, inevitably in some cases, underwhelming play from former prized prospects.

Hockman is set to start his four-school tour Feb. 16 at Auburn. The Tigers welcome a pair of passers to the roster entering 2016 after signing junior college standout John Franklin and 4-star Orlando product Woody Barrett

Following a 2015 season that featured just 11 total touchdown tosses and 12 interceptions, the Tigers must improve passing efforts in order to contend for SEC titles. Auburn made strides by signing three of the nation's top 20 wide receiver recruits earlier this month, but the situation behind center remains murky.

"Our quarterback position is wide-open," Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn said last week, via Brandon Marcello of AL.com.

While this disarray is troublesome for Auburn fans, necessity for improvement in the passing game could prove extremely attractive for Hockman. The Tigers lost grips on a commitment from 4-star 2017 passer Lowell Narcisse in January, further intensifying Malzahn's search for a future offensive catalyst.

Auburn does claim a commitment from highly regarded 2018 Florida quarterback Joey Gatewood but that's a long-term process that doesn't exactly offer much when it comes to certainty. Like Narcisse or Hockman, Gatewood could ultimately elect to change course during the second half of his high school career.

Fellow SEC possibility Tennessee will punctuate this upcoming stretch of visits. The Volunteers seemed to secure a stud at quarterback in August, when No. 1 overall 2017 passer Hunter Johnson pledged to the program, but he flipped to Clemson this winter. 

Tennessee signed top-rated 2016 dual-threat quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. The New Jersey native is a sensational athlete and Elite 11 finalist, but various injuries prevented him from completing a full season as a starter at Bergen Catholic, and there has to be at least mild concern about his ability to stay on the field as an eventual full-time SEC playmaker.

Volunteers head coach Butch Jones has done an excellent job redefining the culture for recruits in Knoxville, and his tenure features results on strong signing day. Coming off a nine-win campaign (his best through three years with Tennessee) and back-to-back bowl victories, his staff can sell a squad on the rise during discussions with Hockman, which can't exactly be said for Auburn after a 2-6 season against conference opponents. 

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has played a part in the development of four first-round NFL draft picks at quarterback, including Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall selection Jameis Winston. Fellow No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell flourished in his offensive attack at LSU, while Christian Ponder and EJ Manuel preceded Winston at Florida State.

Given Fisher's track record at the position, it probably doesn't come as a surprise that the Seminoles aren't exactly desperate for talent at quarterback. Florida State signed Deondre Francois (No. 3 pro-style passer in 2015 class) and Malik Henry (No. 4 pro-style passer in 2016 class) during the past two cycles.

Both young gunslingers are on campus this spring and look ahead to four seasons of collegiate eligibility apiece.

North Carolina presents another ACC destination. Junior Mitch Trubisky is expected to take over as starting quarterback following the departure of Marquise Williams after consecutive 3,000-yard passing seasons. 

The Tar Heels passing attack has been predominately on point since head coach Larry Fedora arrived in 2012, producing 117 touchdown tosses in the past four seasons. Trubisky is now the trigger man but is left with two years of eligibility (one remaining when Hockman would enroll). 

North Carolina landed two quarterbacks in the 2016 cycle, with 3-star Logan Byrd already on campus and 4-star Chazz Surratt entering the mix this summer. 

Given current quarterback situations and rising talent on rosters, Auburn would appear to edge out North Carolina as the program most in need of Hockman's services.

The Tigers could present an immediate opportunity to compete for the starting role if aerial efforts don't significantly rebound next season. Barret, Auburn's lone incoming high school quarterback, may only have a seven-month head start on 2017 preparation if Hockman manages to enroll early.

While Auburn, Florida State, North Carolina and Tennessee enter the spotlight with this round of visits, expect others to push for Hockman's pledge as things progress.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

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Why Jehu Chesson Will Be Michigan's Most Important Playmaker in 2016

Jehu Chesson emerged as Michigan's top big-play threat last season and will have the heaviest influence on the offense's success in 2016.

It's not simply because the senior wide receiver is an explosive player, though. Chesson provides a dynamic the Wolverines cannot create otherwise.

Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the program is slowly working toward a run-heavy offensive system. However, the personnel didn't quite match the desired scheme during his first year in Ann Arbor and won't be ideal next season.

While the offense—and Chesson himself—certainly took encouraging developmental steps forward, the losses of center Graham Glasgow and quarterback Jake Rudock will hurt initially.

Michigan returns four starting linemen, including standout left tackle and two-year starter Mason Cole. He might move inside to replace Glasgow, and the trio of Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson should retain their roles up front.

That experience will help guide the new starting quarterback, who should be confident in the collective pass-blocking prowess of the offensive line.

But the running game may once again be inconsistent.

Early in 2015, the Wolverines had a balanced offense that regularly reached the 28-point mark while the defense locked down opponents. Still, Michigan sometimes needed a boost to waltz past UNLV and shake Maryland. Chesson provided that spark on jet sweeps, recording 36- and 66-yard touchdowns, respectively.

The team won't require anything different in its opening stretch, considering its foes include Hawaii, UCF and Colorado—none of which ranked better than 99th versus the run.

After that favorable stretch, Big Ten play begins against Penn State and Wisconsin. Michigan better be ready to pass the ball.

Last year, the Wolverines basically limped through the conference opener with Maryland, managed a decent day against Northwestern—against which Chesson returned a kickoff for a touchdown—and then mustered 3.3 yards per carry through the duration of the regular season.

Michigan survived as a 1.5-dimensional offense because of Rudock's progression, which paralleled Chesson's emergence. Coincidence? I think not.

Over the final seven games of the 2015 campaign, Chesson averaged 5.3 receptions for 90.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. He torched Indiana for 10 catches, 207 yards and four scores and eclipsed the 100-yard barrier against Ohio State—and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is still looking for Chesson.

Rudock won't be throwing the passes anymore, though, and there's no clear-cut replacement on the roster. Among others, Wilton Speight, John O'Korn and Brandon Peters will compete for the No. 1 job.

Weekly viewers of the Wolverines surely noticed how it took nearly seven weeks for Rudock and Chesson to find their timing on downfield shots. Now that process starts all over again for the fastest player on the team.

It's critical Michigan avoids that half-season lull and enters Big Ten action with its quarterback and primary deep threat on the same page—and not just in practice.

The Wolverines will be seeking a conference championship and should have national title aspirations. However, they don't have the luxury of easing into Big Ten games.

Penn State has surrendered fewer than four yards per carry every year since 2011, and Wisconsin is riding a four-season streak of top-25 run defenses. Penn State loses two key starters in Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel, but Wisconsin returns a majority of its front seven.

Dropping either matchup won't necessarily derail Michigan's conference hopes, but it sure would sting in the larger picture.

Unless the offensive line takes a dramatic step forward as a run-blocking unit, the Wolverines will rely on the to-be-determined quarterback. And he'll be hoping Chesson, the top playmaker, consistently breaks through.

Otherwise, Michigan will be missing the most important element of an offense it hopes will be championship-worthy.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from CFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Meet the 10 Teams That Have a Chance to Win the College Football Playoff

National signing day is behind us. College football’s 2015-16 coaching carousel has rolled to a close. Spring practice is still ahead. It’s never too early to think about what lies ahead. Specifically, the national title picture.

2015 showed that unexpected teams can make a real run at the College Football Playoff. Iowa finished 12-0, and Clemson went from good to great, going into the national title game 14-0 before dropping a 45-40 decision to Alabama. However, the pool of teams that have a legit chance of winning the national title remains relatively finite.

Here’s a look at 10 teams that actually have a chance to win the College Football Playoff in 2016. These projections are based on what the teams have previously proved on the field, their returning starters and their incoming recruits.

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Ohio State Football: Underclassmen with Best Chance to Earn Starting Spot in '16

Ohio State has to identify 16 new starters before kicking off its 2016 campaign against Bowling Green next September, and with that attrition, a number of underclassmen have a golden opportunity to earn spots in the starting lineup. 

Urban Meyer signed the country's No. 7 recruiting class after winning the national title last year, but the Buckeyes redshirted 20 of their 25 freshmen because their roster was so loaded.

