NCAA Football News

Julian Okwara Commits to Notre Dame: What 4-Star DE Brings to Irish

Notre Dame picked up a big commitment on Tuesday evening when 4-star defensive end Julian Okwara announced his pledge to the Irish.

The 6’4”, 210-pound North Carolina product becomes the fifth commitment for Brian Kelly and his staff in the 2016 cycle.

Okwara selected the Irish over offers from Georgia, Michigan, Ole Miss and Tennessee, among others.

But what are the Irish getting in Okwara?

In the simplest of terms, they are getting a prospect who can put heat on the quarterback.

"Notre Dame is getting a guy with a quick first step," Okwara told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. "I get off the ball quick and I'm great with my hands. They are getting a pass rusher."

Okwara, whose brother Romeo is a senior defensive end for the Irish, recorded 90 tackles—including 10 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles—during his junior year at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte.

He’s a versatile defender who can play defensive end or outside linebacker when he arrives in South Bend.

As noted by Evan Sharpley of Irish247, Okwara has extremely long arms and the type of frame suited to hold more weight at the next level. He’s also athletic enough drop into coverage and stick with receivers, tight ends and running backs in space.

He’s also been a standout on special teams during his prep career, which is something that could help him find the field early when he transitions to college.

Of course, there are a few areas that Okwara will have to work on prior to becoming a contributor at the next level.

As Sharpley details, he needs to add more muscle to his 210-pound frame and also has to work on staying low with his pads after the snap and building a strong base in the lower half of his body.

Still, he’s a big-time get because of his versatility and his ability to create havoc in the backfield.

The elder Okwara had three sacks last year, which was the top mark among the Irish defensive line.

Adding a promising pass-rusher in his younger brother fills one of the major needs that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder had in the 2016 cycle—a factor that wasn’t lost on Julian in his decision-making process.

"The first reason I picked Notre Dame was the academic part," Okwara told Bartow. "I'll be studying business management and their program is 10th in the country in that so that's pretty good. They need a speed rusher and I'm able to help them there. Plus everything felt right when I visited. Just the team and the coaches."

Given his skill set and his potential to develop into a pass-rushing menace at the next level, Kelly and his staff scored a major coup in landing the nation’s No. 11 weak-side defensive end and the No. 186 player overall in the 2016 cycle.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Ohio State Football: 5 Things to Watch in Buckeyes Spring Game

Urban Meyer and Ohio State are still months away from officially kicking off their title defense, but on Saturday in Ohio Stadium, they'll showcase a bit of what's to come during the Buckeyes' annual spring game.

The product on the field, however, will be very different than what we'll see in the fall. Meyer is holding out a number of veterans in an effort to save their bodies from unnecessary contact, while giving some younger players an opportunity to show out in front of a big crowd.

Even still, there will be plenty of storylines to follow as the action unfolds. 

 

The Maturation of Cardale Jones

College football's most interesting position battle has been a bit of a one-horse race so far as Cardale Jones has been the only fully healthy quarterback for the Buckeyes this spring. 

While Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett continue the comeback from their respective injuries, Jones has taken the lion's share of reps during spring camp. And despite his incredible run through last year's postseason, Meyer still views Jones as a young guy with a lot to learn.

"He's still raw, almost a rookie," Meyer said last month, according to Zac Jackson of Fox Sports Ohio. "He's an older rookie, but he became a more functional player as he got all of the reps during the bowl season and playoff run."

He should be even more functional after a full workload this spring, and seeing him operate the offense on Saturday will provide a glimpse at his development. If the coaching staff follows the same logic of spring games past, Jones should get a majority of the top offensive starters on his squad to go against the better defensive unit.

 

The Emerging Counterpunch to Joey Bosa

Noah Spence's season-long suspension left the Buckeyes defensive line a bit lopsided a season ago. While Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier combined to be a serviceable replacement, they weren't able to give Ohio State the one-two punch they were expecting with Joey Bosa.

That could change this season with the emergence of redshirt sophomore Tyquan Lewis.

The Buckeyes have plenty of promising young candidates at weak-side defensive end with Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard in the fold, but Lewis has really impressed the coaching staff during the offseason.

“Tyquan is having a great spring, really great spring,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said, according to Tim Moody of The Lantern. "It’s clicked in his mind, the kind of player he has to be,” Johnson said. “He’s playing much faster than he played last year.

“He’s had a really outstanding spring.”

Bosa, Ohio State's first unanimous first-team All-American selection since 2007, is certainly impressed.

“Tyquan is the other starting end and he’s doing an unbelievable job this spring of just killing it; going hard every day," Bosa said, via Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.com. “Speed, he’s physical, he’s just a freak out there.”

Buckeyes fans will be able to get their first real look at Lewis this Saturday.

 

The New and Improved Noah Brown

Every spring, there seems to a breakout star who comes out of nowhere for Ohio State.

Last season it was Darron Lee, who locked down a starting linebacker spot and went on to be one of college football's most productive players.

This year, the Buckeyes' big surprise is all-purpose back Noah Brown.

The dynamic athlete played sparingly as a true freshman a season ago, but he came into the offseason motivated to change that in 2015. Brown dropped 25 pounds before spring camp opened, and now that he's lighter on his feet, he's making more plays for an offense that's becoming more lethal by the day.

"Noah Brown's probably [had] about as good a spring as I could have wanted...he's on a different level than he was in the fall," wide receivers coach Zach Smith said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "He's looking like a guy that's going to contribute heavily in the fall."

The Buckeyes are moving Brown around the wide receiver spots to see where he fits best, so look for him to run a variety of routes this Saturday.

 

The Heated Cornerback Battle

Ohio State's quarterback race has hogged the spotlight—and for good reason—but there's a heated battle at cornerback that may be even more important to the Buckeyes' success this season.

Meyer has proven that he can win with any of the three signal-callers he has on the roster, but holes in the secondary have been problematic during his tenure in Columbus.

With the departure of senior Doran Grant, Eli Apple has risen as the Buckeyes' top cornerback. But the other spot remains open, and there could be as many as three guys competing for it come fall.

