NCAA Football News

Colson Yankoff to Oregon: Ducks Land 4-Star QB Prospect

The Oregon Ducks have gotten an early jump on the 2018 recruiting season by landing highly touted quarterback Colson Yankoff. 

Tom Loy of 247Sports broke the news of the Ducks' addition, as Yankoff explained his decision: "Oregon just fits the way I want to play. I love the staff and I love the school has a whole. I couldn't think of a good reason not to make it happen."

Loy noted Yankoff's commitment came quickly, as he was in Eugene on Wednesday for a throwing session at Oregon's campus. 

Yankoff fits the mold of what Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich wants in a quarterback. The 4-star prospect is the seventh-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 class and the second-best player from the state of Idaho, per 247Sports.

Per Loy, 247Sports national director of scouting Barton Simmons broke down the skills that Yankoff will be bringing to Oregon:

You're getting a kid with all the tools. He's big and exceptionally athletic for a guy his size. He's got a ton of arm talent. He's been tucked away in Idaho. If he was from Houston or Miami or Los Angeles, he'd have as many offers as any quarterback in the 2018 class. I think this is a big pickup for Oregon because I think he'll emerge as a top quarterback in the 2018 class. This is huge get and I think he's a kid that will stick with his commitment. He will also be a great ambassador for the Oregon 2018 class.

Yankoff is already physically well-developed for a kid who's two years away from college. He's listed at 6'3" and 195 pounds with a 40-yard-dash time of 4.73 seconds. 

The key for Oregon will be making sure Yankoff sticks to his commitment. There should be opportunities for him to play by the time he enters college because Dakota Prukop is a fifth-year senior and Travis Jonsen is a redshirt freshman this year. 

Yankoff thought enough of the Ducks to give them his pledge almost immediately after taking a visit. The system has done great things for players such as Marcus Mariota and Vernon Adams, so even with two years to think about it, Yankoff knows he will have every opportunity to succeed in Oregon. 

 

Stats and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Aubrey Solomon to Michigan: Wolverines Land 4-Star DT Prospect

The Michigan Wolverines continue to upgrade the interior of their defensive line in a big way, securing the commitment of 4-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon on Saturday, per Steve Lorenz of 247Sports.

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Solomon is the No. 6 player at his position and No. 94 overall in the 2017 recruiting class. He's also the 10th-best player in the state of Georgia.

Listed at 6'3", 305 pounds, Solomon possesses nice versatility for his position. His duties will primarily be stopping the run and occupying blockers to help his teammates coming off the edge. His size and agility allow him to help out in the pass rush as well. He could easily collect four or five sacks in a season once he finds his footing.

Chris Kirschner of SEC Country offered a good look at how light on his feet Solomon is for a defensive tackle:

Solomon will likely add a bit of weight once Michigan puts him on a regular strength-and-conditioning regimen, and how much muscle he adds will help define his role in the Wolverines defense. Ideally, he will find a nice balance that makes him strong enough to push around opposing linemen but also remain athletic.

No matter his size, Solomon will need to improve upon his technique in order to realize his potential. So long as he puts in the time on the practice field, that shouldn't be a major issue.

Since he's somewhat far from a finished product, Solomon will be best served by sitting back in the depth chart in 2017 and being used primarily in emergency situations in the event of injuries to Michigan's other options.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has done an outstanding job of bringing talent to Ann Arbor. He secured the services of this year's best player, defensive tackle Rashan Gary, and has already added another stud in Solomon for next year's class.

The physical tools are there for Solomon to be a force inside, and his flaws technique-wise are largely coachable. Once he blossoms in a few more years, Solomon should vie for all-conference and potentially All-American honors.

 

Recruit information and star ratings are courtesy of 247Sports.

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Justin Watkins to FSU: Seminoles Land 4-Star Athlete Prospect

The Florida State Seminoles bolstered their 2018 recruiting class Saturday, as 4-star athlete Justin Watkins committed to the program.

Warchant.com's Michael Langston was among the first to report the news.

 

More to follow.

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Austin Troxell to Auburn: Tigers Land 4-Star OT Prospect

Coveted offensive lineman Austin Troxell will play college football at Auburn.

Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports reported the prospect's decision to play for the Tigers. Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand was clearly excited by the new addition:

Troxell is a 4-star prospect who's ranked 80th in the 2017 class. He also checks in as the No. 13 offensive tackle and second-best player from Alabama, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Before making his choice, he received interest from several top programs, including Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida and Florida State.

The Alabama native has displayed an impressive combination of size (6'7", 275 lbs), power and athletic ability for Madison Academy when healthy. Unfortunately, a torn ACL during the latter stages of his junior campaign slowed his development for a while.

Still, he's been in the spotlight for quite some time already, and he admitted to Daniel Boyette of AL.com that the recruiting process got a bit "hectic" as a junior. He tried to focus as much as possible on continuing to make the necessary strides despite the potential distraction of the widespread interest in him.

"My technique has gotten a lot better," Troxell said. "Coaches are always on me about my footwork. And my strength. I've gotten a lot stronger."

He could benefit from adding even more raw strength to his frame, but it's a delicate balance. The Auburn coaching staff won't want him to lose his small-area quickness by bulking up too much.

Troxell was a target for both Auburn and the rival Alabama Crimson Tide, which tends to add a little more intrigue to the process. That said, from a player's perspective, both schools provide the opportunity to play in the nation's top conference.

The Tigers may have received the nod because of a clearer path to playing time. While the Tide are deep up front, Auburn features a veteran-laden group that should have playing time readily available in 2017 and beyond. Left tackle Robert Leff is entering his senior season, while right tackle Darius James is a redshirt junior.

