NCAA Football News

Ohio State Football: 5 Toughest RBs Buckeyes Will Face in 2016

Ohio State will face a lethally talented crop of running backs this fall—a group that's headlined by Penn State's Saquon Barkley, Oklahoma's Samaje Perine and Northwestern's Justin Jackson.

Stopping (or even limiting) these talented ball-carriers will be a huge challenge for a defense that's replacing eight total starters, five of which are in the front seven. Superstar defensive end Joey Bosa and hole-clogging defensive tackle Adolphus Washington won't be back in 2016, so the Buckeyes need to find game-ready successors right out of the gate.

If co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Greg Schiano fail to do so, these five running backs could shred the Buckeyes defense this season.

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Ranking Best SEC Football Head Coaching Matchups for 2016 Season

In Southeastern Conference football, the head coaches are rock stars.

So while everybody cares most about what happens on the field, there's a bit of a "battle of the bands" atmosphere on message boards and comments sections across the Internet leading up to the games, especially when it comes to coaching decisions.

Right now, Alabama coach Nick Saban owns the bragging rights, and a few new faces like Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze, Florida's Jim McElwain and Tennessee's Butch Jones are trying to take their programs to a level where they can be mentioned among the league's coaching elite.

But with a ton of turnover in the league—Mark Richt getting canned and replaced with former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, Will Muschamp replacing Steve Spurrier in South Carolina and Barry Odom supplanting Missouri staple Gary Pinkel—there is plenty of wiggle room in league coaching rankings.

This year, a claim will be staked each week as some of the new guys try to prove they belong near the top. Others who were big-time names just a couple of years ago like LSU's Les Miles, Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin will try to keep the temperature on their seats down.

As always, a lot of games have a lot of ramifications in 2016. There are always the divisional tugs-of-war for a spot in Atlanta, and a cross-divisional game even made this list.

So let's rank the top coaching matchups of the upcoming SEC season. The criteria will be magnitude of the outcome of the game, job ramifications and the fact that every coach can appear on the list just once. 

Here's a look at some of the top coaching grudge matches.

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University of Florida Names Football Field After Former Coach Steve Spurrier

The University of Florida gave its field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium a new name. It will now be Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium after the former player and head coach, the school revealed Thursday:    

Spurrier responded to the news in a statement (via FloridaGators.com writer Scott Carter):

Spurrier began his time at Florida as a quarterback in 1964, and he played in all 30 games over his three years at the school. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 after throwing for 2,012 yards and 16 touchdowns as he led Florida to a 9-2 record and an Orange Bowl win. 

After a 10-year NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Spurrier worked his way to the sidelines, getting his first head coaching gig at Duke from 1987-1989 before being hired as Florida's head coach in 1991. 

He spent 12 years in Gainesville, where he amassed a 122-27-1 record and won six bowl games. Spurrier's finest coaching moment at the school came in 1996, when he led Florida to a 12-1 record, a 52-20 win over Florida State in the 1997 Sugar Bowl and the national championship. 

It was the school's first national title in program history and the only one Spurrier ever won.

Florida director of athletics Jeremy Foley released a statement on the school's official website about what Spurrier meant to the program: "We feel this was an appropriate way to commemorate one the most legendary figures in Gator athletics history. Coach Spurrier did more than win a Heisman Trophy, a national championship and a bunch of games. Coach Spurrier changed the culture of Florida athletics."

Spurrier wasn't done with coaching when he left Florida in 2002, as he took a head coaching job in the NFL with Washington. But after going 12-20 in two years, he returned to college, coaching South Carolina for 11 years. 

Now Florida will honor Spurrier in its season opener on Saturday, Sept. 3, when it takes on the University of Massachusetts.     

 

Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Why Nick Saban Doesn't Plan to Attend Any Satellite Camps

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. — Nick Saban was relaxed on Thursday morning and had every reason to be.

It was the 10th annual Nick’s Kids Golf Tournament located at the Old Overton Club, just outside of Birmingham, where the majority of funds for his foundation to help children in the region are raised.

Every year Saban calls the day they distribute the checks, during a special luncheon just before the start of training camp, his favorite of the year, but this one has to be up there as well. That the weather was nearly perfect didn’t hurt any.

“This is something that’s really close to our heart,” he said before warming up, and didn’t even allow a hypothetical question from a reporter about if he’d like to someday be the commissioner of college football alter his mood.

“I know you all like to create news, but not today,” Saban said with a smile.

Perhaps just as notable was what Saban wasn’t doing Thursday. He wasn’t bouncing around the country trying to get exposure for his program or sitting in an office trying to figure out how to get his coaches to satellite camps being held across the nation.

He also wasn’t trying to make waves. He was simply getting ready to play the 17th hole, a 175-yard par-3 from the blue tees (145 from the white), over and over again with every group that contributed to the foundation named in his father’s honor.

“We’re trying to get guys to cover the camps, but most of our assistant coaches and myself, I’m not going to go to any satellite camps,” he clarified.

We sort of made the decision that it’s more important—especially in this time period because there’s only limited time periods in the summer that we have to spend with our players. The first couple, three weeks of June, a couple of weeks in July. We’re going to invest a little more time in that, especially me.

These are our choices.

They’re good choices. Although Saban has been outspoken against satellite camps due to the risk of their changing the recruiting landscape and making it more like what exists in college basketball, he’s also emphasized that there’s something not right about the NCAA saying its fine for coaches to spend more time with potential recruits than their own players.

Besides, it hasn’t been the calmest of summers in Tuscaloosa, where football has long been considered a year-round sport.

Most notably, two players, left tackle Cam Robinson and reserve safety Hootie Jones, were arrested when they went home to Louisiana and are facing drugs and weapons charges, with their arraignment scheduled for June. 16.

Defensive line coach Bo Davis also resigned following alleged recruiting violations, which prompted Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to lash out at Saban via Twitter after he railed again against satellite camps at the recent SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida. 

After some back-and-forth in the public eye, the verbal sparring has stopped, at least for now.

“I have no beef about Jim Harbaugh,” Saban said. “I didn’t say anything about him and I’m not saying anything about him right now. Everybody’s got the right to manage their program like they want. I’m not in any way critical of anything he’s doing, or done, or said, or anything else, and don’t really care.

“I’m worried about what we do and what our program does … That’s enough for me.”

Saban was backing up those words during his last scheduled public appearance until SEC Media Days, which are remarkably just a month away (July 11-14).

Alabama just held a major camp of its own on its campus, which included numerous high-profile prospects, and the program is fresh off not only winning another national championship, but another recruiting title.

Elsewhere, Alabama staffers are working some of those same camps as the Michigan coaches, just not quite as aggressively or publicly. Credit Harbaugh for creating a lot of buzz about his program, but the Crimson Tide coaches know that their chances of landing a recruit out of a satellite camp are pretty slim.

Perhaps Alabama will have a different approach down the road.

In the meantime, Saban instead spent a day trying to add to the $6 million the Nick’s Kids Foundation has distributed over the years, and helped Habitat for Humanity build a house for each national championship that Alabama claims (the tradition began after the 2011 tornado, and No. 16 is under way).

