NCAA Football News

Best Facemask and Helmet Designs in College Football

Typically, aesthetics are overlooked in college football until a program unveils something spectacularly bad.

And sometimes the new look is really bad.

Instead of focusing on the unfortunate, though, we're taking a brief offseason moment to commend teams for paying attention to headwear—and in some cases not messing with it.

While a No. 1 spot is awarded, this list is not a ranking of the best helmets. Rather, the focus is on identifying the best categories and trends of helmets and facemasks in college football today.

               

5. Multicolored Facemasks

Thanks to Phil Knight and Nike, Oregon sits atop the uniform rankings. The program literally has thousands of possible combinations yet still breaks out new gear seemingly every weekend.

But the Ducks' facemasks are also ahead of the game.

Without a doubt, there's a decent amount of risk here. This feature could be abused in a hurry, but one example is quite tasteful. Oregon's silver wings blend into the primary yellow.

Rival Oregon State has flaunted a comparable look. While the Ducks' design goes from outside in, the stripes on the Beavers' helmets continue down onto the fasemask.

However, the question is which program's twist will be met with a negative review—something that seems imminent.

You're pushing it, Miami (Ohio).

                

4. Extra-Large Logos

Most helmet designs are perfectly symmetrical. No matter which side you're looking at, it's the same thing.

Recently, though, boundaries have started to get pushed. The 2011 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Boise State and Georgia—which also featured a multicolored facemask—displayed helmets with extra-large logos on one side and a number on the other.

Among others, Arizona State has joined the trend.

Boise State remains no stranger to sporting the massive logo, but the program combined it with a personal favorite, too.

                           

3. Matte or Flat-Black Helmets

Chrome is fine, but a non-glossy black helmet is terrific.

Boise State showcased Halloween-themed digs against UNLV last season, complete with an orange eye for the Broncos logo. They also sported a great look in the 2012 MAACO Bowl.

This trend is catching on with stops all over the country. The list includes representatives from the ACC (North Carolina), Big Ten (Northwestern and Purdue), Big 12 (Baylor), MAC (Buffalo), Pac-12 (Utah and Washington) and SEC (Missouri), and that's certainly not all.

Here are some examples, like Missouri's back in 2013:

North Carolina busts out the helmet on occasion:

And finally, Northwestern:

                         

2. Timeless Classics

Despite the fancy and often good-looking upgrades teams receive today, they'll simply never match or overtake tradition.

Each school listed in this section falls under the "blue blood" category—a program that has participated in college football for a long time and is basically revered as royalty in the sport.

Although the helmet design changes, the design of the helmet doesn't need alterations. When players put on this helmet, they're wearing something that exemplifies the history of the program.

"Simple, yet elegant" defines this group, starting with Alabama:

Nebraska dropped the "U" from its helmet in 1970 and hasn't changed:

Notre Dame underwent an "exhaustive" process to make sure the helmet's color properly replicated the Golden Dome on campus, per its official site:

Ohio State complements the black-, white- and red-striped helmet with Buckeye stickers— a tradition legendary head coach Woody Hayes started in 1968, per the school:

Here's Penn State—and a bonus second appearance by Northwestern's beautiful non-glossy black helmet.

Lastly, here's Tennessee's renowned block "T":

             

1. The Winged Helmet

Relativity is a funny thing. Imagine for a moment Michigan releasing the design today, and it wouldn't be surprising if the reception wasn't all that great.

However, the winged helmet dates back to 1938, according to the school. Thanks to that history, the pattern is synonymous with college football and should never, ever be touched.

Delaware and Princeton also wear similar versions of the winged helmet, a practice which Paul Lukas of Uni-Watch noted doesn't have an official beginning, though a version existed at Michigan State in 1934.

Wolverines and Spartans fans may proceed to argue about that, but there's no denying the Maize and Blue popularized the most recognizable look in college football.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Q&A: Is the B1G in Danger of Becoming the Big 2, Little 12?

In what is typically the slowest sports week of the year, the SEC has dominated the headlines of the college football world thanks to the conference's annual media days. The Big Ten's own showcase with the press is only a week away, which can only mean one thing: Actual football is right around the corner.

With that in mind, let's get to this week's Big Ten Q&A, where we'll tackle the top-to-bottom strength of the league, Ohio State's biggest weakness, the potential for a brand new recruiting tool and a little drama in East Lansing.

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

Let's get started.

 

Growing up around the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, the phrase "Big Two, Little 10" was often tossed around, but really, it's been a while since that's been an accurate description of the Buckeyes and Wolverines' combined dominance over the rest of their conference.

In fact, you'd have to go back to 2007 to find the last time Ohio State and Michigan each still had Big Ten title hopes heading into the final week of the regular season—that was until last season, when Michigan State wound up winning the conference.

But with the way Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh have stood head and shoulders above the rest of the conference on the recruiting trail, it's easy to see why some may be starting to view the Big Ten as the Buckeyes, Wolverines and everyone else. That, however, ignores what the Spartans have accomplished in the past three years under Mark Dantonio and what could still be ahead in East Lansing.

As impressive as Meyer has been since arriving at Ohio State four years ago, it's worth remembering that Michigan State has won two of the past three Big Ten titles, both of which have come in years where the Spartans have gotten the best of the Buckeyes.

Having also won his lone head-to-head matchup with Harbaugh, Dantonio currently lays claim to a 3-2 record against the Big Ten's two most prominent coaches, whom he'll now be facing each season for the foreseeable future.

And while Michigan State has no shortage of talent departures to deal with moving forward, it's just now the Spartans are beginning to reap the recruiting rewards that often accompany on-field success. If Dantonio's been able to do what he's done with 3-star prospects, imagine what he'll be able to accomplish with a roster full of 4-stars, regardless of how far his classes lag behind Meyer's and Harbaugh's in the recruiting rankings.

Factor in a Big Ten West that's actually stronger than many people realize, and the conference is arguably as healthy as it's ever been from top to bottom. That, of course, is subject to change, but at the moment, the Big Ten appears to be far from just a two-team league, both now and in the future.

 

Looking at the preseason award watch lists that have been released over the course of the past two weeks, one thing in particular has stood out when it's come to Ohio State. Sure, J.T. Barrett has been present on most of the Quarterback and Player of the Year awards lists, and Buckeye defenders like Raekwon McMillan have been listed elsewhere, but with watch-list season now complete, there isn't an Ohio State skill player to be found.

Not on the watch list of the Biletnikoff Award, nor on the one for the Doak Walker Award or John Mackey Award and certainly not on the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award.

It's tough to recall a time when a Buckeyes wide receiver, running back or tight end couldn't be found on a preseason watch list, given Ohio State's rich history at such positions. This year, however, won't be any ordinary season in Columbus, with 12 draftees—including a running back, two wideouts and a tight end—headed to the NFL.

But while the holes in the Buckeyes depth chart are unprecedented, so have been the recruiting classes Meyer will now be filling them with. You may not know their names now, but don't be surprised if players like Torrance Gibson, Austin Mack, Noah Brown, Mike Weber and Marcus Baugh step right in as impact playmakers from day one, despite not being present on any preseason watch lists.

Ultimately, however, both Meyer and Barrett will find themselves relying on plenty of unknowns at the skill spots heading into the coming year. And if it's going to have one, that could ultimately be Ohio State's downfall in a season where few known quantities outside of Barrett are present on the roster.

 

Originally, the answer to this question seemed like a no-brainer. As innovative as Michigan has been on the recruiting trail under Harbaugh, the Wolverines would have to be the first program to find a way to incorporate the phenomenon that's become "Pokemon Go" into it's recruiting material, right?

And while I'm sticking with my answer of Michigan for this question, it now comes with a different reasoning. While it wouldn't have been a surprise to see the Wolverines take a pro-Pokemon stance in the near future regardless of what their rivals were up to, Ohio State's seeming disdain for the app has only made Michigan's use of it all the more likely.

The Buckeyes' issue with Pokemon Go started earlier this week, when Columbus users were allegedly sneaking into Ohio Stadium in an effort to catch digital creatures. This led to the official Brutus Buckeye Twitter account issuing a warning that no Pokemon could be found inside The Horseshoe, although some users have claimed otherwise.

Then there came a post from Ohio State's official Twitter account on Thursday, which showed Barrett taking out a Pikachu with a football as his teammates searched for the digital creatures inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Considering the video went viral within moments of being posted, perhaps the Buckeyes are now more Pokemon-friendly than originally thought. In fact, they may have just beaten Michigan—and the rest of the conference—in firing off the first Poke Ball on the recruiting trail, which I can't believe is a sentence I actually just wrote in 2016. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Jermaine Edmondson, he's the Michigan State defensive back who was allegedly involved in a fight with former Spartan and Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green, which led to Green being arrested for assault earlier this week.

Well, Edmondson was a Michigan State defensive back, until he opted to transfer from East Lansing later in the week, as details in the case continued to emerge.

"In discussions with Jermaine Edmondson following spring practice and in the weeks thereafter, it became clear that Jermaine wanted to play a larger role on the team," Dantonio said in a statement. "After consulting with him in the summer, he felt it was in his best interest to finish his playing career elsewhere. We have granted his immediate release to transfer to another institution to have that opportunity.”

Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine the timing of Edmondson's transfer being a coincidence.

So what we have here is a case of Sparty-on-Sparty crime, with one of MSU's most famous alums being charged with misdemeanor assault and a Spartans football player transferring in wake of the fallout. It remains unclear what caused the alleged altercation between Green and Edmondson, although according to WLNS, a part of it was Edmondson feeling "disrespected" that the NBA All-Star didn't recognize him.