Troxell should eventually fill one of those openings, but it's still too early to tell when he'll be ready to jump into the starting lineup.

The transition for offensive linemen, especially tackles, is always a bit tricky because the players at the collegiate level are far more well-rounded than what the recruits are used to facing in high school.

That said, the long-term outlook for Troxell is highly promising. He's got the potential to become one of the top left tackles in college football by the time he's an upperclassman.  

 

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Jeremy Patton to Arkansas: Razorbacks Land 4-Star JUCO TE Prospect

The Arkansas Razorbacks got a huge lift in their 2017 recruiting efforts, landing junior college tight end Jeremy Patton. 

Patton announced his commitment on Twitter, saying "I will be continuing my journey at the University of Arkansas!"

Patton is a highly touted recruit in 2017. The Arizona Western standout is rated a 4-star prospect, No. 1 JUCO tight end, No. 1 JUCO player in Arizona and No. 4 overall JUCO player, per 247Sports

He is an impressive physical specimen at 6'6" and 230 pounds and a difficult matchup for college defensive backs and linebackers. 

Per Richard Davenport of Whole Hog Sports, Patton had an impressive freshman season at Arizona Western with 316 yards and four touchdowns on 17 catches, which led to offers from at least 27 schools, including SEC rivals Alabama and Auburn. 

The Razorbacks are having a strong week of recruiting. In addition to Patton, head coach Bret Bielema's team has nabbed commitments from former Texas offensive lineman Jake Raulerson and two-way player Jordon Curtis

Patton is the clear standout among the trio because of his talent and the role he fills for the program. Arkansas lost Hunter Henry to the NFL in April, and Jeremy Sprinkle is entering his senior season. 

Tight ends have played a huge role in Bielema's offense since he took over at Arkansas in 2013. Henry finished second on the team in receptions and yards each of the last three years. 

Walking into a situation that will likely require him to play a lot right away had to intrigue Patton. He's joining a program that has increased its win total each of the last two years and is only getting stronger under Bielema's watch. 

This marriage has the potential to take Arkansas' offense to the next level as it looks to keep up with SEC West powers such as Alabama, Mississippi and LSU in the future. 

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Ranking the Top 16 Must-Watch College Football Games of 2016

There was a time in the not too distant past when keeping up with college football on television was a challenge. Regional telecasts and fewer network options meant that, heaven forbid, there were actually some important games the average fan might miss out on.

That simply isn’t the case anymore. The proliferation of conference networks from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, as well as specialty channels such as ESPNU, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network and FS1 mean anyone with a good satellite package and a deft touch with the remote control can watch virtually any meaningful game they desire. And if it isn’t on your flat-screen TV, chances are it’s streaming somewhere.

Such variety is a positive, but it can also be tough for fans. Which games do you focus the most attention on from week to week? We’re here to help. Here’s a look at the top 16 must-watch games on the college football slate this fall. The rest? That’s up to you and your remote.

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Willie Gay to Ole Miss: Rebels Land 4-Star OLB Prospect

The Ole Miss Rebels added a defensive playmaker to their 2017 recruiting class Friday in the form of outside linebacker Willie Gay.

The 6' ½,”, 215-pound Gay is a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, and the No. 132 player overall, No. 11 outside linebacker and No. 3 prospect from the state of Mississippi in the 2017 class.

Gay made the decision official on Twitter:

Being from Mississippi, Gay generated plenty of interest from SEC schools during his recruiting cycle.

Mississippi State and Ole Miss were the only schools to garner Crystal Ball predictions from 247Sports, but Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M also showed interest.

It wasn’t just SEC schools that pursued Gay, as Michigan and Oklahoma also recruited the linebacker. Gay discussed what he was looking for in the various programs, per Drew Champlin of AL.com: “I’m just looking for a school that knows what they want to do with me and has a plan and just feels like they can use me in their program.”

Based on talent alone, Gay’s new school should find plenty of opportunities to use him.

The first thing that jumps out is his athleticism, which allows him to drop back into coverage and hang with tight ends, although he is quick enough to pressure opposing quarterbacks on blitzes off the edge as well.

Hudl.com shared some of Gay’s highlights from his junior season in 2015:

Scout.com, which noted “his speed is one of his biggest strengths,” pointed out Gay’s ability to play in space, attack running backs in the box and close on tackles with his speed.

The versatile linebacker has the overall talent to contribute right away for his new school, even in the SEC. He is a three-down type of player and has the potential to develop into a star defender at the next level.

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Shavar Manuel, 4-Star FSU DT Commit, Will Attend Junior College

Coveted defensive tackle prospect Shavar Manuel, who signed a national letter of intent with the Florida State Seminoles on Feb. 3, has reportedly opted to attend junior college instead of proceeding with his plan to play for the ACC powerhouse.

Citing a source in Manuel's family, Josh Newberg of 247Sports reported the 4-star stud will enroll at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas.

"The same source says that Florida State has been working with him over the past few weeks in picking a JUCO to attend," Newberg wrote. "Manuel will need to get his AA degree before becoming eligible.  The family believes he could be out of JUCO in a year-and-a-half."

Manuel committed to the Florida Gators on Jan. 3, per 247Sports, but he reversed that decision a month later and latched on with the Seminoles.

He explained his decision in a conversation with Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson: 

The Blake High School and IMG Academy product has been lauded as one of the nation's top high school run-stuffers for some time. According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Manuel is the ninth-ranked defensive tackle and 67th-ranked player overall in the 2016 class. He's also the 11th-ranked player in the state of Florida. 