Redshirt sophomore Gareon Conley currently has the edge, but redshirt freshman Damon Webb is closing the gap. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs talked about the position battle on Monday, via Bill Landis of The Plain Dealer:

There's a different level of expectation on the part of the player who feels really good that he's gonna be the starter. Damon Webb is nipping at [Conley's] heels and he wants that job, but Gareon is walking out of the building every morning saying, "I'm gonna be that guy." It's a different level than, "I hope I might be that guy." There's no safety net.

It doesn't look like either Conley or Webb will lock the spot up this spring, which opens the door for Marshon Lattimore. The talented redshirt freshman is coming off a surgically repaired hamstring, and the coaching staff loves his potential

The Buckeyes certainly have plenty of options, and they're hoping to see if any of them can step up this Saturday.

 

The New-Look Curtis Samuel

The next Percy Harvin?

That's something Ohio State fans have been looking for since Meyer arrived in Columbus. From Corey Brown to Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, the Buckeyes have tried a number of guys in that role, but no one has replicated the eye-popping numbers that the former Florida great produced under Meyer.

Curtis Samuel, an all-purpose back who was Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup a season ago, is next in line.

But Meyer didn't yank Samuel from the running backs room just because he's looking for the next Harvin. It was a move that was made to get the most talent on the field.

"The days of Curtis Samuel playing 10 plays are over," Meyer explained, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "It's our job to get him on the field for 40 or 50 plays."

To do that, Samuel will line up all over the field for the Buckeyes this fall. His ability to line up on the perimeter or motion into the backfield will keep opposing defenses guessing, and it's a role he's very comfortable with.

"I played running back and slot in high school, so coming to college, it hasn't been much of a transition for me," Samuel said, via Wasserman. "But it's just going to help me get in space more and help me make more plays for the team."

 

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

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9 Most Overpaid Coaches in College Football Today

It’s no secret that there’s plenty of money to go around in college football. The new College Football Playoff, along with lucrative television contracts, have pumped a large infusion of cash into FBS athletic departments, and head coaches have benefited. 

This week, Ohio State announced that coach Urban Meyer had received a new contract which will pay him $6.5 million annually, second nationally behind Alabama’s Nick Saban (who made $7.1 million in 2014, per a USA Today salary database). In the SEC, the coaches of both Mississippi schools, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, received contract extensions which pushed their pay over $4 million annually.

In December, Michigan signed Jim Harbaugh to a deal that will pay him $5 million annually, continuing college football's arms race, as Adam Kilgore of TheWashington Post noted.

“It’s simple, really,” agent Neil Cornrich, who represents Bob Stoops, Kirk Ferentz and other top coaches, told Kilgore. "As long as the revenues from college football continue to grow, all the numbers will follow.”

Last fall, 27 coaches were listed by USA Today with salaries of $3 million or more, a figure sure to jump this year. 

With all that cash floating around, there are some programs which aren’t getting the biggest bang for their buck and athletic directors that regret handing out contracts. Here’s a look at the nine most overpaid coaches in college football. Unless otherwise noted, all salary figures came from the USA Today database. 

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Georgia Football: Grading the Bulldogs Position Groups' 2015 Spring

Spring practice will officially end on Thursday for the Georgia Bulldogs. But with the spring game played on Saturday, fans and coaches got a look at what the team is good at and what the team needs to work on moving forward.

The Bulldogs have the talent to be a contender in the SEC and the College Football Playoff, but it was the same story last year and the year before, and they could not put it all together.

There are some positions that are strong and will carry the Bulldogs in the fall. But there are a few positions that will need to do some adjusting in order for them to get back in the SEC title game and beyond.

Here are grades for each position group post-spring practice.

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Auburn Football: What to Watch for in Tigers' 2015 Spring Game

The "Guschamp" marriage will be in full effect on Saturday, when the world gets its first real glimpse of the new-look Auburn Tigers led by third-year head coach Gus Malzahn and first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

Is that the championship combination?

There's no question that the Tigers are loaded with talent, but that doesn't mean this spring has been a breeze. Malzahn has to replace his starting quarterback and the top rusher in the SEC, while Muschamp is in desperate search of a pass rush and defensive backs that won't get burned week after week. 

What should you watch for on Saturday on the Plains?

 

Focus on the Backup QBs

Malzahn, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and the rest of Auburn's offensive staff can sell the idea that there's a quarterback battle going on, but there's not. It's junior Jeremy Johnson's show.

The Montgomery, Alabama, native has been sharp in the limited time he's seen the field over the last two seasons, particularly in a 243-yard, two-touchdown performance against Arkansas in the season opener last year. What's his goal for the season? It's pretty lofty, according to James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser.

His experience, ability to kickstart the Tiger passing game and keep some of the same dual-threat elements that were present in previous seasons—particularly with fellow bruiser Cam Newton—will be too much for the staff to ignore.

But who will be the backup?

Sean White is a former Elite 11 MVP, and Tyler Queen enrolled early to try to earn backup snaps as a true freshman. White is the more likely to win the job, and his upside can't be ignored. But what, exactly, does he look like?

He's more known for his accuracy than his arm strength, and Auburn fans need to know what he's capable of and how the offense will change when he steps on the field.

 

In the Trenches

Auburn finished last season with only 21 sacks and was searching for a pass rush all year long—so much so that Brandon King, a hybrid safety/linebacker, moved down to defensive end in certain situations.

The reason?

Carl Lawson's absence due to an ACL injury had a lot to do with it. The rising redshirt sophomore was a beast as a freshman in 2013, notching 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and solidifying himself as a true every-down defensive end. 

Who will help him out? Montravius Adams has the potential to be a force inside and could get some help from fellow defensive linemen Maurice Swain, Dontavius Russell and others who need to make an impact. Auburn hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense since 2008—which was Muschamp's last season as defensive coordinator during his second stint on the Plains (he was a graduate assistant under Terry Bowden from 1995-96).

"I'm very excited because people look at Auburn as an offensive team," Swain said, according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "We want to change their mindset. Auburn started as a defensive team, ever since I've been a fan. We're just trying to get back to it."

That starts up front. With incoming freshman Byron Cowart looming, the Tigers participating in spring practice need to finish strong to leave a favorable impression for the new defensive staff during summer workouts.

 

Secondary Shuffle

Auburn tied with Ole Miss for the SEC lead last season with 22 interceptions, but the difference between the Tigers and Rebels was about as wide as the Grand Canyon. The Tigers got torched to the tune of 230.1 passing yards per game—due in part to the fact that the pass rush was virtually nonexistent.

