NCAA Football News
There are plenty of quality SEC football players, as each year's NFL draft proves. But how many of the stars of now and the future of the league have a shot to become legendary?
Only a few players currently on league rosters have the chance to become the elite of the elite, eventually being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Of the upperclassmen, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has shown the potential to be considered among the league's all-time greats, and even he needs an epic final season to reach that peak.
It's impossible to gauge any players who haven't logged significant snaps yet, but the freshman class of 2014 certainly provided some potential candidates who are off to quality starts.
None of the players on this list are guaranteed locks. They just have a chance to someday be mentioned among the game's greats if they can take their game to a completely new level in 2015.
So, let's take a look at the scant few who have a chance to reach the hallowed hall when it's all said and done.
The Atlanta area continued to prove fruitful for Tennessee on Friday night when impact defensive end Chidi Okonya pledged to the Vols following his spring game.
The 6'5.5", 230-pound lineman from Riverdale, Georgia, committed to UT over other finalists Clemson, Ole Miss, Stanford and Duke. A host of other schools such as Georgia, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon, Penn State and others also offered the prospect.
"Tennessee has the right balance of things I was looking for in a school," Okonya told Bleacher Report. "Right off the bat, I had a good relationship with the coaches. I looked at the academics to see if everything was in order for me to be successful, because that’s the first thing I'm looking for."
In what is expected to be a small class where the Vols are extremely selective, Okonya is somebody UT really wanted.
On top of being an athlete who drew attention from some of the nation's top programs, he is an exceptional student.
According to Riverdale coach Terry Herrod, the versatile athlete has a 4.0 grade-point average, scored a 24 on his ACT and is a member of the Beta Club and National Honor Society.
When B/R contacted his school for an interview earlier this week, Okonya was unavailable because he had volunteered to show fifth- and sixth-graders around the school. That's just a typical day for arguably one of the most impressive all-around prospects in this cycle.
"He's an Ivy League-type of student with SEC ability," Herrod said. "He's just a great kid, too.
"Through this process, the one thing I was most impressed with was just how smart he is and how he went about it," Herrod continued. "It's almost been a scientific process going through it in terms of what he's looking for in a school. He built a matrix and considered football, academics, life after football. That played a big, big role."
Don't let the model schoolboy fool you, though. When Okonya gets on the field, he is a force to be reckoned with.
Herrod credited the way Okonya and his brother—Furman redshirt freshman Chinedu Okonya—played for him in high school to a demeanor change once they stepped between the lines.
"They play the game like warriors," Herrod said. "They have a warrior-like mentality. They are very focused and determined in everything that they do."
Okonya chuckled when told of his coach's comments, replying, "Me and my brother, we have a pretty good mean streak at times, so I'm sure that's what my coach is talking about.
"In my home, we're disciplined in what we do every day."
That determination, Okonya said, was passed down honestly from his parents. Though he was born in the United States, parents Romanus and Patricia came over from Nigeria at 17 years old seeking the prosperity the United States can offer.
Things weren't always easy for them at the beginning, but they've built a very successful life with five impressive children, Chidi, Chinedu, Chika, Ikechi and Chigozie. Okonya's father works in customer service for Delta Airlines, and his mother is a nurse.
They've hammered home the importance of academics throughout Okonya's life.
"It's about academics first," Okonya said. "My parents have instilled that in us since the beginning. They came over here looking for an opportunity, and they realized pretty early on that academics was the most important thing in all of this.
"I couldn't be more proud of my parents, and I couldn't be more thankful. Literally nothing could be possible without them in all of this."
Now, if Okonya follows through with his verbal commitment, he'll move to the next chapter of his football career in Knoxville. Though he is too undersized right now to be a factor on the line at the next level, adding weight shouldn't be an issue.
Herrod said when Chinedu Okonya left Riverdale for the Furman Paladins, he weighed 185 pounds. After a redshirt season at Furman, he is at 240 and primed to battle for a starting defensive end spot. Though Chidi is currently around 230 (or less), he can get much bigger.
"The biggest thing for him is, physically, he's just so much better than the kids he's playing against now," Herrod said. "He's got to add weight to his frame. He's got the frame where he could be 260-270 after one year."
