NCAA Football News

Derrick Tucker to Texas A&M: Aggies Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

Derrick Tucker has wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks throughout Texas, and the Texas A&M Aggies will hope he does so at the next level after securing the commitment of the 4-star safety on Friday, per Taylor Hamm of 247Sports:

Tucker is No. 146 overall and No. 14 at his position, per 247Sports' composite rankings for the 2017 recruiting class. He's also the 22nd-best player in the state of Texas. The Manvel High School star made a major jump on the field in 2015, making 46 tackles—five of which were for a loss—and intercepting four passes, per 247Sports.

That only helped Tucker's profile grow and a number of schools took notice. The Texas Longhorns, TCU Horned Frogs and Houston Cougars all looked to keep him closer to home, while he also received scholarship offers from the Illinois Fighting Illini, Missouri Tigers and Utah Utes.

At 6'3", Tucker is blessed with great height for a safety. As long as he can add some bulk, he'll have the perfect frame for his position. At his current weight (180 lbs), he could be overpowered against upperclassmen from top-tier FBS teams.

According to Hudl, Tucker ran a 4.69-second 40-yard dash. That time might be worrying if he played another position, but Tucker is more than fast enough to play safety. Plus, he'll likely shave off some of that time as he approaches his physical peak.

Acceleration is a better asset to have for a safety than straight-line speed, and in that regard, Tucker won't have any trouble. He closes down on wide receivers and ball-carriers well—a trait that will only get stronger once he gets some coaching to learn how to read a play as it unfolds.

He showed off his impressive footwork during a training session last April:

It will be interesting to see how Tucker's game develops over the next few years.

He currently fits the profile of a box safety. He's a very good run defender, but he might struggle in pass coverage against teams that use the spread offense. That wouldn't preclude Tucker from having a highly productive college career though, as Ian Boyd of SB Nation's Football Study Hall explained that box safeties are becoming more valuable again.

Should he become a smarter player though, Tucker might grow into a more versatile safety who roams all around the field rather than playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

Either way, he's a great addition to Texas A&M's 2017 class, and he should become a vital member of the defense in a few years.

 

Star rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top 10 College Football Pass-Rushing Duos for 2016 Season

Elite pass-rushers are must-have weapons on any college football team, but even the best can't do it alone. Going at it solo means opposing offenses can scheme up double-teams and other ways to limit the star player's impact over the course of a game.

Why have just one elite pass-rusher when you can have two fearsome ones? Together, these duos make it hard for offenses to key on just one threat, which leads to better numbers all the way around.

College football lost some of its top duos from last season, including the Clemson combo of Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, as well as the high number of pass-rushing packages Penn State could throw out with the likes of Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel.

But there are still a good number of established pass-rushing duos left in the college game, especially in the defense-savvy SEC. Here are the 10 best combos in the country heading into the 2016 season, based mainly on production in sacks and QB hurries from last year, per CFBStats.com.

Which duo do you think is the best in college football? Have any newer combos you think will be added to the list by season's end? Shout them out in the comments below.

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Braxton Burmeister to Arizona: Wildcats Land 4-Star QB Prospect

After reopening his recruitment, quarterback Braxton Burmeister of the 2017 class committed to play for Arizona on Friday. 

Adam Gorney of Rivals reported the news, while College Spun passed along video of Burmeister's commitment: 

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, the La Jolla, California, native is a 4-star prospect who rates as the No. 9 dual-threat quarterback, the No. 30 player from the state of California and the No. 260 overall recruit nationally.

Burmeister initially committed to play at Arizona in 2014, but he changed his mind in March and decided to make himself available to other schools after a fantastic junior season for La Jolla Country Day High School:

While the Wildcats remained in the mix, Burmeister's change of heart put other schools such as Utah, Washington and Indiana back in the running as well, per 247Sports.

The 6'1", 211-pound signal-caller did it all for his high school team as a junior and gave himself an opportunity to garner even more interest from top schools across the nation.

According to MaxPreps, Burmeister threw for 2,771 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2015 to go along with an additional 868 yards and 20 scores on the ground.

That dual-threat ability made Burmeister an attractive recruit to many of the nation's top programs, as did his performance at the Elite 11.

Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles provided a look at Burmeister's explosive dropback and quick release from the event:

ESPN.com's Erik McKinney also captured a great throw from Burmeister that showed off his impressive arm strength:

The learning curve can be steep for young signal-callers who make the leap from high school to college, but Burmeister's skill set suggests he could be a superstar.

Even if he needs further development when it comes to reading defenses and anticipating his receivers' patterns, Burmeister has a chance to be effective as a young player because of his legs.

Burmeister's speed and elusiveness have bailed him out often throughout his high school career, and they should serve him well at the next level too.

Sitting and learning for at least one year may be the best course of action for Burmeister, though, as further development from a passing perspective would give him a better opportunity to excel.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking College Football's Best 2016 Pro-Style Quarterbacks

College football continues to morph into its own type of game, distancing itself from the NFL thanks to its varied playing styles. Yet one place where the two continue to intersect is at the quarterback position.

Though more and more NFL teams are willing to dabble in some spread tendencies, by and large, that league remains rooted in what's most commonly known as "pro-style" offenses. And no player adheres more to this standard than a quarterback who focuses almost solely on throwing the ball.

The pro-style quarterback is slowly fading out in college, but it's far from extinct. Of the 15 QBs selected in last month's NFL draft, the top five were pro-style passers, and all but two were known primarily for their arms when in college.

Who are the best at dropping back and slinging it in college in 2016? Check out our list of the best pro-style passers based on what they've done to this point and what's expected from them this season.

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The Case for and Against Joshua Dobbs Winning the 2016 Heisman Trophy

One look at preseason polls, and you're virtually guaranteed to see Tennessee near the top.

The Vols chime in at No. 7 in Bleacher Report's post-spring ranking, 11th in ESPN's, 8th according to Fox Sports and 8th in Sports Illustrated's

If head coach Butch Jones' crew is going to match that preseason hype and dance around the College Football Playoff discussion, quarterback Joshua Dobbs will have to stay healthy and make a Heisman run.

That last part is tricky because, while Dobbs has been stellar on the ground throughout his career (671 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015), he has been inconsistent through the air, and 6.7 yards per passing attempt—which is what he finished with last year—hardly stresses defenses vertically.

If he fixes that, Dobbs can vault into the Heisman discussion. 

Let's make the case for and against Dobbs taking the next step and contending for college football's most prestigious individual award.

 

The Case For...

Dobbs is bound to be a star due to the natural evolution of quarterbacks.

Last season was his first full season as the starting quarterback. While he wasn't a superstar through the air, he was effective on the ground and kept his team in every ball game. He has also established Tennessee's backfield with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara as one of the best in college football and should earn the confidence of Jones and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord after another successful offseason in the system.

Jones was pleased with Dobbs' progression as a passer following the spring game.