The good news is that there's a quality corner in Jonathan Jones returning, but he could be limited for the spring game, according to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com. That could be a blessing in disguise.

Josh Holsey moved back over to corner from safety alongside Stephen Roberts and others, "Rudy" Ford is at safety alongside Georgia transfer Tray Matthews, Nick Ruffin is backing up the safeties and newcomer Tim Irvin is lining up at nickel.

How will the new-look secondary look and can they be more consistent?

Expect Auburn to air things out to give its quarterbacks some work, which means there will be plenty of chances for the corners and safeties to shine.

 

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Malzahn has produced 12 1,000-yard rushers in nine seasons as a college head or assistant coach and is charged with replacing the SEC's leading rusher from last year. Cameron Artis-Payne was phenomenal last year, posting 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Junior college transfer Jovon Robinson, true sophomore Roc Thomas and redshirt sophomore Peyton Barber are all vying for playing time this spring. Robinson is still adjusting to life at Auburn and what the staff is expecting of him from a pass-protection standpoint, Barber is more of the underdog and Thomas—"Mr. Football" in the state of Alabama in 2013—is trying to be more patient this year in Auburn's offense, which features plenty of pulling guards and tackles.

"Maybe my patience hitting holes," Thomas told Brandon Marcello of AL.com, when asked about a weakness. "I think I was a little bit too fast last year trying to hit the holes. I mean, I just really need to be patient."

Auburn doesn't need to find a true No. 1 running back right now. After all, it wasn't until October of 2013 when Tre Mason solidified himself as the top option and then ran all the way to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

The running backs do, however, need to show that they're capable of earning that trust of the staff, because at some point, Malzahn will settle on one so the Tigers can press tempo in drives without substituting running backs. 

My gut is that Robinson will be the guy, and the staff will see that on Saturday.

 

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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Texas Football: Position Battles to Watch in Longhorns' 2015 Spring Game

More Longhorns than just Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard will be fighting for starting jobs this offseason. Saturday's spring game gives them all a chance to enter the summer with a head start.

Settling the quarterback competition is far from the only tough decision the coaches have to make between now and the fall. Linebacker, defensive end and cornerback all have vacated starting spots, as do tight end and receiver on the offensive side of the ball.

Then there are the offensive tackle and "Fox" end positions, which each return starters but have plenty of new competition courtesy of some early enrollees.

Because of injuries and a general lack of depth, the real competition for most of these spots will have to wait until the freshmen arrive.

The real intrigue lies with the quarterbacks, linebackers, receivers and offensive tackles. We'll have a good idea of who owns those jobs by the end of the week.

 

Quarterback

As has been and will be the case all offseason, Texas has to choose between Swoopes' grasp of the offense and Heard's athleticism. Whichever prevails in this matchup will tell us a lot about who ends up with the job.

Now that Texas is moving to an uptempo system, Heard looks like the choice here based on upside. He's a true home run threat on both designed runs and scrambles, which adds a dimension that the bigger Swoopes just can't provide.

However, the junior does hold an edge in both his understanding of the offense and arm talent. According to Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News, that edge was significant when spring practice began, but Heard has been narrowing the gap of late as he takes first-team reps.

We'll get to find out just how these two compare on Saturday. We know Heard will make plays with his feet, so if he and Swoopes are comparable through the air, we'll be well on our way to seeing the redshirt freshman take control of this team.

 

Linebacker

Depending on how you classify the Fox position, there are three open linebacker positions with five viable candidates playing in the Orange-White scrimmage.

At least we'll get a real sense of who's actually in the running.

Prior to his injury, Dalton Santos had the inside track on one of Texas' open linebacker spots. He's the only true middle linebacker currently on the roster, with nine starts there for his career.

A healthy Santos considerably shortens this conversation. Instead, it's been a free-for-all now that he's succumbed to an ankle. Senior Peter Jinkens and junior Tim Cole appear to be the favorites in the meantime, with redshirt freshman Edwin Freeman hot on their heels, according to HornsDigest.com.

Freshman phenom Malik Jefferson has also gotten a look.

This is the last chance for Cole and Jinkens to grab starting jobs. More talented linebackers will arrive this summer, and head coach Charlie Strong's preference to play a nickel corner and Fox end leaves only two spots for Jinkens, Cole, Freeman and Santos once he returns.

As for that Fox role, Jefferson will almost certainly factor into the rotation and could beat out incumbent starter Naashon Hughes.

Ideally, the coaches can find a way to get both of them an abundance of snaps because these are two of the best athletes on the squad.

Barring a little creativity, that's going to be one of the most exciting battles of the entire offseason.

 

Receiver

When Armanti Foreman was ripping off huge plays against Oklahoma State and TCU, could anyone have imagined that his slot role would be in jeopardy in 2015? It is, and for good reason.

It's been the spring of the receiver at Texas. Dorian Leonard has been making insane one-handed grabs on a weekly basis, Jacorey Warrick looks like a terror out of the slot, Daje Johnson has his head on straight and nobody can count out Lorenzo Joe.

Add in senior Marcus Johnson, and a supposed position of weakness looks like the best group on the team. 

The issue at this point will be finding snaps for all of these guys, not to mention Foreman and the slew of freshmen who will arrive this summer. Each has a skill set the Horns could really use, especially from the plus-sized Leonard (6'3", 203 lbs) and multitalented Daje Johnson.

If the quarterbacks throw the ball well, these guys are all going to have nice games this Saturday.

 

Offensive Tackle

Four early enrollees have added necessary competition to the offensive tackle position that was overwhelmed most of last season. By the time fall rolls around, both jobs could belong to newcomers.

Even with several experienced blockers at his disposal, Joe Wickline is going to tinker with his group until the bitter end. Not only is he eyeing a redemptive campaign, but the new attack requires a different style of blocking from these guys.

The interior of this group is pretty much set with three effective starters back in the fold, but this staff recruited for immediate competition. For that reason, Texas has four early enrollees with the size to play tackle who will all see action in the spring game.

Incumbent left tackle Marcus Hutchins told reporters that the competition is making an impact thus far:

Yes, it makes all of us work even harder. Especially at the tackle position, we compete every day. I think it gives us more insight of how hard it is. Each and every day is not a given day. It can be switched, I can be here or I can be there. It's whoever goes out there and works the hardest, and we all go out there and play and bust our butts. It's a competition everyday and it's the difference.