He's got time to develop. The Vols are loaded at defensive end, and they'll still have Derek Barnett, Kyle Phillips, LaTroy Lewis, Corey Vereen, Dimarya Mixon, Darrell Taylor and Andrew Butcher on the roster when Okonya arrives.
Once he gets into a college weight program, Okonya has the size, athleticism and wingspan to be a premiere edge-rusher. Though he's only a 3-star prospect on the 247Sports composite rankings, 247 has him rated as a 4-star player and the 15th-ranked strong-side defensive end in the country.
He'll join players from his area in which he's played with or against growing up such as Cameron Sutton, Cortez McDowell, the Berry twins and Preston Williams in Knoxville.
Okonya credited the familiarity with some players as a factor, but he was most impressed by the academics, the coaching staff and the upward direction of the Vols.
"Coach Jones creates an electric atmosphere at Tennessee," Okonya said. "He has the coaching staff fired up. It's a serious but fun mood up there. They're getting better recruits up there every year, and I really believe the program is on the upswing."
Quotes and observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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In Gus Malzahn's two seasons as Auburn's head coach, the secondary has definitely been the Tigers' Achilles' heel.
This week, that heel appeared to be getting weaker and weaker.
Sophomore cornerback Kamryn Melton announced on Twitter on Thursday night that he decided to transfer from Auburn:
The next morning, senior safety Derrick Moncrief—who practiced at linebacker this spring—announced he was also leaving after just one season with the team.
"I came in as the No. 1 safety in the country and things are just not going well there," Moncrief told Ethan Bernal and James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser. "But Auburn was a good place, I just want to thank them for everything, for them recruiting me, and I wish them the best of luck."
A few hours later, Auburn confirmed the news for Melton and Moncrief while also announcing junior cornerback Joe Turner's transfer intentions.
This recent surge of transfers is just part of a bigger exodus in the Tigers' secondary. In December, sophomore safety Mackenro Alexander transferred from Auburn to South Florida and freshman cornerback Kalvaraz Bessent decided to leave the program in February.
New defensive coordinator Will Muschamp brought defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson back home to his alma mater to rebuild a struggling secondary that has been porous for the last two seasons.
Injuries and depth issues led to walk-ons starting at defensive back in last month's A-Day Game.
Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee said he believes Auburn's transfer outbreak is about Muschamp and Robinson already having their depth chart in mind:
But how much depth is there left in the Tigers' secondary? Who can they now turn to at the position? Here are three key groups to watch.
The Experienced Players
Aside from Moncrief, who played in all 13 games for Auburn last season and made one start, the other four transfers from the secondary did not play a single snap in 2014.
According to Crepea, Auburn still has nine defensive backs on scholarship:
The biggest name still remaining is Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, the former running back who started all 13 games at safety and had a team-high 93 tackles in 2014. The junior is expected to be the team's leader in the secondary and might just play a part in helping Auburn's cornerback depth this fall.
Jonathan Jones will also return as a starter for Auburn at cornerback. While he was tied for the team lead with six interceptions last season—good enough for ninth in the country—the senior was limited in spring practice due to a lingering foot injury.
"We need some other guys to step up, but Jonathan is an experienced player, a very explosive player," Muschamp told AL.com's Joel A. Erickson earlier this year. "He covers well on the top end, he's got really good ball skills, he can finish on balls down the field."
Josh Holsey, the wild card of Auburn's secondary, is also back for his senior season. He was stuck in limbo between safety and cornerback for most of 2014, but he has seemed to settle in at cornerback this year.
Those three veterans, combined with returning role players Nick Ruffin, T.J. Davis and Stephen Roberts, give Muschamp and Robinson something to build around for 2015. That might not be a lot of experience, but it could be solid enough to serve as a foundation.
The Not-So-New Guys
Two defensive backs who didn't play for Auburn last season are set to make an impact on the depth chart this season after participating in spring practice: Tray Matthews and Tim Irvin.
Matthews, the former Georgia safety who was involved in the tipped pass to new Auburn teammate Ricardo Louis in 2013, is eligible to play for the Tigers after sitting out a season. He arrived at Auburn after his dismissal from Georgia and has already made an impression on the rest of the Tigers.
"Tray is one of them relentless guys," Holsey told the Opelika-Auburn News’ Tom Green. "He was out for a year and I feel like he just couldn’t wait to hit somebody, so now I realize he really wants to hit everything moving. I really like that."