Those redshirt freshmen could make a huge impact this fall, and Meyer vowed to play more of his first-year Buckeyes on national signing day—when he predicted that 18 of Ohio State's 25 new players will see the field.

Here's a guess at which underclassmen will make the first team to start the year.

 

Defense

Despite the need for eight new starters on defense, only two will be underclassmen.

The Buckeyes lost three starters on their defensive line and in the secondary, and that's where the pair of underclassmen will emerge. But even those two players—defensive end Sam Hubbard and safety Malik Hooker—are entering their third years of the program as redshirt sophomores. 

Hubbard should be a familiar sight for Buckeyes fans. The converted safety prospect bulked up in his first year with the Buckeyes and moved to the defensive line, and during last year's 12-1 run, he backed up Joey Bosa admirably and became a formidable force in the rotation. He ranked second on the team with 6.5 sacks, and with Bosa's departure, he's in line to step into a starting role.

Hooker should emerge from a thin group of safeties to join Gareon Conley, Erick Smith and Damon Webb in Ohio State's secondary. Hooker was one of the guys who saw extended action in the Buckeyes' bowl practices last December, and the coaching staff is grooming the hard-hitting safety out of New Castle, Pennsylvania, to play a big part on the defense this fall.

Freshman defensive ends Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper, linebackers Justin Hilliard and Jerome Baker and defensive backs Eric Glover-Williams, Denzel Ward and Jordan Fuller are other young players who should factor into the two-deep rotation.

 

Offense

Ohio State lost all three of its starting wide receivers and one of the most productive running backs in school history, and it'll replace that playmaking ability with a wave of talented underclassmen. 

On the perimeter, true freshman Austin Mack will surge as an early enrollee this spring and lock down a starting spot this fall. Redshirt sophomore Noah Brown will accompany Mack. Brown was in line for a breakout year in 2015 before a leg injury in fall camp derailed his season.

In the backfield, redshirt freshman Mike Weber will join J.T. Barrett. The powerful running back is more in the mold of Carlos Hyde than Ezekiel Elliott, and he'll bring the bulldozing running style back to an offense that will need steady production from the ground game in 2016.

A pair of redshirt freshmen will be opening lanes for Weber on the right side in guard Matthew Burrell and tackle Isaiah Prince. 

But the Buckeyes will go deep into their roster in 2016 to find as many playmakers as possible. At wideout, redshirt freshmen Torrance Gibson and K.J. Hill and true freshmen Binjimen Victor and Demario McCall will get playing time. And with the No. 2 spot at tight end wide open, true freshmen Jake Hausmann and Luke Farrell should battle to see the field.

With only six seniors on the team and 25 upperclassmen total, there will be a lot of opportunities for younger guys to see the field in 2016.

 

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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Ole Miss NCAA Allegations Are Concerning, but Won't Derail Program Trajectory

In this week's edition of "As Oxford Turns," Ole Miss takes more public hits thanks to new information regarding the NCAA investigation that involves the football program under current head coach Hugh Freeze, former head coach Houston Nutt, the women's basketball program and track and field.

Lots of hits. 

According to David Brandt of the Associated Press, a source close to the football program confirmed that the notice of allegations sent to the school by the NCAA last month includes 13 football-related violations of the 28 total allegations—nine of which occurred under the Freeze regime.

That's quite a jump from ESPN's report prior to national signing day, which suggested that most of the allegations involved other sports and the majority of the football-related allegations were from the Nutt era.

From a public relations standpoint, this is a killer.

The college football world piled on Ole Miss when the notice of allegations was first delivered, assuming that there had to be all kinds of nefarious activity going on to lure top-tier talent to Ole Miss—which has never won the SEC West—on a consistent basis.

This new report only will further that notion, because the potential presence of Level I violations—the most serious classification under NCAA rules—on top of the uptick in football-related allegations gives cynics enough ammunition to last for years. 

Plus, you never want the NCAA turning over rocks, because they might turn over the wrong one and really open up the floodgates. 

As Dan Wolken of USA Today noted, the reluctance to release some of the serious charges is concerning.