If that's the case, this may very well be "peak Sparty" indeed. After all, no other program in college football has placed a more prominent chip (or chips) on its shoulder than Michigan State, although thus far, it's hard to argue with the results. 

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting and class ratings courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Leonard Fournette Is Already 2017 NFL Draft's Top Running Back

Leonard Fournette is the biggest name in college football. In Sports Illustrated's recent effort to put together the top 100 players in the FBS, the LSU running back ranked first.

In June, Pro Football Focus' Jeff Dooley called the Tiger the toughest running back to tackle, comparing him to the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who will likely become the NFL's leading active career rusher in the coming season. On top of that, Fournette is among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy, according to Odds Shark.

When Fournette recently told SEC media day guests "I enjoy college" in response to questions of his 2017 NFL draft status, he had a reason a reason for it. He's the man in college football.

Since his days as a super recruit, all eyes have been on Fournette. In high school, according to 247Sports, he combined for 90 rushing touchdowns and 7,630 rushing yards while as a prep in Louisiana.

Per Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani, Fournette was offered a scholarship by both LSU and Alabama, two of the Southeastern Conference's elite, when he was just a high school freshman. Three years later, as a senior, Fournette committed to play football at LSU as the top player in Louisiana, the top running back in the nation and the top overall player in America, per 247Sports' composite rankings.

Starting six games as a freshman at LSU, he rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last season, as a sophomore, he broke out with an All-American effort of 1,953 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. Most running backs at Power Five programs would be happy with Fournette's true freshman totals for their redshirt senior seasons, and he nearly doubled his numbers in his first season as a full-time starter.

What he's been able to accomplish in a short amount of time can only be compared to other sports prodigies such as LeBron James.

The draft process will be the first time Fournette goes through months of public scrutiny in his career, but luckily for him, his flaws are fairly limited and his positives jump off the screen on Saturdays.

NFL Draft Scout projects Fournette to weigh in at 230 pounds with a 4.47-second 40-yard dash. In the past 10 draft classes, the closest first-round running backs with that combo are Trent Richardson, with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at 228 pounds, and Jonathan Stewart, with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at 235 pounds. When people say Fournette is a rare big, explosive back—even on the relative scale of first-round talents—they're correct.

Like Richardson, Fournette can drop a shoulder and deliver punishment like he's a linebacker. Rarely does he go down at the point of first contact, as he's always falling forward with the ball. His trucking ability is highlighted when he's in the open space, where he has the opportunity to transition speed into power and can time a shoulder strike on a safety.

In the SEC, you don't often see a running back jump from four yards out into a linebacker who has his feet planted, ready to strike, and win the forward momentum battle, but here we are. When watching Fournette, it's important to expect the unexpected.

Want him to cut away from a diving defensive back into a future top-40 pick defensive lineman and drag him for five to six yards? Fournette has no issue with that task. He's just simply not going to go down without a fight

LSU has a 2 v 2 on the right. If the LB fills, the QB is supposed to pull to a 4 v 3 in space. He doesn't. pic.twitter.com/kxKdhwiORJ

— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) July 14, 2016

When watching Fournette's 2015, you start to get the feeling he'll transition even better to the professional game. Numerous times in LSU's shotgun spread looks, the quarterback will give the ball to Fournette on incorrect reads, leading him into failure less than one second into a play.

LSU folding their center, leaving a man open on the backside. Bama just beat them up front and suffocated Fournette. pic.twitter.com/W37vj59PNy

— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) July 14, 2016

The difference between NFL run offenses and college run offenses can mean executing just one extra block, which can be crucial to any carry. After quarterback, there may not be a positional group that takes as stark of a jump from the college to professional level as offensive linemen.

During power rushing plays, backs can only hit the hole they've been designed to hit. If nothing is there, a runner will get stuffed.

LSU's offensive line can outathlete and outdrive the majority of the opponents they face, but when they face more talented run-pluggers, ones who are destined to play on Sundays, it's problematic. This is one reason for his season-low 1.6-yards per carry against the Alabama Crimson Tide, despite his stellar 6.5-yard-per-carry average on the season.

Numbers flat blocking an edge defender: go outside. Fournette is good about that for an "inside/power" runner. pic.twitter.com/itysGhJpe6

— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) July 14, 2016

With that being said, he does freelance a bit when the opportunity presents itself. It's hard to go against the grain of pulling and folding blockers and survive with a positive play outside of structure, but Fournette has put that on film, even against top SEC defenses. When he sees an edge defender get blocked, either turning inside or staying flat with the last Tiger blocker on the line, Fournette's instincts to bounce the play outside kick in, and with his speed, he's rarely wrong.

There is room for improvement with the back, though. On inside runs, there's little time for dancing, and with Fournette's dominance to this point, it makes sense that he's not accustomed to taking a short loss behind the line of scrimmage. He does get himself in trouble in those situations, shaking his way into even bigger losses. He's not Barry Sanders, and he never will be. That's perfectly fine.

His lateral agility is also fairly average on the relative scale of NFL running backs. Not all is lost for backfield penetrators, though. When defensive linemen are overly agressive, posting themselves further in the backfield than the initial starting point of offensive linemen, Fournette's pure speed allows him to jet past defenders into the secondary.

Some will also criticize his blocking when the ball isn't in his hands, but LSU asks a lot from him in pass protection. Typically, a back reads one side of a defense, from A-gap to C-gap or C-gap to A-gap, to assist in pass protection, whereas the Tigers seem to often ask him to keep an eye on the edges of both sides of the offensive line.

Downfield, he's also shown the effort to take two defenders out of a play for his fellow skill players, something 2016 fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott was praised for all last draft cycle. Ohio State's biggest play of the season, Braxton Miller's spin move, was sprung by Elliott's blocking of multiple Virginia Tech Hokies in one rep.

Fournette's flaws could either be avoided by scheme or are coachable. Effort is never an issue with him on film. It's why LSU ran him over and over again on the goal line against Alabama. It's why the Tigers implemented a pseudo-wildcat formation for him, where he was snapped the ball and ran downhill on defenses in short-yardage situations.

If Fournette falls into the hands of an NFL offensive coordinator who wants to run a traditional I formation offense, he'll thrive—just like he did in traditional formations in college.

With six or seven blockers in front of him and his breakaway speed, he's always one poor angle or missed tackle away from the home run ball. When the holes are there for him to explode straight into the secondary, he jumps on the opportunity with a hunger rarely seen at the professional level.

Against defensive backs, who almost always have to tackle the 230-pounder low, he knows how to game blindly diving players with either a spin move, a shoulder drive or with his offhand shifting through trash.

He has a clear second gear, which should help him out on screen plays despite the fact he's only caught 26 passes in two years with the Tigers. To put that speed into perspective, he has even pulled away from SEC edge defenders with outside containment responsibilities who had a clean outside shoulder on the boundary side of the field.

Even on broken plays, Fournette can sustain momentum. In the SEC, he is a man among boys. In the NFL, teams only need to allow him to be what he already is: a bully.

In any power scheme, Fournette is the best draft-eligible running back heading into the 2016 regular season. Even in a draft class that could feature Georgia's Nick Chubb, Florida State's Dalvin Cook, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Oregon's Royce Freeman, Fournette stands out. That speaks volumes in itself.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Meet Dante Booker, the Buckeyes' Next Freak Linebacker

Since Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State in 2012, the Buckeyes defense has been fueled an athletic freak at linebacker.

From 2012-13, Ryan Shazier brought his rare blend of speed and power to Ohio State's outside linebacker position, leading the team in tackles in both seasons. That speed is setting him apart with the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, when he beat wide receiver Antonio Brown—widely considered one of the fastest wideouts in the league—in a foot race

Over the last two seasons, it was quarterback-turned linebacker Darron Lee who set the tone for Meyer's more aggressive defense. He was an AP freshman All-American in 2014 and a second-team AP All-American a season ago. He declared for the NFL draft, ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine and was selected by the New York Jets in the first round.

Now with two open spots alongside middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, Dante Booker is ready to emerge as Ohio State's next freak linebacker. 

Entering his junior season with the Buckeyes, Booker has seen the field in a limited role over the last two years. He was Joshua Perry's primary backup in 2015 and registered 22 total tackles, but in seven games last year, most of his action was registered as a special teams ace on the coverage team.

The lone returning starter in Ohio State's linebacker corps thinks Booker could be even better than the All-Big Ten standout he's replacing.

“You can tell Josh [Perry] I said this: Dante [Booker] is a way better athlete,” McMillan said, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors

Mickey Marotti, Ohio State's strength coach, agreed with McMillan's assessment that Booker brings something different to the field, via Shoemaker.

I just think it’s his turn. There goes Josh Perry, here comes Dante Booker.

He’s a gifted, talented player that has done some good things for us, but look around and it’s, ‘OK, it’s my turn.’ Some of these younger players after the other guys are gone, it’s just different.

There must be something to all the praise Booker has garnered this offseason, because on Monday he found himself among the best linebackers in the country on the preseason Butkus award watch list

It's just a preseason watch list, of course, but Booker's inclusion speaks to his potential, as he's nearly two months away from making his first collegiate start. 

The Buckeyes boast a defense he can thrive in, as they've showcased the ability to put speedy linebackers in position to produce. He has the skill set to shine, and his teammates are eager to unleash him in the open field.

"Dante’s a good athlete, man," McMillan said, according to Tony Gerdeman of The Ozone. "When he gets on the field, he does some stuff that you all haven’t even seen yet in practice. It’s amazing. One of the fastest guys on defense regardless of position. He just brings that pop."