In addition to the donors, he was surrounded by some of this year’s team leaders, former players, the coaching staff and numerous others who help make Crimson Tide football what it is—even staffer Ed Marynowitz, who’s return was made official this week with Alabama naming him the Crimson Tide’s associate athletics director for football. 

Thursday their focus was on helping others during a nice outing, but Friday it’ll be back on trying to win No. 17.

“It’s all a work in progress,” Saban said. “If I look at last year’s team at this time, or coming out of spring practice, it was a work in progress. We weren’t where we needed to be. I don’t think we were where we needed to be until we lost to Ole Miss.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 25 Best College Football Athletes in 2016

College football is full of athletes. In fact, every single college football player is an athlete. How else would he have reached this level?

But there's no question some possess more individual talent than a strong majority of their competition. Physical dominance and versatility—whether on the field or in a different sport—make these players special pieces of a team.

Stats are not necessarily important, but the numbers help describe why players have earned this status.

Arguments can be made for hundreds—yes, literally hundreds—of others, but the following list (which is organized alphabetically by school) highlights 25 of the best athletes in college football. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.

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10 College Football Players Under Unrealistic Pressure in 2016

For a sport that's still technically played by amateurs, college football sure does put a lot of pressure on its athletes.

The expectation to succeed is constant and comes from all directions, with little regard for what impact this might have on the players themselves. Being able to handle this pressure is what separates the good from the great and often impacts whether a player has a chance to succeed at the next level (where he'll actually get paid to do so).

While every college football player deals with at least some level of pressure, for a handful, the intensity is much greater. These are the players who, either because of what they've achieved in the past or what is expected of them in the immediate future, must deal with far more stress.

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Elite 11 Finalist Chase Garbers Discusses Upcoming Visits, Commitment Timeline

The disparity between committed and uncommitted quarterbacks was quite apparent last weekend at Elite 11 national finals in Redondo Beach, California. 

Among the 24 top-tier talents in attendance, 19 approach summer pledged to a college football program. That total actually sat at 20 until Kellen Mond backed off his pact with Baylor shortly before competition began. 

The recruiting cycle tends to get urgent early when it comes to securing premier passers, but Chase Garbers is still searching for the right fit. It's a quest that won't last much longer for the Southern California quarterback.

The 6'3", 205-pound Corona Del Mar High School prospect told Bleacher Report he expects to announce collegiate intentions well in advance of his senior season. Garbers, rated No. 22 nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, expressed plans to reach a decision by mid-summer, possibly sometime in June.

He used the spring to research and explore options and will continue to do so during upcoming weeks.

"I have a lot of things to check off the list, but most important is academics," Garbers said. "There has to be a strong business school and well-based alumni for networking after football."

Though he now holds nearly 20 scholarship offers, things didn't really take off for Garbers until his breakout performance at a Feb. 28 Elite 11 Los Angeles regional camp. Competing alongside higher-rated passers, he claimed MVP honors and an invitation to Elite 11 finals, which occurred June 3-5.

“Chase had the most consistent day of any QB throughout the event," Elite 11 coach Matt James said. "He made all the throws with good footwork and a good frame. He was probably a little bit down on the list when things started, but as the day progressed, he got more and more in the conversation and moved his way up the board."

Garbers reports he secured six offers during the week that followed regional action.

"It definitely turned things up for me in my recruitment," he said.

Programs still in search of talent at quarterback continue to clamor for guys such as Garbers, Mond, Tate Martell and Jack Sears. He can feel the heat being turned up by teams with the arrival of summer break.

"I've been getting a full-force push from a few schools—Washington, Cal and Vanderbilt in particular," Garbers said. "They're coming at me with a full head of steam, everyday."

When it comes to Cal, he has plenty of company on the Golden Bears' list of targets. First-year offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who previously served in the same position at Texas A&M, is in good shape with several options.

"Competition for spots in a class is part of the recruiting business," Garbers said. "Jake, Tate and I each have pretty serious interest in Cal. Coach Spav is a great guy and I'm excited to go back there."

Another trip to Berkeley should help him clarify the situation at Cal. He received valuable insight last weekend from Elite 11 counselor Davis Webb, a graduate transfer from Texas Tech who could replace No. 1 NFL draft pick Jared Goff behind center for the Golden Bears.

"Davis told me a lot about Cal and why he loves it," Garbers said. "That helps to hear from someone who is already involved in things up there. Cal also has one of the best business schools in the world, which is huge."

Washington is another major Pac-12 contender in play here. The Huskies hosted him on campus this spring and are favored to sign Garbers by 100 percent of experts' predictions in his 247Sports crystal ball.

"I really like what [head coach Chris] Petersen and [offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jonathan] Smith do offensively," he said. "The contact is really strong between me and both coaches. I actually have family in Seattle, which is a great town, so that's also part of the process."

Garbers will return to Seattle this month, perhaps moving one step closer toward a commitment to Washington.

Vanderbilt and Ole Miss present alternative opportunities beyond the West Coast. The Commodores are in the mix for a campus visit from Garbers, while he has started to take a closer look at the Rebels since a May 31 offer arrived.

"Ole Miss wins games and they've become pretty big in the SEC these past few years," Garbers said. "The campus has a great environment and coaches are trying to create their own dynasty there."

Garbers, who completed 69 percent of pass attempts for 2,715 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2015, per MaxPreps, didn't rule out a trip to Oxford.

A new sense of urgency in his recruitment should result in a college choice soon. As the amount of uncommitted quarterbacks dwindles, expect Garbers to remain in the spotlight for several staffs until he declares his decision.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Best Offensive and Defensive Coordinator Duos in College Football

Finding the right duo of coordinators is a tough task in college football. Excellent assistants are hired away by other schools for head coaching jobs year after year, making the coaching carousel spin even faster at the coordinator level.

Last year, Alabama's Nick Saban, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State's Urban Meyer all lost defensive coordinators to bigger gigs. Out West, Oregon's Mark Helfrich had to replace his ace offensive coordinator as well as Arizona State's Todd Graham.

The constant turnover as these positions means the 10 teams in the following countdown are in enviable spots for the 2016 season. These schools are our picks for the 10 best offensive and defensive coordinator duos in college football, based on experience, longevity and, most importantly, their on-field success either at their current school or their previous stops. (Duos that have a coordinator who has never served in that role before were not considered.)

Which coordinator duo do you think is the best in college football? Let us know in the comments below.

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Unnamed Baylor Student Speaks on School's Handling of Alleged Sexual Assault

Two more female Baylor University students have come forward to discuss the school's lack of response after they were involved in alleged sexual assaults.

Rissa Shaw of KCEN passed along comments from an unnamed senior, listed as "Ally" throughout the report, and a junior named Sierra Smith on Thursday. Both stated Baylor failed to take what they felt were the necessary steps after they came forward with their claims.

Ally told KCEN a "current Baylor football player" raped her during her freshman year. She stated a visit to the campus' health clinic the next day resulted in the doctor providing her with details about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases before reportedly wishing her "good luck."

"I wanted, I guess, guidance and more information on what I could do besides, 'Here's to make sure you're not pregnant, here's to make sure you don't have STDs,' and that never solved the problem that was still out there, the potential danger for other girls," she said.