Connor Williams, Tristan Nickelson, Brandon Hodges and Garrett Thomas—the four current newcomers—have all seen work at tackle. Williams and Nickelson have seen the most work with the first team, with Hodges looking like a utility player along the front.

Right tackle is definitely the most available spot of the two, as no real starter emerged last season. That role best fits the 6'8" Nickelson, though we can't count out true freshman Williams. HornsDigest.com's Chip Brown believes he'll be an NFL left tackle.

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Michigan Football: Can Wolverines' 2015 Defense Be as Good as Michigan State's?

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is in the midst of an arms race in the Big Ten, where conference titles hinge on the points of capable offenses but are claimed with the arms of suffocating defenses—the blueprint for such success lies 65 miles to the northwest of Ann Arbor in East Lansing.

Known for innovative and unique coaching tactics, Harbaugh doesn’t need to copy or mimic anyone’s styles or methods. However, he’s a football guy to the core. He knows what works, too. Coach Mark Dantonio's defensive staff has something going at Michigan State worth—at the very least—emulating in some way.

Given the proper conditions, Harbaugh is capable of constructing something powerful and dynasty-esque with Michigan’s defense.

With coordinator D.J. Durkin, D-line coach Greg Mattison and secondary coaches Mike Zordich and Greg Jackson, the Wolverines’ already top-15 defense could easily transform into a truer national power this fall.

Or in other words, just like what has happened at Michigan State. Credit Harlon Barnett for building the secondary, Ron Burton for the D-line and Mike Tressel for the linebackers. Success was no accident; it was indeed a true team effort.

Let’s face it, like the rest of major college football, the Big Ten is a league predicated on the idea of “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Dantonio’s teams have been aided by offense, but they’ve enjoyed their place atop the Big Ten for one reason, and one reason only: defense.

And believe it or not, the Wolverines, at least statistically, are almost there. They finished with the No. 7-ranked total defense in 2014, one place better than the No. 8-ranked unit from Michigan State.

Of course, comparisons can get dicey, and some can qualify as stretches of the human imagination. But in this case, Michigan isn’t light years behind its in-state rival.

Harbaugh can have his cake and eat it, too. He’ll get his quarterback and offense while his staff crafts the rest. He’s assembled an all-star group designed to win today.

Until proven otherwise, the Spartans are superior to Michigan across the board. That’s what consistency does for a program. But Dantonio did it the hard way, from the bottom to the top. Harbaugh’s essentially stepping into a ready-made situation, complete with a familiar cast and nationally relevant defense courtesy of Greg Mattison.

 

Minimal-Minded

Dantonio didn’t manufacture his top-tier defense overnight. It took time; he needed a year to lay the groundwork and more time to further develop his plan. His results were quick, though. In 2008, his second year as the Spartans’ head coach, he snagged his first win over Michigan, 35-21.

Sure, getting 35 points from the offense helped expedite the process, but Michigan State’s defense sealed the win by forcing four turnovers and holding the Wolverines to just 84 rushing yards. Michigan scored three touchdowns, converted just three of 12 third-down attempts and finished with 252 yards of offensive production.

Most of Michigan’s six losses during the past eight years have been similar—all caused by a relentless group of quarterback-sackers, pass-interceptors and fumble-causers.

Fortunately for Harbaugh, defense hasn’t been much of a recent concern for the Wolverines. They need to tighten up in spots, mainly the secondary, but they’ve been steady since 2011. Despite giving up 34 and 35 to the Spartans during that span, they have somehow avoided being thoroughly embarrassed on the scoreboard. A team with a pulse on offense could have easily kept most of the six losses much closer.

Although some have felt like 56-10 throttles, the Wolverines’ average margin of defeat has been 19.6 points in each of the six recent defeats. That’s a credit to Michigan’s defense. Once assisted by a capable offense, the Wolverines will eventually grow stronger and beat teams in a similar manner, maybe even Michigan State.

That’s what happened for Dantonio, whose fortunes changed once his D-line, linebackers and secondary aligned. In addition to having the No. 8-ranked total defense in 2014, his team also touted the No. 11-ranked total offense. Simply put, there is a harmonious, defensive-inspired balance in East Lansing.

 

Specialists Can Help

Former coach Brady Hoke had the right idea: Get Mattison on the job. As it turned out, Mattison outlasted Hoke, who was ousted this past winter, and has continued molding monsters in Ann Arbor.

In 2011, Mattison inherited the No. 118-ranked total defense in the nation. By year’s end, he had the makings of a top-25 contender.

A pillar of the program, Mattison knows how to develop and identify talent. On Tuesday, he went on the road to visit Rashan Gary, a 5-star defensive tackle out of Paramus Catholic in New Jersey. The 6’4”, 270-pounder epitomizes the type of pass-rushers that have accentuated Michigan and Michigan State defenses during the past few seasons.

Securing those types of talents is one way of keeping up with the Dantonios, but not entirely necessary. The Spartans have often produced without big-name talent.

Take a look at Dantonio’s unheralded array of 3-star linebackers such as Greg Jones, or 2-star corners such as Darqueze Dennard, or 3-star tackles such as Shilique Calhoun—those guys were overlooked by everyone but had record-setting careers in college.

That’s a credit to development, which happens to be one of the strengths of Mattison, Zordich and Jackson. Mattison’s known at the NFL and collegiate levels, while Zordich and Jackson come heavily recommended by Harbaugh. 

Zordich played 12 years in the NFL, some of which were spent with Jackson, who was a secondary coach with the San Francisco 49ers during Harbaugh’s reign in the Bay Area.

 

Durkin Factor

With Durkin, that combination of coaches gives the Wolverines a clear and immediate shot at defensive dominance—and soon. 

With Durkin, there may not be a waiting period like the one Dantonio had with former coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Prior to taking the head coaching job at Pitt, Narduzzi was known for building hulls of battleships, not just defenses.

But even he and Dantonio needed some time: In 2007, the Spartans gave up 26.6 points per game. The next year, they decreased to 22.1 before shooting up to 26.3 the next year—that was the learning curve. In 2010, the Spartans surrendered 18.4 points per game, and since then, teams have found it incredibly difficult to score twice.

