NCAA Football News

Michigan Football: 5 Commits with Most Immediate-Impact Potential

Michigan football's highly rated recruiting class is full of untapped potential, but only a handful of currently committed players are ready to make an instant impact in 2016.

Now, expectations should be tempered. It's rare for a true freshman to perform well enough to immediately earn a rotational spot, let alone a starting role.

Enrolling early does help, however, and the Wolverines have welcomed seven new faces to campus during the spring semester. Not every player mentioned here is already in Ann Arbor, but most are.

The key factors used while creating the list were a given prospect's skill set, projected ability to adapt to the college game and roster need.

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Early Predictions for Biggest 2016 College QB Battles

As one college football season ends, we square our attention on another.

And where else to start but at quarterback?

Quarterbacks are football's leading men and make a disproportionate difference in an otherwise team-driven sport. Therefore, offseason quarterback battles are like casting decisions made public. It's an intrigue on par with almost any actual game.

Last year, I nailed most predictions, but also had big swings and misses. A lot of that concerned future transfer news, as Everett Golson joining Florida State (and leaving Notre Dame), Vernon Adams Jr. joining Oregon and Greyson Lambert joining Georgia changed the spectrum of those battles after my article was published.

This year, with pieces such as Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb and Pittsburgh transfer Chad Voytik on the board, I expect something similar to happen. Only this time, as it does, I will come back in and update my predictions to reflect the new battles.

Until then, this is based on the best information we have available at the time, plus my personal belief about certain quarterbacks.

Sound off and let me know where you disagree!

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Way-Too-Early 2016 SEC Football Power Rankings

Alabama is fresh off the airplane after toppling Clemson 45-40 in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night, but it's never too early to start breaking down the 2016 season.

Will the Crimson Tide win their third straight SEC title? Who else will compete for the playoff? Which teams will regress?

Our way-too-early 2016 power rankings based on talent, returning starters and trajectory are in this slideshow. 

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Ohio State Football: Looking Ahead to the Buckeyes' Brutal 2016 Schedule

It feels like an annual tradition for fans of other teams to criticize the perceived weakness of Ohio State's schedule, but with the brutal slate that lies ahead of the Buckeyes in 2016, that custom should come to an unceremonious end. 

Urban Meyer's squad is already facing the mountainous task of replacing a load of NFL talent—an undertaking that will require finding eight new starters on each side of the ball. Many of those holes will be filled by underclassmen, so Ohio State will take on one of the most challenging schedules with one of the most inexperienced teams in the country.

Will Meyer be able to get his young Buckeyes ready for this gauntlet? 

 

The Nonconference Slate

Even the gimme games aren't really gimmes. 

The Buckeyes will open the season against Bowling Green, the reigning MAC champion and a team that knocked off two Big Ten squads in 2015—Maryland and Purdue. The Falcons will have to replace quarterback Matt Johnson, who piled up an incredible 5,105 yards of offense and 50 touchdowns as a senior.

A week later, Ohio State will host an explosive Tulsa team that ranked 13th nationally in total offense (averaging 507.4 yards per game in 2015) and 21st in scoring offense (37.2).

But those games will serve as a warmup to one of the most highly anticipated nonconference games of the year when Ohio State heads south for a showdown with Oklahoma. 

The Sooners—who were knocked out of the College Football Playoff by Clemson on New Year's Eve—are projected by Ryan McCrystal of Bleacher Report as the No. 2 team, and they are expected to make another playoff run in 2016. They return seven starters on both sides of the ball, highlighted by quarterback Baker Mayfield, who exploded for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns (against just seven interceptions) to complement 405 yards and seven scores on the ground last season.

Facing that veteran squad on the road in what will most likely be a prime-time game will be a stiff challenge for a green Ohio State team.

 

B1G Play

2016 is the year the Big Ten shifts to a nine-game conference slate, so Ohio State won't be able to squeeze in a tuneup game before league play.

Fortunately for Meyer, Ohio State will have a bye week following the big showdown with Oklahoma, then the Buckeyes open conference play against a rebuilding Rutgers team and an Indiana squad that's losing a ton of offensive firepower—namely quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard.

But things take a decidedly hard turn after the Indiana game, when Ohio State makes back-to-back road trips to two of college football's most hostile environments—at Wisconsin and Penn State. The Badgers surged under new head coach Paul Chryst, winning 10 games in 2015, and they'll be geared up to host Ohio State for the first time since 2012.

The Northwestern Wildcats aren't the walkover they used to be, and Ohio State will have to deal with them before kicking off November with a home bout against Nebraska. A week later, the Buckeyes will hit the road to take on Maryland before the most difficult stretch of the schedule.

Like in 2015, Ohio State will close out next season with back-to-back games against Michigan State and Michigan. Of course, with the alternate venues, it'll be the Buckeyes traveling to East Lansing to face the Spartans before coming home to host the Wolverines. 

