NCAA Football News

USC Football: Former 5-Star Chris Hawkins Ready to Take Charge in Secondary

USC's secondary is chock full of talent, and the coaches in Troy have been waiting for the next athlete to step up and assert himself as a playmaker. Through four weeks of spring ball, redshirt freshman cornerback Chris Hawkins has risen to the occasion.

With new secondary coach Keith Heyward having an objective eye for his stock, essentially every healthy athlete in the defensive backs corps has had equal opportunity to impress. That's especially important for the corner spot opposite Josh Shaw, which will likely be filled by way of competition. So far, Hawkins is proving that he's ready to live up to his highly touted status out of high school.

And this year, the coaches are definitely paying attention.

"He made a play," Heyward told FoxSports.com's Rahshaun Haylock after Saturday's scrimmage, referring to an interception the cornerback made. "I'm trying to find playmakers."  

Hawkins came into USC as a 5-star talent, but by no choice of his own, he ended up watching the 2013 season from the sidelines instead of participating.

When Anthony Brown got injured before USC's game against Hawaii, Hawkins thought he was going to be chosen to replace Brown. Instead, former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast called on Devian Shelton, and Hawkins knew then that the decision to redshirt had been made for him.

As fate would have it, Shelton only appeared in that one game for USC and has yet to make any significant contributions since. 

The old regime may have overlooked his immediate value to the team, but Hawkins is making sure to avoid a similar outcome this spring. So far, it seems to be working.

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox sung the cornerback's praises after Saturday's scrimmage:

Because he's performing so well, Hawkins is a legitimate threat to dethrone Kevon Seymour, who really improved and impressed during the second half of the 2013 season. Hawkins has the pedigree to be a regular starter and a desire to prove that he can live up to the reputation with which he came to USC.

Hawkins elaborated to Haylock about what his goals are for the spring:

I made it a point to send a message on the first day (of spring practice) that this is not the 17-year-old kid anymore. This isn't the young one, the little one. I'm still a pup but I wanted to make it clear...I'm here and I'm here to stay.

During next week's spring game, Hawkins will really have his time to shine. It will be in his best interest to leave a lasting impression on the coaches, as the competition during the fall is only going to intensify when USC's loaded 2014 signing class arrives on campus. After all, 5-star DB/WR Adoree' Jackson is coming, and he won't be denied.

Hawkins needs to use these remaining spring practices to show that he has star quality and to prove that the secondary needs him to be successful. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4 Unanswered Questions Heading into Georgia's Spring Practice

There are only a few days before the Georgia Bulldogs hit the field for their annual spring game. And for the most part, fans know what to expect from players like Hutson Mason, Todd Gurley, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera.

They also know young players like Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta, J.J. Green and Tim Kimbrough will have a chance to make a name for themselves before the regular season begins.

But there are a few questions heading into the spring game that need to be answered when the Bulldogs take the field for fall camp.

Here’s a look at four unanswered questions heading into G-Day.

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Michigan Football: Top Performers from the Michigan Spring Game

Fans watched the Michigan football team go through its final workout at Michigan Stadium, but those expecting a game left disappointed.

Earlier in the week Brady Hoke had announced that the spring “game” would consist of a typical practice followed by a scrimmage between the offense and defense. No score was kept and, in a bid to minimize potential injuries, special teams were not part of the proceedings.

But for a fan base still smarting from last season’s 7-6 start, the chance to see Michigan back on the field was a welcome sight.

Many were eager to see the new offense installed by Doug Nussmeier but instead saw some of the same problems that plagued the team last season—interceptions and a porous offensive line.

Despite the limited format of the scrimmage, the performance of some players gave fans hope that Michigan is in the midst of rebounding from last season’s November collapse.

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5 Unanswered Questions Heading into Penn State's Spring Game

Although James Franklin has gotten off to a tremendous start as Penn State's new head coach, there are still some issues he needs to sort out.

For the most part, the Nittany Lions are in good shape. They return an uber-talented quarterback, are loaded with offensive weapons to accommodate him and have some experience on defense as well. 