Matthews will most likely grab the starting safety spot alongside Ford, while the true freshman Irvin is projected to be a factor at the nickel position.
The early enrollee and nephew of Hall of Fame player Michael Irvin also had an injury worry this spring, but he still found a way to turn heads.
"Obviously, I think his hand being in a cast for the entire spring and not really having contact until the spring game certainly set him back a little bit, but he has the skill set to be successful," Muschamp said, according to AL.com's Julie Bennett. "Just not quite where we need to be."
More practice time this fall will be much needed for Matthews and Irvin, as their arrivals possibly prompted the slew of transfers away from Auburn.
The Incoming Talent
On top of these returning and newly eligible players, Auburn has a few new faces in the secondary set to arrive this summer.
The group of incoming freshmen is highlighted by Jordan Colbert, a 4-star from Georgia who was ranked as the No. 9 safety in his class.
Colbert was even projected by some to be a linebacker in college due to his heavy-hitting nature and playmaking ability.
Another name Auburn fans should watch for this fall is Carlton Davis, a 4-star cornerback from Miami who flipped from Ohio State and chose the Tigers on national signing day.
Davis has the size (6'2", 184 lbs) and speed (4.67-second 40-yard dash) to be a fearsome matchup for SEC wide receivers in the future.
If these new Tigers can fill in important depth roles this fall or even challenge for spots on the two-deep depth chart, Auburn's secondary should be in decent shape in its first season under Muschamp and Robinson—even after all the offseason departures.
Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
Justin Ferguson is an On-Call College Football Writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.
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Quarterback Dwayne Haskins has been one of the most highly sought-after recruits at his position, but he is no longer available after committing to Maryland on Friday, according to Andrew Spivey of GatorCountry.com.
According to 247Sports, Haskins is a 4-star prospect, the No. 5 pro-style quarterback and the No. 61 overall player in the 2016 class.
He has been a standout player at The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, and it comes as little surprise that so many elite programs threw their hats into the ring in terms of pursuing him.
Haskins received offers from a litany of teams, including LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, Florida and so many others, per 247Sports.
His impressive physical ability is a big reason for that, and it can be seen in this video, courtesy of ESPN.com's Gerry Hamilton, even on simple, short throws:
Being so coveted can be difficult on young players due to the expectations that come along with it, but Haskins may very well be equipped to handle it.
At least, that is what Bullis head coach Pat Cilento seems to believe, per Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post: "He deserves every bit of it. I can't say there's a better guy to handle it all because he's just so mature in the way he handles it all. It's great for our school. It's great for him. It's well deserved."
Haskins himself is an elite prospect due to his strong skill set, but his friendship with another top recruit makes his situation even more intriguing.
Wide receiver Trevon Diggs is a 4-star prospect from Rockville, Maryland, and Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue reported in March that the plan was for Diggs and Haskins to attend the same school:
Regardless of whom Haskins is throwing to at the collegiate level, though, he is an exciting player with the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in due time.
There is so much pressure on young quarterbacks to contribute right away, with the likes of Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel succeeding as freshmen in recent years, but that isn't a realistic expectation for everyone.
Haskins may have to sit and learn for a while before he is ready to start, but that certainly isn't a bad thing.
Whether he starts as a freshman, a sophomore or even a junior, he is a supremely talented signal-caller with the goods to be a star.
Recruit star ratings and information via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.
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Quarterback Dwayne Haskins delighted Maryland football fans Friday afternoon by declaring his intentions to stay in the state as a Terrapin:
The 4-star prospect delivered the news during an announcement ceremony at The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. His decision prompted a spirited reaction from those in attendance and sets the stage for a major recruiting push in College Park.
Haskins, a 6'3", 198-pound passer, emerged as the top uncommitted player at his position this spring after a series of pledges changed the 2016 recruiting landscape. He is rated fifth nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports' composite rankings and 61st overall.
“This decision was based on my relationships with the coaching staffs of all 41 college programs that offered me a scholarship," Haskins told Bleacher Report. "It came down to who I was most comfortable with. It was about joining a group of great people.”
He revealed plans to expand that group during his announcement, singling out elite Mid-Atlantic talents like Philadelphia tight end Naseir Upshur, New Jersey defensive tackle Rashan Gary and fellow Maryland standout Trevon Diggs as top targets.
Upshur previously mentioned a possible pairing after a camp in late April.