Building from the back also worked for the Spartans, who evidently knew they’d only be as good as their last line of defense. That’s why players such as Johnny Adams, Trae Waynes, Chris Rucker (both of them), Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond were so important.

Because of great defensive backs, the Spartans fronts and linebackers appeared to gain confidence by the week.

The Wolverines need help in their backfield, but they have pieces—big ones, too. There’s Jabrill Peppers, a redshirt freshman safety who’ll probably play corner, too; then there’s veteran corners Blake Countess and Jourdan Lewis headlining a group of vastly untapped talent; and there’s incoming freshman Tyree Kinnel, another versatile option at corner or safety.

Channing Stribling, Brandon Watson and Dymonte Thomas could end up filling similar roles for the Wolverines as Adams, Rucker, Waynes, Lewis and Drummond had done for Michigan State. There isn’t a chasm of talent levels between them.

Their fates will come down to coaching and system, both of which are prevalent at Michigan State and quickly developing at Michigan. But with Harbaugh’s staff, they could see similar outcomes.

Stingy defensive concepts aren’t foreign to Durkin. While at Florida this past season, he watched his defense intercept 14 passes and recover an SEC-leading 13 fumbles.

As stated above, head-to-head comparisons can get iffy, but Durkin seems to be cut from the same airtight-defensive mold as Narduzzi, Dantonio and Mattison.

Other than sustained success, Michigan State has enjoyed another advantage, and that’s continuity among coaches. Dantonio is accessible and flexible, which has likely contributed to his relationships with Narduzzi and staff members. Establishing something like that with Harbaugh would only make the jobs of Mattison, Durkin, Zordich and Jackson much easier.

 

A Like Identity

For Michigan, it’s not necessarily a matter of doing what Michigan State has done. It’s not about copying Dantonio to the letter or hoping to acquire one of Narduzzi’s old playbooks, either. It’s about using strategy that makes sense.

Whether by way of the 3-4 or 4-3, man or zone, Dantonio has a revolving door that never seems to stop. Where one goes, one follows, oftentimes doing better than the man he relieved. That’s recruiting, development and system working together at its finest.

Since taking over Dec. 30, Harbaugh has demonstrated a strong commitment to a genuine rebirth. He’s more action than talk, so that’s why he pursued Durkin, Zordich and Jackson, and that’s why he retained Mattison.

Statistics don’t always paint an accurate picture. Numbers can be easily skewed to fit a narrative. But in the case of Michigan’s defense, there is no need to stretch while comparing its potential to that of Michigan State.

Harbaugh’s staff can equal or better the Spartans in the near future, and there is concrete proof beyond one or two stat columns suggesting that his head start could pay off this fall.

 

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

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. Recruit information comes via 247Sports.

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LSU Linemen Scuffle During Intense 'Big Cat' Drill at Spring Practice

The LSU Tigers' spring practice on Tuesday got a little chippy when teammates went head-to-head in the "Big Cat" drill.

Although the whole video is an entertaining watch, the most noteworthy part is when offensive tackle Jevonte Domond (No. 67) and defensive end Deondre Clark (No. 98) went up against each other at the 1:20 mark.

The two Tigers linemen battled in the drill for a few seconds, but the real action came after the whistle. Domond started by shoving Clark backward, and after the two traded a few shoves, the former appears to land a few punches on his teammate. Clark, meanwhile, ripped off Domond's helmet in the fracas.

Tigers players were able to separate Domond and Clark fairly quickly, and the team continued the drill without any additional issues from there.

[247 Sports, h/t College Spun]

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Nygel Edmonds to Stanford: Cardinal Land 4-Star CB Prospect

The Stanford Cardinal bolstered their secondary on Tuesday by adding 4-star cornerback prospect Nygel Edmonds to their 2016 recruiting class.

Rivals.com's Woody Wommack reported the news of Edmonds' commitment to play for Stanford along with the mature perspective the youngster had regarding his decision:

I'm making the decision to commit to Stanford. The reason I chose Stanford is because of the chance to go to a great school academically and also go somewhere that is extremely competitive athletically. It's the best of both worlds for me and I can get something out it both as an athlete and as a student, and that's very important to me.

Edmonds, who hails from the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, ranks as 247Sports' 27th-best cornerback prospect in the country. The site lists him at 5'11" and 181 pounds.

Andy Drukarev of Rivals.com points out how the Cardinal's 2016 class has been picking up steam recently, with Edmonds being the latest to come aboard:

Stanford lost two starters from its 2014 secondary in Alex Carter and Jordan Richards, so it will need players like Edmonds to provide depth and perhaps step up into a playing role sooner rather than later.

Although he's listed as a cornerback, Edmonds told Wommack he'd be willing to play anywhere and that the Cardinal have expressed to him that he may play safety or on offense. Such versatility shows how valuable Edmonds has the potential to be to the Stanford program in the years to come.   

The 2016 crop of talent the Cardinal are welcoming in is indeed looking up. Per 247Sports, they've landed two other 4-star prospects in tight end Kaden Smith and outside linebacker Curtis Robinson within the past week as well. Headlining the group is 5-star pro-style quarterback KJ Costello.

Wherever Edmonds winds up playing, he has the football savvy to thrive for Stanford coach David Shaw, who has to be excited about the future after a down 8-5 campaign in 2014.

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Julian Okwara to Notre Dame: Fighting Irish Land 4-Star DE Prospect

As expected, 4-star defensive end prospect Julian Okwara announced his commitment to Notre Dame on Tuesday, eschewing offers from Clemson, Georgia, Michigan and Ole Miss. 

Andrew Ivins of Rivals talked to Okwara about the decision:

I felt like everything was going right. I kind of wanted to get everything over with because I knew where I was going. I talked it over with my family and I felt like it was the right thing to do. I just loved everything the coaches told me about Notre Dame. Just being up there on my visit, I felt like I was part of the team with the coaches talking to me all the time, going through meetings, hanging out with my brother and going to class with him—It just felt right.

Okwara joining his older brother Romeo, who started 12 games at defensive end last season in South Bend, was always the most likely solution. 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions gave Notre Dame a rare 100 percent chance of landing the Ardrey Kell (Charlotte) High School product.