Nevertheless, there's still a fair share of question marks floating around. From offensive line depth to special teams concerns, Franklin will utilize the 2014 spring game as a way to assess some of the dilemmas that need solving.  

Here are five unanswered questions heading into Penn State's spring game. 

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Why D'haquille Williams Will Take Gus Malzahn's Auburn Offense to the Next Level

Auburn receivers coach Dameyune Craig quickly built a reputation as a top-notch talent-acquisition specialist, having helped reel in players such as quarterback Jameis Winston at Florida State.

So when Craig says a player is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, it’s worth taking note.

That’s precisely what Craig said of D’haquille Williams—rated by 247Sports as the No. 1 junior college transfer in the nation.

Williams quickly became a crown jewel in Auburn’s 2014 signing class, immediately eliciting comparisons to the impact Cordarrelle Patterson had in his one year at Tennessee.

With Williams in the fray, AL.com’s Brandon Marcello reported that Craig has expressed this year’s Auburn receiving corps could potentially be the best in the nation.

For defenses that couldn’t slow down Gus Malzahn’s attack in the first year, the idea of tremendous improvement in Year 2 should be terrifying.

Receiver Sammie Coates, who emerged as Auburn’s go-to target in 2013, returns after finishing with 902 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.  

Now Coates has a running mate who could supplant him as the most dangerous threat in the offense.

It took no time for Williams to draw praise from teammates.

“D’haquille is probably going to be a great player for us this year,” safety Jermaine Whitehead said to AL.com after the second day of spring practice. “He reminds me a lot of Sammie. He can get vertical fast. He also likes to put his foot in the ground and make plays across the field.”

Williams won’t be the only reason for Auburn’s improved passing game.

Because of his breakout season in 2013, it’s easy to forget that quarterback Nick Marshall is now halfway through his first spring practice under Malzahn.

Marshall didn’t enroll at Auburn until summer 2013, meaning he didn’t practice with the program until August.

He quickly claimed the starting position.

However, Tigers coaches quickly realized the need to play to the team’s strengths.

Marshall didn’t have enough reps in Malzahn’s offense to develop fully as a passer, and the Tigers young receivers needed more time to mature.

The result was a reliance on tailback Tre Mason and the run game—including Marshall’s ability to tuck the ball and make defenses pay for focusing too much attention on Mason.

Now Marshall has time to jell with a more seasoned crew, headlined by another big-impact junior college transfer in Williams.

Marshall and Malzahn both like what they’ve seen so far.

Despite enormous expectations surrounding Williams, he is apparently focusing on the little things that make all the difference to Malzahn.

“I just have to adjust to the fast-paced offense,” Williams said to Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com after his second practice. “We ran no-huddle in junior college, but it wasn’t this fast.”

Malzahn declared to AL.com that he wants to press down harder on the gas in Year 2 than he did during his initial season as head coach at Auburn, which yielded an SEC Championship.

Having a talent who lives up to the considerable hype Craig placed on Williams would put Malzahn’s offense on the same level as Oregon’s or Baylor’s.

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Texas Football: 4 Players Who Need to Turn It Around in Spring Practice

Charlie Strong has doled out his fair share of praise to his Texas Longhorns. Others have not been so fortunate, and they need to get things turned out this spring.

Whether it's adjustment issues or coming up a little short of expectations, not every Longhorn player is taking to the new program quite as seamlessly as Quandre Diggs or Cedric Reed

With the significant changes Strong has mandated both on and off the field, the presence of a learning curve is inevitable. As long as the vast majority of the team continues to embrace the new culture, the rest of the group will fall in line.

But if these four Longhorns want to capitalize on the opportunity at hand, they need to make that happen sooner rather than later.

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Ohio State Football: Freshmen Looking to Shine in Buckeyes' Spring Game

With Urban Meyer at the helm, Ohio State has secured the Big Ten's top recruiting class for three consecutive years. Waves of talent have flooded Columbus, Ohio, and after signing back-to-back classes that ranked No. 2 nationally, the Buckeyes are loaded for another title run in 2014.

Surprisingly, though, that young talent hasn't made a strong impact on the field. Despite Meyer's eagerness to get his young players in the fold, Ohio State has kept a lot of its freshmen on the sideline.