Since Newberg Manuel will ultimately make his way to Tallahassee, head coach Jimbo Fisher and Co. will merely need to exercise some patience before they can get their hands on the potential cornerstone.

 

All recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Dream Scenarios for Every 2016-17 College Football Bowl Matchup

It's never too early to talk about the postseason. This is the time of the year when playoff and even standard bowl projections are starting to be published online and in annual preview magazines. Everyone already has their eyes on the prizes.

Fans also talk about dream matchups between certain schools in the offseason. They have a list of which head coaches and powerhouse programs should square off for bragging rights, chances at revenge or chances at a national championship.

Let's take that exercise to its furthest point in terms of the 2016 college football season. I have gone through each FBS conference and sketched out a rough pecking order of teams projected to be bowl-eligible. Then, by using the 2016-17 bowl schedule and tie-ins from FBSchedules.com, I came up with dream matchups for every one of the 40 bowl games for the upcoming campaign.

Some dreams are bigger and better than others, as a team could only be used once. What would be the best-case bowl lineup using the teams that are expected to make it to the postseason in 2016? Past meetings, coach histories, location and program styles all factored into these selections.

To be clear: These aren't my projections for this year's bowls, but I tried to keep the landing spots as realistic as possible for the teams. Preseason Top 25 polls, such as this composite ranking, were good guides.

Which matchups would you want to see the most in this year's college football bowl season? Dream big, and let me hear them in the comments below.

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Art Briles, Baylor Reportedly Agree to Settlement: Details, Comments, Reaction

Baylor and head football coach Art Briles have reportedly agreed to terms on a settlement on his contract.

Bleacher Report's Jason King and KWTX 10 in Waco, Texas, reported the two sides agreed to the settlement, though terms were not disclosed.

Earlier this week, Baylor interim president David Garland told Dallas' WFAA-TV (via ESPN.com) that a contingent of people were hoping to get Briles back on the sidelines in 2017: "A lot of fans love what the coach did on the football field, and you can understand that. But other factors have to be taken into consideration."

Dan Wolken of USA Today reported a group of Baylor donors were seeking to have Briles remain the program's football coach by essentially serving a one-year suspension, but the movement was "unlikely to result in any action."

Baylor spokeswoman Tonya Lewis said in a statement Tuesday that the school's "Board of Regents did meet...to discuss a variety of matters. We can confirm, there was no vote regarding the employment status of Art Briles."

Briles signed a 10-year contract extension with Baylor three years ago that runs through 2023. KWTX 10 noted he was still owed around $40 million for the duration of the contract. Baylor hired Jim Grobe as the interim football coach on May 30.

On May 26, per the school's official website, Baylor announced it was suspending Briles with the intent to fire him after results from an independent investigation revealed a "fundamental failure" by the university "to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA)."

Baylor as a whole has come under scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault allegations, particularly those involving football players, which led the school to make sweeping changes—demoting university president Ken Starr and placing athletic director Ian McCaw on probation. Both Starr and McCaw later resigned.

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Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State Agree to New Contract: Latest Details and Reaction

Oklahoma State and head football coach Mike Gundy reached an agreement on a two-year contract extension that was approved Friday by the Board of Regents and will keep him with the program through 2021.

Kyle Fredrickson of the Oklahoman provided the details of the new deal, which the board unanimously approved.

Fredrickson also confirmed through university spokesman Gary Shutt that Gundy will receive a $3.55 million base salary as part of the extension. The coach still has four years left on the eight-year pact he signed with the school following the 2011 campaign, which was worth around $30 million.

"We want to be sure that everybody knew that he was our guy," said Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis in a statement, via Fredrickson. "I think recruits and assistant coaches want to know that the coach that hired you is going to be the coach that’s there. So we thought it was important with just four years left to make a statement in that regard."

Gundy has helped Oklahoma State transform into one of the nation's most consistently competitive programs since he took over in 2005. The Cowboys have qualified for a bowl game in 10 straight years, going 6-4 in those contests, and finished as the country's third-ranked team in 2011.

In all, the 48-year-old former Oklahoma State quarterback has compiled a 94-47 record, including a 56-37 mark in conference games, across 11 seasons in charge. The team's winning percentage since 2010 ranks 13th in the country, according to Team Rankings.

The Cowboys have also produced several high-profile NFL players during Gundy's tenure, including wide receiver Dez Bryant, offensive tackle Russell Okung, quarterback Brandon Weeden and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

Bill Haisten of Tulsa World spoke with the Oklahoma native about his status near the end of last season. Gundy stated he regretted looking into opportunities with Tennessee and Arkansas in 2012 and he's now prepared for another decade in Stillwater.

"I'm just as energized now as when I started," he said. "I hit a wall and I kind of fell off, but I've broken through now."

Gundy, who will always be remembered for his "I'm a man! I'm 40!" rant in 2007, has proved to be far more than a great quote over the years. He's a terrific recruiter who's shown the ability to develop talent to make the Cowboys a regular threat in the Big 12.

That's why Oklahoma State is staying ahead of the curve by giving him a new contract now even though there's still time left on his prior deal. It's been a great partnership for more than a decade, and it's set to continue for the foreseeable future.

 

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Notre Dame Football: Summer Enrollees to Watch for

The Notre Dame football roster will grow by 18 players when the remaining 2016 signees arrive on campus in the summer.

Some are headed for redshirts, but that decision won't be made official until after offseason workouts and fall camp concludes. In the meantime, the true freshmen will adjust to elevated competition and attempt to impress coaches in the process.

A few prospects may contribute in 2016, but that's not the only reason to track the newcomers. Others—like early enrollees Kevin Stepherson and Devin Studstill did in the spring—can develop quicker than expected and provide even more hope for the future.