Listed at 6'4" and 210 pounds, Okwara will have to add bulk to succeed at the next level but projects as a strong pass-rusher. He is listed as the No. 11 weak-side defensive end and No. 186 overall player in 247Sports' overall composite rankings. Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated noted that he made more than 90 tackles and 10 sacks during his junior campaign.      

"I can bring a lot of tempo and a lot hits to the defense," Okwara said, per Ivins. "Just getting to the quarterback and making plays—a lot of stuff like that."

It's possible the Irish wind up nudging him to outside linebacker, where his size wouldn't be such a concern, and he could make a more immediate impact. Regardless of where he winds up playing, Okwara is a big boost to Notre Dame's 2016 class. The Irish moved up 10 spots to 27th on 247Sports' latest rankings despite having only five prospects signed.   

Five-star offensive tackle Tommy Kraemer is the only player in Notre Dame's class ranked higher than Okwara.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Which 2016 Recruits Should Will Muschamp Target to Continue Defensive Dominance?

When the Auburn Tigers brought in Will Muschamp as their defensive coordinator, they were also bringing in a strong recruiter. 

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson was joined by College Football Analyst Michael Felder to discuss which 2016 recruits would be tailor-made for Muschamp's defense. 

How will Auburn's defense perform in 2015? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Biggest Takeaways from 247Sports' Initial Top 247 for Class of 2017 Recruiting

It’s not exactly a surprise to see rising junior phenom and 5-star linebacker Dylan Moses take the top overall spot in the newly released 247Sports Top 247 for the class of 2017.

The LSU commitment kept his grip on the No. 1 spot from the initial release of the Top 100 for 2017 last summer, according to Barton Simmons of 247Sports.

A handful of juniors have emerged at their respective spring camps, while others have been busy compiling impressive offer lists.

What are the biggest takeaways from the initial Top 247 rankings for the 2017 class? 

Let’s take a look at a few storylines that jump out at first glance.

 

3 Power States Loaded Once Again

It’s no secret that the three most fertile areas for coaches on the recruiting trail are California, Florida and Texas.

Those three states are well-represented in the class of 2017, as they have combined to produce 92 of the Top 247 overall players. 

Overall, 21 prospects from those three states are rated among the nation’s Top 50 prospects.

Florida, led by 5-star offensive tackle Calvin Ashley, has 32 prospects in the initial rankings. Texas also has 32 prospects, with 5-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson representing the nation's best prospect at his position. 

California has 28 prospects included, with 5-star running back Najee Harris emerging as the top 2017 prospect from the Golden State.

 

Georgia Deep Again

Aside from the big three talent-producing states, Georgia—which has 23 prospects who made the rankings—is the only other state to have more than 20 prospects in the list. 

The 2016 class in Georgia is special, but the rising group of juniors in the Peach State could be equally as talented. 

5-star corner DeAngelo Gibbs is a freakish talent who could play safety or wide receiver at the next level with equal effectiveness.

Additionally, Georgia has three of the top six pro-style quarterbacks in the country, led by 4-star Bailey Hockman—who put on a strong display at the Nike Atlanta Opening Regional camp last month.

 

WR Heaven

College coaches looking for help at the receiver position may want to invest some time in scouting the junior class.

Eight players are rated as 5-star prospects, headlined by Florida standout Trevon Grimes.

Also, 40 receivers found their way into the rankings, which makes it the deepest position represented in the list.

A pair of 4-star pass-catchers rated outside of the Top 100 overall who have compiled double-digit offer lists are North Carolina product J.T. Cauthen and Florida playmaker Jerry Jeudy. With talented prospects such as Cauthen and Jeudy rated outside the Top 100, it’s a signal of the strength and depth of talent at that position in the 2017 cycle.

 

OT Group Strong

Another position that is well-represented in the 2017 Top 247 rankings is offensive tackle.  In fact, three of the nation’s top five prospects overall come from that position.

Three more offensive tackles join Josh Meyers, Ashley and Foster Sarell as 5-star prospects who could transition into dominant players at the next level sooner rather than later.

In all, 26 offensive tackles made the cut.

Considering the dominant D-line classes in recent cycles, the emergence of a star-studded group at offensive tackle is a welcome development for college coaches looking for help in the trenches in the 2017 cycle.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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The Harbaugh Effect Is Making a Difference for Michigan in 2016 Recruiting Class

When Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh, Wolverine fans were extremely excited about what he could bring on the field but also what he could offer on the recruiting trail.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down Jim Harbaugh's latest recruits, as well as who he should target going forward. 

Who are the must-have recruits for Michigan? Check out the video, and let us know!

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FSU Insider Buzz: QB Battle Tightens Up; Freshman Derwin James Shines

The Florida State Seminoles competed in their spring game over the weekend, and a few storylines emerged from the contest. The battle for the starting quarterback position tightened up, while a freshman safety shined brightly. 

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson was joined by 247Sports' Recruiting Analyst Josh Newberg to discuss all the happenings surrounding the Seminoles' spring game.

Who will emerge as FSU's starting QB? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Depleted Oregon Ducks Look to Sophomores to Lead College Football Playoff Push

The Oregon Ducks saw many key players leave, including Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. But with a slew of freshmen seeing significant time last season, they are prepared to carry the torch. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder joined Stephen Nelson as they discussed Oregon's freshman class and the impact it will have in 2015. 

How will Oregon do in 2015? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Updated Jarrett Guarantano Odds: Where Will 4-Star QB Commit Wednesday?

Jarrett Guarantano is a 4-star pro-style quarterback, per 247Sports' composite rankings, who is currently uncommitted. Guarantano is more than just a pocket passer; he is also incredibly quick. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives his odds on where the top QB will end up when he makes his decision Wednesday

Where do you think Guarantano will play college ball? Check out the video, and let us know!

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Oklahoma Football: Who Will Be Sooners' Week 1 Starting QB?

Anyone hoping for clarity in Oklahoma's quarterback competition was still left looking for answers after the Sooners' spring game on April 11.

Yep, we have a few more months of frenzied debate.

Though redshirt junior Trevor Knight is the incumbent starter, here are the other three players he's been competing against:

  • Baker Mayfield (junior): Sat out last season to satisfy transfer rules. Started seven games as a true freshman for Texas Tech in 2013 and was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year.
  • Cody Thomas (redshirt sophomore): Started the final three games of the regular season with Knight out due to injury. Threw for 342 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
  • Justice Hansen (redshirt freshman): An early enrollee in the 2014 recruiting class who did not see playing time last season.