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Face of the SEC, Leonard Fournette, Has Highest Expectations for 2016

HOOVER, Ala. — For the record, LSU running back Leonard Fournette says he doesn’t eat anything except peanuts and yogurt after 7 p.m., his decision on turning pro next year will depend on his ability to get his degree and he still calls Georgia’s Nick Chubb the best running back in the Southeastern Conference.

Whatever. He’s a little more convincing regarding his top goal for the upcoming season.

“My personal goal is to win a national championship—nothing else,” he said Thursday while giving a good demonstration on how to handle the spotlight at SEC media days. “Any individual award, any dream I have is going to take care of itself.”

On Friday, Fournette will have his first chance to make history during the 2016 college football season when the media’s preseason All-SEC selections are announced, and he could become just the second player since 2000 to be a unanimous choice.

The first was Darren McFadden in 2007. The Arkansas running back was coming off finishing second to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith for the Heisman Trophy. He had tallied 1,647 rushing yards, which were the fifth-most in SEC history at the time, and 14 touchdowns.

Fournette’s 2015 blew those numbers away. As a sophomore, he crushed LSU’s single-season rushing record with 1,953 yards, which, with the NCAA using average yards per game, made him its rushing king (162.8).

He set seven other single-season school marks while becoming the first LSU player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two years.

“No doubt he’ll be better,” LSU offensive lineman Ethan Pocic said. “He’s probably what, 20 or 21 years old, and still developing. Each year, he’s only going to get better.”

That’s bad news for the rest of college football, especially with LSU returning 18 starters.

Through the first two months of last season, Fournette was running away from the field for the Heisman and became the fastest player in LSU history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a season. He did it in just five games, including 244 at Syracuse, only to have it all stopped as abruptly as a needle being yanked off a record.

At Alabama, the eventual national champion, he was stonewalled en route to 19 carries for 31 yards, most of which came on one play. That and a touchdown were his only highlights, as Fournette was continually hit behind the line of scrimmage by Crimson Tide defenders.

“Having that extra week of preparation [during the bye] definitely did help some of the guys get healthy, but it was ultimately a pride thing,” Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “The coaches didn’t really run a lot of different calls. It was just mano a mano.”

The 30-16 loss didn’t just dash his Heisman run, as the Crimson Tide’s Derrick Henry ran for 210 yards on 38 carries and three touchdowns; it also derailed LSU’s entire season. The team responded with two more losses (against Arkansas and at Ole Miss) and had to win its regular-season finale against Texas A&M to save head coach Les Miles’ job.

That’s why Fournette now calls last season a “learning experience” and downplays performances like his 228 rushing yards against Auburn. He knows better than anyone how performing in the biggest games counts the most.

“Everybody’s heads weren’t in the right place. That’s all it was” Fournette said.

“We forgot our why. Why we work so hard, just to get here. We were on top of the world, 7-0, and we’re in the SEC, the hardest and best conference to play in. We just have to get that back.”

With 18 starters back, few doubt that LSU can at least match that start or that the returning consensus All-American can again elude defenders like the braces that were on his teeth last season but are now absent.

Consequently, Fournette was recently listed first in Sports Illustrated's ranking of college football's top 100 players for 2016, and former LSU running back Jeremy Hill called him the best player in college football. “That means a lot,” Fournette said before adding that he’ll be saying the same thing about Derrius Guice next year.

Few who have faced him would argue the point.

“They are kind of freaky guys that are big, so you don’t expect them to move as fast as they do,” Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown said about Fournette and Henry. “Players like that can really stress a defense.”

Fournette said he hasn’t been timed in the 40-yard dash at LSU, but he ran 4.36 in high school when he was a little smaller.

Miles has been encouraging him to lose some weight after Fournette gained 10 pounds during the early offseason, getting up to approximately 235. He quickly complied, thus the food-related questions here.

“He wants to be able to have speed, strength, and the combination of the two is certainly the advantage for the elite back, and so we felt like that would happen somewhere between [225] and 231, and he's right there,” Miles said. “Just where he needs to be.”

That statement could have had a double meaning, as Fournette had to dismiss rumors that he had been considering sitting out his junior year to avoid the risk of injury heading into the NFL.

He’s already used to those kinds of questions, which go hand-in-hand with the high expectations, even if he doesn’t want to admit to being the face of the SEC this season.

“There’s multiple guys just like me in the SEC,” Fournette said. “I don’t mind sharing the platform with those guys like Chad Kelly, Nick Chubb, Jalen Hurd and, I think he’s a sophomore now, Calvin Ridley.”

But none of them are quite like Fournette.

        

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

Chad Kelly Says He Is Best Quarterback in Nation at SEC Media Days

Few deny Chad Kelly is the best returning quarterback in the SEC. But the Ole Miss signal-caller and Heisman Trophy hopeful made it clear Thursday he's not satisfied with just being the best in his conference.

"I'm the best quarterback in the nation," Kelly said at SEC media days, per Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com.   

"You have to feel that way," Kelly continued. "In order to have confidence in yourself and team, you have to think you're the best. That's what I want our whole team—from offensive linemen to running backs—we have to think we're the best players and the best team out there. I want to be remembered as the greatest quarterback that ever played."

A redshirt senior, Kelly threw for 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns against 13 interceptions in 2015. He became the first Ole Miss player to win the Sugar Bowl MVP since Archie Manning in 1970 and was named second-team All-SEC. Mississippi State's Dak Prescott bested him for first-team honors.

Expectations have only grown heading into 2016, with ESPN The Magazine and Lindy's naming Kelly the preseason SEC Offensive Player of the Year (h/t Ole Miss Sports).

What makes Kelly a potential NFL quarterback is his ability to affect the game through the air and the ground. He added 500 yards and 10 scores as a runner to his prodigious passing numbers last season. CBS Sports ranks him the best NFL quarterback prospect among seniors; Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had him seventh at the position overall in May.

Clemson's Deshaun Watson, the Miami Hurricanes' Brad Kaaya and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph are just a few of the underclassmen Kelly will have to unseat on draft boards.

Kelly also has a long way to go if he even wants to be the best quarterback in his own family. Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly is Chad's uncle.

         

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Media Days 2016: Best Quotes and Reaction from Day 1

The Pac-12 Conference is the second league to hold its college football media days, beginning the first of its two sessions on Thursday in California just as the SEC ended its four-day marathon on the other side of the country. And the contrast between the events is staggering.

While the SEC has a rigid, regimented process held entirely within a series of hotel ballrooms in Alabama, the Pac-12 takes over a section of an outdoor mall in Hollywood. This laid-back atmosphere allows for more casual conversation as well as the chance for coaches and players to goof around—and show off their bottle-flipping skills—on a miniature football field set up in a mall concourse.

Oh yeah, and team-specific ice cream flavors:

But while college football fans might be anxious for the 2016 season to begin, that same sentiment isn't necessarily echoed by the coaches:

The Pac-12 will be the first of the five power conferences to get underway this year, as California takes on Hawaii in Sydney on Aug. 26. The logistics of playing a game in a foreign country have proved to be very taxing for Cal coach Sonny Dykes, who told reporters it's been difficult trying to secure passports for as many as 120 players.

A week later, the league will be in the spotlight thanks to a series of high-profile games, most notably USC taking on defending national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas.

The Pac-12 is coming off a banner year in terms of bowl participants, sending 10 of 12 teams to postseason games. However, none of those invites were to the playoffs, as the league was the odd man out from last year's four-team College Football Playoff.

Speaking to reporters to open media days, via the Pac-12 Network broadcast, commissioner Larry Scott praised his league's dedication to tough nonconference scheduling and believes his teams will get “the benefit of the doubt” when the playoff committee compares teams with similar records this fall.

                 

Quarterback concerns

Six of the league's 12 teams return their starting quarterbacks from 2015, including big names such as UCLA's Josh Rosen and Washington State's Luke Falk. The other half of the league will have decisions to make before the season starts, and the competition between now and then figures to be fierce.

USC coach Clay Helton said he plans to choose between junior Max Browne and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold "two weeks before the season opener against Alabama," per the Orange County Register's Joey Kaufman. Either guy will have big shoes to fill, as Cody Kessler was the Trojans' starter for three years.

Another three-year starter who must be replaced is Cal's Jared Goff, who went on to become the No. 1 pick in April's NFL draft. The Golden Bears landed one of the biggest targets from the graduate transfer market this offseason in former Texas Tech passer Davis Webb, who originally committed to Colorado before signing with Cal.

Dykes said on the Pac-12 Network broadcast that the competition remains open among Webb, redshirt sophomore Chase Forrest and redshirt freshman Ross Bowers, and any of the three would make for a fine starter.

"We're excited about the level of quarterbacks we have, the depth that we have, but Davis is a little bit different right now," Dykes said.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has a multiyear starter to work with in junior Anu Solomon, but he feels he has "two returning starters" (per Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star) in Solomon and sophomore Brandon Dawkins, and the pair will split reps in training camp. There's also true freshman Khalil Tate, who Rodriguez said "can throw it 80 yards but I don't have a player on the roster that requires an 80-yard throw" (per Zack Rosenblatt of the Arizona Daily Star).

     

Mike Leach at the mic

It's appointment viewing, or listening, any time the Washington State coach gets in front of a microphone. The many topics Mike Leach discussed at last year's Pac-12 media days included dating tips—bring a two-for-one coupon, maybe go sturgeon fishing—and thoughts on Batman and underwater treadmills. There was also a story, relayed by Arizona's Rodriguez, about a time Leach wore a Speedo at a Nike event.

What did Leach have in store this time around? Here are a few of his thoughts (with video context, when necessary).

