NCAA Football News

World Football May Hold Key to Fixing College Football's Targeting Problem

Picture an overzealous safety cracking a tight end high on a seam route and the uncertain, silent seconds that follow. As the offensive player slowly lifts himself off the turf, the official glides to the defensive player awaiting his fate, who's gesturing his innocence to his sideline and the crowd.

The official, having seen the play in real time at indefinable speeds, has an impossible obligation of making a ruling in front of more than 110,000 fans and millions of eyeballs at home.

They watch—you watch—as his right hand moves toward his front right pocket. The rumbles escalate to a buzz as a decision looms.

A yellow card—the kind that governs disputably violent plays in soccer—emerges, which prompts a golf gallery-like applause from the home crowd defending one of its own by default. The safety claps enthusiastically after checking on the injured player, reassured of his fate that afternoon.

The intent, according to the lead official explaining the play in detail, wasn't egregious. The safety didn't fully launch himself or make obvious, dangerous contact near the head.

There was enough high contact, though—a determination that becomes apparent on replay. Yards are walked off, but the safety avoids being ejected. The game proceeds as planned as the official slips the yellow card back into his pocket. The tight end, seemingly fine after going through concussion protocol, returns a few plays later.

Now, come back to reality. Let's piggyback on this scene with a disclaimer. This world, in present time, is purely hypothetical. But the possibility of college football adopting one of soccer's guiding principles is something we should at least talk about.

Many probably shun the idea on principle. But we should separate the symbols from the fact that the sport needs a new way to legislate on-field violence as it happens—or, at the very least, something more than it has right now.

"The rules committee this year had great discussions around it," SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw told Bleacher Report when asked about yellow and red cards. "The concept of incorporating flagrant-1s or flagrant-2s, to use basketball terms, was discussed. Giving replay more latitude to look at all aspects of the targeting foul will accomplish a little bit of this. What you don't want to do is create something in the rule that gets us to back up from player safety."

The term "targeting" is enough to send chills down the most passionate football fan's spine. No rule has been more widely debated in a sport under increasing scrutiny.

What has become clear since the NCAA adopted these ejection rules in 2013 is that there is no going back. Whether it's yellow cards or something still unknown, the days of players launching themselves like tactical ballistic missiles without fear of major consequence are over.

Though targeting merited a penalty long before the NCAA adopted this legislation, the landscape changed the moment college football implemented accelerated punishments.

Hours after the curtain was lifted on the first season under the new targeting rule, multiple players experienced the full spectrum of these punishments. On the opening Thursday, Indiana State's Carlos Aviles was ejected for his dangerous hit on Indiana's Shane Wynn—which prompted some confusion over how the play would be ruled but not necessarily over the hit itself.

This particular moment showed the positive impact targeting ejections could have. A player was punished for a dangerous hit according to its potential impact. But it also opened the door to the fact that judgment would govern calls and confusion would follow.

The NCAA has since modified its legislation regarding targeting—more aptly recognized as high, dangerous contact made with the helmet—though the origins of the rule remain intact.

All targeting calls made on the field are subject to a 15-yard penalty and an ejection following a video review. While the 15-yard penalty used to be walked off regardless of the replay ruling, that is no longer the case. The ruling based off of the review holds all the cards.

Moving forward, this theme will only be amplified. In 2016 (and beyond), replay officials will be granted more power to review the totality of a potential targeting play—the launch, contact and possible intent. This power will expand beyond reacting to flags that have already been thrown. Starting in the fall, the replay booth will have the authority to stop a game and review a hit even if a flag hasn't been thrown.

"It's a slippery slope," Shaw said. "The rules committee isn't saying we're going to evaluate all judgment calls. But the impact of targeting is so important to our game. This is one where we'll allow replay to tiptoe over that line."

The sport deserves the utmost credit for seemingly rebooting the conversation each year—exploring new and creative ways to police the game. As a result, intent has never really been an issue.