Keep an eye on these players during the upcoming season.

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The Case for and Against Alabama Winning the SEC West

For two straight holiday seasons, Alabama has prepared for national semifinal matchups with the SEC championship trophies already in its football facility. 

Could the Crimson Tide make it three in row in the rough-and-tumble SEC West?

Head coach Nick Saban has significant roster holes to fill, including at center, quarterback, running back and middle linebacker. 

Could those holes, coupled with a tough schedule, derail the Tide?

Let's make the case for and against an SEC West three-peat.

 

The Case For...

Come on, this is Alabama.

If any team in the country has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to roster holes, it's Saban's crew.

Nobody's comparing Blake Sims or Jake Coker to Tom Brady. Yet, those two quarterbacks not only led the Tide to SEC titles, but did so in highly prolific offenses—one of which (2014) set a program record with 484.5 yards per game, and the other produced a Heisman Trophy-winning running back and 5.89 yards per play.

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is a wizard, and will always find a way. 

While there are legitimate concerns, quarterback contenders Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts are all ultratalented signal-callers who can manage Kiffin's offense. Plus, now's the time for the true No. 1 to shine.

"The summertime, when they come back from Memorial Day, is certainly a time when leadership has a chance to flourish because the coaches aren't around as much and aren't allowed to be out there when they are working out," Saban said at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta in May. 

Yes, the running back corps is as inexperienced as it has been at any point during Saban's 10-year tenure in Tuscaloosa, but Bo Scarbrough is a Derrick Henry clone who's a bit more shifty in space, and former 5-star running back Damien Harris has superstar written all over him after earning backup carries and playing special teams as a true freshman.

"Damien Harris had a really nice day," Saban said of Harris' 114-yard performance in the spring game. "[He] looked quick and explosive and he did a really nice job."

Is there a problem at center? Of course. After all, it's not every year that a center gets drafted in the first round like former Tide starter Ryan Kelly did in 2016. But Ross Pierschbacher's time last year as the starting guard for the Joe Moore Award-winning Tide offensive line should help him recognize protection schemes as he slides over one spot.

Defensively, the Tide shouldn't miss a beat. 

Getting safety Eddie Jackson back after he flirted with the NFL is huge, and Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick are supersophomores who should help the secondary become one of the nation's best. Jonathan Allen is back to lead the linemen in the trenches, and former 5-star Da'Shawn Hand will finally get a shot after learning the ropes for a couple of years.

Tim Williams should evolve into an every-down monster at outside linebacker—just as he was as a pass-rushing specialist a year ago. Yes, middle linebacker is a question, but Reuben Foster, Rahsaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton were all blue-chippers for a reason.

It's Alabama.

The faces may change, but the result stays the same.

 

The Case Against...

All good things must come to an end, and this is the year that Saban goes through a true "rebuilding year" and takes a step back in the SEC West.

After all, there's no veteran leadership at quarterback, the running back corps doesn't have a natural successor, the offensive line is more sizzle than steak and the schedule is much more brutal than it has been in years past—especially for a team with so many questions.

Bateman couldn't beat out Coker last year, Cornwell was an afterthought, Barnett tossed too many interceptions during spring practice sessions and Hurts' youth will prevent him from making a big impact.

"Somebody has got to take the bull by the horns, and sort of win the team over," Saban said in May. "That's not something that I can make happen or something that I can do for them."

In years past, Trent Richardson had experience behind Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy behind Richardson, T.J. Yeldon behind Lacy and Henry behind Yeldon. Harris and Scarbrough combined for 261 rushing yards a year ago. The only time either had double-digit carries in a game was when both had 10 in mop-up duty against Charleston Southern.

Nothing against Charleston Southern, but the Buccaneers defense is just a bit different than that of LSU, USC, Ole Miss and Tennessee. 

Plus, the loss of Kelly is huge.

His absence in the 2013 Iron Bowl—when the Crimson Tide fell to Auburn in the de facto SEC West title game—was huge. His knee injury suffered in the 2014 loss to Ole Miss played a big part in that upset win for the Rebels. His absence the following game against Arkansas was a big reason the Crimson Tide struggled in a 14-13 win.

What's more, the Crimson Tide can't afford this much uncertainty based on how the schedule plays out.

USC's offense is loaded whether it's Max Browne or Sam Darnold taking the snaps, and can rattle the Tide prior to the start of SEC play. Ole Miss clearly has the Crimson Tide's number, and road trips to Tennessee and LSU will be too much for this relatively inexperienced group to overcome.

 

The Verdict...

Alabama isn't going anywhere.

Are things a bit more uncertain this year than they have been in the past? Yes, without a doubt.

Alabama is far from the invincible force that it is sometimes made out to be, and will have plenty of challenges this year along the way. 

But this crew—even though some new players will be in the mix—is well-versed on what it takes to win championships, which includes overcoming adversity on the field during games and the early losses that the program has experienced over each of the last two seasons.

Will Alabama win the SEC West for the third straight season? I think so, as pointed out in Optimistic, Pessimistic and Realistic SEC predictions

That road might be a little rockier this year, though, considering the amount of questions Saban has to answer.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Big Ten Football Q&A: Who Will Be the B1G's Breakout Quarterback in 2016?

We're nearly two months away from the start of the college football season and for perhaps the first time this offseason, Ohio State has stolen the spotlight from Michigan.

At least that's the case for those of us no longer wowed by Jim Harbaugh's wardrobe choices—as a jersey aficionado, I personally don't include myself in that category—and who are more impressed with Ohio State's landing of the nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 class (more on him later).