"I look at efficiency, pass efficiency, 'Are we doing the right things? Do we take care of the football? Are they managing the game? Are they making decisions, good decisions with the football?' I thought the quarterbacks were able to do that [in the spring game]," he said according to Tennessee.

Plus, he should have more consistency at wide receiver thanks to the emergence of sophomore Preston Williams and 6'4" red-zone threat Jeff George, who enrolled this spring after spending last year at Dodge City (Kansas) Community College.

Dobbs gets the majority of the criticism for Tennessee's absence of a downfield passing attack, but inconsistency and injuries outside played a part as well. 

"Everyone always says, 'accuracy, accuracy, accuracy,' but a lot of you guys don't realize, it is a two-way street," Dobbs said. "Obviously it helps to play a lot with the receivers. Do they get a good release, how they get open. The receivers are working hard every day."

Dobbs scored a total of 27 touchdowns last season, including one as a receiver against Florida in a game that he led the Vols in passing, rushing and receiving. Heisman Trophy voters love video game stats like that from quarterbacks.

What's more, it's still a quarterback-driven award. Sure, Alabama's Derrick Henry won it last year. But he set an SEC rushing record with 2,219 yards and put his team on his back en route to the national title, and it's pretty much a prerequisite for any non-quarterback to not only set individual records, but lead his team into the national title picture when votes are due in early December.

Tennessee should be a part of that picture if Dobbs simply takes a small step forward as a passer, which not only should be the goal, but should be expected of the rising senior considering the talent around him and the familiarity with the system.

 

The Case Against...

Haven't we seen enough of Dobbs to etch it in stone that he won't be that downfield threat that he needs to be in order to vault into legitimate consideration?

His yards per attempt average has been consistent over the last two seasons on Rocky Top, and his 6.7 average last year placed him 10th in the SEC behind Florida's Treon Harris and South Carolina's Perry Orth. 

"We still have to continue to work on our accuracy, have to continue to work every day on the deep ball and just consistency, when we have a receiver or a tight end or a running back open, delivering the ball," Jones said. "Those groups have to be consistent in catching the football, and we have to be consistent in the way we pass protect as well."

Even if his wide receivers do progress, he hasn't shown the ability to hit his receivers downfield yet and shows no signs of doing that moving forward.

What's more, Tennessee is more sizzle than steak this year.

Sure, the Vols are rated highly preseason and have assembled a roster that should contend for the SEC East again in 2016, after coming just short against Florida in what turned out to be the division title game last year. 

But they've lost 11 straight to Florida even when Florida was down (by Gator standards), and they have to play permanent cross-division rival and defending national champion Alabama every year. Those two games will be inside the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium, but even if they only lose one, it's hard to imagine the Vols running the rest of the table and landing in the national spotlight.

Without the national spotlight, Dobbs will take a backseat to guys like Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Baylor's Seth Russell, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and other quarterbacks with video game numbers who will be featured more prominently down the stretch in 2016. 

He still could be good, but there will be far too much traffic ahead of him to actually win the Heisman Trophy. 

 

The Verdict...

Dobbs is listed 10th in current Heisman Trophy odds, according to OddsShark.com, tied with Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine, Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley and UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen at (+2000).

That's a solid starting point and should land the eyeballs of Heisman voters on the 6'3", 207-pounder from the moment the season kicks off.

His team will be in the thick of the SEC East race, and Dobbs playing a pivotal role in the Week 4 showdown with Florida on Rocky Top will be an enormous boost to his Heisman campaign. Beat the Gators and look good in the process, and the Dobbs train will get going at full speed heading into October.

At that point, you should hop on board.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: 3 Recruits Who Would Be Perfect Fits for Buckeyes Offense

Head coach Urban Meyer has Ohio State at the top of the college football recruiting world with 2017's No. 1-ranked class, and when looking at the Buckeyes' top remaining targets, there are three players who would not only strengthen their hold on the top spot, but they would also be perfect fits for Meyer's spread-power offense.

Ohio State already has the cornerstone of its future offense in the fold with a verbal pledge from Josh Myers, a 5-star left tackle who's rated the No. 3 overall player for 2017.

Adding this trio of 5-stars would lay a foundation for an offense that could dominate the Big Ten and pave the way to more playoff berths down the road for the Buckeyes.

 

Tate Martell, 5-Star Quarterback

Ohio State doesn't have a particularly big need at quarterback—in fact, some could argue the position room is getting quite full with J.T. Barrett, Joe Burrow, Stephen Collier, Dwayne Haskins and 2017 pledge Danny Clark on board.

But when a school has the chance to land a talent as special as Tate Martell, it can't afford to pass on it. 

The 5'10", 203-pound signal-caller is rated the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback nationally and the No. 33 prospect overall. His offer list includes Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan and USC, and for a long stretch, Martell was committed to play out his collegiate career at Texas A&M.

Following a bizarre series of events, Martell decommitted from the Aggies and reopened his recruitment. And after a late March visit and constant contact with the Ohio State staff, Meyer and the Buckeyes are now in the driver's seat and the favorites to land his pledge, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball Predictions.

Martell would be a great addition to Ohio State's roster not just because of his talent, but because the recent quarterbacks added in the last two recruiting cycles—Burrow, Haskins and Clark—are more pocket passers in the mold of Cardale Jones. Martell's addition would give Ohio State a running option at quarterback down the road, which has been imperative to the success of Meyer's offense.

 

Tyjon Lindsey, 5-Star Wide Receiver

Ohio State had one of the country's most impressive wide receiver hauls in 2016 with high 4-stars Austin Mack (the nation's No. 10 receiver) and Binjimen Victor (No. 12), but the 2017 haul could be even more impressive.

The Buckeyes are hot on the trail for a number of 5-star pass-catchers this year, highlighted by Donovan Peoples-Jones and Trevon Grimes. And while either of those wideouts would be an absolute boon for Ohio State, 5-star wideout Tyjon Lindsey may be the crown jewel of the group.

The 5'8", 180-pound blazer out of Corona, California, has offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Notre Dame, Oregon and USC, but the Buckeyes are a serious contender for Lindsey's commitment. He visited Ohio State the same weekend Martell was on campus, and he had a great time in Columbus.

“It was perfect,” Lindsey said, according to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors. “My relationship with the coaches, how they're nothing but real to me, that has really stood out.”

Lindsey and Martell actually have a long friendship together, which could help Ohio State land their commitments in a package deal. 

But Lindsey's commitment, in particular, would be beneficial because he would bring something new to Ohio State's wide receiver corps. With Mack and Victor in the fold, who are both long and rangy receivers who use their height and route-running ability to get open on the outside, Lindsey would be the perfect complement in the slot as a shifty, playmaking nightmare in the middle of the field.

 

Cam Akers, 5-Star Running Back

Before Meyer took over at Ohio State, one of the bizarre negatives on his resume was that he had never coached a running back who eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in a single season.