If you're waiting for the hammer to fall on Freeze and the Rebels, though, you might want to stock up on food and drinks. You probably should consider packing chargers for your electronic devices.

You're going to be waiting for awhile.

As noted by ESPN.com, four of the football-related allegations that involve the current staff were already self-reported, and include a "bump rule" violation, improper lodging (which is now legal) of a family member, improper transportation and an improper video made outside the locker room. Four others are from the Nutt era. 

Taking those eight violations out of the equation, that leaves five football-related violations left in the equation that involve the current staff, which ESPN notes are related to Tunsil.

Tunsil was suspended for seven games to start the 2015 season, which means that the program knew about what was going on, took severe action and then Tunsil was reinstated by the NCAA.

"Nothing has changed from our last statement on Jan. 30." athletics director Ross Bjork told ESPN.com on national signing day. "We are still working through the process."

Don't get caught in the trap of assuming that NCAA cases are always "the school vs. the NCAA." Most of the time, it's "the school with the NCAA."

This situation appears to be the latter.

The ongoing NCAA investigation didn't prevent Freeze from reeling in a top-tier class in 2016 that included 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson, 5-star offensive tackle Greg Little, 5-star defensive tackle Benito Jones, stud wide receivers D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Tre Nixon, safety Deontay Anderson and more.

Could there be a few scholarships lost? Of course, especially if there is something that Ole Miss and the NCAA didn't discover during the process.

But Ole Miss is still loaded with talented players, Freeze has improved his win total every year and there doesn't appear to be much in the notice of allegations once you look at the numbers to suggest impending doom.

Ole Miss is here, and it isn't going anywhere.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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The Growing Feud Between Jim Harbaugh and the SEC Is Great for College Football

Aside from the typical drama that often accompanies national signing day, it's been a relatively quiet month for college football since the 2015 season officially came to an end.

Unlike a year ago, there haven't been any surprise returnees like Cardale Jones, any juicy graduate transfer speculation as there was with Everett Golson and Braxton Miller or even any new head coaches making a significant splash by generating publicity at their new schools. Even national signing day was relatively quiet, with the usual suspects of schools—Alabama, Florida State, LSU and Ohio State—winding up with the nation's top-ranked classes.

But if you've been following college football for the past 13 months, you knew it wouldn't be long before Jim Harbaugh made some noise.

While the Michigan head coach's name has certainly stayed in the headlines thanks to his usual antics, nothing this offseason has built a buzz like the news of Harbaugh's intentions of holding the first week of the Wolverines' spring practice in Florida.

"Our plans for spring football are to go to Florida our first week while the university here is on spring break," Harbaugh revealed on national signing day. "We'll go to Florida and have four practices down there. We're going to work hard, but we'll have fun doing it."

That news, in and of itself, was noteworthy—the revelation of an unprecedented tactic, clearly aimed at gaining a recruiting advantage in the talent-rich Sunshine State.

But while Harbaugh's spring practice plans are surely exciting for his players, they aren't as highly thought of in the SEC, where the conference has already made an attempt to block Michigan's trip to Florida from ever happening.

According to CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd, the SEC has put in a request with the NCAA to prevent any program from holding its spring practice during spring break. Logistically, it would likely be impossible for the Wolverines to hold their spring practice anywhere except for Ann Arbor if they were forced to do so while class is in session.

"Our primary reaction [is] that, in the face of the time-demand conversations, we've got one program taking what has been 'free time' away," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, via Dodd. "Let's draw a line and say, ‘That's not appropriate.'"

It's not the first time Harbaugh has ruffled feathers in the South, and it likely won't be the last.

A year ago, it was the then first-year Michigan head coach's well-publicized tour of satellite camps—which included stops in Alabama, Florida and Texas—that drew the ire of the SEC's coaches. Nick Saban, Kevin Sumlin, Gus Malzahn and Dan Mullen were among those to speak out against the practice of satellite camps, which SEC teams weren't permitted to hold on their own until last spring.

Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze went as far as to admit that his stance—like that of his conference counterparts—was a selfish one, meant to protect his program's own interests and little more. If the league was worried about Harbaugh's tactics opening up the floodgates, it was with good reason, as Ohio State went on to hold a satellite camp of its own in Florida later in the summer.

And while it was actually Penn State's James Franklin who first brought the practice to prominence in 2014, Harbaugh was on the front lines of the matter a year ago, defending his right to host camps away from his home campus as if it was a constitutional freedom.

"In my America, you're allowed to cross the state borders," Harbaugh said last summer, via USA Today's George Schroeder last summer. "That's the America I know."

With the Wolverines' big summer helping them attract the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class, it was Harbaugh 1, SEC 0—and that was before Michigan beat Florida by a score of 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl to close the 2015 season.

But while Harbaugh won his first go-round with college football's top conference, this offseason's battle might not be so successful for him, at least not in the long term. According to Dodd, a "high-ranking" source anticipates that while the Wolverines will be allowed to carry on with their plans for the spring this year, "an effort similar to Michigan's will most likely be prohibited in the near future."

It makes sense. Holding mandatory practices during a time in which all other students are on vacation seems to go against the spirit of being a "student-athlete"—even if that's not what this is really about for either the Wolverines or the SEC.

For Michigan, holding a week of spring practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, is likely intended to build the brand of his program on fertile recruiting ground while creating maximum exposure—which would fall right in line with Harbaugh's recruiting strategy with the Wolverines over the past year.

From last year's satellite camps to his extravagant, celebrity-aided signing day celebration, Harbaugh has had no issue keeping Michigan in the spotlight since arriving at his alma mater.

"I think it gives a chance to win on a lot of different levels," Harbaugh said of his spring practice plans.

For the SEC, it's about preventing a rising threat from doing that in its own territory, adding a second chapter to one of college football's most unique feuds.

Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, it'd be tough to argue that these offseason spats aren't good for college football, keeping the sport in the headlines during dead periods like the current one between signing day and spring practice.

Harbaugh will always find a way to create headlines—it's in his nature, but roping coaches like Saban, Sumlin, Mullen and Freeze into the discussion only ups the ante.

When it comes to the Big Ten and the SEC, a rivalry will always be natural, given their respective histories and geographical differences. For the past few years, it's been Urban Meyer and not many others manning the battle for the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes head coach has found an unlikely—and unspoken—ally in his chief rival in Ann Arbor.

Much of it may just be fodder that leads to little or no tangible results on the field, but even that can be good for the sport this time of year. Just ask the NFL how beneficial becoming a 365-day news generator can be.

College football's not quite there yet, but Harbaugh is doing his best to change that, from innovative recruiting tactics to timely offseason tweets.

Add the SEC to the mix, and it takes the attention received to a whole new level for what is growing into college football's favorite offseason rivalry.

 

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.

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CFB Future 100: Top 5 Defensive Tackle Recruits in Class of 2017

After a thorough study using specific scoring criteria, Bleacher Report national recruiting analysts Damon SaylesSanjay Kirpalani and Tyler Donohue have graded the top 100 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 2017 class. Here, we present the Top Defensive Tackles.

 

How important are defensive tackles? The last two recruiting cycles have had defensive tackles as their No. 1 prospects, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. Trent Thompson was the top-ranked player in the 2015 class, while Rashan Gary took top honors in 2016.

An elite defensive tackle can alter a game in so many ways, and the 2017 class has its share of playmakers in the trenches. With the 2016 recruiting cycle having come and gone, college coaches are now focusing on finding defensive linemen who can shut down the run and make passing situations difficult for quarterbacks.

Here's our breakdown of the top-ranked 2017 prospects at defensive tackle. Players were assessed using various criteria, including their pass rushing, tackling, explosive strength, run defense, hands and overall motor.

 

All prospects were scouted by Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Damon SaylesPlayers are ordered by appearance in 247Sports' composite rankings

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Tennessee Football: Realistic Goals for Quarterback Joshua Dobbs in 2016

Analysts around the nation are picking the Tennessee football team to be a lock for a big 2016, and quarterback Joshua Dobbs holds the key.