But regardless of where you allegiances lie, we can all agree that the actual college football season can't get here soon enough. With that in mind, let's get to this week's Big Ten Q&A, where we'll tackle the conference's breakout signal-caller, the Buckeyes' impending quarterback conundrum, Nebraska's recent Big Ten run and a star Michigan player's Heisman odds.

As always, you can send me your questions each week on Twitter @BenAxelrod.

Let's get started.

 

In a year where the Big Ten has an odd mix of proven, unknown and somewhere-in-between quarterbacks, I'd argue only three signal-callers in the conference are disqualified from this discussion: Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Iowa's C.J. Beathard and Minnesota's Mitch Leidner.

The rest are either entering their first seasons as starters, still fighting it out in quarterback battles or have enough room for improvement that a big 2016 would qualify for a breakout year.

And while I do think the reader's pick here, Illinois' Wes Lunt, is a viable candidate who should show plenty of growth under the direction of head coach Lovie Smith, I'm going across town for my own selection with Northwestern's Clayton Thorson.

In his first season as a starter in Evanston, Thorson enjoyed a mixed bag of results. On the one hand, the 6'4", 220-pounder led the Wildcats to a surprise 10-2 regular-season record, despite only being a redshirt freshman. On the other, Northwestern ranked last in the league in passing yards, as well as total offense, with Thorson throwing for just 117.1 yards per game.

But despite his shortcomings in his debut season, I'd expect for the Wheaton, Illinois, product to take a step forward in his development as a passer in his sophomore season. Already, Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald has praised the accelerated progress of his starting signal-caller entering the 2016 campaign, both physically and mentally.

"You can tell, even though he's a redshirt freshman, he's a wily veteran going through 13 battles of highs and lows, and good play and bad play, and wins and losses," Fitzgerald said, per Inside NU. "It's exciting, but he knows he's got a lot of things to improve in his game and I know they're working on it."

Add in that Thorson has arguably the best running back and one of the top defenses in the Big Ten to lean on, and it'd be a surprise to see him endure a sophomore slump. Other potential breakout QBs include Michigan State's Tyler O'Connor, Michigan's John O'Korn and, yes, perhaps even Lunt, but for now, Thorson's the pick to take his game to the next level in 2016.

 

The short answer: Urban Meyer.

The long one: Urban Meyer can really, really, really recruit.

In case you missed it, the Buckeyes bolstered what was already the nation's top-ranked 2017 class on Sunday when Tate Martell, the country's No. 1 overall dual-threat signal-caller, committed to spend his college career in Columbus. Assuming Martell's commitment sticks, that could leave Ohio State with a QB depth chart that consists of Barrett, Joe Burrow, Stephen Collier, Dwayne Haskins, Martell and fellow 2017 commit Danny Clark.

Of course, a lot can change between now and then, including Barrett turning pro and/or Clark decommitting. But what's perhaps most scary is we've seen Meyer stockpile this type of talent at quarterback before, even if a clear line of succession never came to fruition.

After all, this is the same head coach who once recruited Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and 5-star signal-caller John Brantley in consecutive classes during his time at Florida. Despite only one quarterback being able to play at a time, the reality remains that Meyer is going to try to add one in each class, and with his recruiting prowess, more times than not, it's going to be a highly touted player.

Plus, if there's one head coach in the country who realizes the value of having as many talented quarterbacks on a roster as possible, it's the one who's just over a year removed from having won a national title with his third-string signal-caller.

Transfers may happen, players may depart early and circumstances can switch on the drop of a dime. But one thing that won't change is the star power behind center in Columbus, so long as Meyer's around to recruit it.

 

First of all, I'm not sure I necessarily agree with this premise. While Johnny Manziel did provide some excitement in 2012 and 2013, Texas A&M is 36-16 in the past four seasons—a solid mark, albeit one that doesn't necessarily scream outright success.

Conversely, Nebraska's 43-23 mark in the past five years is comparable, although last year's 6-7 debut season under head coach Mike Riley did include some cause for concern.

But as I wrote earlier this week, the Cornhuskers possess plenty of promise entering 2016. For a variety of factors—including returning starters, a likely reversal of bad luck and a manageable but impressive schedule—Nebraska could very well be the Big Ten's sleeper team in the coming season, a bit like rival Iowa was a year ago.

As far as obtaining long-term success is concerned, the Huskers still have work to do. While glimpses of Big Ten contention have been seen here and there, none of it has been sustainable, whether it's been Bo Pelini or Riley on the sideline.

What's most promising for Nebraska is that Riley has recruited well since arriving in Lincoln a year ago, landing a top-25 class in 2016, with another on its way next February. But what would help the Cornhuskers the most would be a breakout year on the field, and it might only be a matter of a few months until one arrives.

 

I feel like I've answered questions and written stories about Jabrill Peppers on multiple occasions throughout this offseason, but he remains one of the most fascinating players in all the Big Ten. How often does one of the most—if not the most—talented players in a conference undergo a position change on a team expected to compete for a national title in the coming year?

(Although now that I think about it, I guess the same could have been said for Braxton Miller at Ohio State a year ago.)

Nevertheless, Peppers' position switch from safety to outside linebacker should increase his Heisman odds, seeing as his new role in defensive coordinator Don Brown's system should lend itself to more eye-popping stat lines. At the moment, the Michigan standout is unlisted on Odds Shark's Heisman odds, but a strong start to the season while playing for one of the country's most high-profile teams could certainly change that.