Both Michigan State and Michigan will be breaking in new quarterbacks in 2016 but by the time November rolls around, both should be fully entrenched in their respective offenses. The Buckeyes will be looking to avenge the lone loss of their 2015 campaign, while the Wolverines will be gunning for revenge after the humiliating 42-13 blowout loss they suffered at the hands of Ohio State last November.

With these two games at the tail end of the schedule, it's likely that the East Division will come down to the wire—again—in 2016.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Dark-Horse Playoff Contenders for 2016 College Football Season

The 2015 college football season roared to a close Monday night with Alabama’s thrilling 45-40 national championship victory over Clemson. But if we’ve learned one thing about college football, it's this: The game never stops.

Recruiting bleeds into spring practice, which leads to summer workouts, which leads to preseason practice, and before you know it, the 2016 season will be here. So it’s never too early to start speculating about which teams will make a charge toward the brass ring next fall. Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel already offered his extremely early preseason Top 25. 

This season, we saw unexpected teams like Iowa fall just short of the College Football Playoff, with newcomers Clemson and Michigan State breaking through and Oklahoma rebounding from a down 2014 season to make the top four.

Which teams will surprise us all in 2016? Here’s a quick look at five teams that could be dark-horse playoff contenders. They’re teams that figure to begin the season outside the top 10 and the playoff picture but could make a case thanks to strong experience and favorable scheduling.

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National Signing Day 2016: News and Predictions for Top Available Recruits

With the college football season over following Alabama's triumph over Clemson, the college football world turns its attention to the recruiting battle. Winning a national title starts with finding and molding the best possible young talent. 

Alabama under coach Nick Saban is a prime example. The Crimson Tide have consistently brought in top-flight classes of recruits. The work done assembling all this talent clearly pays off, per Scout.com's John Garcia Jr.:

Many of the nation's top recruits have already made commitments well in advance of national signing day on February 3. However, quite a few guys from 247Sports' top 50 have yet to make a decision.

Here's a rundown of the latest news surrounding some of the best uncommitted players, with predictions on where they might sign in a few weeks' time.


Rashan Gary, Paramus Catholic (Paramus, N.J.), DT

Rashan Gary is the most coveted prep star in the nation. In fact, according to 247Sports' composite ratings, he's the consensus top prospect. Naturally, some of the top programs are in pursuit of him, but only one will win out. 

Michigan is leading the way, with 64 percent of analysts predicting he will sign with the Wolverines, per 247Sports. Scout.com's Yancy Porter reported Sunday that Gary isn't making any unofficial trips in January:

However, ESPN.com's Tom VanHarren reported later that day he is indeed making an unofficial stop in Ann Arbor:

Gary isn't planning on revealing his decision until signing day, so it's possible a program other than Michigan could sway him in the meantime. Predictions that Gary will sign with Ole Miss have rolled in at 247Sports this month.

It appears USC will have a chance at a late pitch, but it's tough to see any program prying him from coach Jim Harbaugh. Gary's lethal blend of power and agility would make him a dream fit in Harbaugh's aggressive defensive schemes.

Considering Harbaugh showed in 2015 how quickly he can transform a program, especially its defense, there probably isn't a more exciting program beckoning this elite prospect.

Prediction: Michigan


Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, Carver (Montgomery, Ala.), OLB

It seems inevitable that Lyndell Wilson is going to break an SEC program's collective heart. According to Amos Morale III of NOLA.com, Wilson is down to three choices: Alabama, Florida and Georgia. 

Since he's from Alabama, the Crimson Tide would appear to be the obvious, even inevitable, choice. Saban is clearly determined to keep Wilson from venturing out of state for his collegiate career, as Wilson tweeted that the esteemed coach gave him a call Tuesday, fresh off winning the national title: 

It's hard to beat Saban's persistence, though Florida would appear to have a good shot. According to GatorCounty.com's Kassidy Hill, a couple of Alabama recruits who are heading to Florida have been trying to convince Mack to join them in Gainesville: 

Lyndell, as his Christian name reads, is the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country and a native of Montgomery, Alabama.

In his own backyard is safety Jeawon Taylor and not far across the state is running back Lamical Perine, both of whom are committed to Florida already.

"Lamical Perine and Jeawon Taylor they tell me like ‘we need you’,” says Wilson.

Published on January 2, this little exchange between Hill and Wilson might worry some Bama fans, per Hill: 

When it comes down to it, that’s what matters most for Mack Wilson. Can he create a home and his own name with the Florida Gators? Can he become a part of a Bama takeover in Gainesville? Perine and Taylor say yes; and Wilson is starting to agree because two words said more than an entire visit or stage of recruitment could.

“If signing day was today, would you be a Florida Gator?”