Ideally, even if the competition is set to continue into the summer months, you'd like to get some indication about which way it's going. As Jake Trotter of ESPN.com tweeted, none of the four really stood out:

Everyone had good and bad moments. Everyone forced throws. Mayfield's two interceptions were particularly bad decisions.

Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com expanded on Trotter's statement in his OU spring game wrap-up:

Mayfield, the Texas Tech transfer, completed 10 of 13 passes for 176 yards with one touchdown but had two interceptions. Knight, OU's starter in the 2014 season opener, didn't fair much better taking care of the ball, finishing 6-of-13 for 78 yards with one interception. Every quarterback had their good moments and good throws on Saturday. But, ultimately, the winner of the job will be the guy who focuses on taking care of the ball and always making good decisions. None of the four can say they did that on Saturday.

Still, you have to like the buzz that's been surrounding Mayfield. If we're taking a stab at predicting the Week 1 starter, it sounds like Mayfield still has a great shot.

Here's why.

With so little to work off of visually, you have to identify any clues that could tip off which direction coaches are leaning in. That's why, even after Mayfield threw two bad interceptions, this quote from first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was so telling:

That's not to say Riley wasn't critical of Mayfield, but it's also not something you'd necessarily expect to hear, either.

Because of Mayfield's background in the Air Raid offense from his days at Tech, he seemed like a natural fit in Riley's offense. Additionally, Mayfield was impressive in Oklahoma's spring game a year ago, and as noted by John Shinn of The Norman Transcript, he earned rave reviews as the scout team quarterback last fall.

But Riley's compliment goes beyond fit. Despite the fact that Mayfield clearly forced a few throws, Riley likes what he's seen from him. Remember, spring games are one glorified scrimmage out of 15 practices.

Look, Mayfield can play—he's certainly better than his walk-on title would indicate—but he's had ball security issues in the past. Either Riley feels the interceptions were an anomaly or he likes Mayfield's gunslinger mentality so much that he's willing to live with some negative consequences of it.

If that's the case, it's an interesting stance to take.

The Sooners aren't lacking in offensive skill players. The running back group should be the deepest, most talented unit of its kind in the Big 12. By all accounts, the receiving unit should be much improved from a year ago.

With that in mind, Oklahoma would theoretically need little more than a game manager to make things work.

If Riley, head coach Bob Stoops and Co. feel they have something more in Mayfield, though—if they feel like he moves the offense the best—then they probably also feel they can get Mayfield to dial things back a bit. Sometimes, it can be easier to get someone to do less than to do more.

Knight has had two years to show what he can do. While he's a gifted runner, he's never shown the consistent growth coaches would like to see. He's also been injured often, despite efforts from Oklahoma's coaching staff to keep him more upright in 2014.

Thomas is an interesting prospect.

He actually trotted out onto the field first last Saturday. That may mean little more than Stoops having some fun, but it could also show that he's made more progress in spring than people anticipated.

This is still a wide-open race and technically anyone's game. However, the coaching staff has been high enough on Mayfield that his one spring performance won't be the deciding factor.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football.

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Updated Odds on Next Starting QB of Alabama Crimson Tide

With Blake Sims' tenure over at Alabama, there is an opening at the quarterback position. With a slew of signal-callers on the roster, spring practices have turned into an all-out battle for the starting job. 

Bleacher Report's college football analyst Adam Kramer joined Stephen Nelson as they laid some updated odds on who will be the man to win that elusive job. 

Who will be the next QB at Alabama? Check out the video, and let us know! 

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Ohio State Football: Complete Spring Game Preview

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Entering his 14th year as a head coach, Urban Meyer knows that there's a lot he can get out of a spring game.

He's also aware of the realities.

Meyer's Ohio State squad will hold its annual exhibition this Saturday in front what's expected to be a sizable crowd on what Accuweather.com currently projects to be 71-degree day. Drawing such atmosphere on the heels of his team's national title run is what's most important to the Buckeyes head coach, not only for recruiting, but preparation purposes as well.

"The thing that spring games give you at a place like Ohio State is a crowd," Meyer said on Monday. "A lot of times you'll see a player that comes out [on the practice field] when no one's around and plays well and then he goes out in front of a crowd and locks up. And that's real."

But while Meyer's looking forward to getting a look at some of the younger players on his roster—he specifically mentioned early enrollee freshman linebacker Nick Conner—that means some of Ohio State's more experienced players will be standing on the sideline for the better part, if not all of Saturday's spring game.

That's been the case in Columbus for most of this spring, with Meyer opting to rest established players such as Taylor Decker, Nick Vannett, Pat Elflein, Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Joshua Perry and Tyvis Powell. The fourth-year Buckeyes head coach knows that could potentially make for an ugly afternoon, with many players getting their first game-like experience inside of Ohio Stadium.

"I can't say it's going to be pleasant all the time," Meyer admitted. "Because you're going to have some young guys who aren't quite ready to play yet."

Even with most of the eight open spots in Ohio State's starting lineup seemingly filled, the spring game could still be interesting to watch, if not for 2015, then for the future of the Buckeyes program. And while several experienced players won't be on the field, perhaps the most-talked-about player from Ohio State's national title run will be front and center on Saturday.

 

Date: Saturday, April 18

Time: 1:30 p.m. ET

Place: Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio:Ohio State Football Radio Network

 


Who to Watch for on Offense

Despite leading the Buckeyes to three consecutive postseason wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, Cardale Jones still only has three starts to his credit in his college career. With both J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller recovering from their respective injuries, Saturday will provide another opportunity for Jones to get quality reps under his belt as he prepares for what could be an unprecedented quarterback battle this summer.

"He's had a good spring," Meyer said of Jones on Monday. "We're getting him as many reps as we can."

Saturday will be another opportunity for Jones to do just that, as he and redshirt freshman Stephen Collier will be the only scholarship signal-callers participating in the spring game. It remains just unclear how long Jones will participate in the game before the walk-ons take over, but for at least some period of time he'll be given the chance to build chemistry with the young Ohio State receivers in a game-like atmosphere.

