NCAA Football News

Rapid-Fire Interview with Jim Harbaugh: 'I'm a Tupac Man'

Jim Harbaugh may be one of the most interesting figures in college football. From his trademark khaki pants to his unwavering intensity, the man always keeps us coming back for more. 

Bleacher Report caught up with the fiery leader of Michigan's football program as he answered some rapid-fire questions in the video above. 

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10 Best Live College Football Mascots

It's officially July, which means the college football offseason has reached its apex. It's time to rank things, like live college football mascots.  

Ranking live mascots is all subjective anyway, so we've used a very scientific formula to cut out any guesswork. On a 10-point scale, 10 being the best, mascots are judged in five categories: weaponry, attire, cuteness, originality and chances in a fight. Rankings are based on total points tallied. 

So, take a look and vehemently disagree with our study because that is the offseason's primary purpose. 

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Is Arkansas a Legit Contender for 2015 SEC Title?

What if I told you that a team with two SEC wins in two years, an offense that is one-dimensional and a defense that lost its three best players is a contender in the toughest division in college football?

You'd say that I'm crazy, right?

Well, that's exactly where Arkansas finds itself, after shutting out LSU and Ole Miss last November and throttling Texas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl to close out the season.

Where did that strong late-season push land Arkansas? In the SEC West's elite, apparently.

Arkansas' over/under win total for the 2015 season is at 8.5, according to 5Dimes (via CBSSports.com). That may not seem too lofty, but it's tied for second with Auburn and Ole Miss for the second-most in the SEC West, and it's only one game behind Alabama, which has an over/under at 9.5.

Clearly, Vegas seems to think that Arkansas is a contender. But as Todd Fuhrman of Fox Sports notes, that confidence isn't exactly steadfast.

Let's follow along with the pros in Vegas and pump the brakes on the Arkansas hype train.

While Arkansas is going to be improved, it's much more likely to be this year's version of Ole Miss than it is to be a true division-title contender. 

Remember what Ole Miss was last year? A team that was in the mix for a couple of months before injuries took their toll and the lack of championship-level depth reared its ugly head?

That's where Arkansas is most likely headed in 2015.

Offensively, the Hogs will be fine.

The dynamic duo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins at running back behind one of the most fearsome offensive lines in the country clearly works. Can Brandon Allen take the next step and become more of a difference-maker than a game manger? He has his doubters, including Bo Bounds of 105.9 in Jackson, Mississippi (via Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly in Arkansas).

Still, the presence of new offensive coordinator Dan Enos—who has produced four 3,000-yard passers in the last five seasons as the head coach of Central Michigan—should at least help Allen take the next step and look like a downfield weapon from time to time. 

That might be all the offense needs to really hit its stride.

The real concern, though, is on defense, where head coach Bret Bielema and defensive coordinator Robb Smith have to replace stud defensive end Trey Flowers, monster defensive tackle Darius Philon and last year's leading tackler, linebacker Martrell Spaight.

Bielema and Smith will be counting on players like tackles Bijhon Jackson and Taiwan Johnson as well as end JaMichael Winston to become difference-makers up front.

Not just difference-makers, though. Consistent difference-makers. 

That's not the easiest thing to do, nor is it something that should be expected. 

Besides, it's not like Arkansas' defense was that consistent down the stretch. Sure, the shutouts in November were awesome, but they also gave up 459 yards and 7.40 yards per play at Mississippi State in early November, as well as 423 yards and 5.10 yards per play at Missouri to close out the regular season.

There were consistency issues last year even when Arkansas' defense was "hot," and now some of its key contributors are gone.

The logical next step for Arkansas is to take a small step forward rather than a gigantic leap. A small step forward would be an eight- or nine-win season, staying competitive in every game and showing a little more consistency on the road.

Anything more would be considered too much, too soon in the SEC West.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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The Opening 2015: 10 Sleeper Recruits to Watch in Beaverton

Each year, blue-chip prospects abound at The Opening, the elite recruiting showcase at Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Most of the invites to the event sport 5- or 4-star rankings and massive offer sheets.

However, these top recruits aren't the only ones who will be on the big stage in Oregon on July 7-10. Across the country, several players with lower ratings earned invitations to The Opening with their stellar performances at regional combines.

All eyes will be on the star-studded targets in Beaverton next week, but college football fans should watch for these under-the-radar talents.

Here are 10 players on The Opening roster who will enter the event with 3-star or lower ratings from 247Sports' composite rankings, which combines several top recruiting outlets.

Don't sleep on these possible breakout players who could earn more stars and more scholarship offers in Oregon next week.

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Extremely Talented Oregon WR Commit Duo Ready to Break Out at The Opening

The Oregon Ducks head into The Opening with a great group of commits. How will they fare in Oregon? 

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder answers that question and more in the video above.

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The Opening Preview: Key Bruins Commits Aim to Keep UCLA on Top of USC

UCLA had a huge national signing day in 2015, propelling it to the 12th-ranked class, per 247Sports' composite rankings. Can the Bruins repeat the same recruiting magic?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives a preview for the Bruins at The Opening. 

What kind of class can UCLA have in 2016? Check out the video and let us know!