It didn't take long for the Buckeyes to put that to the bed. Over the last three seasons, starting running backs Carlos Hyde (2013) and Ezekiel Elliott (2014-15) have averaged 1,740 rushing yards to complement 56 total rushing touchdowns.

That success is helping Ohio State recruit Cam Akers, a 5'11", 211-pound bulldozer from Clinton, Mississippi.

The one-time Alabama commit has offers from SEC heavyweights Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee, along with southern powerhouses Florida State and Miami, among others. His blend of power and speed makes him a unique fit for almost any offense, but he would be perfect in Ohio State's spread system that's anchored by a power-running game.

And fortunately for Meyer and the Buckeyes, Akers is a fan of the program.

“I definitely love Ohio State,” Akers said, according to Bill Kurelic of Bucknuts. “My family and myself love Ohio State and what the [football] program is doing. They always produce good running backs. They are always in the running for the national championship and the academics are great also.”

The Buckeyes have a long, uphill battle for his commitment, though, as Ole Miss is the heavy favorite, according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions. But judging from Akers' comments, Ohio State will be a factor in his recruitment.

 

All recruiting information via 247 Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Q&A: Who Will Win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year?

G'day, mate.

Is that the latest greeting in Big Ten country? It might as well be after it was revealed this week that Jim Harbaugh is taking his satellite camp tour worldwide with a planned stop in Australia on June 3. Harbaugh will be a busy man throughout the month of June, with 30 satellite camps slated and seven more traditional camps to be held in Ann Arbor.

It's worth noting at this point that there are only 30 days in June.

Other than that, it's been a quiet few weeks in the Big Ten during the doldrums of the college football offseason between spring practice and fall camp. With that in mind, let's get to this week's Big Ten Q&A, where we'll tackle a conference Defensive Player of the Year prediction, the state of Northwestern, the future of Ohio State's defensive coordinator and where Michigan stands entering 2016.

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

Let's get started.

 

There's a big difference between who the Big Ten's best defensive player is and who's ultimately going to win the conference's Nagurski–Woodson Defensive Player of the Year award.

As good as Penn State's Carl Nassib was a year ago, it's hard to believe Iowa's Desmond King didn't walk away with the honor in 2015, the same season the Hawkeyes cornerback won the Thorpe Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top defensive back.

Back in Iowa City for his senior season, King should be the front-runner to win the Nagurski-Woodson in 2016, but the award's history hasn't been very favorable for defensive backs. In fact, you'd have to go back all the way to 2002 to find the last time a defensive back earned the honor (Ohio State's Mike Doss) and even further back to 2000 for the last time it was won by a corner (Wisconsin's Jamar Fletcher).

With voters—coaches and media—seeming to favor defensive linemen and linebackers, that leaves three primary candidates outside of King to win this year's award: Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan, Illinois' Dawuane Smoot and Northwestern's Anthony Walker.

In the case of McMillan, the numbers will certainly be there after the Buckeyes' middle linebacker tallied a team-high 119 tackles in 2015 en route to being named a finalist for the Butkus Award. But with his tackles for loss (4) and sacks (1.5) lacking, the junior-to-be will need to make more of an impact to be considered this year's DPOY, especially with former teammates Darron Lee and Joshua Perry now in the NFL.

The conference's returning sack-getter, Smoot deserves a place at the table as well after he tallied 14 tackles for a loss and eight sacks a season ago. The arrival of Lovie Smith in Champaign should only boost the play of the Fighting Illini defensive end, who will no longer have Jihad Ward on the other side of the Illinois line commanding attention.

However, it's going to be tough for Smoot to win the award if Illinois doesn't put together at least a winning season in the coming year.

And then there's Walker, who may have been the Big Ten's most underrated defensive player a year ago, despite earning All-American honors. Helping lead the Wildcats to a 10-2 regular-season record, the Northwestern middle linebacker racked up 120 tackles, 20.5 of which came for a loss, and four sacks.

Other players to keep an eye on include Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, Iowa's Josey Jewell, Ohio State's Tyquan Lewis and Michigan State's Malik McDowell. But if Walker can find similar success statistically—and the Wildcats do the same on the field—he's my pick, based on the history of the award.

 

Mediocrity? What mediocrity?

Did you not see Northwestern's 10-3 campaign last season?

While that blowout loss to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl was somewhat of a red flag that the Wildcats' 10-2 regular season may have been more a matter of luck and happenstance, I think the reality in Evanston is that you're just not going to do a lot better than Pat Fitzgerald on your sideline.

Every few years, Fitz gets linked to a big-time job, whether it's USC or Texas, and while nothing's come to fruition yet, that's indicative of just how highly the college football community views the former Wildcats linebacker.

After all, those academic restrictions can't be easy to deal with, especially when playing in a conference as competitive as the Big Ten. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald has compiled a 70-56 record in the past 10 years, although he currently owns just a 1-5 mark in postseason play.

Looking ahead to 2016, he should get another crack at picking up his second bowl win, especially with Walker and running back Justin Jackson returning to his roster. Quarterback Clayton Thorson was only a freshman a year ago and should be used more as a playmaker in the coming year than the game manager he was in 2015.

Competing for the Big Ten West title or even matching last year's 10-2 mark is going to be tough—it always is at Northwestern. But i'm not sure what else the Wildcats can ask for from a head coach who still could one day find himself on the sideline of one of college football's blue-blood programs.

 

Two?

I'm not convinced he's going to be at Ohio State for more than one.

While Urban Meyer typically asks for a two-year commitment from his assistant coaches, Greg Schiano suspiciously only signed a one-year deal upon arriving in Columbus last December. According to the former Rutgers head coach, however, that's nothing to read into.

"It's more of a business thing for me, because I'm still under contract at another place and all that stuff," Schiano said, referencing his last job as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was fired in 2013. "I'm not going to get into all that stuff."

Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine an established coach like Schiano, who interviewed for the Miami (Florida) head coaching opening this past winter, is going to be satisfied being an assistant coach for a long period of time. In fact, Schiano admitted this past winter there were very few places he'd be willing to serve as an assistant—and doing so for Meyer at Ohio State just happened to be one of them.

Despite Meyer's track record when it comes to commitments from assistants, Schiano seems like an exception, an overqualified candidate the Buckeyes are lucky to have, even if just for one year. And if that is the case, it's a safe bet Meyer's aware of Schiano's plans.

I'd set the over-under of years Schiano will be in Columbus at 1.5. At this point, I'd be leaning toward the under.

 

I wrote about this a little bit earlier this week with my piece on J.T. Barrett still making Ohio State the favorites in the Big Ten.

And I guess to the surprise of no one, that didn't sit well with Michigan fans.

