NCAA Football News

Biggest College Football Stories You Likely Missed During March Madness

If March Madness has been completely consuming your sports brain over the last several weeks, we don't blame you. 

One of the most exciting NCAA men's basketball tournaments of all time ended Monday night with one of the greatest plays in championship game history for any sport—a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Villanova's Kris Jenkins to take home its first title since 1985. It was the perfect end to a tourney that included other last-second winners, crazy end-game sequences and more than a few Crying Jordans

But now that March Madness is in the books, it's time for many college sports fans to switch back to football.

From the time the NCAA tournament's first round tipped on March 17 until last night's grand finale, college football has been making some headlines of its own. They might not have gotten much attention nationally as brackets or Buddy Hield, but there wasn't a total shortage of news from the spring practice cycles.

In case you completely checked out on offseason college football news during the NCAA tournament, here's a refresher on the top stories from the past few weeks.

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B/R Recruiting Notebook: 5-Star OT to Narrow List, 4-Star ATH Lands 50th Offer

Last weekend was one of the biggest of the spring recruiting-wise, as several athletes announced their verbal commitments. Among those were 4-star quarterback Bailey Hockman to Florida State, 4-star wide receiver Taariq Johnson to Cal, 4-star running back O'Maury Samuels to Michigan and 4-star quarterback Tristan Gebbia to Nebraska.

Couple the commitments with a stop in Houston for The Opening and Elite 11, and recruiting news has been flowing the past few days. Here are some recruiting updates from the week:

 

5-star OT Davis set to narrow list

Washington fans have to be thrilled about where the program stands after 5-star offensive tackle Wyatt Davis made an unofficial visit last week. He gave the visit a very high mark as he prepares for the next step in his recruiting process.

"The process is going great," said Davis, the star lineman from California's St. John Bosco High School who is the nation's No. 24 overall player in the 2017 class. "I visited Washington, and these next weeks are going to be key. I will be making a top seven."

Washington is hoping to be one of the schools in Davis' top seven, but Davis has a handful of schools that he's high on. He's taken visits to USC and Alabama this year, and schools like Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Cal, Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Nebraska are ones to watch as he narrows his choices. Davis has 26 reported offers.

The common denominator with the 6'5", 310-pound lineman's top seven? He said it'll come down to the advantages he can get off the field.

"The education," said Davis, the nation's No. 7 offensive tackle who is looking to pursue a degree in broadcasting or communications.

 

4-star ATH Askew talks 50th offer, immediate future

When Tennessee offered McCalla, Alabama, 4-star athlete Malcolm Askew last Tuesday, it was more than just another offer for him.

Askew reported Tennessee as his 50th overall offer, and that offer meant he owned one from each school in the SEC. Consider it a small, personal goal of his.

"There are some who don't get one offer. I'm just blessed to have all of them," said Askew, whose first SEC offer was Georgia.

Of all his offers, Askew said an SEC school is currently in front. He said Auburn is his current leader, and he will be on campus Saturday for the A-Day Spring Game.

Askew—who at 5'11" and 183 pounds can play cornerback, safety and wide receiver—added that although Auburn's in front, several schools are still very much in the race, including Clemson, Ole Miss, Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan, Oregon, Cal and Miami. Tennessee offered Askew as a defensive back.

"Ultimately, I'm looking for a place just for me to come in and get playing time early and be a big factor," Askew said. "I don't really want to be the guy who redshirts. I want to go somewhere where I'm needed and not just wanted. I also want a great academic program that's set up for me to be successful, somewhere that will help me graduate in three years."

 

4-star OT Deculus announcing next month

May 20 will be a big day for Cypress, Texas, 4-star offensive tackle Austin Deculus, as he will end his recruiting process on the day of his team's spring game. Deculus will publicly announce his college plans to play at one of five schools—LSU, Alabama, Michigan, Georgia and Tennessee.

Here's the catch: That decision may have already been etched.

"I've pretty much made my decision," said Deculus, who has 30 reported offers from coast to coast.