His reply—“Yes mam.”

The pull from Florida is strong, but 71 percent of analysts in 247Sports' Crystal Ball believe he's headed to Alabama. Saban's program is the superior one at this point, as evidenced by the national title and Bama's big win over Florida in the SEC title game. Plus, Saban is clearly paying attention to the kid. The lure of all those championships is likely strong enough to keep Wilson in state.

Prediction: Alabama



Brandon Jones, Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches, Texas), S

It wouldn't be a recruiting article without a prep from the Lone Star State. Brandon Jones is the No. 1 safety and No. 15 overall player in the 2016 class. On 247Sports, 76 percent of experts predict Jones will go to Texas A&M, with the other 24 percent projecting Texas. 

According to ESPN's Gerry Hamilton on December 28, two other schools are still in the mix: Baylor and Oregon. The Ducks are probably the long shot here as they try to pry away Jones from three of the biggest programs in his home state. Jones still has official visits on the docket with Texas (January 11) and even Auburn (January 29). He is reportedly still looking to visit with Baylor, per 247Sports' Colt Barber: 

It's possible Baylor is in position to score a major coup here and sign Jones. Texas has played losing football in each of the past two seasons and has reached nine wins just once since 2010. The Aggies have undergone some upheaval as of late, most notably watching quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen transfer to Oklahoma and Houston, respectively.

The Bears can pitch Jones on a track record of recent success and potentially add him to what's shaping up to be an excellent recruiting class.

Prediction: Baylor



Mecole Hardman Jr., Elberton County (Elberton, Ga.), ATH

No matter what position he ends up playing, Mecole Hardman Jr. is going to make an impact at the next level. Hardman is the No. 1 athlete in the nation and No. 21 overall, with 68 percent of 247Sports experts predicting him to stick close to home sign with Georgia.

However, Hardman recently named Alabama as his top choice, per Raul Dominguez of USA Today. His reasoning was simple.

“They’re already at the top,” Hardman said. “Why not stay at the top with them?”

Alabama fans shouldn't be too quick to celebrate his words, as Hardman tweeted Tuesday that he is set to make something of a surprise trip to another powerhouse program:

Ohio State was at the top of the football world just one year ago, so it could be that Hardman is considering the Buckeyes for the same reasons he likes the Tide. It's also possible that Hardman sees himself as more of a wide receiver, especially after making casual plays like this one while prepping for the Army All-American Bowl, per Rivals.com: 

Ohio State could offer a quicker path to stardom at wide receiver, considering Calvin Ridley is set to command most of the attention in Alabama's passing game and the team is a run-first school year in and year out. Plus, according to Dominguez, Alabama wants Hardman to play defensive back. 

Tennessee is also apparently still in the mix, with Hardman telling SECCountry.com's Dave Hooker : "They've been there since the beginning." Hooker writes that the Volunteers give Hardman the chance to make a mark on either side of the ball.

"Tennessee could offer Hardman the opportunity to do both since receiver and defensive back are positions of need in the Vols’ 2016 signing class," Hooker wrote. "Most have Hardman pegged as a receiver. However, he has the ability to excel as a defensive back."

Alabama is on record as the top choice, but this trip to Ohio State is interesting considering it was mostly SEC schools on Hardman's radar. Ohio State is going to send tons of talent to the NFL in this year's draft, including potential first-rounders in wide receiver Michael Thomas and cornerback Eli Apple. Maybe Hardman wants to follow their path.

Prediction: Ohio State

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B/R CFB 250: Top 250 Overall Players in College Football

Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R Experts Matt Miller, Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 250 Overall Players.

 

CFB 250 Positions

 

The previous 12 installments broke down the top 250 players by position. This final installment is the big one. 

The capital-T Top 250.

Remember that these players were graded as college prospects, not as NFL prospects. You'll see markedly different rankings on draft boards. Undersized or "system" players might not project well to the pros, but college performance was all that mattered here.

Actually…not all that mattered. They also had to play enough. If they appeared in half of their team's regular-season games, they were eligible for this list. If they missed more than half of the regular season—e.g., Laremy Tunsil—they were omitted from the rankings.

Sound off at the bottom and let us know what you think! 

 

Note: If two players finished with the same grade, the authors made a subjective call on which player they prefer.

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Georgia Football: 5 Reasons the Bulldogs Should Be Optimistic About 2016

The 2015 college football season has officially come to a close, and the Alabama Crimson Tide are the national champions. That's exactly where the Georgia Bulldogs want to be a year from now, so starting this week, head coach Kirby Smart will be hard at work trying to nail down more recruits by national signing day.

The Bulldogs finished the 2015 season with a 10-3 record, but all three losses came in conference play, which led to them missing the SEC title game for the third consecutive year. And of those three losses, two of them came against Alabama and Florida, the two teams that later faced off in the SEC title game.