To expand on my point from Thursday, I'm just not sure how the Wolverines can be considered the Big Ten favorites—as many "way-too-early top-25" polls this offseason have—when they don't even know who their quarterback's going to be and Ohio State lays claim to the best player at the position in the Big Ten.

Yes, the Buckeyes have holes elsewhere on their roster, but the same could have been said in 2014 before Barrett helped carry the team to the cusp of the College Football Playoff before a broken ankle suffered against Michigan ended his season.

If Barrett was able to do that as a redshirt freshman, why wouldn't he be able to do the same two years later? Last season may not have gone as planned for anyone in Columbus, but in the case of Barrett, it's fair to say his quarterback controversy with Cardale Jones was an extenuating circumstance.

As for the Wolverines, I expect them to take another step forward this season. But completely closing the gap on Ohio State is a tall task, given how well Meyer's recruited—and the reality is that it may not happen until Barrett's eligibility with the Buckeyes comes to an end.

 

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. Recruit rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Why Marquill Osborne May Have the Biggest Impact of Any Vols True Freshman

Defensive back Marquill Osborne might be one of the Tennessee Volunteers' most forgotten freshmen, but he will be easy to remember once he steps onto the football field.

That likely will be sooner rather than later.

The 5'11", 183-pound nickelback from Cornelius, North Carolina, may not have received the same headlines as Tyler Byrd or the fanfare of Nigel Warrior when he committed, but that was more about timing than talent.

He pledged to the Volunteers way back on Sept. 6, 2014, a year-and-a-half before national signing day '16. After enrolling midterm, Osborne got on the field this spring, and though he went through the standard freshman struggles, he also showed out at times.

That natural ability could be a ticket to quick playing time. While Warrior may be one of the best true freshman prospects UT has signed in a long time, his starting path at safety is blocked by two good players in Todd Kelly Jr. and Rashaan Gaulden.

Junior Evan Berry and sophomore Micah Abernathy will have a say in that race, too.

At nickelback—where Osborne appears to have a sterling future—there's only one player ahead of him on the depth chart in senior Malik Foreman. Though Foreman was excellent during the last half of 2015, he was a liability during the first part when he thrust into the starting lineup.

Maybe Foreman had a "Eureka!" moment as the season progressed, but it is also possible that his play improved when Tennessee's quality of competition diminished. That's not taking anything away from the speedy Foreman, who has an NFL ceiling, but he's still got some things to prove.

If he falters, Osborne proved this spring he's capable of stepping in and stepping up.

"Osborne was rated so highly out of high school for a reason, but you never know what you're gonna get from a kid until he shows up on campus and practices in pads at this level," GoVols247's Wes Rucker told Bleacher Report. "Fortunately for the Vols, Osborne was as advertised this spring.

"He's a good athlete, and he's a tough, hard-working kid who isn't afraid to stick his nose in the pile against bigger players. He's also decided to hitch his wagon to All-SEC cornerback Cameron Sutton and follow him everywhere he goes, which is another good sign for his future."

Osborne shadowing Sutton isn't a surprise. The two have similar work ethics and physical attributes. Sutton was known as a technician from the moment he stepped on campus, putting in the extra reps that wound up earning him an immediate starting job.

That likely won't happen right away for Osborne, but it could before the season is over.

He took a lot of first-team nickel reps in the spring-ending Orange & White Game in Foreman's absence and proved what he could do.

It wasn't like he was some unknown recruit, despite the fact that he sometimes got lost in the shuffle when it came to members of UT's 2016 recruiting class that excited fans. Several powerhouses made late, long runs at him such as Ohio State, Clemson and Florida.

In the end, he stuck with UT, partly because of his relationship with defensive backs coach Willie Martinez. He showed so much promise and maturity this spring that Tennessee coach Butch Jones let him speak to the media. That's almost unheard of for any first-year Vol, much less one who just got to Knoxville.

While Osborne looked good this spring, he also battled the normal "mental fatigue" that hits all freshmen, Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown. Even the player noticed a major difference from the last level to the latest.

"It feels like playing three high school games in one practice," Osborne told Brown.

Just getting through those first few grueling weeks of practice is always tough for first-year players, and while another wall sometimes comes late during that inaugural season, guys who get to school early have a better chance of busting through it because they've had longer to prepare for it.

So, being an early enrollee is another benefit Osborne has on a bunch of his fellow classmates. Only JUCO players Jeff George, Alexis Johnson and D.J. Henderson enrolled in January, and Johnson was suspended. Osborne was the only freshman to do so.

Warrior, Byrd, receiver Marquez Callaway and others have the opportunity to get on the field quickly for the Vols, but all of them will be playing catch-up when they arrive on campus this summer. Osborne will have a spring practice and five months of workouts and film study on the field.

"Getting a head start by enrolling in January should pay dividends as well," Rucker said. "I'm not sure Osborne will start as a true freshman, but I think he'll play some on defense and be a big help on special teams as well. And I think he has a bright future at Tennessee."

That future could start right away.

The best-case scenario for the Vols, of course, is for Foreman to pick up where he left off last season with his spectacular, game-changing plays when football seemed to finally slow down for him. If that's the case and Osborne continues to push him, that's best for everybody.

That way, the coaches can bring along Osborne, work him into the fold in less pressure-filled situations and watch him grow as the season progresses. By the middle of the season, he should provide quality depth at the very least.

When you have special players, it's difficult to keep them off the field. Osborne has that ability; a perfect picture of the upgrade in athlete that Jones is bringing in since coming to Knoxville.

There's very little that's raw about him. From his footwork to his physique, he is an impressive defender who'll have firm footing in that Tennessee defensive backfield for years to come. Sutton agreed, telling Rucker:

He's hungry, willing to learn, willing to take critique, staying in his playbook, always watching film, always asking questions, and he's able to come out here and make plays and be successful. He's one of the first couple guys in the meeting room each and every time. I see him, you know, staying after practice or after lifting and working his game, working his craft.

Those are the type of guys you need in the program—guys that are gonna be consistent and, you know, learn, and be willing to learn and help us out there on Saturday.

Warrior may be the favorite freshman to wow everybody with his ability, and Byrd is the uber-athlete who can play both ways. Callaway is a polished receiver who can bolster a thin position, and Latrell Williams' speed will be hard to keep on the sideline.

But Osborne's head start is a big deal, and his talent is even bigger. Don't count him out as a player who could make a lot of noise right away, even in a deep, star-studded defensive backfield.

 

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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Butch Jones Comments on Peyton Manning Coaching Rumors

Tennessee Volunteers head football coach Butch Jones thinks former quarterback Peyton Manning would be successful as a coach, but he believes success wouldn't come early.

"We talk all the time, and I think anything Peyton Manning does, he'll be successful. But coaching is a completely different animal than playing, as any great player would tell you," Jones said, per Ryan Callahan of 247Sports.

Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman reported Wednesday that he's heard the recently retired two-time Super Bowl champion has an itch to coach for his alma mater in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Jones appears to have heard the rumblings as well and said Manning is more than welcome to come back to Tennessee any time he wants.

"But again, I welcome him any time he wants to come in to Tennessee and spend time with our players," Jones said, per Callahan. "He's been great that way. He's been very willing to do that. We've been very fortunate and blessed to have him be a part of our teams, coming in and speaking to (them), and this year will be the same."

Manning retired in March, ending his NFL career after hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy over his head at Levi's Stadium as a member of the Denver Broncos.

If Manning wants to coach, it wouldn't hurt Jones to give him a small role to see what the former Tennessee quarterback thinks about the coaching life. He has an intelligent mind and developed into one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

He could be a valuable asset in terms of coaching and recruiting for the Volunteers.

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Charles Baldwin Dismissed by Alabama: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Charles Baldwin's tenure with the Alabama Crimson Tide football program ended before it began, as the offensive tackle was dismissed from the program on Thursday.   

Per Michael Casagrande of AL.com, Alabama head coach Nick Saban confirmed Baldwin's dismissal in a brief statement: "Charles Baldwin has been dismissed from the program for a violation of team rules."

Baldwin originally announced his commitment to Alabama as a junior college transfer last June while playing at ASA College. 

The New York native explained his decision to join the Crimson Tide to Drew Champlin of AL.com: "I have a great relationship with the coaching staff and the players, and I feel they can push me to be the best player I can be."

Baldwin was the latest in a long line of talented offensive linemen Saban has brought to Tuscaloosa. He's listed as a 4-star prospect and No. 2 JUCO transfer in the country, per 247Sports' composite rankings. 

Even though this was going to be Baldwin's first year at Alabama, Casagrande noted he was considered a "prime candidate" to get reps at right tackle in 2016. 

In March, Saban told Casagrande he felt Baldwin needed significant development before realizing his full potential: "A very good athlete. He's got a lot of ability. He's got a lot to learn. He's got a long way to go. We're going to continue to work with him, to get him to do things right, to get him to buy into doing things the way we need him to do them so he can have success here."

ESPN's Cole Cubelic did note on Twitter that Baldwin's dismissal will likely have an impact on the team in 2016:

Alabama has the highly touted Jonah Williams ready to step on the field in 2016. Saban has never had problems finding offensive linemen who can open holes for running backs to steamroll through with ease. 

Losing Baldwin will test the Crimson Tide's depth up front, but no coach is better at recruiting and developing talent in the trenches. It's not going to have any long-lasting impact as the team prepares to defend its national title. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tyler Luatua Reportedly Will Not Transfer Away from Notre Dame

Despite announcing his intention to transfer from Notre Dame to BYU in February, junior tight end Tyler Luatua has reportedly decided to remain with the Fighting Irish.  

Anna Hickey of Scout.com was among the first to report the news. Matt Freeman of Irish Sports Daily later confirmed.

Luatua revealed his intention to transfer in a since-deleted tweet on Feb. 2, according to Matt Lombardi of College Spun, before having an apparent change of heart.

Luatua is primarily a blocking tight end, as the California native has yet to catch a pass during his time with the Irish.

He helped pave the way for running back C.J. Prosise to rush for over 1,000 yards and average 6.6 yards per carry last season, and his presence could be even more important in 2016 as a blocker for the likes of Josh Adams, Tarean Folston and Dexter Williams.

Although Luatua is unlikely to gain many accolades for head coach Brian Kelly's team, retaining him may be an under-the-radar coup for a team that has the talent needed to rack up a lot of yardage on the ground.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Michigan Football: 5 Toughest Defenders Wolverines Will Face in 2016

No individual player makes a team, but the Michigan Wolverines must overcome a handful of college football's best defenders during the 2016 campaign.

Using Bleacher Report's post-spring-practice top-50 list as a guide, the following players are considered the toughest opponents on the Maize and Blue's upcoming slate.

Since an extra spot remained, the fifth name is a subjective choice yet a tremendous talent who might be among the nation's top players once the season is over.

The list begins with No. 5 and works toward the top spot.

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Leonard Fournette Reportedly Has 2 $10 Million Insurance Policies

LSU star running back Leonard Fournette has taken out two separate $10 million insurance policies—one that covers him for "total disability in the event of a career-ending injury" and a second that would cover him for "circumstances that would lead to him falling from his projected NFL draft spot"—according to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.

"I don't think about it," Fournette told Dodd. "This is the second time I'm actually talking about it. I leave everything in God's hands."

Fournette, who will be a junior in the 2016 season, rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns this past season, his second straight year with at least 1,000 rushing yards and 10 rushing scores. He added 19 receptions for 253 yards and another touchdown.

That makes him one of the players to watch for the upcoming season and a prized prospect in the 2017 NFL draft. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. had him as his No. 3 prospect on the 2017 NFL draft big board he released Wednesday, writing: "Big, bruising, fast...but let's keep an eye on the mileage. Fournette is a dynamic talent, that rare running back who generates excitement for teams drafting in Round 1. But he carried 300 times last season and is at 487 carries in two years. Will LSU use him up?"

That concern, along with the risk of any potential injury, is why potential stars like Fournette so often take out insurance policies. For instance, Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, a 2016 second-round pick, took out a policy that reportedly will pay him $900,000 after a knee injury dropped him out of the first round, per ESPN's Darren Rovell (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk).

Smith was considered one of the top players in the 2016 draft class before the injury.

Similarly, Fournette projects to be a top-five pick in the draft, barring injury. While a lot can change in one season, Fournette clearly is trying to cover his bases and protect his future earnings.

 

You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.  

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Coveted 2018 RB Jaelen Gill Could Juggle Football and Baseball in College

WESTERVILLE, Ohio — Well on his way toward becoming one of the most pursued prospects in the 2018 recruiting class, Westerville South High School sophomore Jaelen Gill isn't restricted to athletic options on the football field.

Rated No. 19 overall among 2018 recruits in 247Sports rankings, this dynamic running back admits his athletic aspirations also reside beyond the gridiron.

"Baseball is a close second to football," Gill told Bleacher Report. "I have a lot of passion for it because it's our family sport and I've played it all my life. I'd love to keep playing baseball."

It certainly seems as though there's a distinct possibility that goal will become a reality after high school. 

Athletic departments at Penn State, UCLA and USC are among those showing interest in his potential as a two-sport contributor who would split time between baseball and football facilities.

Gill is more than just an athletic freak in centerfield. He's a nuanced and productive player who earned first-team all-league honors as a freshman after accumulating a .370 batting average with 26 stolen bases, according to Frank DiRenna of the Westerville News and Public Opinion.

"Baseball is something I take very seriously," Gill said.

Scouts at the collegiate level and beyond have also begun to take him seriously.