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Jim Harbaugh Interview Gets so Painfully Awkward Colin Cowherd Abruptly Ends It

This Wednesday morning interview with Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh is what ESPN's Colin Cowherd would describe as a "clunker."

Cowherd spent the entire interview asking open-ended questions, but there weren't many in-depth answers provided by Harbaugh. A miscommunication in the middle of the interview certainly didn't help the cause.

Eventually, Cowherd gave up on the interview and abruptly ended it. 

[The Big Lead]

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The Opening: Future of Notre Dame Rushing Attack on Display at Elite Showcase

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish enter The Opening with a crop of big-time commits, including offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer.

How will these future Irish standouts fare in Oregon starting on July 5? Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder answers that question and more in the video above.

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The Opening Preview: USC's Top WR Targets on Display at Elite Showcase

USC is looking to build off of last season's recruiting success this year at The Opening. The Trojans are poised to have a huge 2015 season. 

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder picks the recruits USC should target in the video above. 

Who are the must-have recruits for the Trojans in the 2016 class? Check out the video and let us know!

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Tre Nixon Tweets Top 10: Which School Is Best Fit for 4-Star WR?

Speedy wide receiver Tre Nixon updated his widespread recruitment process Tuesday night, announcing a top-10 list on Twitter:

The 4-star Florida prospect pinpointed Alabama, Auburn, Duke, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, Oregon, Penn State, Tennessee and Texas A&M as programs of greatest interest. This collection of favorites features universities from four Power Five conferences, highlighted by seven SEC squads.

“The biggest thing for me here on out is to see which school could best prepare me as a receiver and as a young man,” he told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports. “All of them have good facilities and good coaches, now what I’m looking for is who can develop me."

Nixon, a 6'1", 170-pound senior at Viera High School, enjoyed a rapid rise on the recruiting trail following a monstrous 2014 campaign. He caught 43 passes for 1,065 yards and 13 touchdowns last fall.

His yards-per-reception average (24.7) provides evidence of Nixon's tremendous quickness. He was clocked at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash, per 247Sports.

College coaching staffs always covet speed along the perimeter and, considering his solid size, it's no surprise Nixon sparked serious looks from the next level. He holds nearly 50 scholarship offers seven months shy of national signing day.

His decision isn't likely to arrive until much later in the year. Nixon expressed plans to further whittle the list before lining up a few official visits, according to Wiltfong.

Rated 43rd nationally among wide receivers, he seems as wide open to possibilities as any player in the 2016 class. Duke, Penn State, Notre Dame and Georgia equally share expert commitment predictions in his 247Sports' Crystal Ball, though projections remain limited at this point.

The Nittany Lions joined this pursuit early, hosting him in Happy Valley twice last year. Nixon is expected to return to Penn State on July 18, per Greg Pickel of PennLive.com.

"Love where things are heading [at Penn State]," he told Pickel. "Love the coaches and everything about them."

Head coach James Franklin's class already features Elite 11 finalist quarterback Jake Zembiec and impressive running back Miles Sanders, but this group still needs field-stretching pass-catchers. Nixon certainly fits the bill.

Oregon rarely lacks elite speed in its uptempo offensive attack, and the Ducks have clearly identified Nixon as a potential valuable commodity. Despite the lack of an offer until late May, head coach Mark Helfrich has his team firmly in the equation.

Though Nixon lives at the opposite end of the country, his willingness to reciprocate interest has roots.

"Oregon is an amazing school. It was my favorite school growing up," he told Andrew Nemec of The Oregonian. "It's definitely a game-changer for me. They gave me a good feeling, let me know I was a priority for them and showed me how I'd fit in their offense."

Oregon and Penn State present intriguing options beyond Nixon's home region, but odds are in favor of him landing in the SEC based on sheer numbers.

Tennessee and Florida are two contenders that stand out among the group.

The new Gators regime is attempting to recharge a dormant offense, and local priorities like Nixon are necessary in that effort. Florida is his lone in-state favorite and arguably offers him the most realistic chance to immediately contribute.

Despite that proximity, Tennessee is the team that requires a close look on this list. 

The Volunteers continue to be very aggressive in his recruitment, spurred by a strong recent campus visit.

“[Head coach] Butch Jones was following me everywhere I went, same thing with [passing game coordinator Zach] Azzani, they definitely care," Nixon told Wiltfong. "It’s not easy to rebuild in the SEC playing that tough schedule but they’re doing it, and they’re bringing in top recruits and it’s great to see where the program is headed.”

Blue-chip quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is one of those recruits who could help Tennessee take another step in conference competition. He's also among the most active player-recruiters in this class, so expect him to spend significant time selling Nixon on the prospect of pairing up.

Upcoming visits should help clarify Nixon's ultimate intentions. Tennessee seems to be on the rise but with an abundance of contenders in the SEC and beyond, it's an unpredictable race for this Sunshine State standout.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Notre Dame Football: Breaking Down the Irish's Offensive Weapons

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Among its offensive skill positions, Notre Dame football returns the vast majority of its 2014 production, losing only a backup running back and a starting tight end.

In judging the Irish offensive skill-position weapons—those at the disposal of quarterback Malik Zaire—Notre Dame’s depth is striking.