After seeing his team finish the 2013 campaign with consecutive postseason losses, Meyer admitted during a press conference in February that the Buckeyes should have played more of their freshmen. He also vowed to correct that mistake moving forward.

That bodes well for a number of true and redshirt freshman.

Opportunity abounds at Ohio State as the Buckeyes are replacing 10 new starters and a few key reserves this spring. Saturday's spring game will serve as a proving ground for a host of first-year players looking to make an impact.

That starts with the freshmen who redshirted last year.

Cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Eli Apple were both rated 4-star prospects coming out of high school. The Buckeyes could have used that kind of talent in the back end of their defense last year—when they ranked No. 110 out of 123 teams in pass defense—but both rode the pine all season.

This spring, they're breaking out as playmakers.

Meyer recently lamented not playing Conley, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors.

Gareon Conley should have played last year. That’s Gareon’s fault and our fault, and the position coach’s fault, if we’re going to sit here and blame, which I’m not doing. But we’re counting on these guys to go play.

This spring, when Ohio State works its nickel defense, Conley is the second cornerback opposite Doran Grant, according to Tony Gerdeman of The-Ozone.net.

Apple is surging as well. During Ohio State's scrimmage last Saturday, he snagged two interceptions and made a number of impact plays.

Strong spring-game showings will give them momentum before summer conditioning drills.

The same goes for other redshirt freshmen such as linebacker Darron Lee, defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, center Billy Price and quarterback J.T. Barrett.

Specifically, Lee—who has impressed the coaching staff with his intensity and energy this spring—has secured a spot in Ohio State's starting linebacker rotation. Barrett is battling with redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones to be Braxton Miller's backup.

One lasting impression this Saturday, whether it's a positive or negative one, will have a big impact on the pecking order this fall.

That's when a majority of Ohio State's 2014 recruiting class will join the team, but seven members of that heralded group enrolled early to take part in spring drills.

It didn't take long for some of Ohio State's true freshmen to start turning heads.

Curtis Samuel, a 4-star athlete who came out of high school as an all-purpose back, has thrived in his role as a pure running back. Samuel has showcased his "electric" speed in practice, highlighted by a 50-yard touchdown run during last Saturday's scrimmage.

Four-star wide receiver Johnnie Dixon is another offensive weapon who is showing out. According to Eric Seger of The Lantern, senior wide receiver Devin Smith said that Dixon has "really turned some eyes."

But it's 5-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan—the crown jewel of Ohio State's 2014 class—that has the most to gain.

McMillan is currently working as Curtis Grant's backup at middle linebacker, but defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said that age won't be a factor if he can truly beat out the senior for the starting spot.

To McMillan's credit, he's just trying to pair his incredible physical tools with a solid knowledge of Ohio State's playbook, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer.

“I have a good chance to start, but it’s all going to be wasted if I don’t put in the work right now,” McMillan said. “I can’t be out on the field if I don’t really know what’s going on out there.”

By all accounts, McMillan has looked very good this spring. He, along with some other eager freshmen, will look to showcase that on Saturday.

 

All stats via NCAA.com. All recruiting information via 247Sports.com.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why 2014 Spring Game Is SEC Coming-out Party for Butch Jones' Tennessee Team

Their names are yet unknown across the landscape of the SEC, where legends of players grow larger than the stadiums, and legacies are etched in rugged rivalries.

Few fans know the names of head coach Butch Jones' 2014 Tennessee Volunteers, but for the first time in years, you should probably learn them.

There is talent on Rocky Top again, and Saturday's Orange and White Game will be an on-stage dress rehearsal for numerous newcomers with the potential to become household names.

In a league normally unkind to youngsters, the Vols must play them everywhere. Several other little-used players already in the program will be thrust into key roles as well.

Fans at Neyland Stadium on Saturday—and intrigued observers wanting to witness UT's deep, top-10 recruiting class in action on their television sets—will need a roster handy. Depending on who trots out with the first team, the Vols could have as many as 18 new starters.