But no matter how impressive of a year Peppers puts together, actually making it to New York will be an uphill battle, as the Heisman voting process typically favors offensive players. Peppers does, however, possess the potential to pull a Manti Te'o and parlay his star power throughout the year into a late Heisman push, and as long as the Wolverines remain in the limelight, he will as well.

Right now, don't count on Peppers winding up in New York this December, but stranger things have happened. Between his talent and Michigan's new defensive coordinator's stat-friendly scheme, the numbers might simply be too good to ignore, regardless of which side of the ball Peppers plays on.

 

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. Recruiting class rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite.

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Tennessee Football: Summer Enrollees to Watch for

Tennessee's 2016 football recruiting class probably won't have the same immediate, necessary impact as the previous hauls corralled by coach Butch Jones, because the Volunteers don't have as many needs.

But that doesn't mean all the summer enrollees who've recently arrived in Knoxville will be standing on the sideline for a year as bystanders to a season many expect to be excellent. Several newcomers have an opportunity to play key roles.

Whether because of immense talent or some lingering shallow areas of depth that haven't quite been replenished, the Vols have some prospects who could secure vital roles on the team once the games begin.

Whereas a couple of seasons ago, Jones needed some players to believe in his "brick-by-brick" philosophy of rebuilding the program, high schoolers are coming to Knoxville for different reasons now. 

They're expecting to be part of something spectacular.

"When I was making my decision on which school to pick, I looked at teams that could win a national championship," said Ja'Quain Blakely, who won back-to-back state titles at Colquitt County in Georgia's largest classification level and the 2015 national title, according to SEC Country's Mike Griffith. "Winning a national title back home in high school makes me hungry to see what it's like to win a national title at the college level."

Blakely is a speedy linebacker who could find himself in the mix on special teams this year, but he may not play a significant role on coordinator Bob Shoop's defense because of all the depth on the outside.

Let's take a look at five of his fellow summer enrollees who may find themselves getting important snaps.

 

Nigel Warrior

You'll find few SEC prospects with a better pedigree and frenzied fanfare surrounding him than Warrior, Tennessee's prized legacy commitment who is one of the most college-ready players in the entire '16 class.

The 6'0", 186-pound 4-star safety from Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia, was coveted by all of the nation's top programs. Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Florida and others tried to woo him to their campuses. 

Ultimately, he chose to follow in his father Dale Carter's footsteps at Tennessee, where Carter was an All-American who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and became an NFL All-Pro. Warrior wants to make his own name on Shields-Watkins Field.

"I want to make my own path," he told Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Patrick Brown. "I want to follow his footsteps, but I want to do it in a different way. I want to do it better."

He'll have to bust open a loaded depth chart to do that this year, which takes a special player. Warrior certainly has that ability. The hard-hitting defensive back is versatile enough to play on the back end, but he also is fast enough in coverage where he could move over to corner.

He'll get his first crack at safety, where the Vols boast potential star players like Todd Kelly Jr., Rashaan Gaulden, Evan Berry and Micah Abernathy—all of which were once top-notch prospects.

Warrior has the highest ceiling of any of them, though. And while it may be asking a lot for a true freshman to overtake guys who have logged years in the program, you can't keep alpha dogs off the field. 

Warrior is an alpha. He'll command playing time before the season is over, and probably a lot of it.

 

Jonathan Kongbo

Another player with the ability to nestle a comfy depth-chart spot for himself in a crowded cluster of possible playmakers is Kongbo, the nation's top-ranked JUCO player who chose Tennessee over a host of competitors on the afternoon of national signing day.

The roller coaster that was Kongbo's recruitment played out in an ulcer-inducing manner for the Vols, who secured his commitment in the fall, watched as he decommitted and opened things up, seemed as if he'd stay out West, then flirted with Florida State, Ole Miss and Alabama.

During all that time, UT kept the heat applied, and Kongbo wound up choosing where he originally elected to go this time around.

Now with three years of eligibility remaining, the 6'5", 265-pound defensive end has the kind of upside that makes college coaches drool. He has the speed and burst to play off the edge, but he is also strong and big enough to shift inside and play defensive tackle situationally.

Kongbo certainly isn't shy about his aspirations. He wants to come in and dominate, and he also likes to take calculated jabs at rivals such as Alabama and Florida.

"Jonathan Kongbo got a little lecture from Coach Jones on the way over here from the airport of being humble, and just come in and stay off of Twitter," Jones told the crowd at one of his Big Orange Caravan stops, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan.

Don't let the coach speak fool you, though. The Vols love the swagger, and that's the kind of attitude that can come in and join Derek Barnett in the starting lineup. UT has potentially dynamic ends in Corey Vereen, Kyle Phillips, Darrell Taylor, Austin Smith and LaTroy Lewis, but don't count out Kongbo.

He has the potential to be as good as anybody on the team if he can hone his raw skills in a hurry.

 

Tyler Byrd

Was Byrd's immediate playing-time stock helped or hurt when he announced via Twitter that he'd begin his Tennessee career as a wide receiver?

That remains to be seen, but the path to the field is unquestionably clearer on offense. 

The obstacles ahead of him on the other side of the ball already have been detailed in the Warrior discussion, but at receiver, the Vols have been looking for playmakers for three years. Tennessee should feel solidly about Josh Malone, Josh Smith and Preston Williams at the position, but, beyond that, it's open auditions.

A dynamic athlete from Naples, Florida, looked like an absolute star in the U.S. Army All-American Game every time he stepped on the field, no matter what side of the ball. While his upside may be higher as a defensive back, he has elite ability and change-of-direction on offense.

If his catching ability and route running get to where they need to be, it's not out of the question that the 4-star prospect who flipped from Miami in the 11th hour could work his way onto the field this year.