"May 20 is my spring game. I think it's going to mean a lot to my teammates but more importantly to my family because my parents are going to be there."

Deculus' 247Sports Crystal Ball points heavily to him choosing LSU next month. Before The Opening, he spoke highly about the five finalists.

"They fit what I look for in an offense. It's smack-you-in-the-mouth football," he said. "I love aggression. I love run blocking. That's my thing. Pass blocking is good and necessary, but overall, run blocking is my favorite."

Deculus is the nation's No. 12 offensive tackle and the No. 62 overall player in the 2017 class.

 

Ohio State pledge has eyes on 5-star recruits

The minute La Grange, Texas, 4-star all-purpose back J.K. Dobbins committed to Ohio State on March 6, he had plans of being an early enrollee.

Before he heads to Columbus, Ohio, Dobbins said he's got some player recruiting to do. When asked about potential targets, Dobbins, the nation's No. 4 all-purpose back and No. 54 overall player in the 2017 class, said he's going all in on two 5-star athletes in particular.

"Marvin and Jeff. I want them at Ohio State," Dobbins said, referring to the Texas duo of defensive tackle Marvin Wilson and defensive back Jeffrey Okudah. "If we get those guys, we're going to win national championships. They are great players and great guys. They're not cocky or anything. They're just some cool dudes."

Ohio State currently has 13 commits in its 2017 class, including the 5-star duo of offensive tackle Josh Myers and cornerback Shaun Wade. Dobbins and 4-star running back commit Todd Sibley could emerge into a nice one-two punch in the backfield for the Buckeyes.

 

Words of wisdom from Ole Miss signee Anderson

About this time last year, Ole Miss signee Deontay Anderson was working on earning his second trip to The Opening finals. On Sunday, he was a spectator watching the next group of talented athletes compete for their opportunity to go to Beaverton, Oregon.

Anderson's work ethic was to be admired. The way he approached the recruiting process was something else that caught the attention of targets. Anderson made his decision on national signing day—in dramatic fashion, nonetheless—and refused to make any early commitment announcements.

He offered sound advice to the recruits at The Opening Houston. Anderson wants all recruits to remember that their national signing day is still roughly 10 months away.

"Be patient. A lot of things change," Anderson said. "One coach might be here now, and then he might be gone later. Players leave for the draft. There's a lot of things that go into it.

"Just take your time, and don't rush into it. It's one of the hardest but best decisions of your life. Make it count."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings and recruitment information courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.

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SEC Football Q&A: Which Team Will Be the Biggest Overachiever in 2016?

The first big wave of SEC spring games come this weekend when Florida, Auburn, South Carolina and Texas A&M hold their glorified scrimmages.

With those games come pressure. That pressure can go a long way toward coaches determining which players will see the field this fall in the nation's most rigorous college football conference.

Will we get a glimpse of some potential overachievers this weekend? That question and more are in this week's edition of SEC Q&A.

 

I'm going to go with Ole Miss because the Rebels aren't going to be picked to be a top-tier program nationally after the losses of Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, Trae Elston, Mike Hilton, C.J. Johnson and other impact players from the 2015 team.

That's OK, though, because while several of those players were blue-chip recruits who helped set the tone for head coach Hugh Freeze's career in Oxford, he has been able to follow them up with several solid recruiting classes that are more complete than the top-heavy 2013 group.

Yes, there are issues to overcome, specifically along the offensive line where Freeze not only has to replace Tunsil, but also the rest of the unit that protects quarterback Chad Kelly. 

What do we know about Freeze, though? He has had plenty of practice dealing with roster holes—often on the fly—and figuring out how to make things work.

He lost Tunsil for seven games last season due to suspension, and he still found a way to top Alabama—which boasted the best front seven in college football—on the road at night in his absence. When linebacker Johnson was out, and fellow linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche struggled to stay on the field, DeMarquis Gates stepped up and finished with the team lead in tackles (76). 