"I've been told and coaches have told me I need to enter the [Major League Baseball] draft [as a high school senior]," he told Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com. "There's more of a chance that I'll go play college football and try to do baseball, also, but there's definitely a chance I could choose the baseball route." 

A rookie baseball contract comes with guaranteed cash, but a collegiate scholarship could provide him with an opportunity to pave his path toward football stardom.

Gill, who measured in at 6'0", 172 pounds Saturday at The Opening's Columbus regional, proved why he's such a prized offensive backfield prospect. His SPARQ testing results included a 4.58 40-yard dash, a 4.01 agility shuttle and a 36.1-inch vertical jump, resulting in the sixth-highest rating (114.24) of the day and No. 1 overall among underclassmen, according to Student Sports.

Tipping his hand a bit regarding where his athletic allegiances lie, Gill missed one of his baseball squad's final regular-season matchups to attend the event.

"Football is No. 1, so I had to come here," he said, while noting circumstances would have been different if a playoff game was on the line.

Gill possesses athletic traits to contribute at a variety of positions, but most collegiate coaching staffs have him pegged at running back. During his recruitment—which now features 19 scholarship offers—teams have also discussed the possibility of him playing H-back, slot receiver and even as an occasional Wildcat quarterback.

"I just want the ball in my hands," he said. "I bring a lot of versatility to the table. You can swing me out wide or put me in the backfield. When it's crunch time and we need to pick up a few tough yards on the ground, I can go get those. I'm stronger than I look, and there isn't just one label you can put on me, so that makes it difficult for a defense to prepare."

Gill landed on the national recruiting radar in eighth grade when his first scholarship offer arrived from Pittsburgh. The recruitment quickly gained an SEC stamp, as Kentucky's staff extended an offer through Westerville South coaches at halftime of his second high school game.

Naturally, sorting through so many collegiate opportunities already takes precedence 21 months before national signing day provides a conclusion to the process.

"It's hard not to think about it every day," Gill said. "I'm still pretty high on about half of my list of offers so there's a lot on my mind."

There's still a long way to go in an attempt to whittle down choices, with so many schools in the mix. He points to Tennessee, Michigan State, Penn State, UCLA, USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame as teams in contention.

The nearby Buckeyes are favored to land his commitment by 100 percent of experts' predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball. Located just minutes away from his high school, Ohio State is the most recent program to welcome Gill to campus.

He attended a spring practice alongside friend and 2017 Buckeyes commit Brendon White.

"Jaelen is a phenomenal athlete who reads the holes very well and can make dudes miss," White said. "I think he could help us a lot and score touchdowns for us. Jaelen is still young and needs to enjoy his recruitment, but he knows where home is. Ohio State is where he needs to be."

Gill believes proximity helped the Buckeyes staff make an immediate impact on his recruitment.

"I'm getting closer and closer with [head coach] Urban Meyer and [running backs coach Tony] Alford," he said. "I go to school pretty close to campus, so that gives us a chance to build a strong relationship. They've made it clear they're going to recruit the heck out of me. Coach Alford has even come to watch me play baseball."

Among programs Gill mentioned as viable options, only Notre Dame has yet to receive a visit. The Fighting Irish offered in late April, and he plans to reciprocate interest this summer with a trip to South Bend, Indiana.

Aside from Notre Dame, Gill is also eyeing return trips to Michigan State, Tennessee, Penn State and Virginia Tech in the upcoming months. He doesn't view a verbal pledge as imminent at this point.

"It's a busy summer, but this is part of the process and something I've got to do to make the best decision for me," Gill said. "The original plan was to do it either right before or right after my junior season, but I think it's going to push into my senior season. I don't see a commitment coming anytime soon."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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10 College Football Players Who Will Take Huge Strides Forward in 2016

The constantly changing landscape of college football opens the door for breakout players each year. Starters graduate or move on to the NFL early, which leaves spots open for powerhouse programs. Other players adjust to new roles under new coaches and thrive there.

Last year, Christian McCaffrey became the No. 1 running back at Stanford and smashed an all-time FBS record on his way to the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Shaq Lawson became one of the game's most feared edge-rushers after taking over for Vic Beasley on the Clemson defensive line.

For these 10 players, 2016 should be their time to shine. They have all the potential to take huge strides forward and turn from complementary pieces or reserve players into big-time playmakers who will command a lot of attention.

Whether it's a new position or a new coach in charge of them, these are several of the players in college football who appear destined to break out after strong spring practices.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, as there are dozens of athletes who should move forward in a big way this fall. Shout out who else you think will make that leap in the comments below.

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Top Incoming Freshmen with the Best Chance to Start in Week 1

Early enrolling true freshmen have a significant advantage in climbing depth charts, but an elite group of summer arrivals could earn starting roles in Week 1 of the 2016-17 college football season.

In some cases, the prospect fills a position of need. Others, however, simply beat out all other options on the roster.

Although nothing is guaranteed, the following players—each of which are ranked in the top 60 nationally—have the best chance to establish themselves in a significant role immediately.

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SEC Extra Points: Should SEC Look into Expansion If Realignment Happens Again?

The wheels of conference realignment keep spinning, and the next conference up on the offseason wheel of fun is the Big 12.

The 10-team conference wrapped up its annual spring meetings this week in Arizona, and officials will meet again later this month with expansion being the hot topic. 

It's a mess.

As Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com noted earlier this month, there's infighting at Oklahoma on whether expansion is needed at all, smaller programs in the conference like Iowa State, Kansas and West Virginia are in favor of it and targets could include Cincinnati, BYU, Memphis, Houston, Colorado State, UCF, South Florida and just about any other higher-profile Group of Five school in the country. 

Infighting at Oklahoma should at least force the ears of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to perk up a bit, because the only way the SEC would and should consider adding teams is if the Big 12 crumbles.

Dysfunction within the Big 12 a half-decade ago led Colorado to bolt to the Pac-12, Nebraska to the Big Ten and Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC. That, coupled with the SEC's need to add top-35 television markets in the lead-up to the launch of the SEC Network, made the two additions to the conference naturals.

Things are different now. 

The SEC Network was the most successful cable launch in television history, according to John Talty of AL.com, is on virtually every national and regional carrier and played a big part in the record $31.2 million each team received from the conference last year—a $10.3 million per team increase from 2014.

The only reason for the SEC to even consider expanding at this point is if the age of 16-team superconferences comes quickly thanks to Big 12 instability and all of the Big 12's teams start looking for new homes. 

If that happens, then the Sooners would be a natural fit for the SEC, as would another team in Texas as long as there are no objections from Texas A&M and the other SEC schools that are located in states without another conference foe. 

Country music legend Garth Brooks told SiriusXM's College Sports Nation on Wednesday that he'd like Oklahoma State to go with their intrastate rivals, which would keep that rivalry intact:

Other than the Big 12 crumbling, though, the SEC is fine with 14 teams and that massive check that gets distributed to its member institutions every year.