"It's where we're at in the program," Jones told The Associated Press (via USA Today). "We can't hide it. It is what it is. But I'm encouraged by their youthfulness, their eagerness and the talent that we have and the talent we have coming in."

This group of players is different than any UT has recruited in nearly a decade.

Phillip Fulmer got complacent his past few years in Knoxville, Tenn., and his recruiting suffered because of it.

Even though Lane Kiffin's one full class was highly regarded, it was loaded with paper prospects—recruits lauded by services but not as heavily recruited by some of the nation's top programs for various red flags.

That was painfully evident in retrospect, as 17 of UT's 22 commitments from the 2009 class failed to complete their eligibility in orange.

Derek Dooley wasn't an awful recruiter, but he neglected high school prospects close to home and performed program-crippling numbers gaffes such as failing to sign a single offensive lineman in the 2012 class.

Not only did Jones' first full class go a long way in meeting UT's massive needs, but the Vols also signed depth at virtually every position that lacked it.

At most established programs across the country, spring is a time to mix-and-match players, make position changes and develop depth.

For Jones, this 15-practice session was about upgrading talent and finding starters. Fourteen newcomers arrived midterm as part of a gigantic 32-player recruiting class. At least 11 of them are expected to play immediately, and 10 of those are in the mix to start.

Players expected to be the future of the Vols will be on display for their first spring game, and that will be the vast majority of Jones' team.

Tennessee has rebuilt both sides of the ball from the ground up.

Offensively, running back Jalen Hurd, quarterback Riley Ferguson, receivers Josh Malone and Von Pearson, tight ends Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm, and offensive linemen Coleman Thomas and Dontavius Blair will see their first live action in front of an audience.

Defensive linemen Owen Williams and Dimarya Mixon, linebacker Jakob Johnson and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley also burst onto the college scene this spring, and they will try to show everybody why coaches are so excited.

Because of all the new players, Jones said it is "critical," per WDEF News, that fans pack the stadium for the spring game to give the youngsters a true preview of what's to come this fall.

A season ago, the Vols surprised the SEC with an upset of No. 11 South Carolina that sent shock waves across the league. But their highest high was followed with a dire dose of reality.

Alabama, Auburn and Missouri all exposed Tennessee for what it was: a team that may have been senior-laden but too far short on talent to compete consistently in the SEC.

When Vanderbilt knocked the Vols out of a bowl game, it soured a season that had once held hope.

That old guard has been razed. After all the "brick by brick" propaganda Jones has preached throughout his tenure, this spring game will be the first glimpse the college football world gets at the first fruits of his rebuilding efforts.

If the '14 recruiting class is truly the start of the turnaround as the prospects have preached, Saturday will be the first chance for everybody to see its origins.

Jones gave ESPN.com's Chris Low a little preview of what to expect:

We only have 13 seniors in the program. We'll be much more talented, but very youthful. It's kind of invigorating, though, because this football team has been willing and they've been eager. We've just got to teach them.

We're still not where we need to be to compete at a high level in this conference, but we have taken great steps in moving forward by increasing our team speed and overall athleticism, and the exciting thing is that there are 18 more newcomers arriving in June.

For all the new Vols, this Saturday is a chance to show everybody for the first time that they have the talent to put Tennessee football back on the map.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: 5 Players Needing to Prove Themselves in Spring Practice

Jim Mora's bunch is currently in its second week of spring practice. This period offers the staff a good look at the current state of the football team. 

For some of the players, this camp will provide an opportunity to impress. Younger players in particular will hope to gain valuable experience. 

As for others, it could in essence be a reclamation project in terms of reestablishing value in the eyes of the coaches. 

This slideshow will detail five members of the team needing to prove themselves during spring practices. 

 

 

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Nebraska Football: 5 Players to Watch in Cornhuskers' Spring Game

Nebraska football fans can be forgiven if they are a little overwhelmed at this Saturday’s spring game. Trying to keep an eye on both sides of the ball and get a handle on what Nebraska’s strengths and weaknesses in the upcoming season might be as a result is a daunting task.

So, as a public service, here are five players whom fans should be keeping an eye on during the course of the spring game.