The Irish, though, will be without junior running back Greg Bryant to begin the regular season, according to multiple reports. On Monday morning, Irish247’s Tom Loy reported that Bryant would be suspended four games.

So what else might the Irish have in 2015?

 

Proven Headliners

There are, of course, the proven playmakers, such as running back Tarean Folston and wide receiver Will Fuller, who have produced regularly for the Irish.

As a sophomore, Folston rumbled for 889 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. The solidly built back improved on a true freshman campaign in which he nearly reached 500 yards on the ground.

Fuller took a different route to top-playmaker status. After a quiet rookie season, Fuller turned in the best statistical sophomore season by a wide receiver in Notre Dame history. His 76 receptions went for 1,094 yards. But the most impressive stat was Fuller’s 15 touchdowns, tied for the most in any one season in program lore.

The Irish know exactly what they have in Folston and Fuller. Sure, there’s room to grow. But expect these two to key the offense around Zaire.

  

Second-Tier Past Production

The wide receivers room inside the Gug on campus is well stocked. Wideouts Corey Robinson, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, along with wide receiver/running back C.J. Prosise, all provided solid second-level production for the Irish in 2014.

Robinson (40 receptions, 539 yards, five touchdowns), Brown (39-548-1) and Carlisle (23-309-3) all had their moments as receivers and secondary options for quarterback Everett Golson.

Prosise (29-516-2) did too, flashing his ability as a big-play speedster out of the slot. Now with Bryant reportedly sidelined to begin the season, Prosise likely will be called upon to continuing delivering as a running back, as he did in the spring.

But of these rising upperclassmen, who takes the next step in 2015?

Bryant, by the way, hasn’t been as productive as this quartet, though he did rush for 289 yards last season.

 

Young and Unproven

Notre Dame’s glut of skill-position players resides in this category.

Take tight end, for example. Durham Smythe’s one career seven-yard reception is Notre Dame’s only returning production at the position. While the redshirt sophomore is poised to step into Koyack’s vacated starting role, sophomore Tyler Luatua, redshirt freshman Nic Weishar and true freshman Alize Jones are talented options.

In the backfield, Dexter Williams figures to be the more game-ready of the two true freshmen. Williams was the No. 11 running back and No. 94 overall player in the class of 2015, while fellow back Josh Adams checks in at No. 26 and No. 304, respectively.

Wide receivers Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Holmes and Justin Brent have a full depth chart ahead of them, and freshman wideouts Equanimeous St. Brown, Jalen Guyton, Miles Boykin and C.J. Sanders arrived on campus last month.

Notre Dame doesn’t need lightning strikes from all of these young talents right away. But if a few—say Jones, Williams and Hunter—supply key plays in doses, the Irish offense can take the next step.

  

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Ole Miss Football: Nobody Wins in This Laremy Tunsil Mess

There's no other way to describe the situation Ole Miss' Laremy Tunsil finds himself in other than "a mess."

A family mess, a football mess and now, potentially, an NCAA mess.

Tunsil was arrested and charged with domestic violence after allegedly punching his stepfather, Lindsey Miller, on Thursday in defense of his mother, Desiree Tunsil, whom Miller allegedly shoved during an altercation at the Tunsil home. According to Riley Blevins of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Miller was also charged for the incident.

Head coach Hugh Freeze backed his player when the story first broke Saturday.

"Laremy realizes he could have handled it differently, but I am proud of him for standing up for his mother and protecting his family," Freeze said, according to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com. "Laremy and his mother have also pressed charges against the stepfather."

On Wednesday, more details to the story trickled out.

According to the police report Blevins received Tuesday night, Miller told investigators shortly after the incident that he and Desiree were arguing with each other because Laremy was "riding around with agents." Tunsil, a 6'5", 305-pound junior who is draft-eligible after this season, allegedly was pulled off Miller by four men and left in a yellow convertible.

As Freeze correctly pointed out in his quote, meeting with agents is allowed.

"We are aware that Laremy and his family have met with potential agents, which is within his NCAA rights as a student-athlete," Freeze said in a statement to the Clarion-Ledger. "Regarding the altercation, we will continue to gather facts and cooperate with the proper authorities."

Aside from the potentially impermissible benefit of riding in a car with agents, which likely wouldn't be a major NCAA problem considering the circumstances around the incident, Tunsil didn't do anything wrong.

Still, nobody is going to be a winner in this mess, and that makes me sad.

As John Talty of AL.com notes, it appears Miller is content on tearing the whole family down.

Football shouldn't play a part in tearing a family apart. Unfortunately, with so much on the line and such a small window for earning, it appears that it has.

Whether you're an Ole Miss fan or one of its rivals, taking joy in football tearing apart a family is something you shouldn't enjoy.

For Tunsil and Ole Miss, the presence of agents compounds the situation.

While Freeze is right in saying Tunsil did nothing wrong if he talked to agents, when you combine agents with college football players, the perception of impropriety will jump to the forefront. That's completely unfair, but it's also reality in this day and age.

Those agents apparently—if you believe Blevins' report—are now potentially witnesses to a crime. 

The ears of NCAA investigators are going to perk up due to this situation regardless, and now some of the key witnesses of any potential investigation have even more pressure to talk thanks to the legal aspect of this case.