 

As Oxford Turns

What should have been one of Ole Miss' finest nights became a disaster late last month when Laremy Tunsil became the talk of the first round of the NFL draft for all of the wrong reasons. First, it was the video posted on his own Twitter account of Tunsil smoking out of a bong with a gas mask on, followed by screen shots of conversations with an Ole Miss athletics department employee regarding payments and then a draft press conference in which he admits to taking money from coaches after previously denying it.

The latest twist comes in the civil case filed by Tunsil's stepfather, Lindsey Miller, that stems from the incident that resulted in domestic violence charges against both parties last month.

Daniel Paulling of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported on Wednesday that Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze has been deposed in the case, and that Freeze is fighting to have the questions written and be specific to the altercation, not the ongoing NCAA case or, as TMZ reported, to his comments from the NCAA.

"At this time, the NCAA is considering allegations against the university and its football program, including allegations related to [Tunsil]," the court filing states, according to TMZ.

Is it necessary to put this into the court document? Why would the court care if the NCAA is conducting an investigation into Tunsil?

The court cares if Miller is owed something from Tunsil as a result of an altercation, not whether he got extra benefits that aren't allowed under NCAA rule. Putting this into the stipulations regarding Freeze's potential deposition only makes Ole Miss look like it's hiding something, whether that's reality or not.

Freeze being deposed in the case makes sense, because the suit alleges defamation of character as a result of Freeze's comments shortly after the altercation. But it also feels a bit like phishing and Miller trying to make a splash, just as he did during draft week when this suit was filed.

Ole Miss took the bait this time. 

 

In Need of a Leader?

The idea of having one person to oversee college football as an FBS commissioner has become a hot topic over the last few weeks, with head coaches such as Alabama's Nick Saban, Stanford's David Shaw, TCU's Gary Patterson, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and others all supporting the idea, according to ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

But as Rittenberg noted on Twitter, that idea has virtually no traction elsewhere: 

Why?

Athletic directors and administrators want control of their schedules, know what's best for their departments and, unlike professional sports, the needs and goals of FBS programs vary widely. After all, it's not like Alabama and South Alabama are comparable to the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns.

It's a nice idea to have somebody that looks out for the best interest of the sport, but it needs to be the right person—somebody, as my Bleacher Report colleague Justin Ferguson pointed out, who won't be slanted toward specific teams or conferences. Since that hypothetical person would be an outsider to the world of college athletics, that has led some coaches to state that they're fine with the status quo.

"I'm pretty well-pleased with the SEC and commissioner Sankey," Auburn's Gus Malzahn said on Tuesday at the College Football Hall of Fame. "I'm happy with the way it is."

Unless there's a clear-cut candidate, I have a hard time buying that this idea will become reality anytime soon. 

 

The Forgotten Defensive MVP

Auburn's defense hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense since 2007, but this year's crew that features star defensive end Carl Lawson, tackle Montravius Adams and freshman All-SEC corner Carlton Davis could reverse that trend under first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.

If it does, one of its veterans will play a big part.

It seems like Johnathan "Rudy" Ford has been around the Plains forever, and the veteran safety returns for his senior season after leading the Tigers in tackles in each of the last two years. 

"He's a lot more confident [this year]," Malzahn said. "There's nothing like experience. He did lead us in tackles the last two years while he was still learning the defensive side of the football [from running back] when we moved him up from the nickel position. He seemed really natural with that. He has a lot of ability."

Ford might be the third or fourth player mentioned when discussing Auburn's defense, but his presence at the back end, willingness to stick his nose in against the run and work in coverage makes him one of the most valuable players on the roster. 

In addition to his work on defense, Ford averaged 28.73 yards per kickoff return, and should be a force in that department again in 2016.

"He's a good kick returner too," Malzahn said, "and is one of our leaders."

If Auburn's defense is going to be a power again, Ford is going to have another stellar season in his first under Steele.

 

Tennessee "Head Coach" Peyton Manning?

Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman reported this week that Tennessee legend and recently retired NFL veteran Peyton Manning is interested in coaching the Vols, according to several "NFL people."

Wait, what?

The last time I checked, Manning has no experience as a head coach, the Vols' current head coach, Butch Jones, has improved upon his record every year since taking over in 2013 and has assembled a roster that's finally capable of contending for the SEC East title after successfully escaping the dark days of the Derek Dooley era.

Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News reported earlier this month that television isn't in Manning's plans this season, so it makes sense that he might want to test the NFL waters this year.

But Jones isn't going anywhere. Nothing against Manning. He was a great quarterback, is the most prominent player in Tennessee history and will likely make a great coach if he goes down that road.

Tennessee has a good coach and momentum now, though, so don't expect to see Manning roaming the Neyland Stadium sidelines in a capacity other than as a former player anytime soon.

 

Quick Outs

  • I get nervous running at eight miles per hour on a treadmill. Here's Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd hitting 23.1 mph:
  • Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post found video of former Georgia and current Miami head coach Mark Richt starring in an Italian jeans commercial in 1982. How this fell through the cracks during Richt's 15 years in Athens is a travesty, and we all should feel responsible for not bringing this to the surface earlier. 
  • A big round of applause to Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight and the 29 Aggie athletes (15 football players) who are in Haiti on a mission trip, according to Brandon Wheeland of the Dallas Morning News

 

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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Why J.T. Barrett Makes Ohio State the Big Ten Favorite in 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It hasn't taken long for the hype to build for Michigan as it spends its second straight offseason in the spotlight thanks to Jim Harbaugh.

But with J.T. Barrett returning for his third season as Ohio State's starting quarterback, the road to the Big Ten title—and in effect, the College Football Playoff—will once again run through Columbus.

Yet, as preseason polls have begun to pop up with fewer than four months to go until the start of the 2016 season, the Wolverines have found themselves a popular prediction to crash the College Football Playoff—an even trendier pick than their archrival Buckeyes.

The logic? After a 10-3 debut season under Harbaugh, Michigan not only appears to be ahead of schedule, but it returns several key pieces—and 2017 NFL draft prospects—on both sides of the ball.

"In between his Twitter wars with other coaches, recruiting extravaganzas and spring break trips, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is quickly building a playoff contender," ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach wrote in this week's "Way-Too-Early Top 25," which ranked the Wolverines third.

Approximately 190 miles south of Ann Arbor, Ohio State can't claim the same carryover and consistency the Wolverines are about to enjoy—not with what the Buckeyes saw walk out the door during last month's NFL draft. Altogether, Urban Meyer finds himself replacing 16 starters, including 12 NFL draft picks and five first-rounders in a crop of players predominately responsible for his 50-4 start as Ohio State's head coach.

"We have a lot of momentum here at Ohio State right now," Meyer said, whose team Schlabach ranked 10th in his recent poll. "We can't lose it just because we lost some great players."

Even with all that the Buckeyes are losing, that seems unlikely to happen—and not necessarily because of the blue chip-filled recruiting classes that will be replenishing Meyer's roster (although those doesn't hurt either).

Of the six players who find themselves in the rare position of returning starters on this 2016 Ohio State team, Barrett remains the Big Ten's best offensive player, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate capable of single-handedly maintaining national relevancy for his team.

"No, it's not his last game," Meyer assured with a smile following the Buckeyes' Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame in January.

And if Barrett's last game performance was any indication, the Wichita Falls, Texas, native isn't just back; he's back. After a season-long quarterback competition with Cardale Jones resulted in mixed results for both signal-callers, Barrett finally seemed to find his groove in the final two games of the 2015 season, totaling a combined 559 yards and five touchdowns in wins over Michigan and the Fighting Irish.

Barrett's barrage to close his sophomore campaign was reminiscent of his breakthrough freshman season, which saw him break the Buckeyes' single-season total offense record (3,772 yards) and the Big Ten's total touchdown mark (45) before finishing fifth in Heisman Trophy voting.

If Barrett can remain on that trajectory, Meyer believes that he—along with center Pat Elflein—can help negate the loss of what was 78 percent of Ohio State's offensive production from 2015 that just walked out the door, according to SBNation's Bill Connelly.

"The fact that these two guys are back, we have a shot," Meyer said. "I think we have a decent shot of being good on offense, and it's mostly due to those two guys coming back."

"A shot" might be all Meyer is willing to concede to his offense right now, with just three starters returning from last year's team and an inexperienced crop of skill players now at Barrett's disposal. At times this spring, the Buckeyes offense looked admittedly disjointed, as Barrett's timing with predominantly first- and second-year players wasn't nearly as cohesive as it was with Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall the past two years.

That, however, will only increase the value of a player who's consistently been lauded for his leadership since he arrived in Columbus as a true freshman in 2013. Named a captain a year ago, despite starting the season as Jones' backup while in the midst of an unprecedented quarterback controversy, Barrett has already been given the same title this offseason in an effort to help overcome the OSU offense's obvious inexperience.

"His value is more than running and throwing," Meyer said of Barrett this spring. "His value is he's one of the best leaders we've ever had."

The running and throwing sure don't hurt either, and as a result, the Buckeyes should have more than just "a shot" on offense in 2016. Barrett has already proven capable of carrying the load for a national championship-caliber offense, having done so as a redshirt freshman two years ago, before a broken ankle prevented him from playing in the postseason.

Elsewhere in the vaunted Big Ten East, defending champ Michigan State finds itself replacing an experienced quarterback of its own in Connor Cook, Penn State is doing the same with Christian Hackenberg and still appears at least a year away from contending under James Franklin, and Michigan is currently in the midst of what has thus far been an uninspiring quarterback battle between John O'Korn and Wilton Speight.

It's also worth noting the Nov. 26 showdown between the Buckeyes and Wolverines will be played at Ohio Stadium.

So perhaps literally, the road to the Big Ten title will once again travel through Columbus.

"It's a really special place right now," Meyer said of his program. "We've played at a high level for two years and now—are we going to drop?"

As long as J.T. Barrett's behind center, that seems unlikely, regardless of what the preseason polls say. 

 

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. Recruit rankings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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2018 DE Dorian Hardy on New Scholarship Offers: 'I Was Speechless'

Given that he’s getting ready to play his junior year at St. Joseph’s Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey, defensive end Dorian Hardy is still getting used to the attention that has come his way as his offer list continues to expand.

The 6’5”, 245-pounder has already landed more than 10 offers, but a pair of football titans from the SEC came calling for him earlier this week, as both Alabama and Florida offered the Garden State pass-rusher.

Needless to say, those tenders caught Hardy off guard.

“I would’ve never thought I’d get two huge schools in the SEC to offer me this early in my career. I was speechless,” Hardy told Bleacher Report.

In particular, the tender from the defending national champions was a thrill, since he admittedly grew up a fan of the Crimson Tide.

“I was just surprised because I never expected to get an Alabama offer this early at this point in my high school football career," Hardy said. "It meant a lot to me. I was very excited and humbled, but I have a lot of work left to do. My family has always been huge Alabama fans. My dad has a lot of family in Alabama. With all of them being fans and him being a fan, it kind of made me become one growing up.”

Tide offensive line coach Mario Cristobal delivered the good news to him. While they didn’t specify which position they were offering him for, Hardy believes it was as a defensive end, since that’s the position he’s got film on.

The offer from the Gators was unexpected, since he’s never been in contact with head coach Jim McElwain or his staff.

“When I got Florida, it was surprising because I’ve never talked with Florida before that. Just getting it, I can’t even explain it. I was shocked,” Hardy said.

Illinois also offered Hardy this week. According to Adam Friedman of Rivals, LSU and Miami followed suit, which brings his total number of offers to 18. 

Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, North Carolina and Virginia Tech are among the other programs that have offered Hardy in recent months.

Hardy maintains that there are a few programs he’s stayed in touch with on a regular basis.

“I’ve been in contact with Rutgers, Temple, Nebraska, Wisconsin and North Carolina," he said. "Really, it’s been all of the schools who have offered me. I try to stay in touch with them."

While he’s in no hurry to make a decision, his next order of business is to take visits to see most of the programs that have already declared interest in him.

“On May 20, I will be visiting Michigan and Michigan State. During the summer, me, my mom and my head coach plan to go visit most of the schools who have offered me,” Hardy said. “I don’t have set dates for those yet, but I want to try my best to see every one if possible. I want to see all of those schools who have offered.”

Hardy, who reports a GPA of “around 3.4,” said he’s yet to make concrete plans on what he wants to major in on the college level—although oceanography and sports management are two fields that intrigue him.

For the athletic big man, who also plays power forward for his school’s hoops program, there are a few things he will be looking for when taking visits and speaking with coaches in the coming months.

“I want to go to a school where they can compete for a national championship or a big bowl game every year," Hardy said. "I want that program to be a top team every year. Other than that, just a place where I will feel comfortable and where the coaches value me. I just want to go to a place that feels like home.”

 

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

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College Football's 25 All-Time Best Rivalry Games

The players and coaches change, but the passion and history between college football rivals never goes away. The combination of pride for one's own side and a healthy mix of hatred and respect—mostly the former—for the opponent is what fuels college football and keeps the game so popular.

Rivalries are the life blood of the sport, and those games are always among the most anticipated on the schedule each season. For many fanbases, a win against their rival makes the season a success, regardless of what happens the rest of the year, while a loss in that game is often a harder pill to swallow than falling in the national championship.

Every college football fan likely thinks their team's rivalry game is the best around, which again is part of why we love this sport so much. But even rivalries aren't all created equal, so we've ranked the 25 best. To do this, we factored in the history and longevity of a rivalry, the closeness of the series and its resonance on a national scale.

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