His opening remarks (h/t Shotgun Spratling of Scout.com): "Alright, any questions?"

On the Heisman Trophy (h/t Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times): "I'm in favor of it."

On the media's fascination with milestones:

On the recently retired Steve Spurrier (on the Pac-12 Network broadcast): "The guy's always on the move. I think we're kind of both examples of you need to figure out, to develop the ability to do nothing periodically. I need to work on it, maybe I'll call him and we can work on it together."

On the lack of communication between people due to the prevalence of technology (h/t Greg Beachem of the Associated Press): "I think the days before cell phones, when it was dirt clod wars at construction sites, was more wholesome, to be honest."

On PokemonGo:

         

(Projected) leader of the pack

Stanford has won three of the last four Pac-12 titles despite not being picked to do so in any of those seasons. In fact, the Cardinal had never been chosen by the conference's media as the preseason favorite ...until now.

The Cardinal were the choice on 20 of 33 media ballots despite losing 11 starters, including three-year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan. Having FBS all-purpose yardage record holder and Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey back at running back helps, however.

Stanford was also the overwhelming choice to win the Pac-12 North Division, while UCLA narrowly edged rival defending South champ USC for the media pick on that side. But these are just predictions, and recently they've been way off. The Pac-12 media has correctly picked the league champ 29 times in 55 years but only twice in the last nine.

         

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted. All statistics provided by CFBStats, unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Media Days 2016: Highlights, Comments and Twitter Reaction from Thursday

Interviews at the 2016 SEC media days wrapped up Thursday with representatives from LSU, Ole Miss and South Carolina taking center stage. 

Will Muschamp assuming control of the Gamecocks program is one of the conference's top stories heading into the new season. Not only is the 44-year-old head coach back in charge of an SEC team after a previous stint at Florida, but he's trying to fill the void left by Steve Spurrier last October.

Graham Hall of the Gainesville Sun passed along Muschamp's opening remarks. He thanked the "Head Ball Coach" before stating, "There's only one Steve Spurrier in life. And I'm not it."

Brad Crawford of 247Sports noted Muschamp also doubled down on the growing sense of optimism around the current team, which is rare when coming off a 3-9 campaign. He's expecting to make some noise immediately rather than take time to revamp the roster.

"There is no three-year plan, no five-year plan, that's my mentality. We want to win now," Muschamp said.

It's quite a turnaround in the short-term outlook since he took the job in December. He admitted the players were "pretty beat down" when he first met them, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.

Now his players are buying into the quick revitalization. Senior defensive lineman Marquavius Lewis talked about how the team views the upcoming season, as relayed by SEC Sports.

"I wouldn't say it's a sense of urgency," he said. "We all have the mindset to go out there and change this program around and get them [the team] on the right path."

South Carolina faces no shortage of competition in the nation's top conference, though. LSU head coach Les Miles stated, "our goals have not changed." Those include a 100 percent graduation rate, along with winning the SEC and national titles, as noted by the SEC's Twitter account.

Miles actually spent a sizable portion of his time at the podium discussing social issues, though. Baton Rouge has been the site of protests in recent weeks, and he's held meetings with his staff about what actions to take moving forward, per ASAP Sports:

And I feel like our society's the same and you need everybody. If you look to see change and if you watch the representation of our country on live TV, you realize that change is necessary. And it comes through all of us, everybody in the room, certainly me. It's an inclusive. You reach for others. You need to be respectful of their life and their opinion and who they are. You need compassion for people. You build them up and you train them and you give them the best practices, and we change as a team and as a community and as a society.

He added, "What I'd like to do is have them, our guys, have a platform where they could affect change. I think they're wonderful men. I think they're constantly involved in roles—they're a student, they're a football player, they're role models."

Football can be a unifying force in the area, and, while winning games is important, clearly Miles thinks the team could take on an even bigger role in the community this year.

Alex Martin Smith of SEC Country noted superstar running back Leonard Fournette received some backlash for wearing an Alton Sterling shirt last week. Fournette explained Thursday he's trying to make a positive impact in any way he can, regardless of the controversy.

"I figured, you know, I have a voice," Fournette said. "My whole meaning toward that was just pray until change come. That's not just in (Baton Rouge). That's everywhere in the world."

Turning the focus back to football, Campus Insiders provided the Heisman Trophy candidate's comments about what means the most to him heading into the 2016 campaign:

Elsewhere, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze stated he hasn't been given a timetable for a resolution on the NCAA's investigation into the program. Freeze said he would prefer the situation to end in the near future, per Ben Garrett of Scout.

"Of course. I've had a long enough time with it," Freeze said. "I would love for it to be sooner than later. But I don't know what that means, really. I'm not crazy about if it happens in the middle of the season. But if it does, it does. We'll argue our facts and our side of things and we'll be held accountable in and around our program."

"I have zero interest in cutting corners to be successful and our staff knows that," Freeze added, per Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network.

Bill King of Nashville Sports Radio felt the Rebels' coach handled the situation well:

Freeze's quarterback, Chad Kelly, provided one of the day's most entertaining moments by taking a not-so-subtle shot at Clemson, his former school. AL.com shared those comments:

Kelly also called himself "the best quarterback in the nation" during the session, via Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com, who provided more comments from Kelly:

"You have to feel that way," Kelly told reporters when he was asked follow-up questions. "In order to have confidence in yourself and team, you have to think you're the best. That's what I want our whole team -- from offensive linemen to running backs -- we have to think we're the best players and the best team out there.

"I want to be remembered as the greatest quarterback that ever played."

All told, it was a wide-ranging day of conversation to close the annual SEC media showcase. While most of the football discussion was pretty straightforward, the other discussions shed plenty of light on critical topics surrounding each of the three programs.

The oddsmakers believe LSU will have the best season of the trio of teams featured Thursday, ranking the Tigers second to Alabama for the SEC title, per Odds Shark. Ole Miss and South Carolina rated sixth and 13th out of 14 teams, respectively.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Winners, Losers from 2016 SEC Media Days

HOOVER, Ala. — The 2016 edition of SEC media days is in the books, and it's time to analyze how some of the conference's biggest names handled the Super Bowl of "talkin' season."

Georgia's Kirby Smart, Missouri's Barry Odom and South Carolina's Will Muschamp made their first trips to the annual event in their new positions, while seasoned veterans such as Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles drew big crowds.

Who were the winners and losers of SEC media days?

Our picks are in this slideshow. 

Begin Slideshow

Hugh Freeze Opens Up on NCAA, Frustration and Ole Miss' Perception

HOOVER, Ala. — The final day of SEC media days at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel was the most anticipated day of the four-day event, thanks to the presence of Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and the ongoing NCAA investigation surrounding impermissible benefits and academic fraud.

Freeze did his best to handle the situation as honestly and be as forthcoming as possible, while also holding back the fact that he can't comment on specifics of the case due to the ongoing investigation. 

Ole Miss released its response to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations this spring. That response includes 11 scholarship reductions over four years, three years of probation, the recruiting suspension for two assistant coaches and a reduction in evaluation time. 

While Ole Miss has responded to the NCAA, the organization continues to investigate the program after images leaked online during the 2016 NFL draft suggesting former staffers paid former offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

"I remain very confident in who we are, our core values and how we do things," Freeze said in the main ballroom. "We have fully cooperated with the NCAA."

Freeze confirmed in Destin, Florida, at SEC spring meetings in May that, of the four Level I violations involving the current Ole Miss program and staffers, the program is only disputing one—which relates to impermissible contact between a recruit and booster.

"We believe our response to the Notice of Allegations stands on its own," Freeze said in the main ballroom. "As a head coach, I understand that I'm held accountable for the things that happened within our building and even outside the walls of our building. Our compliance team is working extremely hard to seek a resolution to this case and into the -- and also into the events from NFL draft night and we look forward to the conclusion of this entire process. No one looks forward to that more than I do."

 It was a tough spot for Freeze to be in.

With one response to a Notice of Allegations out and other lingering issues popping up when the process was nearing a close, thanks to Tunsil's draft night debacle, it could wear on a head coach. Freeze doesn't feel that frustration.

"I'm really not [frustrated], Freeze told Bleacher Report while making the rounds. "Do I come across like I am frustrated? Because you're the second one who's asked me about that.

"I really believe that all things work together for good. I don't like going through it. But really, think about this—there are only a few players involved in that deal. What about those 82 or 83? These families chose to come play for me. So how in the world can I not be motivated every day to go to work for them?"

The unresolved aspect of the case—the screen shots that were released on Tunsil's Instagram account that suggest Ole Miss director of football operations John Miller had been in discussions for small payments to cover Tunsil's mother's electric bill—have kept a dark cloud hovering over Oxford. 

When it comes to the status of Tunsil's level of cooperation with the NCAA, Freeze is in the dark.

"I have had zero [input on the level of Tunsil's cooperation]," he told Bleacher Report. "I have not been talked to about it, interviewed about it or anything. I ask questions all the time, but it's just not something that I'm included in. The investigation with this new stuff, I'm just not involved in it."

It isn't taking a toll on Freeze, though.

He has passed the point of fighting the battle of perception and is content with pleasing the people most closely associated with his program.

"Initially it was difficult," Freeze said of the constant PR hits. "You get to a spot, though, where you ask yourself, 'Who are you living to please?' You get to that spot, and you kind of just kind of callus to the other. Not in a bad or angry way. I know what my family thinks about me, I know what my players think of me and I want to honor my God and how I do things. Should we be held accountable if wrong is done within our program? Yes, and that day will come.