Aside from a few dollars in gas money for a ride, Tunsil might be as clean as a whistle from an NCAA standpoint. But you never want to open the door for the NCAA, and this situation has.

Regardless, this has become a distraction for Ole Miss in a year in which it has legitimate hopes of taking the next step and contending for the SEC West—a division it has never won since the conference expanded in 1992.

Now, Freeze and his staff not only have to deal with the potential legal ramifications from one of its star players being charged with domestic violence but also has to deal with the headache of defending one of his star players for doing something that's allowed and defending the perception of the program.

Nobody wins in this Tunsil mess.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Andrew Wood Chose Serving His Country over Big-Time College Football

Andrew Wood was recruited to play college football on the biggest stage, something many high schoolers dream of each day. 

But instead of suiting up in the SEC, Wood elected to represent his nation as a member of the United States Naval Academy. He officially reported to campus in Annapolis, Maryland, on July 1.

The Tennessee standout secured SEC scholarship offers as an underclassman and, standing 6'4", 305 pounds, he possesses the necessary physical attributes to someday challenge for an NFL job. The opportunity to spend Saturdays at the center of 100,000-seat stadiums and eventually earn hefty paychecks for pushing opponents downfield lay ahead of him at 18 years old.

Vanderbilt, Virginia, Cal, Louisville, Syracuse, Purdue and Mississippi State were among more than a dozen FBS programs that pursued the offensive lineman.

He chose service—and a chance to fly.

"It's always been a dream of mine to become a pilot," Wood told Bleacher Report. "Now I have a great chance to take a step toward that."

Wood will still play Division I college football for the Midshipmen, who join the American Athletic Conference this season after an era of independent distinction. However, his post-collegiate expectations are quite different than if he had hitched his future to a different university.

He plans to lose approximately 60 pounds following his final college football snap, targeting weight requirements to become a Naval aviator. 

Mississippi State—a top contender that challenged Navy prior to Wood's November commitment announcement—produced five players selected in the 2015 NFL draft. It's the realization of an ultimate dream for very few athletes.

Needless to say, NFL scouts aren't looking for 240-pound linemen.

"My parents and I had a serious discussion about my goals in the football world and if I legitimately wanted to chase down a possible NFL career. I just think, aside from football, the Navy gives me an opportunity to accomplish more with my life," Wood said. "A chance to play in the NFL is great, but that's not my main concern right now."

Rated 45th nationally among offensive guards in composite 2015 recruiting rankings, he held scholarship offers from several universities after a sophomore season that saw him help the Friendship Christian School capture its second straight Class 2A Tennessee state title.

"All college coaches needed to do was watch his tape and the talent was clear," Friendship Christian head coach John McNeal said. "I've never had a kid dominate the line of scrimmage like Andrew. He moved the line of scrimmage, and that's hard to do. I still get amazed when I watch some of the film."

"Sometimes he'd push guys 10 yards down the field and I'd say, 'Hey, you don't have to take them that far, just bury them after five.' But that's the way Andrew plays the game," McNeal said. "When he gets his hands under a defender, they're pretty much done." 

Even in early stages of his recruitment, Wood seemed destined to play in the country's most revered college football conference—the SEC. It had recently produced seven straight national champions and four of the past eight Heisman Trophy winners.

"There were plenty of people who expected him to end up at Vanderbilt, especially with the recruiting momentum that [former head coach] James Franklin was building at the time," said Maurice Patton, a longtime Nashville area reporter who primarily covers high school sports.

"As things progress, you could tell Andrew was very academically inclined, and that Navy offer seemed to stand out for him," Patton said. "Even though we didn't know about his family background or what maybe drove Andrew toward Navy at that time, (his commitment) wasn't a huge shock. Still, it was certainly a surprise considering some of the other offers he had on the table."

Wood's recruiting clout turned McNeal's office into a revolving door for interested FBS assistants.

"College coaches were in here weekly for Andrew, and that's a process that continued until he announced a decision," McNeal said. "During his senior year, it was a very busy time with colleges coming after him."

By the end of a dominant 2014 campaign, Wood was a Tennessee Mr. Football award finalist among offensive linemen in his division. He spearheaded a rushing attack that produced nearly 4,000 yards on the ground last fall.

Wood officially announced a verbal commitment to the Midshipmen in late November. Not a single recruiting analyst correctly predicted his pledge in 247Sports' Crystal Ball, which favored Mississippi State.

Those in his inner circle understood Wood's personal affinity for Navy. His late grandfather, John Trimble, served with the military branch during the Korean War.

"I told my family early that no matter how many offers were sent to me, Navy would always be hard to beat," he said.

Andrew's older brother, Kyle, is approaching his fourth and final year at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, where he plays baseball and football.

The two teamed up to win a state championship in 2011. They share the bond of brothers, teammates and, soon, servicemen.

"My family loves America, and we definitely have patriotic feelings. That doesn't mean any of us had to serve, but that's just what my brother and I were motivated to do,"  Kyle said. 

Though Kyle's stature as a high school recruit didn't reach the levels Andrew experienced, he also considered life as a "regular" collegiate student-athlete. In-state opportunities couldn't measure up to a military route, inspired partially by his grandfather.