More important has been the way a wide range of collisions, each with vastly different intents and subtleties, are being punished as equals.

Targeting legislation in the present does an injustice to deeply complicated football moments. That's why the notion of incorporating yellow and red cards—or flagrant-1s and flagrant-2s, if that's more comfortable verbiage for your taste—could be valuable.

"Any time we have legislation and rules to protect our players, I think that's fantastic. We need more of it, but the rule itself definitely needs reformation in the way it is seen and penalized," Houston head coach Tom Herman said. "Whether that's through flagrant calls or cards, there needs to be some kind of separation."

UAB head coach Bill Clark, having watched countless hours of football last fall while waiting for his program to be reinstated, wasn't as eager to make such a robust change.

"That's kind of weird," Clark said when asked about yellow and red cards. "I don't think there's any coach out there that is opposed to throwing someone out of a game if they were trying to hurt somebody. But for me, it's when the intent isn't there and you're still being ejected. I'd have to think about it."

In 2015, players were penalized for targeting 115 times, according to Jon Solomon of CBS Sports. That was up from 72 calls the year before and 55 in 2013—the first year college football implemented the ejection rules.

Of last year's 115 targeting flags, replay officials overturned the call on the field on 43 separate occasions—a reversal rate of nearly 40 percent.

These figures have risen by design. Officials, tasked to police a game being played at warp speeds, have been given the guidance to throw flags on plays when even the possibility of targeting exists. Video replay officials essentially serve as a backstop.

Some rulings require little discussion. Notre Dame safety Max Redfield's hit on Purdue quarterback Danny Etling in September 2014 was flagged and then upheld.

It was textbook targeting on a defenseless player. It was worthy of an ejection—a red card, a flagrant-2. It was the type of hit the game is trying to remove and why this conversation is taking place in the first place.

Not all targeting calls are this concrete, however. There are many that prompt mass confusion and curiosity. Video replay officials' increased role should help resolve some of the issues going forward, but inconsistency remains a chief concern—among players and coaches, as well as fans who struggle to grasp what constitutes targeting.

"All you can do is explain this particular case and what elements are in play to the viewer," ESPN and ABC play-by-play announcer Chris Fowler told Bleacher Report when asked about narrating such plays. "Everybody wants to see more consistency in the way they are called, but it does seem to be evolving.

"Fans are going to get overheated when these calls are made, but the motive is noble. They have got to find a way to reduce the frequency and severity of these injuries, and there's a number of ways to do it."

In perhaps the most actively debated targeting ejection since the rule was implemented, Nebraska's Nate Gerry was dismissed in the first half of the Foster Farms Bowl late last year for his hit on UCLA running back Paul Perkins. The call ignited reactions on social media and beyond.

Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa had his college career end on a targeting ejection in the first quarter of the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.

While Bosa clearly led with his helmet—and his tackling in this instance should be used as an example of poor helmet placement—he appeared nowhere close to launching himself at Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer's head.

The contact made in both instances above was questionable. Was it high enough to be, by definition, targeting? By the letter of the law, most likely.

But are these the kinds of hits the game so desperately needs to get rid of? And above all, should moments such as these be penalized with the same iron first that rules some of the sport's most devastating and dangerous collisions?

By segmenting targeting, as soccer does fouls with its card system, there would be various levels by which to measure this type of contact.

That is the purpose of a yellow card—to warn a player that his actions, while not catastrophic, warrant some response. Football, unlike soccer, could also use yards as currency, utilizing that feature when an ejection might not be necessary.

Yellow cards could also carry over a certain number of games, like in soccer, meaning multiple instances of questionable contact would still be punishable with an ejection down the line. The red card would serve a clear and defined purpose as well.

All targeting ejections are essentially red cards right now. If a play is dangerous enough, then a player can (and should) be ejected for the rest of the game and perhaps, depending on when the infraction occurs, miss time the following week.