Because of the roster attrition, Ole Miss isn't going to be picked in the preseason top five. ESPN's Joe Schad has them 11th, and Athlon Sports did as well; the Rebels seem to be buried by the Alabama and LSU hype in the SEC West.

If Freeze can find a way to split his two big September games (vs. Florida State in Orlando on Sept. 5 and vs. Alabama in Oxford on Sept. 17), then don't be surprised if his Rebels make a run to the College Football Playoff.

Of course, a win over the Crimson Tide is more imperative considering the weight the division matchup holds.

 

He takes a backseat to LSU's Leonard Fournette and Georgia's Nick Chubb for a couple of reasons. 

First, he hasn't proved that he's as much of a work horse as the other two stars. That's not a knock against Jalen Hurd. He's an awesome running back and certainly could be a work horse if needed. But the presence of mobile quarterback Joshua Dobbs over the last year-and-a-half and backfield mate Alvin Kamara took pressure off of him in 2015.

Nobody has taken pressure off of Fournette or Chubb.

Fournette gets no help from his quarterback, passing game, offensive philosophy or anybody else on the offense. Chubb came in for Todd Gurley in a pinch midway through the 2014 season, tallied 30 or more carries in three games and rushed for 1,547 yards in essentially a half-season as the starter.

Second, Tennessee has a reputation of building but not being there yet. No, LSU and Georgia haven't played in the SEC Championship Game either during the careers of their star running backs, but eyeballs have been on both programs from the start of each of the last two seasons.

Tennessee is the opposite. From a national perspective, it seems that fans and media take more of a "wait and see" approach for the Vols, which means Hurd has to earn his share of the spotlight more than Fournette and Chubb.

 

Without a doubt, it's Texas A&M.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin is loose, fun and has enough confidence to fill the Lone Star State. He even has the "Swag-copter" at his disposal to check in on prospects around the country.

Whether it was running back Ben Malena and the "cashing out" craze of 2012, the youthful exuberance former quarterback Johnny Manziel played the game with or the way Sumlin chest bumps his players after a touchdown or a big turnover on defense, the Aggies look like they're having more fun out there when things are going well—as is the case with their head coach.

When things don't go well, of course the enjoyment of football goes down the tubes. But the highs for the Aggies are high for the players and the coaches, and they don't shy away from showing it.

That's refreshing.

 

Top three might be a bit aggressive, considering Fournette and Chubb (as long as they are healthy) should be top-notch. Hurd is a monster, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has produced 13, 1,000-yard rushers in 10 seasons as a college head or assistant coach, and Alabama and Arkansas are running back factories.

That doesn't mean Mark Thompson, a 6'2", 242-pound junior college transfer from Dodge City (Kansas) Community College can't be a star.

He absolutely can.

With a stature like Derrick Henry, who is 6'3", 247 pounds, and speed of a track star, Thompson can be a big-time weapon in a Florida offense that needs a bruiser at running back to become the focal point of head coach Jim McElwain's pro-style offense.

Top three in the SEC shouldn't be Thompson's goal—a solid 25 carries per game and a 1,000-yard season should be. 

If he can do that, the Gators will have a good chance of repeating as SEC East champions.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is 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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5-Star JaCoby Stevens Goes in-Depth on Top 7, Timeline Moving Forward

One of the nation’s premier skill-position talents in the 2017 class has narrowed his list to seven lucky programs.

Late Sunday evening, 5-star athlete JaCoby Stevens dropped his list of finalists on his Twitter account. 

His list, in order, includes Georgia, LSU, Florida State, Florida, Tennessee, USC and Oklahoma.

He was once committed to the Tigers briefly before reopening his recruitment.

The Bulldogs are in the pole position for the nation’s top athlete and the No. 22 player overall in the 2017 class, but they will have to fend off a trio of fellow SEC titans and national powerhouses from the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12.

Stevens, who could play either safety or receiver in college, spoke with Bleacher Report recently and broke down his finalists and his recruitment.

Here are his thoughts on each program in his top seven.

 

Georgia: "I’m very high on Georgia just because I believe in [Head] Coach [Kirby] Smart’s vision and where he has Georgia going. I’m also really comfortable with my position coach in [defensive coordinator] Coach [Mel] Tucker dating back to when he was at Alabama. Those two being there and me being so comfortable with the head coach and the defensive coordinator, that’s two really big positives. Then, the school is just awesome."

LSU: "When I decommitted, I guess it put a bad taste in the mouth of LSU fans. But LSU is a great school with a lot of great things to offer. They have a great DB coach who has put multiple players in the league in Corey Raymond. They have a charismatic coach and a players' coach in Les Miles. The competition there is amazing, so that’s why I’m interested in them." 

Florida State: "I feel like how they use their players is something that attracts me to their program. Like [2016 NFL draft prospect] Jalen Ramsey, for example, he got to showcase his versatility in playing nickel, safety and corner in three years. Little things like that can help you be more valuable to your own team and to NFL teams down the road." 

Florida: "They do great with bigger safeties. Matt Elam was a thicker guy and they had Keanu Neal recently. I think Florida is just a great school. I like [Head] Coach [Jim] McElwain and where he is taking the program. They had a fast start last year and I think they are going to keep going up more."

Tennessee: "That’s the hometown school right there. They made a hire [at defensive coordinator] in Coach [Bob] Shoop recently that I really liked. Him being there, it makes me feel good because I really like Coach Shoop. I knew him since my eighth-grade year when he was at Vanderbilt. That’s a relationship that has been going on for a while and him being at UT is awesome." 

USC: "My guy Austin Thomas [former LSU director of player personnel], he was actually at LSU and he recruited me hard when I was initially committed there. Now he’s out there and he’s been on me since the first day he was at USC [now associate athletic director of personnel at USC]. Not only that, USC has a lot to offer with their program. The history and the connections you can build out there, it’s an amazing opportunity there." 

Oklahoma: "I put them on my list because of their history and tradition they have there. Also, Oklahoma is a school that will allow me to play both sides of the ball. I’ve spoken with the receivers coach, the DBs coach and [Head] Coach [Bob] Stoops frequently, and they have been recruiting me hard."

 

He’s recently taken visits to Georgia and LSU, and he admits the only trip that is possible in the near future is a return to Athens for the Bulldogs spring game.

“I’m not sure yet, but I think I may go to G-Day,” Stevens said. “That’s it for right now, but in the summer, I know I will take a lot of visits. The other schools on my list, those are the programs I want to go see in the summer.”

Of his finalists, Stevens also notes that commits from a pair of his finalists are already pressing him to join their respective clubs.

“Right now, I’d say the Georgia commits are coming at me from all over the place. [2017 4-star safety] Richard LeCounte and [2018 offensive lineman] Max Wray, they are in my ear 24/7,” Stevens said. “UT, I have a lot of their guys and my friends telling me to stay at home and make Tennessee great. I think Georgia and UT are where the players are recruiting me the hardest right now.”

Stevens, who has plans on majoring in sports marketing in college, has another important decision to make regarding his future.

He is contemplating skipping his final semester of high school to potentially get a jump-start on his college career. 

“That’s something I have to discuss with my parents, but I am on track to graduate early,” Stevens said.

That decision will ultimately have an impact on when he makes a final decision in his recruitment.

“If I don’t graduate early, I think I will do a national signing day commitment,” Stevens said. “If I do graduate early, I may just do it at one of the all-star games or just a big commitment at my school after the football season.”

With his finalists already identified, Stevens detailed a few things he’s looking for that will be critical in helping him find the school that fits him the best. 

“How I feel towards the program, not just athletically, but academically,” Stevens said. “How the school is socially also, because every school has something great to offer. Every school on my list has great facilities. At the end of the day, I have to a lot of soul-searching and just dissect and find little things that separates that one school I will pick in the end.”

 

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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