"Hearing the stories about my grandfather's military career didn't make us scared about the possibility of doing something similar. I think it actually encouraged us to become a part of that," Kyle said. "I remember feeling proud at his funeral. It was a military service. It was special for our family."

Though he lost his grandfather at a young age, Andrew carries a similar dedication to duty. 

"It's important to have pride in your homeland and be willing to sacrifice things for the greater good," he said. "For me, that just means sacrificing the 'normal' college experience and growing up a little faster for something I've always wanted."

Andrew had the freedom to accept a no-expense college education and football career in practically every region of the country. Unlike service academies, there would be no post-graduate obligations.

Kyle can provide a firsthand account of how much different life as an athlete at a military institution can be compared to four years on a football-crazed SEC campus.

"You have to understand athletics aren't the first priority. Or even the second priority," he said. "Academics and military stuff can kind of push sports aside at times. You've got to be able to accept that and put in the work. That's something I think Andrew understands."

It's a setting that demands tremendous respect to detail on a daily basis. A lifestyle of regimentation isn't for everyone.

"I tell our kids all the time that no matter where they choose to go to college, they need to be able to handle the environment and what it demands from you," Coach McNeal said. "For Andrew, Navy was on top the entire time for all the right reasons. He had a lot of opportunities other kids would love to have, but when it came down to it, Andrew made the choice that made the most sense for his future goals."

Though Navy's football program isn't a perennial title contender or routinely featured in nationally televised showdowns, it does carry significant respectability in the college football landscape. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo led the Midshipmen to three postseason bowl wins during his first eight years at the helm.

This fall, the team faces frequent bowl game visitors like East Carolina, Houston and Notre Dame. Navy also makes a late September trip to the University of Connecticut, where Kyle plans to be in attendance.

"It will be a proud moment to see him in that uniform," he said.

Still, will there be moments when Andrew looks back and re-examines his decision not to travel the road that may have led directly to NFL opportunities?

"I asked him whether he wanted to possibly play in the NFL or take on a career in the Navy. His heart went with Navy," Kyle said. "As much as I would've loved to watch him compete against the country's top players in the SEC, the Naval Academy is the right fit for Andrew. It's where he's always wanted to be, and you have to respect that."

Many prized football prospects arrive on campus as freshmen looking forward to reaching the professional pinnacle of America's favorite sport. Wood's aim is upward, where a determined—and thinner—Andrew plans to reach long-imagined altitudes when he's done knocking around defenders.

Challenges far greater than mastering Navy's complicated triple-option offensive attack await Andrew in Annapolis. 

He's opted to embrace the sacrifice.

"It's going to be really tough, and I'm sure there will be some days when I hate it, but it's important to focus on the bigger picture," Andrew said. "For me, that involves more than football."

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

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How Texas' Most Famous Fan Is Still Inspiring the Longhorns

Matthew McConaughey is almost as important to the Texas program as the program is to him.  He has addressed the team almost every year in recent memory, and who can forget his presence on the sidelines of the 2006 Rose Bowl? Mack Brown even went so far as to call McConaughey a "younger brother" to him at a Mack, Jack & McConaughey (MJ&M) charity event for Lincoln earlier this spring. 

Second-year coach Charlie Strong can use all the help he can get to build the next chapter of Longhorns Football. Throughout the building process, he has been smart to understand the importance of McConaughey's link to the glory days, and he invited him to speak to the team after a tough loss to UCLA.  One of Strong's challenges in Year 2 will be to keep Texas tradition alive while establishing his own culture.  McConaughey's continued involvement is a perfect bridge between the past and present.  

Another challenge will be to get the Longhorns comfortable enough in his system to play loose, free and instinctually, like McConaughey is on set: 

You don't want to go to the field thinking, so I don't go to work thinking. I do my work 3 months before then I show up. I never jot down lines, I just try to understand what they mean and the intention. I never want to be on the field thinking, if I'm thinking I'm a half step slow where I don't get that pick or tip off a pass on the football field. I don't sleep well if I know I didn't leave it all out there every day at work.

Certainly, the Longhorns defense left everything on the field in 2014, finishing atop the Big 12 in pass defense and near the top in points per game allowed. That was the primary reason Texas went to a bowl game at all. With so many starters gone from that defense, however, it'll be up to several new faces to pick up where those departed players left off.  

On the other side of the ball, the offense has to take a huge step forward in 2015. The first year in a new scheme was undoubtedly an adjustment. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was thrust into action because of a career-ending concussion to David Ash and took snaps behind a decimated offensive line. 

Texas' improvement in Year 2 of the Strong era will have a lot do with whether players are buying in and understanding the concepts to the point where they can process things quickly. Then, it's a matter of one question: Are players giving it everything they have?

"I was raised to be embarrassed," McConaughey said. "I don't think people today are embarrassed. I don't have bad days where I didn't hit it 100 percent, but it's the thought of maybe I tried too hard. I'm learning to recalibrate my approach. If I just give 80 percent then I will regret that for a long time." 

"Embarrassment" is a word Strong has used before to describe his team's performance. Of the Longhorns' seven losses last year, five came by at least 21 points. Will the Longhorns be better in '15? Perhaps; a big step forward would be to eliminate the blowout losses, though. 