She believes the fact her alleged attacker was on the football team played a role in the lack of a more comprehensive response to her claim. She also explained to KCEN that since the incident, she's avoided areas where football players may be around.

Smith thinks the issue is more widespread than trying to protect athletes, though. She came forward with details about an alleged sexual assault during the spring semester and, as Baylor came under fire on a national scale for the ongoing scandal, felt her issue was pushed aside since it didn't involve a sports star.

"As time went on, it just seemed more and more evident that my case wasn't relevant, and I felt that was especially pertinent because he wasn't a football player or an athlete or even a frat star. He was just another classmate," Smith told KCEN.

Baylor has started to make changes in the wake of receiving a report from the Pepper Hamilton law firm last month that investigated the university's handling of sexual assaults. The Associated Press reported it's unclear whether those details will be made public.

The Board of Regents announced changes to the leadership structure May 26. Head football coach Art Briles was suspended with the "intent to terminate," while athletic director Ian McCaw got "sanctioned and placed on probation" before he resigned from the position May 30.

The news release included a statement from Board of Regents chairman Richard Willis:

We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the university's mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students. The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.

Kenneth Starr was expected to transition from president to chancellor as part of the overhaul. He stepped down from that position less than a week later "as a matter of conscience," but he'll continue to teach at Baylor's law school, according to ESPN.com.

Paula Lavigne of ESPN.com reported a Title IX lawsuit filed against the university in March focused on the lack of response by school officials and specifically named Briles. David Tarrant, Sue Ambrose and Holly K. Hacker of the Dallas Morning News previously noted more lawsuits are expected.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points: Coaches, Stop Subtweeting Recruits

The advent of social media has given everybody with access to electronic devices a microphone to the world.

Evidently, some college football coaches have chosen to use that access to subtly troll high school football players.

One month after Texas A&M wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead got in hot water for subtweeting recent decommitment Tate Martell and setting off a social media firestorm, another SEC assistant did the same.

After 4-star quarterback Mac Jones flipped from Kentucky to Alabama, Wildcats quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw let loose this tweet quoting James E. Faust.

Not only did Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin retweet Hinshaw—which is an excellent form of subtle trolling that we all should embrace—but Jones acted like the adult in the situation on Twitter before deleting the tweet.

"Nothing but respect to the program," Jones wrote, according to CollegeSpun.com, which grabbed a screen shot of the tweet, "yet an old man is acting like a 12-year-old."

Let's just ignore, for a second, the fact that recruits talk to each other all the time, and the subject of which assistants/recruiters treat prospects like grown men probably comes up in their conversations from time to time.

What are you doing, college assistants?

Grown men are supposed to act like the adults in recruiting. Sure, at times that means acting a little childish, like Michigan's Jim Harbaugh did when, according to CBSSports.com, he climbed a tree with one prospect and had a sleepover with another earlier this year. Or when former South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, according to Fox Sports, hearkened back to his more nimble days and danced with Marcus Lattimore's mother. 

Subtweeting recruits isn't the same thing.

It's a childish, immature reaction to being scorned, similar to that time you spread that viscous rumor about your ex around middle school.

Be better than that.

Jones was right: Hinshaw's not-so-subtle subtweet is something that a 12-year-old would do. 

Adults acting like adults isn't an unreasonable request.

 

Dobbs Over Kelly?

As is tradition, AL.com (and prior to the consolidation of Alabama's newspapers into one website, the Birmingham News) released its All-SEC team as voted on by the SEC's sports information directors.

There's a curious pick at the top.

Tennessee dual-threat senior Joshua Dobbs was pegged as the SEC's first-team quarterback according to the SIDs, ahead of Ole Miss senior quarterback Chad Kelly.

Are you kidding me?

Look, I like Dobbs a lot and think that he can contend for the Heisman Trophy in 2016. 

know Kelly can.

The Buffalo, New York, native is fresh off a season in which he posted the third-most prolific offensive season in SEC history. Kelly produced 4,542 total yards as a junior, behind former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel's 5,116 in 2012 and 4,873 in 2013.

Kelly's season was better than those of former Auburn quarterback and 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton (4,327 yards) and former Florida quarterback 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow (4,181 yards). 

Nothing against Dobbs. He's an incredibly talented dual-threat quarterback, is much better on the ground then he gets credit for and should be the centerpiece of a Volunteer offense that is incredibly difficult to stop. But he had a 127.01 passer rating last year (as opposed to Kelly, who boasted a 155.86 rating), tossed 15 touchdowns to Kelly's 31 and is not nearly as accomplished a passer as his position mate in Oxford.

That's not to say that Dobbs can't get there. He can. I'm a firm believer in Tennessee's passing problems being more rooted in an underdeveloped and under-coached wide receiving corps than with Dobbs.

But having him over Kelly prior to the 2016 season is a joke.

 

Crossing The Line?

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and members of his staff joined Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and other coaches from across the country at a satellite camp at Pearl (Mississippi) High School on Wednesday.

Evidently, it went well.

So well that Mullen went full-Harbaugh and trolled the second-year Michigan head coach on Twitter following the event.

Coaches, please do more of this.

I'm sure even Harbaugh would appreciate the effort and Mullen's "attacking the day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind."

After all, Harbaugh is the same guy who called out Alabama's Nick Saban last week and has had dust-ups with Tennessee's Butch Jones and Georgia's Kirby Smart, among others, this offseason. If he can dish it out, he should be able to take it.

Of course, Harbaugh wasn't the Wolverines' head coach during Mississippi State's Gator Bowl romp following the 2010 regular season, and surely he will bring that up if and when he's asked about Mullen's tweet. 

That doesn't matter. It's the offseason, and a little fun on the Internet never hurt anybody.

 

A Needed Return

After six months away from the Florida program, wide receiver Antonio Callaway has been allowed to return to classes on campus and use the football facility after his suspension was amended this week, according to Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun.

"He’s allowed to use the athletic facilities, and he will be around the program," Florida spokesman Steve McClain said, according to Andreu.

While that isn't a full reinstatement, it's good enough.

"Around the program" is still vague—perhaps purposefully.

But even if Callaway doesn't participate in optional throwing sessions with the quarterbacks, at least he's around the team, can work out with the strength and conditioning coaches and focus on the upcoming season rather than worrying if he'd be a part of it.

Callaway had a team-high 678 receiving yards and four touchdowns and added two punt returns for touchdowns, including one in the SEC Championship Game loss to Alabama. With either Luke Del Rio or Austin Appleby taking over at quarterback following the Will Grier/Treon Harris experience of 2015, it's important for Callaway to be as comfortable as possible with his new signal-callers prior to toe meeting leather in the season opener versus UMass.

Florida has a stellar defense and should be better along the offensive line after the youngsters were thrown into the fire last year, and having a traditional pocket passer should benefit head coach Jim McElwain—who couldn't seem to get things going when Harris replaced Grier following Grier's suspension last year. 

 

Make The Call

Speaking on the Paul Finebaum Show on SEC Network, former Georgia Bulldog and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward continued his campaign to get back to Athens.

"I’m dead serious. I want to coach at Georgia," Ward told DawgNation.com's Brandon Adams. "I’ve expressed that to Kirby. I haven’t had any talks with him about what all goes into it, but I think I’ve put it out there. I’m serious. I want to give back to my alma mater."