"Dwayne is a guy I'd really like to play with at the next level," he told Bleacher Report.
Haskins has long maintained he and Diggs are a "package deal." The two developed a bond while competing together USA Football youth programs.
"He's just a playmaker," he said. "Tre and I go way back since freshman year. We definitely learned how to play with each other. I feel like I know when he's open and when he's looking for me to throw him the ball. The relationship I've built with him at receiver, I want to continue that in college."
Maryland certainly hopes that's the case.
Diggs, a 4-star athlete who named Alabama his leader last month, has family ties to the Terrapins. He is the younger brother of former Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings this year.
"I'll be recruiting him hard to join me," Haskins said. "It's his choice, but I hope we make it happen."
Maryland coaches have been pushing hard to gain recruiting momentum through a campaign they've dubbed "The Movement." The Terrapins just found a new ambassador to promote that message.
“It’s definitely a big deal because 'The Movement' can be huge if it’s something other players are willing to believe in," Haskins said. "It could really change the way people view the program."
Haskins worked his way through dozens of offers and cut things down to seven schools before his decision. The process came down to Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Notre Dame, Penn State, Rutgers and Virginia Tech.
He told Bleacher Report his three finalists were Florida, Maryland and Rutgers.
Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier began recruiting Haskins while he was at Michigan and the two developed a tight bond. Florida also didn't sign a quarterback in the 2015 class, leaving extra room on the depth chart under a new coaching regime.
Ultimately, the choice seemed to center on two Big Ten newcomers.
Though Haskins now lives in Maryland, he grew up in New Jersey, just minutes away from Rutgers. Former Scarlet Knights star wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was among his early mentors.
“It was really hard to choose between those two schools because I feel a strong connection with both places," he said. "I got to spend a lot of time getting to know everything about both universities and football programs.”
Ultimately, he felt a stronger pull toward the Terrapins.
“I’ll always be Jersey-born, but I’m DMV-made," Haskins said, alluding to the acronym for an area that encompasses Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
Though he won't be able to enroll early, his mission is to create as strong a bond as possible with the program before his official arrival. Haskins is the kind of quarterback and leader who could ultimately elevate a collegiate culture.
"I'm a game-changer whenever I have the ball in my hands, whether it's first down or third down," he said. "I'm going to get the job done. I don't make too many mistakes, and if I do make a mistake, there won't be one the next play. It's about making sure I capitalize on everything around me."
All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
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We have a pretty good idea who the favorites and top contenders are for this season's College Football Playoff. The long offseason has provided plenty of opportunity to discuss the likes of the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers, the Baylor Bears, the Florida State Seminoles, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Michigan State Spartans, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Oregon Ducks, the TCU Horned Frogs and the USC Trojans.
But if last year is any indication, we have to expand our horizons and think outside the box—er, top 10—in order to find other programs that could have a shot to fight for a playoff spot.
That's where we'll find the dark horses.
Think about it: When the 2014 season began, the preseason Associated Press poll had the four eventual semifinalists in the top five. But nowhere could be found many of the teams that were in the running for a playoff bid down the stretch—teams like the Arizona Wildcats, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Mississippi State Bulldogs or TCU. None of those schools were ranked at the outset, yet each ended up earning invites to CFP-affiliated bowl games and all had a shot to make the playoffs.
How did this happen? And how come we didn't see it coming? Who knows if we'll have a similar scenario this season, but it's worth exploring.
That's why we've identified a handful of schools that, while they may be ranked to begin the year, aren't currently thought of in the top tier of teams vying for the playoffs. All are capable of getting there, though, assuming they are able to put everything together, and things go their way.
Tailgating—almost every other sport in the world does it, but college football does it best.
The locales and the traditions that make the college game great enhance fans' pregame experience. For some of them, it's their entire game day, as staying at the tailgate to watch the game can be more appealing than paying for a ticket inside the stadium.
You probably can't find a bad tailgating experience in college football. Whenever friends and family and even rivals get together before the game, it's a pregame time of food and fun that's hard to mess up.
However, some schools do it better than others, and a select few are as famous for what they do outside the stadium as what they do inside it.
With that in mind, here is a list of the top 25 tailgating schools in all of college football. This writer hasn't been to every single stadium in the nation, so keep in mind that these rankings are based on national reputations and unique traditions.