There will be more losses under Strong at Texas. That's unavoidable. What Strong has to fix is Texas' routine of being outclassed by opponents. 

All McConaughey can do is reaffirm what Strong undoubtedly preaches to players every day. Whether it's for a role or a football game, both McConaughey and Strong know preparation is the only route. Certainly, it's the only way Texas gets better in Year 2. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes courtesy of B/R's Kyle Harvey unless noted otherwise. Stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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Georgia Football: Why Greyson Lambert Will Be Bulldogs' X-Factor in 2015

There is no debate about the talent the Georgia Bulldogs have on their roster. In fact, all of the sports information directors in the SEC were recently asked who would win the SEC East, and they picked the Bulldogs (via College Football Talk).

The Bulldogs have a talented running back in Nick Chubb, an experienced offensive line, a young but talented defensive line and secondary and they could have the best set of linebackers in the country.

But if there’s one position in question, it would have to be quarterback, and there are still questions concerning who will start when the season kicks off on September 5.

With Greyson Lambert transferring, he could win the spot despite being behind Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta when it comes to the playbook. However, he does have the most in-game experience, and he does fit into what offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer wants to do.

So for those reasons, Lambert will likely be the X-factor for the Bulldogs this season. He won’t have to do as much as he did in Virginia because he will be working with more talent around him, but he will need to play a lot better than he did with the Cavaliers last season.

Lambert was 4-star recruit from Wayne County, Georgia, back in 2012, according to 247Sports. He was listed as the eighth-best pro-style quarterback in the country and the 19th-best prospect in the state. Lambert signed with Virginia in January of that year, but did not make his first start until last season.

The reasons vary for why Lambert decided to make the move to Athens, but he did make it official on his Twitter account:

Hardest decision of my life... I love my brothers. #Wahooforlifepic.twitter.com/KbX5RV9Jvj

— Greyson Lambert (@Greyson_Lambert) May 16, 2015

Once Lambert arrives on campus and takes part in fall camp, he will have to learn a whole new system in a hurry. With only two years of eligibility left, Lambert is not looking to ride the bench.

As it was mentioned earlier, Lambert will be working with more weapons on offense than he ever did with the Wahoos. So in order for the Bulldogs to be in the hunt for the SEC title, he'll need to be a leader on the field and avoid making mistakes.

However, if the Bulldogs want to win the conference, Lambert will have to take his game to another level. He has the tools to be successful in Athens, but he has to be more consistent and more accurate with his throws.

It’s not a given Lambert will start because Ramsey and Bauta have more experience with the offense. But if that’s the case, then why would he transfer?

The pressure is on for the Bulldogs to have a big season, and despite questions over whether he’s going to play or not, there is probably no other player on the roster feeling the heat more than the former Cavalier.

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UCLA Football: Bruins' 2015 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

The UCLA 2015 football schedule appears to be a bit easier on paper than it was a season ago. 

Jim Mora's bunch will take on Oregon State and Washington State this year and will also feature its two toughest nonconference games (Virginia, BYU) at home. The only road contest outside of conference play will be in nearby Las Vegas versus UNLV.

With that said, there are multiple games littered throughout the slate posing potential problems. The road contests in conference play is relatively daunting. The last portion of the schedule is also quite difficult—with away matchups at Utah and at Southern Cal. 

This piece will rank the games on the schedule in ascending order, from easiest to the most challenging. The basis for the ranking system includes the opponent's overall talent, as well as the time in which the two teams square off. 

 

UCLA's entire schedule for this upcoming season can be found here.

Begin Slideshow

Texas Football: Power Ranking Texas' 2015 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

With only spring games, returning starters and past performance to go on, it's tough to gauge the Texas Longhorns schedule.

In a worst-case scenario, the Longhorns play 10 teams that have the offensive firepower and talent to take them down. As a young group with a second-year head coach, that would be a devastating blow, especially after the recruiting year this program just had.

It's more than likely that won't play out, but there's no doubt that this is a dangerous schedule with a tough out-of-conference slate. Charlie Strong's second season opens up with Notre Dame, and then five of his next six games are losable if his young team doesn't play well.

That's the second problem with this team. It's talented, but the most gifted players are the youngest, while the most experienced ones have largely proved to be the most inconsistent. This team has to search for leadership as much as it has to find guys who can make plays on a weekly basis.

Strong is a good coach, and he'll have to prove that this season. Once you get past the two cakewalks, this 2015 schedule could be quite unforgiving.

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State Football: Can Buckeyes Produce the Top QB, RB and DE in 2016 Draft?

The amount of talent on the Ohio State football team is absolutely staggering.

The Buckeyes, fresh off of winning the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship, are bolstered by 15 returning starters, most of whom expect to hear their names called during the 2016 NFL draft.

But which players have the highest ceiling, and how early will they go when the clock starts ticking?

Exploring that question should bring a smile to Urban Meyer's face, because there's a possibility his team could produce the top quarterback, running back and defensive end in next year's draft.

But of course, that historic achievement is largely dependent on the Buckeyes' polarizing quarterback competition.

While Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett are excellent quarterbacks in Meyer's offense, neither project to the pro level quite like Cardale Jones. Boasting elite arm strength and a 6'5", 250-pound frame, Jones has the physical tools to be a great signal-caller at the next level.