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Scouting Report, Video Highlights and Predictions for 5-Star OLB Malik Jefferson

Malik Jefferson is a 5-star linebacker from Texas who is one of the best overall players in the country. An incredible talent, Jefferson has the potential to win a lot of different awards in college.

His fantastic skill set has attracted the nation's best programs. Jefferson has offers from just about every major school in the country, and he could be ready to play immediately as a true freshman.

His talent warrants a closer look.

All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.comRivals and 247Sports.

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Clemson Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

Spring practice is almost in the books for the Clemson Tigers. Next for Clemson fans is the annual spring game which takes place Saturday at 4 p.m.

The most exciting part of the spring game is the quarterback battle. However, that excitement was tempered a bit with Monday's news that freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a shoulder injury and will miss the spring game, reports Aaron Brenner of the Charleston Post and Courier.

Head coach Dabo Swinney was disappointed in the news, per Brenner:

This is a shame because he was having an outstanding spring. Fortunately, this is not a serious injury. I hate that he will miss the Spring Game; I know a lot of people were anxious to see him make his debut in Death Valley

Fortunately, this doesn't appear to be a serious injury and Watson will be OK for fall camp.

While the quarterback race has been close thus far in the spring, senior Cole Stoudt will have a chance to separate himself from sophomore Chad Kelly with a strong performance Saturday. Look for Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris to split the reps equally between the two. 

While Watson is out for the remainder of the spring, don't count him out—yet.

 

Is Kelly a legitimate threat to win the job? 

For most of the spring, we've heard about the excitement surrounding Watson and Stoudt's experience. But it almost seems like Kelly, the nephew of Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, is an afterthought.

Swinney and Morris both insist this competition is legitimate, and Kelly received both the first and most reps with the first-team offense during Clemson's first scrimmage last week. Does that forebode what the coaches are thinking? Or is it strictly for evaluation purposes as the coaches know what they have in Stoudt?

As it turns out, Stoudt took the most reps with the first-team offense during Monday's scrimmage. 

Last week's scrimmage saw each quarterback make some good plays and some bad plays. 

For Morris, while he would have liked one quarterback to take the reins early, he has been happy with the experience each player is gaining, according to David Hale of ESPN.com:

I was hoping someone would separate himself and make it clear cut that this was the guy. I thought you’d see some quick separation this spring. But it hasn’t happened, and that’s a good thing for us because they’re all three doing really well.

Kelly has a unique skill set. He has a strong arm, is accurate and is a very good athlete. Of the three contenders for the starting position, Kelly provides the best combination of those attributes. Don't be surprised if Kelly is under center when the Tigers head to Athens on Aug. 30. 

 

Vic Beasley believes defense could be one of the nation's best

When senior defensive end Vic Beasley returned to school for his senior season, he did so thinking this team could be special. His return makes Clemson's defensive line one of the best in the ACC. 

But Beasley has his sights set much higher. 

"We can be the number one defense in the country," Beasley told the assembled media after practice last week, per David Hood of TigerNet.com. "I think our front seven is the best in the country."

Those are high expectations, but Beasley has reason to be excited.

Senior linebacker Stephone Anthony returns and looks to wrap up a solid career with a big senior season. 

The defensive line has solid depth and the Tigers, led by Beasley, will be able to pressure any passer in the conference.

And expect linebacker Dorian O'Daniel, a highly regarded freshman last season, to take the field in 2014 and make an impact. O'Daniel has special talent and defensive coordinator Brent Venables can get creative when he is on the field. 

If the secondary comes along, this defense could be special. Led by freshman Mackensie Alexander, the secondary will be young, but possesses loads of talent. 

 

News and notes from the week

Watson isn't the only starter or high-profile player who will miss the spring game. Most notably, starting offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain will miss the contest.

In other injury news, former Clemson star Brandon Thomas tore his ACL last week during his preparation for the upcoming NFL draft, reports Adam Caplan of ESPN. Thomas was viewed as either a first- or second-round pick.

Swinney has no regrets about allowing hits on the quarterbacks in the scrimmages and feels it is the best way to get a quarterback ready for live game action, per Brenner:

We don't get preseason games. It's no different than the NFL, their quarterbacks are live when they have four preseason games. So the first time they're going to be live is when they go to Athens? I don't know when we can have a fair evaluation.