"I have a lot of things, Barrett, that I don't do very well. Being tempted to cut corners to be successful, I have zero interest in that. So I'm confident in who I am and the tone I set around our place. That kind of gives you a peace."

Peace will come when Ole Miss meets with the Committee on Infractions in the fall. 

Until then, Freeze just wants to focus on football.

 

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

SEC Media Days Is a Spectacle That Goes Beyond Football

HOOVER, Ala. — Off in the distance, down an escalator in the lobby of a suburban Birmingham hotel, the sweet sound of college football is in the air.

One day, that sound is a cowbell incessantly clanging and echoing through the halls. The next, fans with giant fake championship rings on their heads yell "Roll Tide" to each other and the cameras. 

This is SEC media days. 

"It's dubbed the unofficial kickoff, so I'll take that."

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey enters his second season as the most powerful man in the most powerful conference in the country, and his 15th overall as an employee. During that time, he has witnessed firsthand the rise of SEC media days from an annual event that simply introduces media to players and coaches shortly before the start of fall camp, to what it is now—a four-day college football extravaganza. 

"It's truly intentional that we choose these days, because it allows us to have a conversation first," he said. "It is a positive promotional platform for the Southeastern Conference and our student-athletes walking around here to be interviewed. It also gives a break after media days prior to preseason practice."

With over 1,500 media members credentialed for the 25th edition of media days, 30 radio stations on radio row, 15 rooms for the three players and one head coach from each school to meet with media, live television coverage on ESPN and SEC Network and a lobby at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel that resembles a pep rally, the event is unlike any other in the sport.

"The level of interest indicates that it is enormously important around our region and around our country. Football never stops in a lot of people's minds," Sankey said.

It truly doesn't. 

The lobby of the Wynfrey during SEC media days is a different world. With hundreds of people packed into a space that's no larger than a putting green, fans of different schools flock to celebrate the upcoming season.

Cow bells clang, "Roll Tide" gets yelled incessantly and fans anxiously stare at an escalator for hours on end for the moment that their player or coach takes the ride down to the lobby. Sometimes fans even show up from halfway around the world.

Glavine Tillman is an 8-year-old Georgia fan from the area who came to media days with his mother, Leigh. His one goal was to meet new Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart, where he had one simple message to convey.

"Go DAWGS," he said. 

Tillman got his autographs and the chance to meet with Georgia's contingent but also talked a little football with Bleacher Report and the fans around him.

"I think [Georgia] is going to be pretty good this year," Tillman explained as Mississippi State superfan Steven "Stingray" Ray stood on, "but not good enough to win the SEC. Maybe in a few years, though."

Ray and the rest of the Mississippi State fans made an impression on Tillman in the lobby, and it's one that he'll never forget.

"They're pretty crazy," Tillman said. "They ring A LOT of bells."

Ray, a 2010 graduate of Alabama who, instead of cheering on his alma mater, has stayed true to his Bulldog roots and evolved into the ultimate Mississippi State fan.

"It is unbelievable here," Ray told Bleacher Report. "When [Mississippi State head coach] Dan Mullen walked in, it was unbelievable. Mississippi State likes to be a family, and family is here in the lobby when the players walk in. It's really nice."

This is Ray's first trip to the media circus, and it came complete with an appearance on the Paul Finebaum Show on SEC Network. He says he won't troll Ole Miss on Thursday when the Bulldogs' heated rival makes the rounds.

Jeff Moorer, however, doesn't have the same mindset. 

Moorer, an Auburn fan from the Birmingham area, showed up on Wednesday morning when Alabama made the rounds sporting an Ole Miss hat and shirt. During Alabama day last year, Moorer donned Ohio State gear to needle the Crimson Tide just a few short months after Ohio State beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

"Alabama said that they weren't going to be beaten, but I want to show that they can be beaten by a good Ole Miss team," Moorer told Bleacher Report.

It's all in good fun for Moorer, who's more interested in seeing the players and coaches and getting autographs and pictures than he is in harassing Alabama fans.

"I come to rub elbows with the great players and coaches and relish being in the SEC," he said. "I don't get to go to the games during the season, and this right here gets you ready for football season."

If you think that an Auburn fan who routinely trolls Alabama fans by wearing gear of teams that beat Alabama in previous seasons wouldn't be welcomed on "Alabama day," you're wrong.

Shannon Villa, an Alabama fan who annually wears a ring hat when the Tide arrives and trolled Auburn on Monday with a championship belt, has struck up a friendship with Moorer through the years while hanging out in the lobby.

Things don't get contentious in the lobby of the Wynfrey, which is packed to the brim when Alabama makes the rounds. Moorer and Villa are rivals in terms of the programs they support but share a passion for kicking off the season in style in Hoover. And Ray's cowbell only came out when Mississippi State made the rounds.

"We share the same passion," Villa told Bleacher Report. "I enjoy talking to fans from other states and from other fanbases. I like to give them a little southern hospitality." 

The four-day SEC media event held annually outside of Birmingham serves as a greater purpose.

It's a modern-day college football convention where coaches, players, media and fans converge to talk football, reconnect with old friends, make new ones and celebrate the sport they love.

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

Best and Worst Dressed from 2016 SEC Media Days

SEC media days, which serve as the unofficial start to college football season, is all about getting the best of the best from the country's premier conference to talk about their upcoming campaigns.

It's also about looking good while they do it.

Over the years, the suits at SEC media days have been almost as memorable as the lengthy opening statements from head coaches and witty one-liners from players. Just like it is at the NFL draft, everyone's suit games are discussed on social media alongside the football. The SEC itself even released a style guide to media days this year and updated it each day. 

Most of the representatives from the 14 SEC schools had looks as sharp as their play on the field in Hoover, Alabama, this week. However, there were a few fashion miscues.

Here are a dozen head coaches and players who make up this year's edition of the best and worst dressed of SEC media days. As I wrote last year, please keep in mind that I am nowhere near a serious fashion expert. I am just a college football writer trying to have some fun with a lighthearted offseason piece.

Now, here are the highlights and lowlights from the sights at the 2016 SEC media days.

Begin Slideshow

Reassessing Notre Dame's 2017 Recruiting Class Following the Opening

College football recruiting never ends, but Notre Dame recently completed a couple of important landmarks for the 2017 cycle.

The program hosted the "Irish Invasion," adding two of its three mid-June commitments at the camp. Plus, a couple of 4-star prospects gave their verbal pledges to head coach Brian Kelly and Co. during the string of announcements at The Opening 2016.

During the last two months, Notre Dame has stuck at No. 7 overall in the 247Sports composite rankings, but a few of its commits have received notable jumps—or drops—individually.

Note: Notre Dame's two athletes are separated by unit (offense or defense) based on their projected positions.

 

Offensive Commits

No need on offense is going unaddressed. The difference is Notre Dame hasn't secured pledges from the big-name players on the offensive line or at wide receiver.

But the Irish have locked up the nation's most impressive haul of tight ends. Brock Wright remained steady at No. 69 overall, though he slid to No. 2 at the position. Cole Kmet is still the third-rated tight end but dipped six spots in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Although Joshua Lugg dropped from 140th to 191st, the offensive tackle retained his 4-star billing. Avery Davis rose one place among dual-threat quarterbacks yet fell seven overall.

CJ Holmes and Robert Hainsey both committed while attending The Opening. Holmes—who could later have a backfield companion in Colin Wilson—revealed his decision on Bleacher Report.

Hainsey, on the other hand, won't be the final lineman. Notre Dame is still pursuing top-50 prospects Foster SarellJedrick Wills and Trey Smith. Nevertheless, Hainsey joined Lugg and Dillan Gibbons as the current commits up front.

Jordan Pouncey gave the Irish their first pledge at receiver. Osiris St. Brown, Tarik Black, Jamire Calvin and Michael Young remain on the board, while 5-star Tyjon Lindsey is a hopeful pull.

Notre Dame is in excellent shape for a strong finish.

 

Defensive Commits

Considering the haul of defensive players, the Irish might be heading toward a make-or-break ending to the 2017 cycle.

David Adams is currently the featured commit, carrying a No. 111 overall ranking. The second highest pledge is Paulson Adebo, an athlete slotted at No. 254 overall. Adebo—who projects as a defensive back—committed in mid-June.

Isaiah Robertson officially received an expected switch from receiver to safety. A 6'3", 190-pounder, he's now the 22nd-rated prospect at his position and 266th in the country. He and outside linebacker Pete Werner complete the 4-star bunch.

Defensive tackle Kurt Hinish, D-end Jonathon MacCollister and inside 'backer Drew White round out the pledges. Hinish soared from No. 642 to No. 488 nationally, MacCollister committed at Irish Invasion and White jumped 81 spots overall.

At this point, it's a decent haul. To push the defensive group higher, Notre Dame is working to land highly rated targets, highlighted by 5-stars Baron Browning and Shaun Wade—who Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles notes Holmes will personally recruit. Holmes said:

Definitely going for Shaun Wade. He's an Ohio State commit, but I'd like to see him flip. He's long and physical. He's everything you look for in a corner, especially with his strength, skill and ability to make plays. You need big, physical corners out there to take care of those big wide receivers from all different conferences.

Justin FosterHunter Echols (UCLA), Darnell Ewell, Salvon Ahmed, Jacob Phillips and Joshua Paschal are each worth watching. Other possibilities—though likely to a lesser extent—include Thomas Graham, C.J. Avery and Chaz Ah You.

Irish fans should also track 3-stars Amari Carter, Christopher Whittaker, K'Jakyre Daley and Dalyn Wade-Perry.

Notre Dame has no shortage of options to pursue down the stretch. The key is narrowing the list, especially as available spots in the 2017 class continue to decrease.