His work ethic was never questioned in high school, and 247Sports National Director of Scouting Barton Simmons raved about the leadership of Byrd (who was then committed to the Hurricanes) at the All-American Game.

Not only did Miami cornerback commit Tyler Byrd have a great game on Saturday and a strong week of practice, he also seems to have the character piece in place. Byrd was well-spoken and when the team was involved in some charity work during the week, Byrd was picking up trash and showing some real leadership off the field.

The Vols didn't turn up the pressure on Byrd to join his close friend, Carlin Fils-aime, in UT's recruiting class to stand over on the sideline and watch. Even if he doesn't quite know what he's doing out there just yet, you can get him the ball in space and watch him shine.

Tennessee needs difference-makers under passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni on offense. There have been too many players such as Marquez North and Von Pearson who never lived up to their potential in Jones' tenure. This new crop of receivers could. 

This list is filled with pass-catchers because that's where the greatest immediate need lies, and Byrd just may be the most physically gifted prospect in UT's entire class.

 

Marquez Callaway

The most polished receiver in Tennessee's class was a target for the longest time for the Vols before finally choosing them over Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Notre Dame and others.

At 6'2", 185 pounds, the 4-star Warner Robins, Georgia, native has solid size and speed, but while he's not a tree or a blazer, he just does everything well. Callaway runs solid routes, has adequate hands and is a good enough athlete that several teams tried to recruit him as a defensive back.

His versatility also will make up for what rawness he possesses in his skill set.

Receiver is where Tennessee saw his future, and he'll step in and be able to compete for a spot in the rotation right away. He looks like a perfect fit for the slot receiver position with his wiggle and ability to change direction in space.

Callaway is the kind of player who can take a short pass, make a defender miss and get a lot of yards in a hurry. He has been impressive so far, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

Anyone who has watched or read Moneyball knows that someone looking like a great player doesn’t always mean they’re a great player, but the fact is Callaway in particular looks like one to watch going forward. He absolutely aces the eyeball test. He physically resembles an older player, and the hope is that he’ll play as good as he looks.

If that happens, the Vols may wind up being pretty strong in the receiving corps, after all, even with a bunch of new faces.

 

Latrell Williams

The biggest wild card on this list is a player that many Vols fans who follow recruiting religiously hadn't even heard of a month before national signing day.

Williams, then, was a little-known South Florida commitment from Lake City, Florida, who'd flown under the radar. But flying on the football field is what ultimately got him noticed.

Miami came calling first, and the 5'11", 171-pound speedster receiver from Columbia High School pledged to the Hurricanes in January, flipping from the Bulls. The Vols wound up calling with new assistant Larry Scott, though, and Williams changed his mind and signed with UT on national signing day.

In what was a class tight on numbers, UT felt like it couldn't pass up on speed like Williams'. There's nobody like him on Tennessee's entire roster.

So, even though 247Sports has him as the No. 714-ranked overall player in the class and a 3-star prospect that is mired among commitments from third-tier schools, Williams is a prospect everybody who follows the Orange and White should be excited about.

Williams is raw, but you just can't teach speed like he has, running somewhere in the 4.3s, according to his 247Sports profile. That's the kind of player you just throw quick hitches to and watch what happens next.

Given that UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs will make his living in the short passing game this year, Williams seems to fit right in. Also, if necessary, he has the wheels to stretch the field.

Callaway may be more polished, and Byrd may be the better athlete, but Williams has something that few wearing the Power T have: He can change the game with just a few strides. That may be his ticket to 2016 playing time.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered at CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Can 5-Star CB Stanford Samuels Make Immediate Impact for Florida State?

The Florida State Seminoles secured another elite defensive back recruit on Thursday, landing a legacy commitment from coveted cornerback Stanford Samuels III.

The 5-star prospect publicly revealed his intentions via Twitter:

He is the son of Stanford Samuels Jr., a former Florida State starter at cornerback who played with the program through 2003. The elder Samuels is approaching his first season as head coach at Flanagan High School (Broward County, Florida), where the Seminoles' newest pledge is a rising senior.

Samuels Jr. replaced fellow former Florida State standout Devin Bush Sr., who joined the University of Michigan staff shortly after his son, Devin Bush Jr., signed with the Wolverines over the Seminoles.

There won't be a repeat performance of a lost legacy this time around, as Samuels III confirmed Thursday what analysts have widely anticipated since early stages of his high school career.

All 21 expert predictions in Samuels' 247Sports Crystal Ball projected him to spend college in Tallahassee. More than 40 universities extended a scholarship, including Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Michigan and UCLA.

Expectations will be immense when he arrives on campus, as noted by Scout.com analyst Chad Simmons:

Rated No. 3 nationally among cornerbacks and No. 23 overall in the 2017 class, Samuels becomes the crown jewel of an impressive Florida State talent haul.

As he revealed via Twitter, 4-star safety Daniel Wright committed to Florida State on Wednesday. The Seminoles now carry 10 commitments in a class that rates No. 6 overall and No. 1 among ACC programs in 247Sports' composite rankings.

The Seminoles staff has done an outstanding job of stockpiling prized prospects throughout a star-studded secondary during recent cycles. Despite serious competition, Samuels has the size and skill set to rapidly surge up Florida State's depth chart.

Following an early-March conversation with the cornerback, Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani pointed out that Samuels studies film of current Florida State star Derwin James and No. 5 overall 2016 NFL draft pick Jalen Ramsey, who reigned in the Seminoles' backfield from 2013 to 2015. 

“[The Seminoles] are used to winning," he told Kirpalani. "They are always going to win and produce great players. They always develop guys that go on to the NFL."