"I think that yellow and red cards are a good idea if we are properly identifying what is red and what is yellow," former Texas head coach and current ESPN analyst Mack Brown said.

The idea that football could adopt this penalty system is not necessarily new. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald broached the concept of yellow cards long before the NCAA Football Rules Committee talked it over.

"It's a total hypothetical," Fitzgerald said at Big Ten media days in 2013, not long after the NCAA added the ejection rules. "I'd rather warn the player, telling him this is not the hit we want in football."

This isn't about taking a step backward from the bold steps the NCAA has taken to make the game safer. Punishing a player by taking away his field time—the most valued commodity he has—is still very much a part of this blueprint. Moving forward, it should stay that way.

But there should be a better understanding of which hits cannot and will not be tolerated—and which other hits may have similar attributes but fall well short of meeting the requirements for an ejection.

These calls are significant. They are complicated. They are controversial and will remain controversial in whatever system the sport adopts. With seemingly everyone involved fully acknowledging the intricacies involved, it seems prudent that such a large portion of these calls comes down to more than a simple yes or no.

 

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KegsnEggs. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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The SEC's Most Intriguing 2016 Quarterback Battle

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. doesn’t quite understand it either.

When the NFL draft is held next week in Chicago, the Southeastern Conference is expected to have high-profile picks at nearly every position but the one that gets talked about the most: quarterback.

Although Peyton Manning just won his final Super Bowl and Cam Newton is the reigning league MVP, former Florida quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett of North Carolina State and Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech could conceivably be taken before or around the same time as Arkansas’ Brandon Allen and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.

“Good question,” Kiper said Tuesday about the conference’s perceived decline of top-level players at the position before noting that Alabama won the national championship with a Florida State transfer, Jake Coker. “A lot of factors go into it, but some of them were there and left.”

It’s with that backdrop that various quarterback competitions have been held all around the league this spring—some more intriguing than others. As for which one tops that list, the answer stands out by using the process of elimination.

For the most part, the conference’s starting quarterbacks can be split into four groups:

 

1. Returning starters (5)

They’re listed with last season’s passer efficiency rating (and national rank): 

  • Chad Kelly, Ole Miss, 155.9 (13)
  • Brandon Harris, LSU, 130.6 (63)
  • Josh Dobbs, Tennessee, 127.0 (70)
  • Drew Lock, Missouri, 90.5 (113)
  • Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt, 100.6 (NR)

 

2. Won jobs during the spring (3)

None of these should be considered surprising.

"Trevor Knight will be our starter," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said in a release the Monday following the Maroon & White Game. "His on-field performance this spring along with his leadership earned him the starting job."

Despite having been on campus just three months, the Oklahoma graduate transfer completed 25 of 36 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, and also ran in a touchdown. More importantly he looked the part and showed poise.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops announced immediately after the spring game that sophomore Drew Barker had won the Wildcats’ starting job. While only playing in the first half, he completed 12 of 18 passes for 156 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.

"The last week of spring...I feel like Drew was starting to pull away," Stoops said during the postgame press conference. “That's the nice thing to see about Drew is I thought he was very, very consistent this spring and really this whole offseason.” 

At Arkansas, the only SEC team still holding spring workouts, Austin Allen has already been named the replacement for his older brother, Brandon, who was a three-year starter. The competition is over.

 

3. The Saban coaching tree (4) 

Between Saban and his three former coordinators who are now head coaches in the SEC—Florida’s Jim McElwain, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp—no one has named a starting quarterback.

At Florida, Luke Del Rio appears to have a clear lead over Austin Appleby and true freshman Feleipe Franks. He completed 10 of 11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the Blue and Orange Debut.

It’s probably only a matter of time before early enrollee Jacob Eason takes over at Georgia, especially after his dazzling performance in the spring game. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 244 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions.

South Carolina’s spring was disastrous at the quarterback position. Perry Orth suffered a broken collarbone, and Lorenzo Nunez was sidelined by a knee injury, helping lead to early enrollee Brandon McIlwain attempting the most passes in the Garnet and Black Game ahead of Connor Mitch and Michael Scarnecchia.