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Xavier McKinney Decommits from Alabama: Latest Comments and Reaction

Xavier McKinney, one of the most coveted safeties in the 2017 recruiting class, announced Thursday he's decommitting from Alabama in order to reconsider his options. 

McKinney posted his decision on Twitter. He stated there's no timetable to make a final choice about where he's going to play college football.

Here's the Roswell High School (Georgia) standout's entire message:

First of all, I would like to thank all of my family, coaches and friends for supporting me through this decision. I would also like to thank coach (Nick) Saban and (defensive backs) coach (Derrick) Ansley and the whole Alabama staff that gave me this opportunity, but I would like to open my options back up by de-committing. I feel this is the best thing to do so I can re-evaluate things. There is no timetable for a decision. I would like no interviews from anyone at this time. Thank you.

McKinney originally committed to Alabama last September. He told Woody Wommack of Rivals at the time there was something unique about the Crimson Tide program: "Just being up there felt right. The atmosphere, their campus and their coaching staff. It was a special feeling when I went up there and that kind of is what led me to this decision."

He also admitted he had thoughts about letting the process play out, though: "At first I was thinking I should wait it out, but then I felt like I should make the decision now because Alabama is a great place and the place for me."

Ultimately, that initial gut feeling must have continued to linger, because now he's going to see what else may be available around the country.

Chris Kirschner of SEC Country noted in June the safety had continued to do his homework on other schools while committed to Alabama. He listed Florida and Clemson as the programs of interest.

McKinney is a 4-star prospect who checks in at No. 108 overall in the 2017 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also rates at the No. 11 safety and the No. 13 recruit from the state of Georgia. The outlet lists him as having received 11 offers so far.

Based on his comments, it sounds like he's going back to square one just to make sure before announcing his official decision. He didn't rule out eventually committing back to Alabama, but it's unclear where the Tide rank as he restarts the evaluation procedure.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2016 Preseason Watch Lists Prove Jim Harbaugh's Power as a Player Developer

At this time last offseason, Michigan could hardly find its name as the annual July tradition that's become preseason award watch list releases in college football took place.

What a difference a year makes.

Dating back to the start of this year's watch list releases last week, the Wolverines have enjoyed a prominent presence as anticipation for the 2016 season continues to build.

The name of at least one Michigan player can be found on nine of the 13 performance-based watch lists to have been revealed thus far—the lone exceptions being the Lou Groza Award (best kicker), Ray Guy Award (best punter), Butkus Award (best linebacker) and Davey O'Brien Award (best quarterback). For the latter three awards, the Wolverines will be breaking in new starters at those positions in 2016.

Given the number of Michigan players to have been named to watch lists already, the Wolverines are practically a shoe-in to be represented on the lone list remaining to be revealed, the Walter Camp Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top player.

The steady stream of Michigan players to have thus far been recognized this preseason stands in stark contrast to a year ago, when Jake Butt served as the Wolverines' lone watch list representative as a preseason candidate for the John Mackey Award (nation's top tight end).

Michigan found itself not only shut out on defense but in each of the major individual awards on either side of the ball when it came to watch lists in 2015, a strong indication of an apparent talent issue Jim Harbaugh was inheriting when taking over his alma mater.

According to this year's watch lists, that problem no longer exists.

"Tremendous difference from what they were and what they are," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said of the Wolverines' roster on a conference call this past spring. "Now they have national credibility with what Jim has done already in terms of the winning that went on there."

For anybody who followed Harbaugh's coaching career before his return to Ann Arbor at the end of 2014, the sudden shift in Michigan's award-caliber talent has hardly been a surprise.

After all, whether it be during his time with the San Francisco 49ers or at Stanford before that, you'd be hard-pressed to find a head coach who's developed a stronger track record when it comes to player development than Harbaugh.

In the NFL, he took a team that had missed the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons to three consecutive NFC Championship Games—and one Super Bowl—with a roster full of Pro Bowl players, while in Palo Alto, California, he transformed a dormant program into an unlikely factory for NFL talent.

Watch lists aren't the be-all, end-all in college football—far from it—but with the Wolverines, Harbaugh already appears to be following a similar path.

Even in an NFL draft where Michigan wasn't expected to provide much of a presence, center Graham Glasgow (third round), defensive lineman Willie Henry (fourth round) and quarterback Jake Rudock (sixth round) each proved to benefit from just one season under Harbaugh's watch.

''Coach [Jedd] Fisch, Coach Harbaugh, Coach [Tim] Drevno, those guys, they really train us like NFL players,'' Rudock told reporters after being drafted by the Detroit Lions. ''They really preach that and have us study what the NFL guys do and how well they do it.''

For the second-year Wolverines head coach, however, the best appears yet to come.

Not only are Michigan players now littering the watch lists they were largely absent from a year ago, but they're doing so at a rate that makes the relative red flags of last offseason look like a distant memory.

After winning last year's Big Ten Tight End of the Year award, Butt not only repeats on the Mackey Award watch list but also appears on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, where he is joined by Wolverines wide receiver Jehu Chesson, who was also named to the watch list for the Fred Biletnikoff Award.

Offensive tackle Erik Magnuson made the cut on the Outland Trophy watch list, as did converted center Mason Cole, who was also named to the Rimington Trophy watch list earlier this week.

Running back De'Veon Smith added to his team's preseason profile with an appearance on the Doak Walker Award watch list, and on the defensive side of the ball, Michigan is no longer shut out from the preseason watch lists—as it was a year ago.

Far from it.

Safety/linebacker/jack-of-all trades Jabrill Peppers appears on the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Lott IMPACT Trophy, while defensive end Chris Wormley can also be found on the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award watch lists.

Cornerback Jourdan Lewis, meanwhile, was named to the three same lists as Peppers as well as the watch list for the Thorpe Award, presented annually to the nation's top defensive back.

There may not be a better example of Harbaugh's prowess in player development than Lewis, who went from relative unknown to potential first-round pick, all in just one season under the direction of his new head coach.

"If he had come out, he'd have certainly been one of the top corners," Kiper said of Lewis. "Next year's draft, if you look at the top five right now and you look at a corner, you'd have to put him in there."

Given Michigan's quick rise from a 5-7 team in 2014 to a 10-3 record a year ago, its increase in prominent players hardly comes as a surprise.

At this time a year ago, the Wolverines couldn't lay claim to a single player on their roster who had earned All-Big Ten selections, while at season's end, they were honored with eight—each of whom returns to the Michigan roster in 2016.

With another year of Harbaugh's development under their belts—and rival Ohio State now being the one lagging behind in watch list selections—the preseason hype isn't limited to just the Wolverines players but Michigan itself, as premature preseason polls suggest U-M should remain in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff throughout the 2016 season.

If that turns out to be true, the attention paid to the Wolverines players won't just be limited to preseason watch lists. Michigan may even find itself with an award-winner in its bunch, given its head coach's track record of developing the sport's top stars.

           

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting and class ratings courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Davey O'Brien Award Watch List 2016: Full List and Bleacher Report Favorites

The season of watch lists continued Thursday when the Davey O'Brien Foundation released its 30-man group of quarterbacks in early contention for the Davey O'Brien Award.

Clemson star Deshaun Watson—the 2015 winner—highlights the list, which features 14 seniors, 10 juniors and six sophomores (Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer is a redshirt sophomore).

While the watch list includes most of the nation's top quarterbacks, unnamed options could earn one of 16 semifinalist slots when that group is announced midway through the season.

The 2016 Davey O'Brien Award winner will be revealed during the Home Depot College Football Awards Show on ESPN on Dec. 8.

Award Trends

Repeat Winners: Since the Davey O'Brien Award's inception in 1981, three quarterbacks have hoisted the trophy twice. Watson will attempt to join Ty Detmer (BYU; 1990, 1991), Danny Wuerffel (Florida; 1995, 1996) and Jason White (Oklahoma; 2003, 2004).

Dual-Threat Popularity: A few previous winners contributed with their legs, but five of the last six winners—Watson, Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton—were true dual-threat quarterbacks. Jameis Winston was the only pocket passer.

NFL Draft Success: Mariota, Winston, Manziel, Griffin and Newton were each first-round selections in the NFL draft. Including Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Vince Young, eight of the last 10 Davey O'Brien winners heard their names called in the top 32 picks.

        

The Favorites

Deshaun Watson, Clemson

In 2015, Watson posted a 67.8 completion percentage with 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns. The 6'2", 210-pounder also scampered for 1,105 yards and 12 scores, becoming the first player in college football history to eclipse 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.

What can he possibly do for an encore?

"Being able to improve on what we did this year with a lot more veterans, we have a chance to be one of the best offenses ever in college football," Watson said, per Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee. "That's our motivation. To be the best ever."

   

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Lincoln Riley and Baker Mayfield are a perfect coordinator-quarterback pairing. Last year, they helped Oklahoma reach the College Football Playoff. Mayfield amassed 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns through the air, adding 405 yards and seven scores on the ground.

Repeating that success without standout receiver Sterling Shepard will be difficult, but Riley's system suits Mayfield's need for high-percentage throws while encouraging his playmaking skills.

      

Luke Falk, Washington State

Barring injury, we know Luke Falk won't lack opportunities.

In 2015, his 4,561 yards ranked No. 5 in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Falk paced the country with 53.7 pass attempts per game, tossing 38 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in Mike Leach's Air Raid attack.

The crazy part? Washington State's receiving corps may demand more targets this season. Gabe Marks, River Cracraft, Robert Lewis and Ky Priester compose a lethal bunch on the outside.