Speaking of those young receivers, Saturday will also be a big day for them as they'll have a chance to make good on what's been hyped as a big spring for their position group. Both Meyer and wide receivers coach Zach Smith have singled out sophomore Noah Brown as having had a great offseason, and redshirt freshmen Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin have also offered plenty of promise.

"Those are a bunch of guys who are going to play for us," Meyer said. "I can't wait to see their reaction."

With star running back Ezekiel Elliott still recovering from offseason wrist surgery, there should also be plenty of carries to go around in the backfield for the likes of Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball. Both players will find themselves on a crowded running back depth chart this fall with the arrival of freshman Mike Weber and could use Saturday's game as way to gauge whether they'll look into a potential transfer.

Heading into this Saturday's game, Dunn appears to be the front-runner in that race and could ultimately serve as Elliott's primary backup with Curtis Samuel moving to H-Back.

“It’s a very great opportunity. I get lots of reps. Me and Warren Ball get lots of reps and it’s getting me better each and every day,” Dunn said. “[New running backs] Coach [Tony] Alford [is] really pushing us and I really have a great relationship with him.”

With a big showing on Saturday, that relationship may only improve.

 

Who to Watch for on Defense

Defensively, Ohio State will also be without plenty of depth, as not only will Bosa and Washington's roles be dramatically reduced in the spring game, but fellow defensive linemen Joel Hale and Tyquan Lewis are each recovering from injuries. That will mean more opportunities for fresh faces like Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes, Donovan Munger and Tracy Sprinkle, as Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson attempts to build a 10-man rotation.

“I was very disappointed a year ago with the backup group,” Meyer said of last year's defensive line. “A lot of pressure has been put on them.”

Behind the Ohio State defensive line, Perry will likely be on the sideline, and starters Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan have already experienced their fair share of snaps inside The Horseshoe as well. That could mean plenty of reps for the likes of Dante Booker, Chris Worley and the aforementioned Conner, as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell also looks to build depth on his unit.

Perhaps the defensive unit that will receive the most attention—both from fans and coaches—is the secondary, even though three of the four starters are already established. While Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell will all see limited reps, Meyer singled out Erick Smith, Cam Burrows and Gareon Conley as players he's excited to see.

A redshirt sophomore, Conley is the odds-on favorite to replace first-team All-Big Ten corner Doran Grant. After a rocky start to his college career, the Massillon, Ohio, native has been touted as one of Ohio State's most improved players this spring and will have an opportunity to prove it in what should be a pass-happy game on Saturday.

“Gareon has had a very good spring. He has put on weight, he has put on strength,” Buckeyes defensive assistant Kerry Coombs said. “He showed up at 168 pounds, now he’s 190 pounds. He is a very fast player, [and] his skill set continues to improve.”

 

What's Ahead

While there's only so much one can take away from a spring game, the Buckeyes know they have a big summer ahead.

As Ohio State embarks on its defense of its national title, the Buckeyes appear to be in good shape with 14 returning starters and a manageable schedule. But Meyer also must manage a quarterback competition that could become a distraction, with three players who all have legitimate claims to the starting job.

Meyer has insisted this spring has been all about getting Jones reps and Barrett and Miller healthy, although Barrett has been able to participate in the spring more than originally thought. Jones' performance this Saturday won't have much impact how the battle ultimately shakes out, but it would behoove him to take some positive momentum into summer workouts.

Regardless of how it plays out, Ohio State will have a roster full of championship-experienced veterans and a proven quarterback behind center—whoever it might be. This spring may have been valuable for some of the Buckeyes' younger players, but the summer ahead will be all about a return to the College Football Playoff.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Georgia Will Get Creative with Lorenzo Carter and Versatile Linebackers

Lorenzo Carter sat back in his folding chair in Georgia's meeting room underneath Sanford Stadium during the media session on Saturday with a glimmer in his eye.

"It's going to be crazy," he said, with a slight chuckle and a grin as wide as the room.

That grin was well-earned.

His defense had just wrapped up a scintillating spring game performance that included eight team sacks (one from Carter), 14 tackles for loss and generally set up shop in the offensive backfield all afternoon.

It was the kind of spring game performance that set the tone for the entire season.

Georgia has the best outside linebackers in the country, and there isn't really a close second. Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins are two pass-rushing monsters who passed up on the NFL to come back to Athens for another run at an SEC title.

Floyd sat out the spring game recovering from shoulder surgery that kept him out of the Belk Bowl win over Louisville. In his stead, Carter stepped in and notched eight tackles for the second straight game—setting the tone for a stellar sophomore season.

"It was a confidence booster, of course," Carter said. "To get out there and finish the season on a high note and know that there's so much more I can do...I mean, there's so much more room for me to grow as a player. Once I do that, it's crazy just imagining what I can do."

Carter's emergence combined with Jenkins and Floyd's decisions to return to school created the ultimate "rich man's problem" for defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

How can he fit three outside linebackers into two spots in the lineup?

The easy answer would be to drop Jenkins—a 6'3", 252-pound senior from Hamilton, Georgia—down to defensive end in pass-rushing situations, as he did at times last season. That'd especially work well given the current landscape of Georgia's defensive line, which isn't returning a single starter from last season's squad.

That isn't the only answer, though.

"Floyd is learning multiple positions right now," Carter said. "We all learn multiple positions. We are just going to have to fit in wherever we are thrown. Coach is just going to throw us out there and say 'play this,' and we just have to play it."

How the rotation will specifically work, though, is still unknown.

"There's a lot of things we can do with the outside linebackers since we are such versatile players," Carter said. "We can move all over the place on the field."

Does that mean Carter could slide into one of the middle linebacker spots or Floyd could also put his hand in the dirt and play defensive end in Pruitt's 3-4 scheme?

It could, although the entire trio needs to get better as every-down linebackers if the prospect of all three playing at the same time is going to become a reality.

"They're really good at what they do in that regard," head coach Mark Richt said. "Those guys can come off the edge. They have a lot of ability. The big thing for them is how they're playing on first and second down. Those are the things we are trying to get better at with them."

Cross-training at different spots will certainly help and is an indication that Georgia's linebacking corps—which includes veteran Tim Kimbrough, UAB transfer Jake Ganus and versatile newcomers Chuks Amaechi and Natrez Patrick—could be one of the best and deepest linebacking corps in the entire country.

 

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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