And that could have been his reality this past spring if he had capitalized on his enormous momentum and entered the 2015 draft.

After slicing through Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon during the Buckeyes' march through last year's postseason, Jones became an intriguing NFL prospect. He completed 61.3 percent of his passes with a 5-2 touchdown ratio, averaging 247 passing yards against two elite defenses (Wisconsin and Alabama) and another good one in Oregon.

Jones had just three career collegiate starts on his resume, but some were pegging him as a first-round quarterback for last year's draft. But he passed on the draft in favor of returning to school and earning his degree.

"Being a first-round draft pick means nothing to me without my education," Jones said of his decision to return, according to Stephanie Kuzydym of the Plain Dealer

And if he manages to win the starting job over Miller and Barrett this fall, he can build on an already solid resume. 

In his initial mock draft for 2016, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller pegged Jones as the second quarterback off the board, seven spots behind Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. But if Hackenberg registers another disappointing season in Happy Valley, it's not hard to imagine Jones surpassing him, given he wins the starting job in fall camp.

With Ezekiel Elliott at running back and Joey Bosa at defensive end, the other two scenarios aren't that big of a stretch. 

Elliott was having an excellent sophomore campaign before he absolutely exploded onto the national scene during Ohio State's postseason run. The 6'0", 225-pound ball-carrier absolutely shredded Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, running for an incredible 696 yards and eight touchdowns. For perspective, he ran for more yards in that three-game stretch than two schools (Wake Forest and Washington State) did during the entire regular season.

That's why it's hard to find a 2016 mock draft that doesn't have Elliott as the first running back selected.

That leaves Bosa, Ohio State's devastatingly effective pass-rusher. 

Bosa made an instant impact during his freshman season in 2013, earning a spot in the starting rotation by Ohio State's Week 5 matchup against Northwestern. Since then, he's been the Buckeyes' most disruptive defender. He ranked fifth nationally in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (21) last season, despite the fact that they didn't have a great weak-side defensive end to balance the line (or the pass rush) last year.

Bosa is a complete player, making him not just the top defensive end in this year's draft class, but as the top player overall.  

Will Bosa's name be the first one called when the 2016 draft kicks off? If it is, it could trigger a historic night for Meyer and the Buckeyes.

 

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Jim Harbaugh Fires Out 1st Pitch at Detroit Tigers Game

No matter what he does, Michigan Wolverines football coach Jim Harbaugh is an intense person.

Even if it's just a ceremonial first pitch.

Harbaugh—in his signature khakis—threw out the first pitch before Tuesday night's game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. The 51-year-old coach made sure to get some warm-up throws in down in the dugout, and when it came time for the pitch, he was all business.

Just look at his face:

Harbaugh sat down beforehand and, among other things, talked about throwing the first pitch:

[MLB.com]

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Michigan Football: Grading Jim Harbaugh's 1st 6 Months on the Job

Jim Harbaugh hasn’t met expectations during the first six months of his tenure with the Michigan Wolverines—he’s shattered them. Perhaps “obliterated them” better describes what he’s done since taking over his hobbling alma mater Dec. 30.

Supposedly, he wasn’t much into recruiting anymore, yet he’s strung together the No. 8-ranked class in the nation.

Make no mistake: He’s into recruiting. So much, in fact, that he had recently walked the streets of downtown Ann Arbor with a group of prospects, kicked-hat and all, in what looked like an attempt to better relate to prospects on a personal level. There is video and photographic evidence of Harbaugh having fun while recruiting that group, which included 4-star tight end/defensive end target Naseir Upshur.

Because of Harbaugh’s actions, he’s the hottest name in college football.

And with that said, Michigan fans couldn’t be more satisfied with the 20-man—and growing—collection of talent for 2016, and they couldn’t be happier with what Harbaugh—the right man for the rebuild in Ann Arbor—has done with the Wolverines program through 180 days.

Being that he’s new, Harbaugh’s every move gets magnified, dissected and analyzed by everyone. There are many layers to Michigan’s head coach, but he consistently demonstrates his ability to command with authority. Because of his presence, Michigan has regained a bit of confidence.

For that, and that alone, his overall grade has to be an “A.”

Some may argue for an “A+,” but contrary to popular belief, Harbaugh hasn’t been perfect. However, considering the circumstances and scenarios outlined below, he’s been pretty good. In a sense, he’s been better than anticipated.

 

Public Perception: A

As mentioned in a recent “biggest offseason headlines” piece, Harbaugh has commanded a considerable amount of attention outside of football. People love him, particularly those connected to Michigan. His energy is contagious, which is something that even Michigan State and Ohio State fans can appreciate.

Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes carry the conference’s flag, but Mark Dantonio’s Spartans are right behind them—and now here comes Harbaugh’s Wolverines. The Big Ten is the league to watch in 2015.

This past spring, Harbaugh showed off his love for baseball by helping out the Oakland A’s during an exhibition. The American Sniper thing caused a little stir, but he followed with a lighter, shirtless moment while practicing with athletes at a satellite camp in Prattville, Alabama.

He followed that by going all out during his “A4 Aerial Assault” camp in Ann Arbor—complete with baseball drills, trampoline golf, bounce houses and dodgeball. Participants also did a few football-related things. While with the media, he talked about getting “athletic reps” any way possible—which essentially describes the way he approaches everything: Waste no time, and get something from every experience.