James, a rising sophomore safety, should have NFL scouts salivating throughout the remainder of his college career. Fellow class of 2015 signees Tarvarus McFadden and Marcus Lewis may be poised for breakout campaigns at boundary cornerback.

While these emerging young players have a strong chance to develop into mainstay secondary members through at least 2017, there will be room for Samuels to make an immediate impact.

Standing at 6'2", 175 pounds, this rangy defender is well prepared for the rigors of college football and attacks opponents with exceptional technique.

“I’ve been playing football since I was born,” he told Kirpalani. “[My father] put a football in my hands. Since I was born, that’s what I’ve loved to do. I always expected to be here because that was what was expected of me growing up.”

Marquez White, a returning Florida State starter at cornerback, is a senior. Upon his departure, the staff could look to Samuels as a promising candidate to carve out an expansive role in the positional rotation.

B/R broke down the newest Seminoles acquisition this past winter during its CFB Future 100 series:

The first thing you notice about Samuels is his physical nature. His aggressive play and overall tenacity oftentimes lead to jarring hits that belong on his highlight tape. ... Although he hits like a safety or linebacker, his coverage skills quickly remind coaches he's a pure cornerback. He is comfortable on an island and uses his length to make plays in the air. He has the measurables of a solid cornerback and can be a big-time playmaker at the next level.

 

Tyler Donohue is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter @TDsTake.

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25 Best Overall Position Groups for 2016 College Football Season

Superstars grab the most attention, but a select group of college football teams stocked their rosters with outstanding talent at one position.

These programs either boast an elite starter complemented by excellent backups—such as at quarterback, for example—or built a dangerous starting unit composed of a few players.

Four schools placed two units on the list, which is organized alphabetically and factors in a team's competition, so "Group of Five" squads are not shut out.

Being included doesn't necessarily mean the units will be the most productive in 2016, but their talent levels are unmatched on paper.

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Stanford Samuels to FSU: Seminoles Land 5-Star CB Prospect

Florida State secured the commitment of 5-star cornerback Stanford Samuels III on Thursday.

Samuels took to Twitter to announce his decision:

The 6'2", 175-pound corner from Charles W. Flanagan High School in Hollywood, Florida, is considered the No. 3 cornerback in the nation, the No. 5 player from the state of Florida and the No. 23 prospect overall, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

Scout.com offered the following report on the big corner:

Samuels III is how you draw up big-time corners in today's game. Size can be looked at as a strength or area for improvement because his length is off the charts, but yet he is thin, so he needs to add mass/strength. He gets his hands on a lot of passes and his recovery speed is a real strength. Not afraid to come up and make a play against the run. Very instinctive player, can bait the quarterback, and then make a play on the ball.

Samuels has been catching the eye of major college recruiters for some time now and spoke with Bleacher Report in March 2015 about his inspirations and his style of play:

Samuels' father, Stanford Samuels Jr., played his college football at Florida State and won a national championship with the Seminoles in 1999. Samuels called his father "my hardest critic and my biggest fan," per Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat, so the college experience shouldn't be a major adjustment to Samuels, who will have his father's experience to lean on.

He certainly has the look of an impact player at the next level, especially if he bulks up. The Seminoles will be expecting him to become a star at the cornerback position and lock down opposing wideouts during his time on campus.

Following his father to Tallahassee has to be a thrill for Samuels, and he should have an edge as he gears up for all that playing at FSU's high-profile program entails. With a strong pedigree, a familiarity factor with the school and a high-end skill set on his side, Samuels seems destined for success as a Seminole.

 

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Top 10 Nike Uniforms in College Football

What name is the most prominent in college football right now? Some might say defending national champion Alabama. Others may say Jim Harbaugh. People will also argue for players such as Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey or Deshaun Watson.

But the real answer might be Nike.

According to Zach Barnett of Football Scoop, Nike entered 2015 with contracts for 68 of the 128 FBS schools in college football—a little more than half. That's more than twice as many as the second-biggest brand, Adidas. And the apparel giant is always looking to add more, as Michigan will be the first college football program to be outfitted with Nike's Jordan brand later this year.

Nike is the king of college football uniforms, and it has some of the most unique and innovative designs in the country. Every season, dozens of programs get tweaks, alternates or brand-new base uniforms from Nike.

As we're in the doldrums of the offseason, let's take a look at the 10 best uniforms from Nike in college football. Keep in mind that this ultimately comes down to the opinion of one writer, and everyone has their own personal taste for what they like in a uniform. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that includes college football unis.

Shout out your favorite Nike threads in the world of college football in the comments below.

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Justin Sweet Arrested: Latest Details, Mugshot and More on Colorado State DB

Colorado State defensive back Justin Sweet was arrested early Wednesday on suspicion of drunk driving in Larimer County, Colorado. 

Kelly Lyell of the Coloradoan reported Sweet was booked on charges of "speeding, driving under the influence/driving while ability impaired by drugs or alcohol and driving a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or more."

Arrest Nation passed along the defender's mugshot:

The Coloradoan noted sheriff's spokesman David Moore stated Sweet was arrested at an intersection near the Colorado State University campus. He was released on bond shortly before 8 a.m. local time Wednesday.

A school spokesman told the outlet Rams head coach Mike Bobo was unavailable to comment on the matter because he's away at a satellite camp. A full arrest report with further details about the incident also hasn't become publicly available yet.

Sweet joined Colorado State as a 2-star prospect out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas in 2013, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

The redshirt junior has played sparingly, registering just six total tackles in five games last season, but he's expected to compete for a starting safety job this fall.

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