Saturday's scrimmage is more than just a battle between Stoudt and Kelly. Keep an eye on the freshman WRs and Clemson's running game. But don't expect a lot of answers as players look to position themselves for a bigger role come fall camp.  

 

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Alabama Football: 5 Players Who Need to Turn it Around in Spring Practice

With Alabama past the midway point in spring practice, there are a handful of players who still have work to do in hopes of making a strong impression on coaches heading into the summer.

As Michael Casagrande of AL.com notes, Nick Saban has been quick to emphasize the fact that there is no solid depth chart.  Saban’s message to his players is simply to try to improve on a daily basis.

If you focus on getting better and being the best you can be then you have the best opportunity to get where you want to go, and that's where we want to get, that's where they want to get and we want to work together with them so they have the best opportunity to do that.

Even though the focus isn’t on earning a top spot on the depth chart, a few players could use a strong final two weeks of spring practice in order to stand a better chance of seeing significant reps in the fall.

 

Leon Brown

One of the bigger questions for Mario Cristobal’s offensive line unit entering the spring was filling the left tackle vacancy. 

Senior Leon Brown was the player who started out with the first unit when spring practice began. 

However, Brown was running with the twos after sophomore Brandon Greene was moved up to the first unit this week, as detailed by Cliff Kirkpatrick of the Montgomery Advertiser.

BamaOnline’s Marc Torrence (subscription required) reported that Brown regained a spot with the ones, but that it was at right tackle for the Tide’s first scrimmage last Saturday.

With a decorated class of linemen set to arrive in the summer, Brown is a player who needs to finish strong in hopes of landing a starting role this season.

 

Chris Black

Alabama’s wide receiver group may be the deepest segment on the roster, and the addition of Cameron Sims only bolsters a unit ripe with experience and young talent.

The upperclassmen trio of Amari Cooper, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White are known quantities, and rising newcomers such as Sims and Robert Foster are poised to challenge for a spot in the rotation.

Rising sophomore Chris Black, a former touted recruit in the 2012 class, is entering a critical phase of his career. 

According to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, Black’s name didn’t appear on the stat sheet following the Tide’s first scrimmage.

After earning limited reps last season, Black—who caught eight passes for 79 yards and two scores in 2013—needs to show that he can become a reliable and consistent threat working out of the slot.

 

Defensive Line Unit

While optimism surrounds the Tide’s defensive line unit entering the season, Saban was quick to temper it when asked about the perceived depth at that position last week, according to ESPN’s Alex Scarborough.

“What it looks like on paper?” Saban scoffed. “We’ve never seen these guys play or seen them take on an SEC lineman. That’s how we form public opinion because something appears to be that way and everyone believes it.”

Saban’s point on the lack of actual production is a valid one. However, with young talents such as A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen entering their sophomore seasons, their continued development is critical to the success of the defense this season.

 

Ryan Anderson

Alabama returns a pair of starters at linebacker, and rising junior Dillon Lee is in good position to man a third after impressing Saban early in the spring, as noted by Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News.

Similar to Black’s predicament, third-year sophomore Ryan Anderson—a former 5-star recruit—is surrounded by veterans in front of him and a wealth of incoming studs set to arrive in the summer.

Travis Reier of BamaOnline identified Anderson as a player in Lance Thompson’s segment that needed to make a move in the spring, and that sentiment still applies less than two weeks away from the A-Day game.

 

Maurice Smith

The secondary is another unit that should see a lot of fresh faces this season.  However, it’s also another area where the Tide landed multiple prospects who are arriving with sterling prep credentials.

While veterans Landon Collins, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams are safe bets to be on the field early and often, the rest of the secondary has more questions than answers.

The situation at corner took a turn for the worse with corner Eddie Jackson suffering a torn ACL in a non-contact drill last weekend, according to Scarborough.

Smith, who saw action in 11 games and recorded 13 tackles and three pass breakups as a true freshman, has the opportunity to seize a role if he can show that he’s fully grasped the playbook and is ready to complete his transition from the prep level.