The senior-to-be signal-caller will be the unequivocal starter in his final season on Rocky Top, but how far the player nicknamed Rocket rises will determine how high the Volunteers can go in the rankings.

A step forward in 2015 was noticeable when Dobbs passed for 2,291 yards and 15 touchdowns against just five interceptions to go along with 671 rushing yards and another 11 scores. At times, he displayed the necessary leadership to carry the team through pivotal moments of big games.

In others, however, he was inconsistent. The 6'3", 207-pound Alpharetta, Georgia, native averaged 176 passing yards per game and completed 59.6 percent of his passes, sputtering to post passing numbers strong enough for a balanced attack against Oklahoma and Florida.

Those stats were solid, but the Vols struggled to maintain any consistent downfield attack throughout the year. Their ability to manufacture first downs with the run game was due largely to the pressure Dobbs' legs put on defenses. 

But his arm rarely kept opponents honest.

Many are enamored with Dobbs' seemingly limitless physical capabilities and mental makeup that could make him the face of the SEC. But all that must materialize in the ability to stretch the Vols' passing threat window and ultimately produce chunk gains. He hasn't been able to do that yet.

UT finished ninth in the SEC in passing plays of more than 30 yards.

Every single player in the country needs to improve various aspects of their play, so regardless of what kind of polarizing figure Dobbs is as a nontraditional quarterback, one thing is certain: Tennessee is fortunate to have him.

That's something most will agree on, including GoVols247 reporter Wes Rucker, who reminded fans not to lose sight of what kind of special talent the Vols have at quarterback:

Dobbs will be a seasoned, supertalented star in 2016. But where should the measuring sticks show major gains in Dobbs' game next year? Let's take a look at some realistic goals for the UT signal-caller.

 

Goal 1: 3,800 total yards

You may think expecting a quarterback to increase his total yardage by nearly 800 yards in a single season is a bit outlandish, but Dobbs has that kind of untapped potential.

In 2015, he finished with 3,020 total yards (if you count the 58-yard reception he had against Florida). Considering that the Vols are going to retailor their receiving corps to utilize more yards-after-catch guys, speedy targets who can turn short passes into big gains, that could benefit Dobbs.

He won't have to be elite throwing 20-yard passes if he has more receivers who can turn five-yard swings and slants into big gains. That should be the case with Josh Smith, Vincent Perry, Marquez Callaway, Latrell Williams and Corey Henderson now battling for reps.

"I think anytime you look at the elite of the elite in college football, they're usually the fastest teams that are left standing at the end," UT passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan. "We really tried to address our speed on the perimeter, and we're going to keep doing that."

Having those blazers in the rotation should help Dobbs, but how much?

This may wind up being the most far-fetched goal of the group through no fault of Dobbs. When you have Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara in the backfield, you simply must hand the ball off—a lot. And that will diminish Dobbs' personal touches.

But if he tunes up his passing game, this number isn't out of reach. 

If Dobbs gets to 800 rushing yards (and he should), he'd have to average just over 230 passing yards per game to reach the 3,800-yard mark. That number would have put him fourth in the league this past year. There's also the possibility that the Vols could play one (or more) games than they did in 2015 (more on that later).

 

Goal 2: 35 total touchdowns

For all the heat first-year offensive coordinator Mike DeBord took for his conservative play-calling, the Vols offense was rather prolific. 

Tennessee finished third in the SEC with an average of 35.2 points per game, trailing only Ole Miss and Arkansas. Dobbs was a huge reason for that, finishing with a combined 26 touchdowns.

With the ground-tilling triumvirate back in 2016 along with an O-line that lost only left tackle Kyler Kerbyson, those numbers should get even better. Dobbs' rushing scores shouldn't go down if the Vols are in the red zone as often as they should be.

So, if the passing game improves the way it should with a better grasp of DeBord's scheme in Year 2, finishing with nine more touchdowns shouldn't be out of the question for the signal-caller.

If Dobbs is a part of UT crossing the goal line 35 times, it's going to be a season to remember on Rocky Top. How well had he begun to grasp the concepts toward the end of the year? Check out this highlight-reel run against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, as shared by Fox Sports Knoxville:

That was one of the best plays of the entire bowl season.