    

Seth Russell, Baylor

The 2015 Heisman Trophy race would have had a fourth finalist if a neck injury didn't end Seth Russell's season. In just seven games, he picked apart defenses for 2,506 total yards and 35 touchdowns.

Russell—who announced he's healthy and cleared for 2016—will attempt to lead a Baylor offense that's certain to lean on KD Cannon as Corey Coleman's replacement.

      

Greg Ward Jr., Houston

Following a 13-1 campaign, Greg Ward Jr. and Houston have earned plenty of deserved national attention. The converted wide receiver obliterated opponents for 3,936 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns—including 21 on the ground.

If Ward can stay healthy, head coach Tom Herman has a system in place to showcase Ward and overwhelm American Athletic Conference competition. Ward was a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award in 2015, so he's already squarely on the radar.

     

The Dark Horses

Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State: Defense is an important question, but points won't be a problem in Stillwater. Mason Rudolph threw for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. Since red-zone specialist J.W. Walsh accounted for 26 scores, Rudolph is poised for a major increase.

Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech: So long as the Red Raiders can replace Jakeem Grant, Patrick Mahomes II will put together a massive season. In 2015, he registered 5,109 yards of total offense and 46 touchdowns while attempting the second-most passes.

Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: Surviving September will be key to Chad Kelly's candidacy. Ole Miss takes on Florida State, Alabama and Georgia. But if the Rebels escape the gauntlet, Kelly—who racked up 4,542 yards and 41 scores last season—will have an excellent resume.

Brett Rypien, Boise State: It only took Brett Rypien three games to secure the starting job as a true freshman. He notched 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air. Complemented by Thomas Sperbeck and Jeremy McNichols, Rypien is seemingly destined for a breakout season.

    

Stats from CFBStats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the 10 Hardest Hitters for 2016 College Football Season

In recent seasons, college football has trended toward high-powered offenses. The Air Raid, spread and hurry-up, no-huddle systems all rely on potent passing attacks and light up scoreboards with regularity. If anything, that only increases the value of a talented defense that can limit those offenses and keep a team in a game while avoiding a shootout.

Every good defense is packed with talented players who are cohesive, athletic and strong. And you’d better have some hard hitters too: guys who are willing to lay the wood on a down-to-down basis and shake an opponent’s confidence with legal hits.

Here’s a look at projecting the 10 biggest hitters for the 2016 college football season. We chose players based on reputation, previous experience and the likelihood that they’ll make a big impact this fall.

Begin Slideshow

What Tennessee Must Do to Close out Games Better in 2016

At first glance, Tennessee's 9-4 record in 2015 looks like an impressive step forward and a testament to just how far coach Butch Jones brought the Volunteers program in three seasons.

But a failure to finish games left a bitter taste in the mouths of Vols fans last season. It was the difference between that record and what could have been an 11-1 season—or perhaps even better.

The Vols blew fourth-quarter, double-digit leads on national stages in dramatic fashion against Oklahoma and Florida, dropping the Sooners game at Neyland Stadium in overtime and then totally collapsing against the rival Gators to lose their 11th consecutive game in the series.

Then, UT choked away a 14-0 lead to lose 24-20 to Arkansas. Against another hated rival—eventual national champion Alabama—Tennessee held a 14-13 lead in Tuscaloosa with about 2:30 remaining before losing 19-14.

Hiding from the criticism isn't an option for Jones. The blown opportunities for big victories was a popular topic at this week's SEC media days, and it's a big reason some critics fear the Vols won't live up to expectations. 

Jones said on the SEC Network telecast of this week's media days in Hoover, Alabama, that he's tried to use the tough times as a teaching tool.

You always have to learn from the previous experiences and past experiences. It's something we spoke about ever since we started that offseason program and just what does it take in pointing defining moments out in the game. But when we talk about leadership, we always talk about it's better to be a player-coached team than a coach-coached team.

Players must make crucial plays at pivotal moments, but Jones must also make better decisions with games on the line than he did a season ago.

There's normally a learning curve for young head football coaches once they enter the bright lights of important games in marquee conferences, but Jones didn't make the grade last year. Were there any lessons learned? What do the Vols need to do to finish games and be a championship program in 2016?

Here are some things the Vols must do to close out games this season.

 

Rip off the restrictor plates

Plenty of questions have been raised in recent months about quarterback Joshua Dobbs' ability to run a more wide-open offense that can balance UT's superb running attack—and rightfully so.

It's also fair to question how much of it is Dobbs' fault. Sure, he deserves some blame for his lack of sharpness, but a beat-up, under-performing receiving corps hasn't done him any favors, either.

First-year offensive coordinator Mike DeBord was far too conservative in late-game situations, especially early in the year, so he needs part of that blame, too. Overall, DeBord's first season in Knoxville was solid, but the Vols need to loosen up, trust and diversify the offense.

Ahead 17-3 and on Oklahoma's 29-yard line following an interception on the penultimate play of the third quarter, the Vols ran seven plays (five running) for negative-10 yards as the Sooners stormed back to force the game into overtime.

Leading 27-21 against Florida with 4:09 remaining, the Vols ran three times for no yards and burned just 50 seconds off the clock before punting to a Gators team that would take the lead. With 1:26 left and down a point, UT ran just five plays to set up a missed 55-yard field goal.

In both instances, they played not to lose rather than to win.

In neither case did DeBord show a lot of confidence in his playmakers. As the season progressed, he did with the Vols down big against Georgia, and they responded. As a result, much of the second half of the season saw a rejuvenated Tennessee offense.

Dobbs, for his part, certainly sounded confident at SEC media days in his abilities to diversify his offensive portfolio, according to GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

I know I can win games with my arm. I've won games with my arm in the past. With your arms or your legs, being able to provide different dimensions to the offense is definitely great. Now we're just trying to utilize each one in the right scenarios. My goal every time I go back and watch plays is, 'How can I improve? How can I make different decisions to be more successful in this same situations?' We'll be…in a lot of close games this year, as we were last year. Now it's about how we can make that next step as a team, and for myself personally.

Dobbs is a senior, and this is his team. It's time to trust him to make big plays downfield. The only way to do that is to take the restrictor plates off the offense and let it go. Make defenses loosen up so things are easier on running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.

Too many times last year in third- and fourth-down situations, DeBord stayed simple. Putting the game in defensive coordinator John Jancek's hands proved to be the wrong call, as his defense struggled early.

The Vols' horses were on offense, and they'll be loaded with talent again this year. DeBord doesn't need to drive his Ferrari like a Pinto.

 

House calls

As maddening as Tennessee's reluctance to open up the offense was early last season, its inability to get off the field on defense with games on the line was worse.

Not all of it can be blamed on former coordinator Jancek, such as Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield's amazing wriggling-free act for the entire fourth quarter of that crazy comeback. But there was still plenty of reason for hand-wringing when it came to Tennessee's defense.

With some of the best pass-rushers in the SEC at their disposal, the Vols almost never blitzed in key moments. That won't be the case under new coordinator Bob Shoop.

"Our philosophy is to rotate guys early in the season and early in games," Shoop told the Knoxville News Sentinel's John Adams in a story regarding UT's lack of defensive prowess in the fourth quarter. "So when it comes time for a critical third down, you've got your best pass-rushers in the game."

Last season, Tennessee's best pass-rushers were in the game against Florida, and Jancek still ran a quarterback spy on 4th-and-14 on what wound up being the Gators' dramatic, go-ahead touchdown. It was only the most visible of UT's fourth-quarter, fourth-down collapses in that game.

Inexplicably, the Vols rushed only three on that decisive play. That call probably contributed to Jancek's dismissal as Tennessee's defensive coordinator.

But the UT defense's inability to get off the field was a constant problem a season ago. Shoop has to change that, and given his history of bringing the house and blitzing like crazy, he probably will. If he's too conservative with the game on the line, it'll truly be puzzling.

Shoop has to get that turned around in a hurry, but he isn't alone.

Tennessee's players are accountable, too.

 

Senior moments

One of the things said in Hoover this past week that Tennessee fans should have taken to heart most of all was Jones' story about linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

A slogan UT's coach has harped on this offseason is "finding 25 points," meaning that in the Vols' past 18 games, they're 13-5 with those losses being by a total of 25 points. That narrow margin isn't lost on UT's players, either. 

The reason why Jones speaks so much about it to the media is he doesn't need to when it comes to his team. The Vols' leadership is doing that for him, according to B/R's Barrett Sallee:

In that video, Jones said on the SEC Network telecast, Reeves-Maybin's miscues were shown first. What good would his point be if he didn't let everyone know he was talking about fixing his own mistakes, too?

The thing about leadership is leaders eat last. The first thing he did is he showed clips from different games of himself, whether it was a missed tackle, whether it was a missed communication, a missed fundamental in coverage, and it started with him. Then he proceeded to go through all of the critical plays—offense, defense and special teams. And a football play can come down to two to three plays that mean the difference between winning and losing, and you never know which play it's going to be. That play could be in the first quarter. You just never know. That's why you play every play like it's your last. That's some of the educational things.

The coaches didn't do everything right a season ago, but everything ultimately comes down to players making plays.

If the Vols bring down Mayfield on one of those third- or fourth-down plays, Oklahoma doesn't come back and win. If Antonio Callaway side-steps Malik Foreman and Emmanuel Moseley and gets past them for the long touchdown, nobody cares that UT failed to blitz.

Maybe if Preston Williams doesn't fumble in his own 20-yard line against Arkansas, the Vols keep rolling. If somebody bats down one of those Jake Coker prayers on Alabama's go-ahead touchdown drive, Tennessee pulls off a monumental upset.