As Reier details (subscription required), Smith is still running behind veterans such as Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones, as well as newcomer Tony Brown.

With Jackson out for the immediate future, Smith is one of a handful of corners who will be counted on to step up and fill the void created by his absence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston Shows off New Collection of Championship Rings

Florida State's Jameis Winston already has a Heisman Trophy at home, but now he has some jewelry that he can show off when he walks around campus.

Winston earned some great rewards during his freshman season, as the Seminoles quarterback received his ACC championship and national championship rings on Tuesday.

Those flashy rings should certainly be enough to motivate him and his teammates to make a run at a repeat.

[Jameis Winston]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Natereace Strong Commits to Missouri: Tigers Land 4-Star RB

Running back Natereace Strong spent time visiting with the Missouri Tigers on Tuesday. The 4-star East St. Louis High School (Ill.) standout decided it's the campus he'd like to call home in the coming years and committed, according to his team's Twitter account:

Strong, a 6'1", 210-pound junior, is the fourth 2015 pledge for head coach Gary Pinkel. He selected Missouri from an offer list that featured Florida State, Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State.

The versatile rusher cited locker room camaraderie and program accountability as defining factors in his recruitment with the Tigers.

"The bond they have as a family, and the coaches who are honest and look after you as a son, and how the coaches check on you and make sure you are good in school and your personal life," Strong told 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong.

Strong, rated No. 19 nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, is the third player to commit to Missouri at the position. He joins 4-star junior college prospect Chase Abbington and in-state recruit Ryan Williams in a Tigers class that also includes Kansas offensive lineman A.J. Harris, who committed last Tuesday.

With Strong, Missouri lands a playmaker who displays plenty of potential despite missing substantial snaps during his high school career.

"He's had a lot of injuries," East St. Louis assistant coach Harith Mitchom told Wiltfong. "He's more disappointed than anyone regarding those injuries."

As a result of the health setbacks, Strong has been limited to 1,033 yards and 11 touchdowns on 139 carries during the past two seasons. He'll aim to get back on track with a big senior year before heading off to Columbia.

Strong is a powerful strider who fits the mold of a slasher out of the backfield. He can create off one cut and possesses break-away speed that complements an impressive physical frame.

The Tigers have already acquired significant offensive talent during the early stages of this recruiting cycle. Strong is the latest addition to a suddenly crowded backfield outlook for the future.

 

Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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10 Teams That Will Have Most Difficult Time Replacing Their Starting QB in 2014

Starting over isn't always easy...or fun. 

Replacing a veteran starting quarterback, especially one who has carved out a place in program history, only makes that process harder. 

From Johnny Manziel to Keith Price, there are quarterbacks who will be sorely missed across college football. So, congratulations to the following 10 teams that have to replace the most important piece to their offense. No one envies you. 

Which teams will have the hardest time replacing their starting quarterbacks? The answers, as always, are in the following slides. 

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Georgia Has Golden Opportunity to Land a No. 1 Recruiting Class in 2015

The Georgia Bulldogs routinely stake claim to impressive recruiting classes, courtesy of strong efforts within state borders. The Peach State is particularly packed with elite talent in the 2015 cycle, providing an opportunity for head coach Mark Richt and company to assemble America's No. 1 prospect haul by taking care of business at home.

"This is up there with the best classes I’ve seen in Georgia," said Daryl Jones, the program's director of on-campus recruiting. "Our recruiting home base is strong. We have a real appreciation for talent in this state."

There's plenty to appreciate in a class that features an impressive collection of top-level talent.

The state of Georgia boasts four 5-star recruits and 25 4-star recruits in 247Sports' composite rankings. Those totals rate fourth nationally behind only Florida, California and Texas—states with significantly larger resident populations and several more FBS programs.

The Bulldogs perennially pack classes with in-state products, which bodes well for the potential of a big signing day next February.

Richt, who was hired in 2001, has deep roots in Georgia. In an era of constant coaching changeover throughout the country, his lengthy tenure has created serious rapport with the state's high school coaches.

"It gives you history with many high school coaches," Jones said. "(Richt) speaks with them regularly and visits when it’s allowed by the NCAA. He personally reaches out to coaches who achieve milestones. It helps build relationships."

Powerhouse programs like Camden County, Norcross and Tucker reload with exceptional recruits on an annual basis, so it's imperative to establish a pipeline with schools that sustain success. There are premier student-athletes to be found throughout the state, which the Bulldogs break down into categories.

"There are those who have grown up here and have a fondness for Georgia football as the flagship program in the state," Jones said. "Then there are athletes who moved here from elsewhere. We have to win them over and make it clear what our program and our brand is about."

Georgia competes in the country's most contentious conference—on and off the field. SEC rivals regularly make the state a top recruiting priority, even those beyond the range of nearby proximity.

As of late February, Texas A&M had extended offers to 13 of Georgia's 2015 prospects, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Aggies are mounting a major recruiting effort in the state after offering just eight total players during the 2013 and 2014 cycles combined.

"It hit us that ‘Hey, there is some interest here in Texas A&M from the state of Georgia,’" Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin told Journal-Constitution reporter Michael Carvell. "Because of that, we’re interested in some of the prospects there because there’s a tremendous talent pool in the state of Georgia."

Programs outside of the SEC are also focused on tapping into that talent pool.

Clemson secured five Georgia recruits during the 2014 cycle. Ohio State reached down to pluck 5-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan and quarterback Stephen Collier.

Top-ranked 2015 offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt committed to Clemson in February. Shadell Bell, a 4-star wide receiver from Decatur, also pledged to the Tigers as head coach Dabo Swinney continues to plunder the Peach State.

Of course, the Bulldogs must also contend with Georgia Tech.

Despite several early decisions, most of Georgia's top in-state targets remain uncommitted, including 5-star defensive tackle Trent Thompson, who is rated the nation's No. 1 overall player in 247Sports' composite rankings. Florida State, Alabama and Auburn have entered the equation, but the Bulldogs have always been in the picture, and his respect for the program is apparent.

“Talking to Coach Richt almost on a daily basis is pretty cool," Thompson told the Journal-Constitution in  February. "It’s a huge honor, especially with it being Mark Richt, the head coach of the University of Georgia. You can’t get better than that.”

A commitment from Thompson would build substantial momentum for the Bulldogs, who picked up 5-star Georgia athlete Terry Godwin in January. Dominant in-state defensive linemen Chauncey Rivers and Justin Young have since followed suit while 4-star receiver Christian Owens joined the class last April.

Richt remains in the mix for a plethora of Georgia prospects, as 16 of the state's 4-star standouts are still undecided. The team will attempt to make a push for these playmakers with recruiting events in Athens, including game-day action.

"I don’t think you’ll find a better environment in college football than what we have between the hedges," Jones said. "Our fans—Bulldog nation—are unreal in their support of the team. They can win over visiting student-athletes with the enthusiasm and support they show during a game."

The state is ripe for Richt and his staff to pick up an abundance of incoming stars. It's just a matter of sealing the deal despite outside interference from programs like Alabama, which holds commitments from three Peach State players, including 5-star defensive end Mekhi Brown.

If Georgia is able to beat out opponents on its home turf—and a strong 2014 season would go a long way toward doing that—there's a legitimate chance for a rise to the top of national recruiting rankings. The Bulldogs don't have to stray far from a backyard brimming with talent to build something special on signing day, providing plenty of promise and a high ceiling for the team's 2015 class.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R college football recruiting reporter Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Kevin Sumlin's 4 Biggest Concern's Post Spring Practice

The Texas A&M football team completed spring practice on Saturday. The Aggies answered some questions during the spring but still have multiple issues as they head into the offseason. 

The story that captured the most headlines during the spring was the competition at quarterback to replace Johnny Manziel. Kyle Allen, Matt Joeckel and Kenny Hill all competed to win the starting job. 

That competition will continue into fall practices in August. Aggies fans should expect a quarterback to be named around two weeks before the season opener against South Carolina on August 28. 

The Aggies will need to sort out their other issues over the summer. This is a look at the biggest concerns facing head coach Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies coming out of the spring. 

 

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