He’s been described as “clinically insane,” off his rocker and a bit out of his mind. So far, he hasn’t blown a gasket in Ann Arbor and is viewed as more of a savior than football coach.

 

Recruiting: A+

Getting players was half the battle—and Harbaugh’s won on the trails at every turn. During the past six months, Michigan has recruited just as well, if not better, than it did under former coach Brady Hoke, who had a pair of top-10 classes a year prior to being released in December.

When looking for new talent, targeting “needs” usually trumps going after “wants.” The Wolverines needed a quarterback—a year ago, actually—so Harbaugh did what any guy who couldn’t wait until next year would do: He got a senior transfer.

Now with Jake Rudock—who started 25 games at Iowa—at the helm, Harbaugh has an experienced signal-caller to run the show this fall. The job isn’t in the bag for Rudock, but he’s the most logical successor to Devin Gardner.

Harbaugh gets an “A” for bringing immediate reinforcements. Hey, it was kind of like recruiting.

Now it’s time to move on to standard recruiting. Given momentum, Harbaugh could finish with a top-five class on national signing day. Like the rest in his position, Harbaugh has set his eyes on some of the best high schoolers in the nation, namely 5-star DT Rashan Gary, who’d be the cherry on top of a class already well represented by players such as 4-star QB Brandon Peters, 4-star WDE Ron Johnson and 4-star OL Ben Bredeson.

According to 247Sports, Michigan has extended 106 offers to prospects in the 2017 class.

 

Handling Internal Matters: C/C-

This past week, Ondre Pipkins accused Harbaugh’s staff of forcing him to retire from the team. Michigan coaches said he wasn’t healthy enough to play, but they encouraged the senior defensive lineman to seek playing time elsewhere, according to initial reports from ESPN’s Joe Schad.

The reported ousting of Pipkins doesn’t reflect particularly well on Harbaugh, but evidently, it may have been a necessary move.

Prior to being shown the door, Pipkins, the No. 6-ranked DT of 2012, had endured a couple of neck injuries and an ACL tear. This past spring, he suffered a concussion. His unhealthy track record was certainly enough for the Wolverines staff to question his ability to play the game at a high level.

According to Schad, Pipkins had been asked “10 times over a two-month period” to sign a medical release form.

“I feel I’m healthy and ready to play,” said Pipkins, according to Schad. “I don’t want to sign the form. I wanted to play for my seniors and for the team. Coach Harbaugh said, ‘I recommend you take the medical.’”

Either Pipkins is in denial about his health, or he was on the receiving end of a cold maneuver designed to create scholarship space, as he had suggested to Schad.

Regardless of who’s right or wrong, the parties involved could have handled it better. Finding a middle ground would have been better than a messy headline-grabbing affair. Players leave all the time for all kinds of reasons, but they rarely alert the media and air out dirty laundry.

And speaking of dirty laundry, on May 8, Jim Minick was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. According to a recent report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, the Wolverines’ assistant football athletic director struggled to complete and/or attempt on-site sobriety tests. According to Snyder’s findings, Minick blew 0.185 on his breathalyzer test. Because of his apparent inebriated condition, field officers “feared for his safety” during the encounter. They didn’t even bother asking him to stand on one leg to prove balance, per the report.

Five days later on May 13, Minick was suspended indefinitely by Harbaugh, only to be reinstated June 5. During a court appearance this past week, Minick pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The 50-year-old Marine was given eight months of probation after pleading guilty to an OWI, yet remains employed by the school and, evidently, in relatively good standing with Harbaugh. Certain situations warrant second chances, and Minick was certainly given the benefit of the doubt.

With that said, each punishment should fit the crime, right?

But back in May, due to a reported bad semester—one in which no such drunken/illegal activity was cited—senior-to-be Dennis Norfleet was indefinitely suspended from the football team. However, “Fleetwood,” as he’s known to Michigan fans, could be reinstated by August, according to a report from ESPN’s Dan Murphy.

But there are no guarantees.

Murphy wrote on June 5:

Norfleet’s high school coach, Terel Patrick, said Norfleet is on track to be back with the team as long as he “takes care of his business this summer.” Patrick didn’t want to go into details about what type of business Norfleet needed to complete. A Michigan spokesman said there’s been no change since head coach Jim Harbaugh declared the situation an “internal matter” a month ago.

Again, there is typically much more than meets the eye in cases such as these. But according to reports, it’d appear as if Harbaugh took care of a first-year employee who was clearly in the wrong better than he accommodated veteran players.

Perfect coaches don’t exist—only those who are very good at what they do and avoid major disasters, scandals and other undesirable attention. They each have their faults and quirks, but they’re ultimately judged on how often they win, how they win and how they handle team business.

In the real world, an “A+,” an “A” and a “C/C-“ doesn’t equal an overall grade of “A.” Despite an average handling of internal matters, Harbaugh has successfully recruited top players and maintained high—mostly positive—visibility during his first six months at Michigan, warranting nothing short of an “A.”

The next step is winning games.

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Recruiting/ranking information was obtained from 247Sports.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability.

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