However, as disappointing as last season was for Georgia fans, 2016 looks very promising, and the Bulldogs have a great chance to make a lot of noise next season.

Here are five reasons why the Bulldogs and their fans should be optimistic about 2016.

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Tennessee Football: Why Hiring Bob Shoop Is a Gamble, but One Worth Taking

Earlier this week, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart told GoVols247's Wes Rucker that new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's decision to take care of his buyout with Penn State was a "very, very loud statement" about how much he wanted to be at UT.

On Tuesday came the question.

Apparently, Shoop's new three-year contract at Tennessee—which reportedly will pay him $1.15 million annually—does not include a buyout, which Patrick Brown of the Times Free Press pointed out: 

That footnote should not be taken lightly when projecting Shoop's long-term potential at Tennessee.

While the lack of a buyout doesn't guarantee Shoop is only making a pit stop on his way to being a head coach, it certainly gives him free rein to jump ship whenever another opportunity comes along. 

Considering coach Butch Jones parted ways with longtime defensive coordinator and de-facto security blanket John Jancek, who'd been with him at his three head coaching stops, in favor of a possible one-year wonder is somewhat of a gamble.

After all, Shoop told reporters two weeks ago he hoped Penn State would have him "forever and ever and ever" and then bolted. So, expecting him to be a bastion of loyalty in Knoxville is a bit of a stretch.

It's coaching, not clergy.

But Jones' roll of the dice is one that comes with a high reward and, ultimately, not a whole lot of risk. That little bit of concern Tennessee fans may have should be offset by Shoop's upside.

The Vols have a ton of talent returning on defense in 2016. That stable of stars got a lot more impressive on Tuesday when unit leader and rising senior outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin announced on Twitter he was returning for his final season on Rocky Top:

The insertion of a mad-scientist coordinator who gets mad results everywhere he goes is a perfect formula for Tennessee's success next year. When he told reporters at his press conference he would field a "championship defense," that didn't ring hollow.

Shoop's defenses ranked no lower than 23rd nationally in each of the past five seasons. The experiences he encountered recruiting while at Vanderbilt will pay big dividends at Tennessee considering he is already familiar with UT's roster.

You always expect a big-splash coordinator will stay at least a couple of years, but even if Shoop winds up a one-and-done coach in 2016, it's an ideal season for Tennessee to employ a defensive guru.

With players such as Reeves-Maybin, defensive end Derek Barnett, tackles Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie, middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. and perhaps even undeclared junior cornerback Cameron Sutton returning, the Vols defense could be special. Shoop should enhance that.

Secondly, stealing Shoop from Happy Valley sent shockwaves throughout the college football stratosphere, and that's exactly the kind of noise Tennessee needs to be making.

Tennessee's athletic department operated in the red throughout the past half-decade, thanks to coaching missteps and a botched handling of funds throughout former AD Mike Hamilton's tenure. Hart worked to free UT from the doldrums, and hiring Shoop is a clear sign those days of frugality are over.

If UT wants to be a championship football program, it had to pony up. And it did. 

The kind of money it took to lure Shoop will make Tennessee a destination spot for the majority of defensive coordinators around the country. So, even if Shoop were to leave, hot coaching commodities will be lining up to line their pockets. 

Tennessee's pool of candidates this time around was rumored to include Gene Chizik, Brady Hoke and Todd Orlando. That's fishing in the champion's run of the river, and there's no reason to think the Vols can't continue to do that, even if Shoop's time in Knoxville is short.

To further that point, let's say Shoop gets the opportunity to be Vanderbilt's next head coach, just for example. (He was the DC there under James Franklin and even mentioned in his press conference that his youngest son may attend Father Ryan High School in Nashville, Tennessee).

Would a coordinator getting a head coaching gig not make the position a lot more attractive for prospective replacements?

Opposing schools weren't beating down Jancek's door, even though he'd proven to be a solid coordinator at UT. You always want assistants other teams want because that means they're doing a good enough job to be coveted. 

Top programs replace top coaches every year and get other top coaches. Rinse, repeat. 

Finally, the biggest message this sends to everybody is Tennessee is ready to win right now and will do whatever it takes to get there. That's a strong statement to the college football world, and it's even stronger to a hungry fanbase ready for bigger and better things.

Early in the season, Jones took a few knocks nationally for his conservative play-calling on the field. This off-field move was about as bold as you can get.

Shoop is a superstar, respected all over the country for his prowess calling defenses, attacking opponents and tailoring his scheme to fit his players' strengths. He's the kind of coordinator teams will come after every single season.

In the Southeastern Conference football's arms race, Tennessee just hired a big gun to take its defense to a completely different level. Whether or not he's a mercenary is the only question.

However, it's one where the tradeoff is worth the uncertainty.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted. All statistics 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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