Some people want to toss around comparisons for Dobbs and use former Mississippi State star Dak Prescott as a gauge for him, but that's not fair. Dobbs won't put up the kind of numbers the former Bulldog did during his final two seasons in Starkville, nor will he be asked to.

Dobbs has tons of offensive weaponry around him. He just needs to be the one who knows which triggers to pull at what time.

 

Goal 3: SEC Offensive Player of the Year

The last quarterback to win the league's Player of the Year award was Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel back in 2012. Dobbs may just break that streak this coming year.

If he does, he'll have to beat out a bunch of good players, but the league isn't as stacked with top-shelf stars as usual.

Athlon.com's Steven Lassan recently rated all of the projected starting quarterbacks in the country, and Dobbs ranked 12th on his list, trailing only Ole Miss' Chad Kelly in the SEC:

Dobbs is a better all-around offensive player than Kelly, though the Rebels star holds the upper hand in passing ability. If Dobbs can approach his ceiling in the passing game, he could overtake Kelly.

Then there's the tall task of overcoming the SEC's stable of star runners, led by LSU's Leonard Fournette, Georgia's Nick Chubb and Hurd. 

Beyond that, though, there are few guaranteed stat hounds. Sure, several will emerge—they always do—but Dobbs is in the top group of playmakers. If he has a big year and, more importantly, the Vols are successful, he could carry home the hardware.

Everybody is enamored with a dual-threat quarterback on top of his game. Dobbs won't have to put together a Deshaun Watson-type season to win the award, but he has a skill set that is similar to the Clemson star's abilities. He just hasn't put everything together.

 

Goal 4: National champion quarterback

Finally, Dobbs' biggest goal is the ultimate team goal, but a selfless player would want it that way.

In the end, the Vols can't attain their wildest expectations without a dynamite finale by Dobbs. Make no mistake, this team is talented enough to win it all, as crazy as that may sound to some.

The biggest goal for Dobbs should be playing better against top-tier competition. Though he improved considerably in that regard in 2015, he's still never beaten Florida or Alabama. He'll have to go on the road to play Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina next year, too.

An early-season tilt at the Battle at Bristol against Virginia Tech will be a litmus test as well.

If Dobbs shows out in those games, the Vols will be in the SEC Championship Game. If they get there and win, the College Football Playoff could be close behind.

It's a leap to think a team can go from 9-4 to contending for a national title, but the Vols aren't that far away. They lost four games by a combined 17 points in '15, and Dobbs was mediocre in three of those contests. They held fourth-quarter leads in all but one game.

Elevating his play will lead to big wins in important games. 

Dobbs has to get better against the best. If he does, Tennessee will find itself among the best at season's end.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All individual stats gathered from UTSports.com and conference stats gathered from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Ole Miss Football Reportedly Cited for Multiple Violations by NCAA

The NCAA charged Ole Miss with a slew of rules violations on Jan. 29, per Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde, and a new report from the Associated Press' David Brandt on Tuesday shed light on the distribution and severity of the infractions. 

Citing an anonymous source, Brandt reported 13 of the 28 violations were committed by the football team, with nine of them coming since the Rebels hired head coach Hugh Freeze prior to the 2012 season. 

Those numbers appear to deviate from a previous report from ESPN.com's Chris Low that indicated a majority of the violations occurred under former head football coach Houston Nutt. 

Prized Ole Miss recruit and highly touted NFL draft prospect Laremy Tunsil had reportedly been a focal point of the NCAA's investigation after the left tackle was suspended seven games for taking improper benefits, including three separate loaner vehicles without pay. 

The Associated Press report also noted Ole Miss has self-reported violations involving the football team between 2011-14, as "a 'representative of athletics interests' provided transportation for potential recruits on six different occasions."

Ole Miss' infractions also reportedly involve the track and field and women's basketball teams.

According to Brandt, the school previously imposed a one-year postseason ban on its women's basketball team after discovering former head coach Adrian Wiggins and two of his assistants were involved in recruiting and academic misconduct. 

Ole Miss reportedly has 90 days to respond to the new allegations.   

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