This comes on the heels of his appearance on the Paul Finebaum Show on SEC Network in December.

When a spot surfaces within the program that makes sense for Ward, head coach Kirby Smart needs to make that call.

No, Ward doesn't have experience as a coach at any level other than, perhaps, his cameo on The Bachelorette with former Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers earlier this month. 

Who cares?

Ward is widely recognizable as one of the main cogs of a Steeler team that won two Super Bowls, was named MVP of Super Bowl XL and has made the transition to the entertainment realm after his appearance on Dancing With The Stars

He is one of the most recognizable former Georgia players on the planet, along with 1980 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker and Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford. If he's interested, Smart would be crazy not to at least explore different ways to get Ward involved with the program.

 

Quick Outs

  • Tennessee could haul in close to $4 million for its part in the Battle At Bristol against Virginia Tech, according to WNML's Jimmy Hyams. This on top of the $294.1 million (an average of $42.0 million per home game) to the state economy and $292.1 million ($41.7 million per home game) to the local economy that the football program generates, according to a school report released this week. College football is big business, and there has to be a way to legally funnel more of that revenue to the players while keeping amateurism intact. 
  • Auburn announced late last week via email that former 5-star running back Roc Thomas will transfer. With Kerryon Johnson likely gobbling up carries as the edge threat to complement power rusher Jovon Robinson, there was simply no room for Thomas. On top of that, if John Franklin III wins the starting quarterback job, he'll likely be a threat off the edge as well. 
  • Just another reminder, coaches, not to subtweet recruits. I hate that I have to write it twice. 

 

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

The 8th-Grader Taking the Football Recruiting World by Storm

Today, Jesus Machado Sr. hopes, is the day everything will change. Today is the day he will finally beat his son in Madden.

Jesus Machado Jr. and his father are tucked away in their Miami Gardens home. It is a Saturday afternoon in early June, and the madness has temporarily subsided. 

"Little Zeus," as he's known around Miami, picks the Seattle Seahawks. His father, "Big Zeus," selects the Miami Dolphins, hoping that local allegiance will lead to a breakthrough.

The outcome of the game is decided before Little Zeus turns to his trademark hurry-up offense. His father has no answer for quarterback Russell Wilson. The upset will have to come another day.

Like most 15-year-olds, Machado plays video games. He loves fishing with his father and playing basketball with friends. His favorite subject in school is math. Machado, the oldest of four, loves being a big brother to his two sisters and infant brother, "Baby Zeus."

On June 10, Machado will take his final class in the eighth grade. He will acquire the freshman label at Champagnat Catholic School in Hialeah, Florida.

Machado lives the life of a young man seesawing between childhood and adulthood. He has the suggestion of a baby face. His voice is still reluctant, inquisitive and polite.

It is here, however, that normalcy fades quickly. This is the part where it gets uncomfortable for some.

Even though Machado has yet to step foot into his first freshman class, he is already being courted by Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban. In fact, Machado owns a verbal scholarship offer from Alabama to go along with offers from North Carolina State, Iowa State, West Virginia and Michigan State.

The linebacker from the class of 2020—a classification fitting of a sci-fi movie or a time machine—has become one of the sport's most discussed young players.

"He's a big kid obviously for his age, and he is more advanced when it comes to ball recognition, not just relying totally on his athleticism," Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals.com, told Bleacher Report. "What I am seeing is football instincts, football technique and actual football IQ rather than a kid who is just bigger and stronger than anybody else. It doesn't surprise me that he's getting offers."

At 6'1" and 195 pounds, his body is closer to that of an NFL safety than a classmate. He's not quite as tall as his father, who stands at 6'6" and played football and basketball growing up. But the gap is closing rapidly.

Locally, Machado has become a celebrity of sorts. Playing in a youth football hotbed—a place that has seen eighth- and ninth-graders offered before—Machado has emerged as a star.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't shocked by the Alabama offer," Machado's former coach, Travis Thomas, said. "But I just knew that he was going to be one of the top players of this class. Just being around youth football, you know when a guy like this is special. I expected offers to come in after this year."

Thomas watched Machado finish a game with nearly 20 tackles as a 13-year-old. The next year, Thomas coached Machado on the Miami Gardens Ravens and played him at defensive tackle.

Although teams would run away from Machado at all costs—and double- and triple-team when they didn't—he still dominated the league. So much so that at the end of the year, Thomas sat down with Machado, his father and Dennis Marroquin, the head coach at Champagnat Catholic School.

"He could have played 14 and under," Thomas said. "But he was dominant. The only thing left for him to do was risk a freak injury. No one was equipped to deal with him. He was on a different level physically."

Because Champagnat Catholic, a small private school, offered classes for grades six through 12, Machado could complete his eighth-grade year and still play for the high school team.

"I knew he was ready," Machado Sr. said when asked about the decision.

There was comfort and trust from all parties, especially Machado, in the decision.

While rare, this kind of leap is not unheard of. Georgia running back Sony Michel and former Florida running back Kelvin Taylor were both prep stars in the state of Florida, and both played with their varsity teams as eighth-graders before excelling at the high school level.

So at the age of 14, Machado joined a roster that was limited in overall numbers. Instead of having him sit and learn, Marroquin plugged his new player in as the team's starting linebacker. He also played him at defensive end.

"I've been around a lot of players, been around a lot of kids," Marroquin said, who also coached current Alabama wideout Calvin Ridley among other local standouts. "Sony Michel is about the only one that comes to mind when talking about how advanced he was physically."

In 10 games last season, Machado finished with 97 tackles and 12 sacks. He missed one game with food poisoning. Otherwise he would have finished the year with more than 100 tackles.

While Champagnat Catholic School is 2A with fewer than 300 kids enrolled, it does not shy away from bigger schools and quality opponents. Entering his third year, Marroquin has made a point of moving up in class against. The team's 3-7 record in 2015 is not an indictment of its talent but rather a product of scheduling and numbers.

This spring, coaches have flocked to Champagnat to see the team and players in action. In some cases, they did not come to see Machado.

They came to see 3-star linebacker Donovan Georges, one of the better Florida linebackers in the class of 2018, who holds more than 10 offers. They came to see wideout Brieon Fuller, who is already one of the hottest names in the class of 2019.

But each time Marroquin has thrown on the tape for coaches, Machado jumped off the screen. "I think his Hudl highlights promoted some of the interest," Machado Sr. added.

In less than a month, Machado picked up five offers. The first came from NC State; the most recent, and most notable, came from Alabama.

Mario Cristobal, one of Saban's most recognized recruiters, will serve as the primary contact once that time comes. With strong ties in the area, this is right up Cristobal's alley.

Whether he's still recruiting the state of Florida for Saban or Alabama four years from now is another discussion entirely. It also outlines the uniqueness, absurdity and delicacy of the situation in present time.

NCAA rules limit the contact coaches can have with Machado outside of camps. For now, Marroquin is funneling all interest and offers to the family as they arrive.

When Alabama first offered, Machado hoped to keep it concealed for as long as possible. He was flattered and thrilled but in no rush to become national news. The industry, which is now covered more closely than it has ever been, had other ideas.