Accountability is shared throughout a team, and the Vols know that. Last season taught them. This year's team seems to get that because of all the experience and leadership. None of the Vols can be content with just getting talked about by the media in July.

If they're still discussing Tennessee in December, that'll mean the Vols fixed the close-game issues and broke through for a breakout year.

 

All information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered at cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Media Days a Reminder That SEC's Burgeoning Image Problems Mostly Self-Inflicted

HOOVER, Ala. — Scandal at Ole Miss. The Jeffery Simmons video. A massive sexual assault lawsuit at Tennessee. Alabama's prize left tackle in hot water.

Despite winning yet another national championship, it hasn't been a banner year off the field in the Southeastern Conference or for college football in general, although few seem to be nowadays. The Baylor sexual assault scandal grabbed the most headlines this past offseason, but the SEC has had its share of issues as well, which have been widely discussed at length during the recent months when there were no games or practices.

As the incidents continued to pile up, it made the league look worse and worse.

"Social media has really changed the landscape of how things are perceived, both good and bad, to positive and negative stories," said Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl. "But there's no doubt that this offseason has had some rough spots and there's some real ramifications that have come from all of them."

And so came SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey's dilemma when thinking about his opening address to media members Monday.

Sankey's job, of course, is to try to steer the conference through troubled waters and do what he can to strengthen the 14-school league. While the commissioner will often be the first to mention the SEC's success and competitive prowess, he also has to weigh that with academics and good behavior, adding that programs need to have a higher standard.

The more they all go together, the better. However, the result is seldom uniform, often like someone trying to pull up a complicated window blind and not quite getting it right.

So when asked if the image of the league or college football has taken a significant hit this offseason, Sankey's immediate answer was a predictable "No."

"I think it is inappropriate to aggregate independent issues that have occurred over a number of years, in different settings, different backgrounds, and attach those to the Southeastern Conference," he said. "A matter that may have occurred three months ago, a suggestion that something that occurred four years ago somehow became a point of tarnish, I don't accept that notion.

"It's convenient to write for media days, and we've seen that before. People pay attention in a different way. But you have to unpack each of those circumstances and evaluate each accordingly."

In certain aspects, Sankey does have a point.

The NCAA's ongoing infractions case with Ole Miss includes strong allegations from during and before Hugh Freeze's tenure as head coach. Additionally, the Title IX lawsuit that Tennessee recently settled "had centered on cases of alleged sexual or physical assault by student-athletes reported by eight female students between 2013 and 2015," according to CNN.

Those situations had absolutely nothing to do with individual mistakes such as Alabama's Cam Robinson and reserve safety Hootie Jones getting arrested and facing drug and weapons charges, which the prosecutor decided not to pursue. That both still have a chance to play in the Crimson Tide's high-profile opener against USC became the hot topic Wednesday.

"Cam Robinson and Hootie were not charged with anything," Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said. "I think that the facts we have are a little different than what has been advertised.

"Both guys have done a significant number of things to change their behavior, internally, whether it was a police ride around or community service or juvenile groups that meet to be a positive influence and role models to make better choices and decisions."

But therein lies the crux of the criticism of SEC programs. While the coach says he's not going to prosecute a player in public, he otherwise appears to be giving a break to a player in order to save his own skin. Even if that's not the case, the perceived flaccid response stirs up the controversy.

Despite the legal outcome of the players not being charged, per the Tweet below, Robinson and Jones are still dealing with the court of public opinion, where fans are quick to judge (especially players on other teams) and tough to sway. Regardless of facts which may never be fully revealed, especially in situations involving youths, such incidents can't help make them, the coach, the school and the conference look bad.

"To me, the spotlight's brighter," said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, who has been working in college athletics since 1971. "But I view the bright spotlight as a positive thing, that we can learn from what's happening."

Yet minus change, the overriding issues linger. While the Rebels seem destined for some harsh realities and have already self-imposed a reduction of 10 football scholarships over the next three seasons, testing fraud was committed, and no one's been held responsible for the impermissible benefits to football recruits and players. Moreover, other societal issues, including violence against women, aren't going away.

Thus, Sankey's emphasis here, and Saban's for that matter, was to try to focus on what college athletics are all about: the students.

"I think this is the great thing about college football that sometimes gets overlooked; that there's so many good things that we do to help young people have a better chance to be successful," Saban said.

He knows a few things about growing up during turbulent times, as Saban was just down the street when the National Guard opened fire on unarmed students at Kent State in 1970. Recently, it's tragedies in Orlando, Baton Rouge and Dallas, all in SEC territory, with students who are beginning to find their voices, not liking what they see.

"Not just in college football, but I can't believe what's going on in the world today," Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham said. "You can't separate it and say, 'Oh that's just college football.'"

Commodores teammate Oren Burks, one of the student-athletes Sankey singled out as already being a leader, took it a step further and felt he had a responsibility to use his platform here to speak out against the recent violence crippling America.

"I feel that it's terrible to see innocent people killed for no reason," Burks said. "Whether it's African-Americans or cops, it doesn't matter. We [as a country] need to have a sense of honor and respect for human life."

While that statement may seem simple or even obvious, speaking up is not, just like a year ago when Missouri players struggled with what to do before boycotting practices and threatening to skip games amid racial unrest on campus. While that stance is now being widely praised, the decision to do so was not.

"I learned that individuals are really, really concrete in their ways," Missouri defensive end Charles Harris said. "You have to be patient, you have to be understanding, and you have to put yourselves in [other people's] shoes. It's all about perspective."

But none of that was the purpose of this week's media days. Attracting more than 1,400 journalists, it was supposed to promote the upcoming season, even though we're still approximately 50 days from the first game and three weeks shy of training camps opening.

And while the players are right, that distasteful incidents are all around them, it's hard for cynics not to have a field day at responses that, on the surface, seem to enhance the "football first" notion that exists.

Sankey was well aware that football might be overshadowed, and it began almost immediately when he was declaring that the SEC needs to have higher expectations across the board. At the same time, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn simultaneously announced that his four players who had been arrested on misdemeanor drug charges in May wouldn't miss any playing time.

Tuesday, Dan Mullen then completely undercut Sankey's pleas when being asked about Mississippi State's decision to admit 5-star prospect Simmons even after video surfaced of the defensive lineman repeatedly striking a woman on the ground.

Last year, the SEC passed a rule banning players with a history of domestic violence from transferring into the league, which was widely hailed as being a step in the right direction, only it doesn't cover incoming freshmen. So regarding MSU's football penalty of merely a one-game suspension, presumably when the Bulldogs open against South Alabama, Sankey said: "What that young man has is an opportunity. He's going to be closely scrutinized. That's not behavior that's acceptable in any way."

Even so, it came across as a football-first move.

Mullen attempted to distance himself from the controversial suspension by calling it a university decision but added, "I was just thrilled that we're going to have Jeffrey in our family." When pressed on if he should be held responsible if Simmons causes an incident on campus, the coach stated, "We're all responsible."

Finally, when asked if he would feel the same if the woman involved were his wife or daughter, Mullen hesitated and bafflingly said, "I don't think my family would be in that situation."

He subsequently borrowed Sankey's statement that he doesn't think 10 seconds of video should have a major impact on someone's life. Ironically, he had just proved that very point with his ignorant and apparent self-serving statements.

Nevertheless, the damage was done, serving as a clear reminder that many of the SEC's biggest issues have been of its own doing, societal ills or not.

Fair or unfair, isolated incidents or a reflection of bigger, more expansive troubles, fans are right to be skeptical of certain motivations from coaches and their programs.

Until the frequency of these black-eye incidents slows—and more importantly, until the programs, universities and league leadership make stronger, more meaningful statements in terms of consequences—critics will claim same old SEC and continue to accuse it of being a win-at-all-costs conference, especially considering the massive amounts of money flowing into its coffers.

         

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

Jermaine Edmondson to Transfer from MSU: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Michigan State cornerback Jermaine Edmondson, who was allegedly involved in multiple altercations with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green last weekend, has been granted his unconditional release from the program.

Coach Mark Dantonio released a statement on the situation, per Brad Galli of WXYZ.com:

In discussions with Jermaine Edmondson following spring practice and in the weeks thereafter, it became clear that Jermaine wanted to play a larger role on the team. After consulting with him in the summer, he felt it was in his best interest to finish his playing career elsewhere. We have granted his immediate release to transfer to another institution to have that opportunity.

Edmondson, a senior, will have one year of eligibility remaining. He has not announced where he will transfer.

According to a police report obtained by Brendan F. Quinn of MLive.com, Green and Edmondson had run-ins Friday night and Sunday morning in East Lansing, Michigan. Green was arrested early Sunday after allegedly slapping Edmondson in the second incident.

"I walk over and I tell [Green] that last night (Friday) wasn't cool," Edmondson said in an email to police, per Ed White of the Associated Press. "As he responded to me he began to poke me on my shoulder and I tell him that he doesn't need to put his hands on me, we can just talk. As I started to talk again, boom, I'm punched in my jaw."

Green was charged with assault. He faces up to 90 days in jail if convicted and a $500 fine. Police released him Sunday after he spent time in jail to sober up, per Quinn.

“When things happen, you meet them head on,” Green said, per Kirkland Crawford of the Detroit Free Press. “My legal team is handling it. It will be resolved really quickly. As a public figure I can't put myself in certain situations. It's something that I'll learn from and move on.”

Green has entered a plea of not guilty and is scheduled back in court Aug. 4. 

Edmondson played in 11 games last season with the Spartans, recording 24 tackles and three passes defended.

   

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages