NCAA Football News

Alabama 2014 Quarterback Fall Practice Preview: Depth Chart and Analysis

For the first time since September 2011, Alabama is looking for a new starting quarterback. AJ McCarron was very good and very durable during his time in Tuscaloosa, leaving no one with starting experience on the depth chart in his wake. 

For Nick Saban and first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, that meant the waging of a six-way QB battle at the start of the offseason.

Luke Del Rio transferred to Oregon State, but Jacob Coker transferred in from Florida State, so there remains a sextet of players vying for the role at the moment. However, the rumored impending transfer of Parker McLeod, as first reported by Charles Power of BamaOnLine, would knock that number down to five before the season.

Sophomore Alec Morris and true freshman David Cornwell are the long shots, with Coker, senior Blake Sims and redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman the three most likely candidates to win the job.

 

QB 1: Jacob Coker

2013 Stats (w/FSU): 18-36, 250 YDS, 0 TD, 1 INT; 10 CAR, 15 YDS, 1 TD

Recruiting Info: 3-star prospect; No. 15 pro-style QB in 2011

For reasons that should be obvious, Saban and Kiffin have not anointed Coker the starter or even the favorite. How unfair would that be to the other QBs on the roster—the ones who have, you know, actually started practicing with the team?

Still, insofar as someone new can be a lock to start at the most important position on the field, Coker is a lock to be the quarterback.

At 6'5", 230 pounds, the former Florida State backup has ideal size for the position—something the 6'0" Sims does not. He also has a cannon for a right arm. There isn't a throw on the field he can't make.

However, the question with Coker isn't whether he can make all the throws; it's whether he can read a live defense well enough to make the right throws. That is something that, no matter how he performs in practice, cannot be known in earnest until the regular season.

Until then, Coker is the consummate "Man of Mystery" in college football. The best we have to go on is tangential reports and firsthand accounts. He technically competed into fall camp for the right to start at Florida State last season, but even in the moment—before Jameis Winston was Jameis Winston—it felt like a competition in name only. Still, that hasn't stopped former coaches from raving about him.

Here's what Seminoles quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said about Coker before the BCS National Championship Game, per Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com (then with CBS Sports):

I've never had anybody with his size who throws it as well as he does. Jake has a really quick release with tremendous arm strength. Rarely does it not spiral or not go where he wants it to go…

Coker's arm is kind of at a different level (than Winston's). Jameis has a very special arm, and this isn't any knock against Jameis, but Jake's probably the best I've seen in 25 years at throwing it…

A lot of times when you have a quarterback competition, the most valuable player isn't the guy who wins the job it's the guy who doesn't win the job because they have the ability to almost divide a team. Jake's done a great job of supporting Jameis and helping him in any way he can. That's part of what makes him a special player.

That is some flattering praise. On top of being a grade-A teammate, Coker has an arm that compares favorably with that of the Heisman Trophy winner. But how about the Heisman runner-up?

Here's Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher—a Saban disciple—on how Coker compares with every Saban-era Crimson Tide quarterback, including McCarron, per D.C. Reeves of TideSports.com:

Including what they've had, he's much more talented than anything they've had. I don't mean to discredit the previous guys, they were all great. But this guy is extremely talented. Arm and mind. He's a backup because he's behind the best quarterback in America. (Coker) may have been one of the top three or four quarterbacks in America physically.

We could have been right there in the same position last year with him, I really believe that. You just had to make a choice. If he had played, got his reps and got in that role, we would have done extremely well. I'm a Jacob Coker fan.

Again, even though Fisher credits Coker's mind (in addition to his arm), it is hard to tell what sort of decisions a player will make based on practice reps and mop-up duty. It's one thing to see and think clearly when you're wearing a non-contact jersey or up by 50 points. It's another thing to stay poised against a six-man blitz on 3rd-and-4 with two minutes left and the game on the line in Death Valley.

What can Alabama fans expect from Coker next season? Heck, what can anyone expect from Coker next season? It's a question without a good answer. He could be a Heisman finalist and high-round NFL draft pick. He could also be a backup by Week 5. The range on his season is greater than that of any player in college football.

And no, that is not hyperbole.

 

QB 2: Blake Sims

2013 Stats: 18-29, 167 YDS, 2 TD, 0 INT; 15 CAR, 61 YDS

Recruiting Info: 4-star prospect; No. 19 ATH in 2010

Unlike the two career backups who are projected to start under center as seniors in the SEC this season—Georgia's Hutson Mason and South Carolina's Dylan Thompson—Sims does not have the advantage of knowing his playbook inside and out.

Kiffin's arrival in replacement of Doug Nussmeier set all of the QBs on the roster back to a relatively even playing field. Sims still has the experience advantage because (a) there wasn't a crazy amount of coaching turnover and (b) he's been playing with these teammates for multiple seasons, but that advantage is now a mild one.

And while Sims (and the other non-Coker QBs) did get the advantage of learning Kiffin's system this spring, any momentum they gained—at least with regard to public sentiment—was fractured during an ugly A-Day game, which was dominated by the defense.

Even after the game, Saban warned fans not to hand the job over to Coker. His comments must be viewed with coachspeak-wary lenses, but it would be remiss not to at least mention them.

"Blake Sims did a good job during the spring," said Saban, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "As I said before, we were a little disappointed, he was a little disappointed in the way he played in the A-Day game. We didn't really feature what he could do."

It's nice that Saban put the blame on himself and Kiffin (and the nature of spring games in general), but especially in a fishbowl like Tuscaloosa, it's naive to think the A-Day game doesn't matter. Sims looked like a backup doing a poor imitation of a starter, and he did it in front of 73,000 accustomed-to-McCarron fans.

Sims' height doesn't necessarily jibe with Kiffin's pro-style offense, although his arm looked better during spring practice and his mobility adds a wrinkle that Alabama fans (and opponents) aren't used to.

If he's forced to play in short spurts of meaningful games next season (ostensibly due to injury), he should be able to manage the team and keep the offense moving along reasonably. But if he's forced to be a long-term option, the Crimson Tide might be in trouble.

He's essentially a high-basement, low-ceiling safety net. 

 

QB 3: Cooper Bateman

2013 Stats: n/a

Recruiting Info: 4-star recruit; No. 4 pro-style QB in 2013

In terms of recruiting pedigree, Bateman is the star of the depth chart at the position. He has the background of an Alabama starter.

At 6'3", 208 pounds, he has the size of a McCarron-type signal-caller, landing somewhere between the freaky measurables of Coker and the less-than-desirable stature of Sims. He also falls between them on the arm-talent spectrum (if such a thing exists).

He was also the most impressive Alabama QB during A-Day:

The only thing Bateman doesn't have is experience. Even Coker and Sims—two players with zero combined starts—supersede him in this regard. Bateman is a redshirt freshman who's never taken a snap or thrown a pass in a real, live college football game.

To wit, that makes him a risky potential option—at Alabama of all places. Tide fans think the word "game manager" is pejorative, but, in truth, that is all that this current team needs. With so much offensive talent, it needs a quarterback who won't screw things up.

Bateman projects as a good one, in time, but something would have to go wrong for Saban to throw him into the fire in 2014. This team would have to be out of the College Football Playoff much earlier than expected and grooming him for next season, or Coker and Sims would have to be injured or woefully unproductive.

If he's forced to play this year under that type of circumstance, expect to see a watered-down playbook. Even more watered down than it's sure to be with either Coker or Sims at the beginning of the year. It would be a heavy diet of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry combined with play-action passes to give Bateman the easiest conceivable reads.

Still, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for Bateman to get some reps this season. If Coker is playing well as the starter, he could easily be the one—as opposed to Sims—who subs in during garbage time. The reps would be good for him before the QB competition next season (if Coker struggles or heads to the NFL) or in 2016.

He, Cornwell and 2015 blue-chipper Blake Barnett are the future.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Why Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah Is Legit 2014 Heisman Contender

Ameer Abdullah has already made a name for himself. After three seasons with the Huskers, the I-back made headlines when he chose to stay for his senior season at Nebraska over entering the NFL draft.

A few months after that decision was made, the benefits are starting to pay off.

Abdullah has already been named to the Paul Hornung Award watch list, alongside 47 other high-level performers in college football. He has also been invited to speak on behalf of all Big Ten football players at the conference's annual media days luncheon, as reported by the Omaha World-Herald.

At this point, it seems like Abdullah is unstoppable. As a result, if the senior is able to stay healthy, he will be a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy in 2014.

The Heisman Pundit has already placed Abdullah on its post-spring watch list. A fan-created Facebook page dedicated solely to his 2014 Heisman campaign already has more than 17,000 likes. Even USA Today noted back in January that the I-back is a favorite to win the award.

It's not just buzz around Abdullah, either. He genuinely has a shot at not only being in New York City on Dec. 13 but also winning the whole thing.

His career stats speak volumes.

If he can replicate the last two seasons and have 1,000 or more rushing yards, it would put him in the Husker history books.

Beyond that, it would make him hard to ignore as a top contender for the Heisman. His numbers are impressive, and they only get better each year.

Plus, Abdullah is more than just a great player. He is also a great example. As the Lincoln Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple wrote, "Ameer Abdullah is team-oriented, degree-oriented, family-oriented, big-yardage-oriented and media-oriented."

That would make him a very welcome member of the Heisman family.

Abdullah won't be alone in this campaign, though. His entire team will also be responsible for helping the senior get noticed. Big wins and a break in the typical four-loss season would help Abdullah tremendously.

Also, a trip to the Big Ten Championship game wouldn't hurt his chances either. Nebraska will have to step up to provide Abdullah the best possible situation to be considered for the award.

However, his talents can and likely will speak louder than anything else. While Heisman voters may take the entire Nebraska team into account, the award is ultimately about the player. If Abdullah shines, it could very well outweigh the type of season the Huskers have.

Things can always change. What's working in Abdullah's favor is that he's staying very level-headed about it. He made mention of that when he addressed the media in January, per Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star:

At the end of the day, you have to take it with a grain of salt and understand there are going to be a lot of high expectations now. You have to stay humble and stay focused on what matters at this point. The Heisman doesn't matter at this point. It's about getting stronger, getting faster, getting back up to speed and getting prepared for next year.

The Heisman Trophy is one of the most prestigious awards in sports. Nebraska currently has three players that have won the award—Johnny Rodgers in 1972, Mike Rozier in 1983 and Eric Crouch in 2001. Could 2014 be the year the Huskers add a fourth?

If anyone has a chance, it's Abdullah.

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SEC Football Q&A: Will Leonard Fournette Ever Deliver on His Heisman Hype?

We are less than a week away from SEC Media Days, which means the football season is just around the corner.

Which players will make a run at the Heisman Trophy? How will Auburn's defensive line look? Will Texas A&M actually field a defense?

Find out in this week's Q&A, which was moved up a day to Thursday this week.

@BarrettSallee Will Brandon Harris or Leonard Fournette ever be heisman finalists?

— maxtoscano (@maxtoscano1) July 3, 2014

The common assumption is that the more likely candidate of the two would be running back Leonard Fournette. After all, he was the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2014 and has drawn comparisons to former Oklahoma running back and 2004 Heisman finalist Adrian Peterson.

Harris making it to New York City is much more likely.

That's not a knock against Fournette. The Heisman has just evolved into a very quarterback-centric award over the last 14 years. Only two running backs have won the award since 2000, with one of those being former USC running back Reggie Bush, who had to give his back.

Sure, Auburn's Tre Mason and Boston College's Andre Williams made it to New York last year. But they were absolute workhorses in offenses with quarterbacks who put up solid numbers (especially Auburn's Nick Marshall) but didn't have the video game numbers Heisman voters typically like.

Harris will have bigger numbers and more responsibility, which means he's more likely to get Heisman love.

I love his ability to create behind the line of scrimmage, throw his receivers open and stretch the field with his arm. Plus, he has the ability on the ground to be a difference-maker on read options, designed runs and when his protection breaks down.

He won't put up Johnny Manziel-like video game numbers, but they'll be flashy nonetheless. Plus, he's on a team that routinely contends for the division title. That's a recipe for Heisman success.

@BarrettSallee Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel, and Carl Lawson (injured). Who leads Auburn in sacks and with how many?

— Mitchell Tate (@Mitchell_Tate4) June 27, 2014

If Carl Lawson is healthy, Carl Lawson—with double-digit sacks (12).

Since that's sort of up in the air now after the rising sophomore defensive end underwent knee surgery this offseason, I'll go with fellow sophomore Elijah Daniel with 7.5.

I love what Daniel brings to the table. The 6'2", 263-pounder played well as a rotational player last year, notching three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks playing end and dropping down to tackle in passing situations. 

That's exactly why I think he'll have a big year this year. His versatility will make him an important piece of the puzzle and will put him situations where he can and will thrive.

Even if Lawson is out or limited, Auburn will have a bunch of guys sacking the quarterback. Daniel, Adams, LaDarius Owens, Ben Bradley and the entire Tigers defensive line is incredibly deep and incredibly versatile, which means it'll be in the backfield quite a bit in 2014.

@BarrettSallee where does Texas A&M's defense rank (in the SEC) at the end of the season?

— Say Say (@TwerkCity) June 27, 2014

Let's see, 15th out of 14 teams? 

But seriously, it's not going to be great. The front seven is a massive question mark, and the secondary, even though it is a veteran group that includes Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris, is a sieve.

The Aggies really need to find a star in the front seven, and it could be true freshman defensive end Myles Garrett. Whoever it is, the Aggies need to get pressure with four and let the secondary take advantage of those mistakes generated from pressure.

The silver lining for Texas A&M is that it doesn't need to have a great defense to win; it just needs to be opportunistic. Getting pressure with four and forcing turnovers is exactly why Missouri was successful last season, and the Aggies can follow that same blueprint.

It's just not going to happen on that level, though.

Texas A&M's defense will finish 12th in the SEC in total defense this year. That would be a marked improvement but still not good enough. Not at all.

 

Do you have a question for next week's Q&A? Send it to SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee on Twitter at @BarrettSallee. If your question wasn't answered this week, it has been saved and could be used in the future.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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The Biggest Takeaways from Texas A&M Recruits' Performances at the Opening

The Texas A&M football team had seven of its recruits from the 2015 recruiting class participate in The Opening in Oregon this week. A few of those recruits took this opportunity to make a big impression on the national stage. 

The fact that the Aggies have seven verbal commits in their 2015 class participating in this event speaks to the quality of their class. Texas A&M currently has the No. 2 overall recruiting class for 2015. The recruits who traveled to Oregon were Kyler Murray, Jordan Davis, Justin Dunning, Larry Pryor, Daylon Mack, Kemah Siverand and Damarkus Lodge.  

The Opening is a recruiting event put on by Nike. It is the culmination of a series of combines held throughout the nation to measure the athletic ability of the top high school football players in the country. 

The top performers from those combines are invited to compete against each other in 7-on-7 tournaments, linemen challenges and the Elite 11 quarterback academy in Beaverton, Oregon, on the Nike campus. 

Some of the Texas A&M commits took this opportunity to make statements about their ability. A few of them proved that they will be able to contribute from the day they step on campus in College Station. 

 

Daylon Mack Is A Freak Of Nature

Texas A&M nose guard recruit Daylon Mack showed in testing why he is considered one of the top defensive tackle recruits in the 2015 class. He is currently ranked as the No. 21 overall recruit in the nation, according to 247sports.com, and he may move up after this event. 

Mack measured in at 6'1" and 330 pounds, then proceeded to turn in a blistering time of 4.98 seconds in the 40. That is an exceptional time for an athlete of his size. He also turned in a time of 4.81 seconds in the shuttle and had a vertical leap of 28.1 inches. 

Mack is a recruit about to enter his senior year of high school and he is putting up numbers that would impress scouts at the NFL combine. He has previously show his elite athleticism on the field by scoring on a 61-yard touchdown run as a running back in the Texas high school playoffs in 2013. 

Mack has the size and athletic ability to compete for a starting spot at nose guard from day one at Texas A&M. He is a freakish athlete that has displayed NFL-level athleticism. 

 

Justin Dunning Is An SEC Safety

There had been some concern over what position defensive back recruit Justin Dunning was going to play in college. Some felt that he would eventually grow into a linebacker or even a defensive end. 

Dunning put all that speculation to rest during the testing. The 6'3.5", 204-pound athlete turned in a time of 4.59 seconds in the 40. That is a tremendous time for a safety especially one of Dunning's stature. 

He proved turned in a 38.9" vertical leap. Dunning has explosive power, which bodes well for the future of the Texas A&M secondary. He then went on the field during 7-on-7 competition and snagged a couple of interceptions. 

Dunning looks like the prototypical big SEC safety. He will play immediately in 2015 and should be a physical presence in the Aggie secondary for years to come.

 

Kemah Siverand Has True Breakaway Speed 

While wide receiver recruit Damarkus Lodge has received most of the hype at the position, fans need to remember the name Kemah Siverand. He has prototype NFL size and speed.

The 6'1", 187-pound athlete turned in a blazing time of 4.47 seconds in the 40. Siverand had a vertical leap of 36.8". which means he will be a viable option for jump balls in the end zone.

He is ranked as a 4-star prospect by 247sports.com. Siverand caught 25 passes for 611 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013,so he showed game-breaking ability on the field.

It is always nice to be able to get out there and prove it on a laser timer. In Siverand, the Aggies are getting one of the best athletes in the nation with breakaway speed. He will be a tremendous addition to the program.

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Quarterback/Wide Receiver Combos That Are Bound to Break out This Season

With quarterbacks regularly eclipsing 5,000 passing yards, and with wide receivers inching toward 2,000 yards, quarterback/wide receiver combos are trending in college football. They're combos that are fun to watch—unless you're an opposing defense, that is. 

Last year, it was Oregon State's Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks. Two years before that, it was Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. 

With the departures of duos like Fresno State's Derek Carr and Davante Adams, or Clemson's Tajh Boyd Sammy Watkins, there's a new crop of quarterback/receiver combos bound to break out in 2014.

The only rule here is the quarterbacks on this list must have thrown for fewer than 3,000 yards last year. Similarly, the receivers must have had fewer than 1,000 receiving yards last year. 

Who are some players to watch? The answers are in the following slides. 

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Questions We Would Love to Ask at SEC Media Days

It is part circus and part mob. Oh, and there is also intermittent college football talk sprinkled among the crowds, the three-letter chants, the pristine golf tans and glorious coaching hair, which appears, for the most part, in unnerving shades of deck stain.

SEC Media Days have become the media days, and the spectacle is upon us yet again.

The event now stretches four days, a sign of just how big it’s gotten. Could you squeeze it all into three days, or even two days? Of course you could. But the Southeastern Conference would gladly soak up the offseason spotlight for as long as it possibly can—stretching expense reports just a wee bit more—and you can’t blame it one bit for doing so.

The basic foundation of SEC Media Days remains the same: Players and coaches flock to a destination—this year, Hoover, Alabama, from July 14 to 17—to discuss the upcoming season and answer every question the media can cough up.

Some of these questions are intelligent and legitimate; others will prompt Nick Saban to stare through a media member’s soul until he melts into a puddle before his peers.

The list of SEC attendees is out, which means the questions can begin to take shape. To help kick-start this process, here are some questions we’d recommend asking next week.

Begin Slideshow

Is USC Updating Its Look with Shiny Helmets?

The University of Southern California football team is known for its traditional uniforms, but the Trojans may have a more modern look this fall.

Inside SoCal's Scott Wolf posted the image of the helmet on Thursday morning. Here's what he had to say about the possible change:

Is this what USC’s helmet will look like next season? The company that makes the Trojans’ facemasks published this photo of a USC helmet and a player told me the helmets would be 'shiny' next season 

Call it chrome, call it shiny. Either way, the Trojans may be sporting a new look this season.

[Paul Lukas, h/t College Spun]

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Kyler Murray to Christian Kirk at The Opening, 'Future Dynamic Duo for Aggies'?

The top athletes are out in Oregon at The Opening to prove that they have what it takes to play against elite competition. The Texas A&M Aggies have a handful of big-time commits and targets in Beaverton showing that they could be huge assets for head coach Kevin Sumlin at the next level. Do you think we will see all of these insane athletes in College Station?

Watch Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the latest on these studs out at The Opening.

 

Rankings from 247Sports Composite.

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Penn State Commit WR Juwan Johnson Showing He Can Do It All at the Opening

The top athletes are in Oregon at The Opening to prove they have what it takes to be great college players. The Penn State Nittany Lions have a few big-time offensive commits in Beaverton showing they can be huge assets to new head coach James Franklin. How well do you think these monsters will do at Penn State?

Watch Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the latest on these future offensive weapons at The Opening.

 

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Notre Dame's Tristen Hoge Proves at the Opening He's No. 1 Center in 2015 Class

The top athletes are out in Oregon at The Opening to prove that they are the best of the best in the 2015 class. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a big-time offensive line commit in Beaverton showing that he can be a huge asset for head coach Brian Kelly at the next level. How well do you think he will do at Notre Dame? 

Watch Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the latest on this Notre Dame commit out at The Opening.

 

Rankings from 247Sports Composite.

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Clemson Commit Deon Cain Taking Command at Opening, 'All-ACC-Caliber WR'

The top athletes are out in Oregon at The Opening to prove that they are elite players in the 2015 class. The Clemson Tigers have two big-time commits out in Beaverton showing that they can come in and have an impact for Dabo Swinney in the future. How good do you think this duo will be at Clemson?

Watch Bleacher Report’s College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the latest on these future offensive monsters out at The Opening.

 

Rankings from 247Sports Composite.

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Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List 2014: Full List Released

The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is one of the premier individual honors in college football. The award is given to the best defensive player in the country as voted on by the Football Writers Association of America. Aaron Donald was the winner for 2013.

Now the first watch list for the upcoming season has been released. Unlike last year, when Jadeveon Clowney was the clear favorite before a lackluster junior campaign, this time the race is truly wide open. There are no shortage of contenders, though.

Players can be added to the list throughout the fall and given the nature of the race, somebody from off the radar could very well win the trophy. The winner will join the likes of Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson and Warren Sapp, among other big names.

Here's a complete look at the watch list, as released by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and the FWAA:

Although it's a pretty extensive list, it's still a select group considering how many defensive players are eligible across the nation. That's why there's always a chance somebody that doesn't even make the initial listing emerges to win the award in the end.

Vic Beasley (Clemson), Leonard Williams (USC), Randy Gregory (Nebraska) and Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida) headline the list.

The fact Beasley is back with Clemson comes as somewhat of a surprise. He was eligible to enter the NFL draft as a possible first-round pick, which is usually enough for most players to make the jump. The defensive end opted to continue his Tigers career instead.

Heather Dinich of ESPN passed along comments from the dynamic edge rusher, who explained why his decision went right down to the wire:

I want to play in the NFL, it's always been a dream. It's kind of tough to turn down the opportunity to go in the first round. But I looked at the big picture, seeing I could get my degree and also have the possibility of improving my draft stock.

His return is huge for a Clemson defense that's going to take on a bigger burden as the offense rebuilds without Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. It should allow Beasley to shine bright on defense and gives him the inside track on the defensive awards.

Williams is a player enjoying a rapid rise. The Trojans defensive lineman has racked up nearly 140 tackles over his first two seasons, 26 of which were for a loss, and 13 sacks. It's allowed him to become a top prospect with an eye toward the NFL draft.

Alas, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com believes he's still very much a work in progress despite the enormous amount of hype heading into his junior season:

When scouts affix a top-10 grade to a player, they expect to see a player that dominates the game with his presence and skills. While Williams certainly "flashes" that kind of talent, he must take his game to another level in 2014 to truly earn the blue-chip label that observers have attached to his name at this point.

Further improvement in his third season with USC will solidify his stock and allow him to contend for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

Gregory was a force on the defensive line in his first season with Nebraska. He had 65 tackles, 9.5 sacks and even an interception return for a touchdown. He's an athletically gifted end who's only scratched the surface of his potential.

Hargreaves enjoyed an outstanding freshman season for Florida. The cornerback flashed shutdown capability while tallying 38 tackles, 11 passed defended and three interceptions. He should take another step forward as a sophomore.

Myles Jack (UCLA), Ramik Wilson (Georgia) and Shilique Calhoun (Michigan State) are some other preseason contenders to watch. All three are creating plenty of buzz and further illustrate the among of depth on the defensive side of the ball this season, even without a singular star leading the pack.

It should make for a very interesting Nagurski Trophy race.

 

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Alabama's Richie Petitbon Impresses at The Opening, 'Anchor for Offensive Line'

The top athletes are in Oregon at The Opening to prove they are the most elite recruits in the country. The Alabama Crimson Tide have some big-time commits and targets in Beaverton who are showing they can be huge assets to Nick Saban and his coaching staff in the future. How well do you think these linemen will do for the Crimson Tide?

Watch Bleacher Report’s College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the latest on these Crimson Tide recruits at The Opening.

 

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

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Florida 5-Star Targets Ivey and Cowart Destroy at Opening, Must-Get for Muschamp

The top athletes are in Oregon at The Opening to show they are elite recruits in the 2015 class. The Florida Gators have some big-time targets in Beaverton who are showing they can be huge assets to Will Muschamp and his coaching staff at the next level.

Do you think these two studs will end up in Gainesville?

Watch Bleacher Report’s College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the latest on these Florida Gator targets out at The Opening.

 

Rankings from 247Sports' composite rankings.

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LSU 5-Star Commit Kevin Toliver Is Impressing at The Opening

The top athletes are out in Oregon at The Opening to prove that they are the best of the best. The LSU Tigers have a big-time commit out in Beaverton showing that he can be another name added to that elite secondary in Baton Rouge.

How well do you think this 5-star stud will do at the next level? 

Watch Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the latest on this LSU commit out at The Opening.

 

Rankings from 247Sports Composite

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USC's 5-Star Target Iman "Biggie" Marshall Is Best CB at The Opening

The top athletes are in Oregon at The Opening to prove they are the best recruits in the country. The USC Trojans have a big-time target in Beaverton who is showing that he can make a huge impact immediately at the next level. Do you think he is a lock to USC?

Watch Bleacher Report’s College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the latest on this USC target at The Opening.

 

Rankings from 247Sports.

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Alabama Commits Blake Barnett, Calvin Ridley Will Be SEC's Next Big QB-WR Combo

The college football world is getting a glimpse of the future this week in Beaverton, Oregon, as America's top high school seniors participate in The Opening on the campus of Nike's corporate headquarters.

For the Alabama Crimson Tide, the future looks bright—really bright.

Blake Barnett shocked the recruiting world last month when he committed to the Crimson Tide over Oregon with B/R's Adam Lefkoe on Team Stream Now.

The 6'4", 200-pound dual-threat quarterback from Corona, California, is rated as the third-best dual-threat quarterback in the country, has tremendous accuracy downfield and can make plays on the run.

An Elite 11 finalist, Barnett has been impressing the masses in Oregon since the start of the camp

Guys who've impressed during 7-on-7 include Blake Barnett, Justin Dunning, Brady White, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Will Gragg and Calvin Ridley.

— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) July 9, 2014

Blake Barnett (@BlakeBarnett_8) has looked very impressive at times in game one. Here's a back shoulder strike #RTRhttp://t.co/YCwoz7s8Ka

— Brian Stumpf (@Stumpf_Brian) July 9, 2014

Bama commit Blake Barnett just threw a strike to future teammate Calvin Ridley in the back of the end zone for a TD

— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) July 9, 2014

That last tweet is important, because of all the receivers in camp, Calvin Ridley—a 6'2", 170-pound, 4-star prospect from Pompano Beach, Florida—has been one of the most impressive. 

ESPN's Tom Luginbill was very impressed with Ridley during ESPNU's broadcast of the SPARQ national championship on Tuesday, saying that he has the speed, frame and route-running ability that compares favorably to current Tide wideout Amari Cooper.

#Bama commits Barnett and Ridley connect on a 2 pt conversion https://t.co/W31ScAf79t

— Charles Power (@CharlesGPower) July 9, 2014

A fellow member of the seven-on-seven Team Apocalypse at the event, Ridley and Barnett have connected early and often, already establishing a chemistry that will benefit both of them once they arrive in Tuscaloosa. 

B/R's Tyler Donohue got more from Barnett on the instant connection:

QB Blake Barnett tells me being on same team as fellow Bama commit WR Calvin Ridley helps develop chemistry before they head to Tuscaloosa.

— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) July 9, 2014

Since head coach Nick Saban took over in 2007, Greg McElroy has hooked up with Julio Jones for plenty of success, and the AJ McCarron-Amari Cooper combination provided the sequel when Cooper got to T-Town in 2012. The Barnett-Ridley connection will be the next great quarterback-wide receiver combo to hit Tuscaloosa. 

If Alabama continues its run-first approach with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin (and there's nothing to suggest it won't), that means plenty of play-action opportunities for Ridley, plenty of chances for that crisp route-running to shine and that connection with Barnett to flourish.

Alabama is never going to be the type of team that slings it all over the field. With the athletes it has at running back and the way it recruits up front, the running game will always be the focal point of the offense.

The Crimson Tide is at its best when it has a couple of solid receivers that can get open downfield to take the top off a defense. Ridley is that guy, and Barnett is the guy to get him the ball.

Get used to "Barnett to Ridley," because it will be a dominating theme in the SEC for years to come.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.


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Wisconsin Football: 5 Freshmen Who Must Shine in Fall Practices

On the heels of a disappointing finish to the 2013 season, the Wisconsin football team looks to return to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship Game in 2014.  From receiver to the front seven, the Badgers have plenty of holes on both sides of the ball.

But even when the Badgers have returning starters and plenty of skill, there are still freshmen who can come in and contribute with a strong showing during fall practice.  The Badgers will only be able to win the Big Ten West and have a shot at the inaugural playoff if these five freshmen shine in fall practices.

 

1. Krenwick Sanders

Even though the Badgers lose a number of key pieces on the defensive side of the ball, it is receiver where the Badgers need the most help from the freshmen.  Sanders, a 4-star recruit according to 247Sports, has the complete package to play right away.

Sanders will likely be in the mix with Kenzel Doe, Jordan Frederick and Robert Wheelwright for the spots on the outside, with Sanders having as good a shot as any of them to be playing on day one.  Sanders stands at 6'2" and has the ability to make all the tough catches and then some.  From what's been seen on tape of him, it'd be surprising if he didn't emerge as an impact player early in his Badger career.

 

2. Natrell Jamerson

That's right. There's not one, but two wide receivers on this list.  The Badgers have a lot of holes in their receiving corps, and both Sanders and Jamerson can contribute right away if they play well enough in fall practices.  While Dareian Watkins may end up being the most talented of the bunch, it is Jamerson's speed that will get him on the field quickly.

If Jamerson can establish himself as a kick and punt returner, and can maybe work in the slot, it will take the pressure off battery mate Kenzel Doe, who has been an excellent kick returner himself but has struggled fielding punts.

Jamerson supposedly ran the 100-meter dash in 10.6 seconds, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, and that straight-line speed will help the Badgers immeasurably in the return game along with incoming transfer Serge Trezy.

 

3. Jeremy Patterson

Dipping into Georgia was a huge step for the Badgers recruiting effort.  But the Badgers didn't settle for just establishing a pipeline with lesser players.  Bringing in Patterson was huge for them as the departure of Beau Allen leaves a chasm at nose guard that only a man of Patterson's size could fill.

Patterson, a 3-star recruit according to 247Sports, is at 310 pounds with room to grow.  Patterson also has a remarkably quick first step for someone of his size and can really move the pile.  Furthermore, if Patterson can develop quickly, it would give defensive coordinator Dave Aranda flexibility with Warren Herring, as he could then move back to a 3-4 end and would create a massive problem for opposing offensive lines.

 

4. Rafael Gaglianone

The kicking game for the Badgers has been a nightmare for the past two seasons.  Even though Jack Russell hit nine of his last 11 field-goal attempts, he only hit 2-of-4 during the spring game while also never looking particularly confident in any of his attempts.

In walks Gaglianone, who has the strongest leg of any Wisconsin kicker I've seen.  The 3-star kicker, according to ESPN, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, will provide much-needed competition for Russell and should be able to take the job with a strong showing in the fall.

Gaglianone's ESPN scouting report (subscription required) calls him "a young Sebastian Janikowski" and goes on to say that he is an "FBS kicker who should start four years in college."  After a season and a half of Kyle French, Badgers fans will rejoice at the concept of having a young Sebastian Janikowski on their team, a freshman or otherwise.

 

5. Taiwan Deal

Last but not least, while running back is not a position of need in the slightest, the third-string back on the Badgers has been a spot for up-and-coming stars to showcase their talents.  Corey Clement picked up 547 yards on only 67 carries in that spot in 2013, Melvin Gordon picked up 621 yards on 62 carries in 2012 and in 2010, the Badgers were four Montee Ball yards away from having three 1,000-yard rushers.

With that in mind, Deal, a 4-star back according to 247Sports, could fill the hole of between-the-tackles mop-up rusher.  Deal, who sits at 225 pounds, looks to be one of the best hidden gems, though at four stars, he shouldn't really be under the radar.

Deal is a powerful runner who evokes memories of past Wisconsin power backs.  With a strong showing during the fall practices, Deal could grab that third running back spot behind Gordon and Clement, and see the field quite a bit as the season progresses.

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