"Alabama has offered ninth-graders in Miami in the past, so we didn't think it was a big deal, to be honest," Marroquin said. "Next thing you know, his name is ringing on ESPN."

Dylan Moses, 247Sports' No. 2-rated composite player in the class of 2017, can relate. As an eighth-grader, the Louisiana native picked up offers from LSU and Alabama. His recruitment quickly became a public discussion.

Since reaching the celebrity threshold, Moses has changed positions. He's now a linebacker after starring at running back. He's added weight to an already-ridiculous frame. He's become more polished as a player and done little to cool the enthusiasm when it comes to his possibility at the next level.

He's also committed to and decommitted from LSU in this time—a reminder of how little significance any pledge or offer carries.

"Until you sign on signing day, these really don't count," Marroquin said. "You still need great academics all four years of high school. You have to pass your tests. There's so much more to it. You don't just get some verbals and all of the sudden you made it. It's a process."

More specifically, it's part of the game. Machado is undoubtedly worthy of a scholarship offer—a verbal investment—even at this age. That's because this investment is more of a marketing ploy and early loyalty push than anything else. It's a way to establish a connection early on, and it comes with little risk on either side.

Still, the idea that an eighth-grader could hold multiple scholarship offers has always received mixed reviews. Recruiting at its core is peculiar and invasive; when it toes the line of established norms, it doesn't always receive rousing applause.

This is something Machado, his father and his coaches are deeply aware of. They understand the negative stigmas attached and the perception that this could ultimately serve as a negative for the player. Thus far, they have little reason to be concerned with the attention.

"He's the most humble kid you'll meet. It hasn't gotten to his head at all," Marroquin said. "He's just playing football and having fun right now."

As part of the attention influx, Marroquin has politely denied all media requests to speak with Machado. Currently, they are working on ways to deal with the media, how to handle questions and the appropriate mindset to combat such incredible expectations at such a young age.

There is little doubt Machado will continue to flourish on the football field. He will add weight to his frame, shed the baby face and perhaps see eye to eye with his father by the time national signing day in 2020 rolls around—if such an event even exists by then.

"I never thought it would get this big this fast," Machado Sr. said. "But there is still so much work to do. There are four more years left."

By then, he might not be a linebacker. He might be a 240-pound defensive end, with his body fully developed, terrifying quarterbacks around the edge.

Alabama, knowing how much can and will change in this time, has decided to invest in the young man at the ground floor. This is by no means a guarantee, but it is revealing. As are the other offers that have come and the many more that will follow.

Nothing will be the same from here on out. And yet, on this unassuming Saturday in June, less than two weeks before Machado will graduate from the eighth grade, one wouldn't know it.

There are far more pressing matters to be concerned with, starting with this lopsided game of Madden.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jim Harbaugh Responds to Rutgers Secret Society's Message About Satelite Camp

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh has long been an advocate of satellite camps, but members of a Rutgers University secret society evidently don't want the Maize and Blue boss encroaching on their territory. 

According to NJ Advance Media's Keith Sargeant, the Order of Bulls Blood vandalized the football field at Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey—the site of Michigan's satellite camp—with Scarlet Knights magnets and a teddy bear as a sort of protest against Harbaugh's arrival. 

The secret society also sent out a warning to Harbaugh and the Wolverines, as captured by Eleven Warriors on Twitter: 

In typical Harbaugh fashion, the Michigan coach responded with a message of his own—although it is a bit cryptic: 

"While some may perceive this as a silly prank, in today's world it is inadvisable for people to trespass on a school campus for any reason,'' Paramus Catholic president James Vail said of the incident, per Sargeant. "So the police are looking into it, and it's considered an active investigation."

From a rivalry perspective, the Order of Bulls Blood's actions likely won't stir up more bad blood between the Scarlet Knights and the Wolverines on the gridiron.

According to Sports-Reference.com, Michigan and Rutgers have clashed a grand total of two times—both of which have come since the New Jersey school joined the Big Ten in 2014. The Scarlet Knights won the first meeting, 26-24, but the Wolverines bounced back with an emphatic 49-16 triumph last season during Harbaugh's first year as head coach.

Although both programs will be afforded more opportunities to impose their respective wills on the field and establish more hatred, Michigan has more entrenched foes, such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa, to fret about for the time being. 

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Tren'Davian Dickson Requests Transfer from Baylor: Latest Details and Reaction

Baylor freshman wide receiver Tren'Davian Dickson met with the Bears coaching staff last week to request his release from the program with the intent to transfer.  

ESPN.com's Max Olson reported the news Wednesday, indicating Baylor gave Dickson permission to seek out any school to move to except for its Big 12 rivals. Because of the fact that Dickson participated in spring practice at Baylor, he will be ineligible for the 2016 season.

Dickson was a 4-star recruit in the class of 2016 from Navasota High School in Navasota, Texas, which is where he returned to upon his departure from Waco, according to Olson.

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, the 18-year-old was the 14th-best receiver, the No. 16 player out of Texas and 104th overall prospect in the nation. 247Sports lists him at 5'11" and 165 pounds.

Bleacher Report's Tyler Donahue highlighted why Dickson was so highly touted coming out of the Lone Star State:

The Bears program has been under scrutiny of late in the aftermath of a sexual assault scandal, which led to the dismissal of head coach Art Briles.

Per Olson, six prospective Baylor players have requested a release from their signed national letters of intent. Olson also indicated defensive lineman Jeremy Faulk and offensive lineman B.J. Autry left the team Tuesday.

Likely to be an effective slot receiver at the NCAA level, Dickson should have eager suitors as he seeks to begin the next chapter of his career. Although he won't be able to make an immediate impact amid a de facto redshirt year, Dickson's absence from the gridiron in 2016 may be best for his long-term development.

With the need to pack on weight and become a more refined route-runner, Dickson could well benefit from primarily focusing on gaining strength and working on his craft.

 

Star rating courtesy of 247Sports.

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Ohio State Announces Stadium-Wide Beer Sales for 2016 Football Season

Ohio State announced Wednesday its plan to implement stadium-wide beer sales during the 2016 season after allowing the sale of alcohol in select areas of Ohio Stadium last year.

A release posted on the Buckeyes' official athletics site noted the additional revenue will be directly used to create two new full-time positions within the Ohio State Police Department, which come with a price tag of roughly $300,000.

"The safety of our campus community, including fans and visitors, is our No. 1 priority," said Craig Stone, chief of the Ohio State University Police Division, in the release. "Thanks to this partnership with the department of athletics, two new, full-time officers will bolster our security presence and enhance campus safety year-round."

Additional revenue—$50,000 over the next two years—will be used to fund research in the school's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery. Any remaining money will go into the general athletics department budget, according to the announcement.

Selling beer during college football games has become a growing trend in recent years. Christian Malone of Saturday Down South cited VinePair statistics last fall that showed 34 stadiums across the country served beer during college games.

The biggest concern is the distribution of alcohol at a sporting event where a sizable portion of the crowd is underage. Although beer still can't be sold to anyone under 21, West Virginia University president E. Gordon Gee told Marc Tracy of the New York Times last October that he's had an internal debate about the issue since the school started allowing beer sales.

"I'm sometimes conflicted about it," he said, "because I do believe one of the main issues confronting universities is alcohol abuse—binge drinking."

It's hard to pass up the additional cash flow, though. West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons explained to the New York Times that the beer sales led to "approximately $500,000 a year" in revenue.

Ohio State, which also introduced a new bag policy as part of the new stadium guidelines, said the extra money going to the general athletics department budget will help fund study abroad and community service programs as well as cost of attendance, supplemental nutrition and other needs.

The Buckeyes are scheduled to play their first home game of the 2016 season on Saturday, Sept. 3, against MAC opponent Bowling Green.

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How SEC Football Should Reorganize Its Divisions

When it comes to realignment, it’s time for the Southeastern Conference to bow to fate.

The league has been geographically out of whack for a while, having grown and expanded over the years and even added a television headquarters located in a state that doesn’t include any of its participants.

A simple glance at a map reflects the issue, with Missouri playing in the SEC East against schools that are a short drive away from the Atlantic Ocean. The farthest, Florida, is over 1,000 miles away, a 15-plus-hour drive should anyone want to take in a game.

Granted, long trips are now pretty much par for the course in the conference, especially for Texas A&M fans. But, in general, they should be minimized as much as possible.  

Actually, the division problem extends far beyond the latest round of expansion in 2011.

For example, Alabama, now probably the SEC’s most centrally located school, has both Arkansas and Texas A&M in its division, which are both a 10-plus-hour drive from Tuscaloosa, while Georgia and Vanderbilt are both roughly four hours away, depending on traffic.

“I don’t know,” Commissioner Greg Sankey said when asked when the next realignment shift could occur while visiting with reporters during April's Associated Press Sports Editors southeastern regional meeting in Birmingham.

“We’re doing well as the Southeastern Conference with 14 members and the SEC Network, and we’ll look at maximizing our strength each and every day.”

Consequently, the subject wasn’t discussed during the recent spring meetings in Destin, Florida, and it probably won’t be at length until the league's hand is forced.

After all, it took this league three years to figure out a schedule rotation that everyone could agree on, which will last through the 2025 season—the controversial 6-1-1 format (each team plays every division opponent, one permanent opponent from the other division and a crossover game).

Yet sooner or later, there will be a correction, and assuming further expansion (the possibility of which appears to be as unpredictable as a Steve Spurrier press conference) isn’t on the doorstep, there’s really no reason it shouldn’t be sooner.

It’s certainly something the coaches are considering. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn recently told ESPN.com’s Chris Low he'd be OK with Auburn moving to the SEC East:

Meanwhile, Tennessee coach Butch Jones made it clear in Destin that he’s against realignment even though an SEC West representative has won the last seven conference championships and 11 of the past 15.

With opinions all over the place, coming to a consensus on the issue won’t be easy. Concessions in other areas will probably have to be negotiated.

Some have suggested completely doing away with the divisions, which would make scheduling extremely controversial every year. Others suggest a quick fix by swapping Missouri with a team in the SEC West, or even Missouri and Vanderbilt for Alabama and Auburn, even though it would separate two in-state rivals.

An even more radical approach would be to throw out travel concerns and put the strongest rivals in different divisions, making them the permanent crossover games. It would look something like this:

  • Division 1: Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU
  • Division 2: Auburn, Ole Miss, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Missouri, Texas A&M

Except for the rivalries, there’s barely any rhyme or reason to it, since teams from the same geographic region would hardly play. So that, too, is unappealing.

Region, though, is the key word. It's one the NCAA has embraced—especially with the way it makes postseason pairings—and the National Football League discovered when it went to four-team divisions.

The SEC ought to think of the conference as having four regions and use that as the basis for determining the divisions both now and if it eventually expands again.

The breakdown would be as such: 

  • Eastern: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina
  • Southern: Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State
  • Northern: Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
  • Western: Arkansas, LSU, Missouri, Texas A&M

From there, combining the four- and three-team regions into two divisions is pretty easy, particularly since the Eastern and Western regions shouldn’t be paired for obvious reasons. So the Eastern and Southern schools would go together along with the Northern and Western.

We’ll call them the Northwest and Southeast Divisions.

  • Northwest: Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
  • Southeast: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina

Is it perfect? No.

Separating LSU from the Mississippi schools isn’t ideal, but you have to draw the line somewhere and it’s better than splitting two in-state schools. Alabama and LSU also wouldn’t play annually, but the possibility of them meeting in the championship game would arise.

With this plan, there would still be some long road trips, but not as many. And with division games like Auburn-Georgia, there would be less of a need for the permanent crossover game. Alabama-Tennessee would be a sticking point, but that—along with playing a nine-game conference schedule—is a subject for another day.

Moreover, most of the conference’s greatest rivalries would be preserved. Even though Tennessee-Vanderbilt may not be the league's most competitive rivalry, it doesn't mean they shouldn't play every season. Outside of Alabama, Auburn's biggest rivals all lie to the east. Crimson Tide fans would certainly rather travel to Florida, a state that it borders, than Arkansas.

The Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl would go on like usual, as would neutral-site games like Florida-Georgia and Arkansas-Texas A&M. The two schools closest together, Alabama and Mississippi State, would still play annually.

Some rivalries would also be renewed, while others would be magnified. Arkansas-Missouri would only intensify if they were in the same division. South Carolina fans went crazy when the Gamecocks knocked off Alabama in 2010; how about making that a regular game? Ole Miss has actually played Georgia more times in its history than it's played Auburn.

Just think, Nick Saban could potentially be in the same division as three of his former assistant coaches, and Alabama and Georgia would be especially huge rivals again.

After all, the fight song “Yea Alabama!” has a Georgia reference in it.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Brett Neilon to USC: Trojans Land 4-Star Center Prospect

USC secured the commitment of one of the best interior offensive linemen in the country on Wednesday after Brett Neilon announced that he's heading to Los Angeles.

Neilon announced his decision on Twitter:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Neilon is the No. 2 center in the 2017 recruiting class. The 4-star recruit is also the 196th-best player overall and 21st in the state of California.

Interest in Neilon was particularly fevered on the western half of the country, with nine of the 12 Pac-12 schools offering him a scholarship, per 247Sports.

In an interview with Scout.com's Greg Biggins last September, the Rancho Santa Margarita, California, native discussed how he was going to be patient regarding his commitment.

"I'll commit when I'm ready, hopefully before my senior season," he said. "Right now, I don't have any leaders or favorites. I'm in no rush, and every school that I'm looking at stands out the same for me. I'll take some of these visits, and that should help me figure out where the best place for me is."

Although Neilon has played left tackle for Santa Margarita Catholic High School, there's little chance he lines up there at the next level.

At 6'2" and 280 pounds, he lacks the size for the position, with his height being a significant roadblock. In an interview with Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue in March, Neilon said he is hoping to move to center, which would benefit him in the long run.

His time at tackle will be beneficial, though, since he showed off his lateral agility and ability to get to the second level. Matt Moreno of GOAZCATS.com highlighted the former with the Vine below:

The Rivals Camp Series also showed how Neilon can stick tightly to his man:

There won't be any doubt either as to whether he has the strength to handle defensive tackles in the FBS. His high school coach, Rich Fisher, showed him flexing in the weight room:

Especially if center becomes his full-time position, Neilon will inevitably need an adjustment period once he hits college.

For one, building a strong relationship with his quarterback will be important. He'll also need to have a better understanding of how to read opposing defenses. Fast-tracking those traits isn't easy, so USC would be smart to let him spend his first season on campus in a more peripheral role.

Once he finds a nice comfort zone on the line and on the team as a whole, Neilon has the potential to be among the best interior linemen in the country.

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Power 5 Schools with Biggest Gains and Losses in 2015 CFB Stadium Attendance

Average attendance at college football games slipped yet again in the 2015 season, but another yearly downturn didn't affect every team across the country.

While other schools' crowds suffered from bad on-field performances or lackluster home schedules, a few teams made sizable gains in their gate numbers. New head coaches reenergized fan bases, including the one that packs the second-largest sports stadium on the entire planet.

Let's take a look at the 10 Power Five schools that had the biggest gains in average attendance from 2014 to 2015 and the 10 that had the biggest moves in the other direction. (Here are last year's 10 biggest gains and 10 biggest losses.)

The average attendance numbers have been taken directly from the NCAA, and it's worth noting that these numbers are based on reported attendance—not necessarily the exact number of seats that were filled on Saturdays.

 

Biggest Gains

1. Pittsburgh (+6,835): Pittsburgh had the second-biggest drop in average attendance from 2013 to 2014, but Panthers fans rebounded in a strong way last season. According to Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, average attendance at Heinz Field was boosted by the excitement surrounding Pat Narduzzi's first season as Pitt's head coach and a strong home schedule led by a 68,400-seat sellout game against Notre Dame. 

2. Michigan (+5,259): "Harbaugh Mania" brought bigger crowds back to college football's largest stadium as the Wolverines led the nation in attendance with an average of 110,168 per game, passing Ohio State and Texas A&M from 2014's numbers. Jim Harbaugh's arrival and 10-win turnaround season coincided perfectly with a strong home schedule for Michigan, which hosted Northwestern, Michigan State and Ohio State inside the Big House.

3. Minnesota (+4,490): Minnesota received a good-sized bump in attendance at TCF Bank Stadium last fall thanks to some blockbuster home games against teams with strong fan bases. The Golden Gophers opened the season with a Thursday night game against TCU and also hosted Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin in Big Ten play. Will the Gophers be able to keep up that momentum under Tracy Claeys?

4. Iowa State (+4,322): While the 2015 season wasn't a good one for Iowa State, Cyclone fans still came to the newly expanded Jack Trice Stadium in record numbers. The Cyclones started the season with a one-two sellout punch against in-state foes Northern Iowa and Iowa, which had 61,500 fans in attendance—an increase of 6,700 from its previous capacity. ISU will be a good candidate to be on this list again next year with the excitement generated from new head coach Matt Campbell.

5. Florida (+4,232): Jim McElwain helped bring some more buzz back to the Swamp last fall as the Gators made their surprising run to an SEC East division title. This 10-win Florida team took full advantage of a strong home schedule, too, as Tennessee, Ole Miss and Florida State all made the trip to Gainesville in 2015. The rivalry game against FSU set a new Ben Hill Griffin Stadium record with 90,916 in attendance.

6. Virginia (+3,964): After dropping to its lowest attendance average in 21 years last season, Virginia got some of those numbers back in 2015 despite a rough 4-8 record. The Cavaliers were helped out by a home game against powerhouse Notre Dame and a season finale against Virginia Tech that was Hokie head coach Frank Beamer's final regular-season game. The numbers could continue to rise in 2016 under new head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

7. Kentucky (+3,723): No one in the SEC—which set an all-time record for largest season attendance for a conference—had a bigger percentage increase than Kentucky. After only having two home games in 2014 with 60,000-plus fans in attendance, the Wildcats had six of those at Commonwealth Stadium in 2015. Although UK didn't reach the postseason, its fans were loyal throughout the campaign.

8. Oklahoma State (+3,281): After dipping in average attendance from 2013 to 2014, Oklahoma State bounced back up last season with perhaps the best possible home schedule in the entire Big 12. The Cowboys hosted TCU, Baylor and rival Oklahoma in Boone Pickens Stadium in the span of four weeks, and they also had a season-high in attendance for a homecoming game against lowly Kansas. 

9. Indiana (+2,657): Attendance has been steadily climbing for Indiana football under head coach Kevin Wilson, and the Hoosiers filled Memorial Stadium even more in 2015 with a great home schedule. IU sold out its home game against then-No. 1 Ohio State and also hosted Iowa and Michigan. The Hoosiers play a fun brand of football, and they'll have forward momentum for 2016 after making it to a bowl game for the first time since 2007.

10. NC State (+2,590): NC State saw a modest climb in attendance last season as the Wolfpack went 7-6 under head coach Dave Doeren. Carter-Finley Stadium was sold out for games against Clemson, North Carolina and even FCS program Eastern Kentucky in Week 2. With attendance decreasing elsewhere across its home state, the Wolfpack will be proud it went the other direction last fall.

 

Biggest Losses

1. UCLA (-9,792): UCLA broke its all-time attendance record at the Rose Bowl in 2014, and the door swung the other way in 2015. The Bruins had nearly 10,000 fewer fans per game in 2015 thanks to a lackluster home schedule that included smaller crowds for Virginia, Cal and Colorado. Things should pick back up at the Rose Bowl this fall, though, as the Bruins host both Stanford and USC.

2. Florida State (-9,082): After excellent 2013 and 2014 seasons for home attendance, a reloading Florida State team dropped off in attendance last year for a number of reasons. As Bud Elliott of Tomahawk Nation noted, Florida State only had two night home games all season, and early kickoffs against underwhelming competition are bad combinations. With North Carolina, Clemson and Florida set to come to Tallahassee this fall, attendance at Doak Campbell Stadium should be right back up again.

3. Syracuse (-8,345): Syracuse had the biggest percentage drop in attendance for any Power Five school last season, with over a fifth of the average crowd from 2014 not coming back for Scott Shafer's last season. The Orange had its smallest crowd in 32 years for a Week 2 win over Wake Forest, and an eight-game losing skid kept the Carrier Dome looking more cavernous than usual for most of 2015.

4. Kansas (-6,795): Attendance bottomed out yet again for Kansas in 2015 as the Jayhawks slumped to an 0-12 record under first-year head coach David Beaty. Five different home games had fewer than 30,000 fans, and a 49-0 loss to West Virginia in late November only drew 21,415 fans. The good news? There shouldn't be anywhere to go but up for Beaty and the Jayhawks at 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium.

5. Oregon State (-6,097): The arrival of new head coach Gary Andersen didn't have the desired effect on Oregon State's attendance, as the Beavers slipped to a 2-10 record last fall. After having more than 40,000 fans at all seven of its home games in 2014, Oregon State didn't have a home crowd larger than 38,074 in 2015. It was a rough season on the eyes for the Beavers both on the field and in the stands.

6. Northwestern (-5,247): A 10-win campaign in 2015 wasn't enough to keep Northwestern's attendance from declining for the second straight season—although a lot of that had to do with a home schedule that included games against Eastern Illinois, Ball State and Purdue. A trio like that will drag down any average attendance figure, especially for a smaller Power Five school such as Northwestern.

7. North Carolina (-5,024): North Carolina came close to crashing the College Football Playoff last season by making it to the ACC title game, but its home game attendance was lacking. Wide receiver Bug Howard sent out a frustrated tweet about attendance in late September, during a low-attended stretch in which the Heels played two FCS schools and Illinois. Numbers picked up as the Heels ran the table in the ACC, but that slow start put UNC more than 5,000 fans below its average in 2014.

8. Miami (-4,957): Considering some of the images that came out of Miami last season—this shot of the Senior Day crowd was especially rough—Miami's average attendance of 47,651 in 2015 seems generous. The 'Canes had announced crowds of over 50,000 for just three home games in the nearly 65,000-seat Sun Life Stadium. Those attendance figures should start to turn around, though, in Miami's first season under new head coach Mark Richt.

9. Arizona State (-4,467): Average attendance dropped by more than 4,000 for the second straight season at Arizona State, which is currently renovating Sun Devil Stadium. Outside of a home game against Oregon and the annual rivalry matchup with Arizona, the Sun Devils had a weak home slate with Cal Poly, New Mexico and Colorado all coming to Tempe. Combine that with a lackluster 6-7 record, and any school is bound to slip.

10. Iowa (-4,370): Iowa's softer regular-season schedule translated into a big 12-0 run for the Hawkeyes last fall, but it didn't help much in terms of attendance. Kinnick Stadium's only sellout came in a game against rival Minnesota, and the Hawkeyes hosted only one other team—Pittsburgh—that made it to a bowl game in 2015. But with Iowa State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan on the home schedule for 2016, the crowds should grow again in Iowa City.

 

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 

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Ranking Top 15 Venues for Night Games in College Football

College football games make for an amazing in-person experience, regardless of where you are. But they're even better when the sun goes down and the lights come on.

Night games create an even greater atmosphere, one where the darkened sky becomes part of the venue. Colors are more defined, sounds are more amplified, and in most cases, the home team has a much larger advantage.

While TV contracts tend to drive when games are played, there are certain venues that take those late start times and run with it, making night games feel like a completely different world.

We've ranked the 15 best nighttime college football venues, based on the ambiance created after dark as well as the success of the home team. If the host doesn't frequently win these games, it can take away from the aura.

Begin Slideshow

QB Mac Jones Flips to Alabama: Crimson Tide Now Claim Two Elite 11 Finalists

The Alabama Crimson Tide reeled in another blue-chip quarterback recruit Tuesday night when longtime Kentucky Wildcats pledge Mac Jones flipped his commitment to an SEC foe.

Fresh off an appearance at Elite 11 national finals in Redondo Beach, California, the 4-star Florida prospect announced a change of plans on Twitter:

Jones, a marquee member of Kentucky's 2017 class since last summer, expressed gratitude for the Wildcats interest but ultimately couldn't pass up a chance to compete in Tuscaloosa.

"I would like to thank the University of Kentucky for recruiting me, however, an opportunity of a lifetime has presented itself to my family and me," he wrote.

The 6'2", 180-pound passer spent time at Alabama this week, returning to campus for the second time since head coach Nick Saban extended a scholarship offer in April. Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin reacted on social media with an emoji that surely stung in Lexington:

Jones, rated No. 14 nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, joins fellow Elite 11 finalist Tua Tagovailoa in a talent-laden Alabama recruiting class. Before either player pledged to the program, Saban secured a commitment from No. 3 pro-style passer Jake Fromm, who eventually flipped to the Georgia Bulldogs.

Alabama added scintillating dual-threat Texas talent Jalen Hurts to its roster this past winter, while 2014 Elite 11 MVP Blake Barnett is approaching his second season in Tuscaloosa. With Jones and Tagovailoa also on board, Saban now boasts one of college football's most compelling young crops of quarterbacks. 

Jones tallied more than 2,100 passing yards and 26 touchdown tosses as a junior at The Bolles School of Jacksonville, according to Tre Hogue of SEC Country. His preseason pledge to Kentucky occurred before the recruitment process really ramped up.

Arizona State, Indiana, Rutgers, Washington State and Illinois each extended offers during a busy February stretch that spanned just over a week. Cal, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Missouri and Pittsburgh joined the pursuit in May.

Jones' commitment to Kentucky remained in place for more than 10 months, but many wondered whether it would actually reach national signing day as alternative options opened across college football. The dismissal of offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who served as his primary recruiter, didn't do the Wildcats any favors in terms of staff rapport. 

Less than 24 hours after his commitment flip, Jones is already at work attempting to attract other top talents to Alabama. He publicly targeted 4-star Louisiana receiver Devonta Smith on Wednesday afternoon:

His presence in this class should further enhance Saban and Kiffin's sales pitch to interested offensive prospects. Though he didn't make the cut at Elite 11 finals for an invitation to The Opening, an annual showcase held in July at Nike's world headquarters, Jones has firmly solidified himself among America's most promising high school passers.

Meanwhile, Tagovailoa was arguably the premier competitor at Elite 11 finals, where the Hawaiian punched his ticket for The Opening. He registered the highest score in Pro Day sessions, threw seven touchdowns and just one incomplete pass in seven-on-seven action and made a strong case for consideration as the cycle's No. 1 overall quarterback recruit.

Tagovailoa, accustomed to working in a spread offensive attack at St. Louis High School (Honolulu) that produced Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, proved he can adapt to various offensive attacks. Questions surrounding his ability to thrive in a pro-style setting were largely alleviated last weekend.

Elite 11 head coach and Super Bowl champion quarterback Trent Dilfer issued a challenge to Tagovailoa two weeks earlier at a regional camp in Oakland.

"I told him, 'Hey, Tua, the way you play the position, even though it looks great, doesn't translate to the next level. It lacks discipline. It doesn't benefit the way you move in the pocket. You can't throw in tight spaces. You have to work on this," Dilfer said during Bleacher Report's exclusive reveal of Elite 11 selections.

Tagovailoa, who totaled 3,100 total offensive yards, 33 touchdown tosses and just three interceptions last season, per MaxPreps, answered the bell in a big way.

"I have never seen a kid since I've been doing this change more in two weeks," Dilfer said.

Just one day after Tagovailoa earned Elite 11 status, he suddenly became paired with Jones in an Alabama class that could threaten to become Saban's seventh straight haul atop national composite rankings on signing day. At the expense of an SEC opponent, the reigning College Football Playoff champions continue to put together components for future title runs.

 

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

Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: 5 Toughest RBs Wolverines Will Face in 2016

Michigan football should boast a premier defense in 2016, but the Wolverines must contain a handful of talented running backs throughout the regular season.

Last year, the unit ranked No. 16 nationally against the run and only surrendered more than 150 yards twice. Additionally, seven of Michigan's 13 opponents didn't even reach 100.

That previous success is the primary reason the Wolverines are expected to dominate. However, they haven't faced two of the five players highlighted, so it's not simply a matter of repeating what happened in 2015.

While the list is ordered subjectively, factors include a player's past contributions, his potential this season and the projected performance of a team's offensive line.

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