With prospect Jake Bentley arriving early in the fall, the Gamecocks have more of a logjam than a competition, and considering the lack of offensive talent that Muschamp inherited, well, let’s just say the winner will be sufficiently challenged.

Finally, Alabama doesn’t appear close to naming a starting quarterback and last year didn’t do so until after playing three games in the regular season. There’s no intrigue when there’s no decision looming, and Crimson Tide fans have learned over the past two seasons that the player closest to being the incumbent is the one who has to be beat.

This year that’s Cooper Bateman. 

Nevertheless, none of these quarterback competitions will be resolved before the fall.

 

4. Wanted: Quarterbacks who can run (2)

A lot of experts thought heading into the spring that the Mississippi State starting job was Nick Fitzgerald’s to lose against Damian Williams, Nick Tiano and Elijah Staley. Yet, he hasn’t won the job, and two interceptions during the Bulldogs’ spring game didn’t help.

“I really don’t know if anyone was [standing out],” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said during his press conference. “I saw everyone make different plays and guys performed at a different level on different days. Some would do great on one day and be kind of average the next day, and someone else will stand out the next day. They were all pretty even coming out of spring.”

Regardless, no one is expecting another Prescott this season.

Which leaves Auburn, where the spring game raised more questions than answers about the quarterback competition—which made for a good headline

Auburn’s entire philosophy and approach is based on tempo and execution of one player in particular: the quarterback. As everyone learned last year, when he struggles, everything else can fall apart.

You could ask numerous Auburn fans what they think head coach Gus Malzahn should do at quarterback this season and receive just as many different answers. 

Feeding the opinions are observations that senior Jeremy Johnson appears to have regained his confidence. Sophomore Sean White is healthy again. Junior-college transfer John Franklin III is a former Florida State player looking for a chance.

During Auburn’s final spring scrimmage, the three rotated.

  • Johnson made 6 of 13 throws for 35 yards and a touchdown.
  • White completed 8 of 14 passes for 125 yards.
  • Franklin hit 7 of 11 attempts for 61 yards and a touchdown.

Afterward, Malzahn said no one should put too much stock into the numbers, reminding everyone of Cam Newton's only A-Day performance in 2010: 3 of 8 passing.

He could have also pointed out that last year, Johnson completed 14 of 22 attempts for 252 yards and two touchdowns.

However, it was noteworthy that none of the three quarterbacks ran for any positive rushing yards, something that's been a staple of Malzahn's best offenses at Auburn as both a head coach and offensive coordinator.

  • Johnson: Three carries for minus-two yards.
  • Franklin: Three carries for no gain.
  • White: Four carries for minus-12 yards.

Also, none of the quarterbacks were able to convert a third-down opportunity in 14 chances during the first half, and for the game, they combined to go 1-of-22.

Granted, it’s spring, the defense played well and Auburn has a new offensive coordinator in Rhett Lashlee. But this was with what Malzahn called “vanilla” play-calling.

Consequently, this quarterback competition is by far the SEC’s most intriguing, especially when one considers what could potentially be at stake, the rumblings that the coaching staff may be on the hot seat with another subpar season and Auburn’s schedule.

Three of the first four games are against Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU.

Granted, all three games are at home, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a 1-3 start and Auburn out of the SEC West chase before the end of September if a quarterback doesn’t step forward and win the job outright.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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The One Position Unit That Can Help Push Tennessee to Playoff Contention

On Nov. 1, 2014, Tennessee roared back from a late two-touchdown deficit to stun South Carolina on the road 45-42 in overtime. 

Since that point, the program has been on the brink of something special.

The Vols have lost five games since that night in Columbia by a total of 25 points, including an overtime loss to Big 12 champion and College Football Playoff participant Oklahoma, a one-point loss to SEC East champion Florida in Gainesville and a five-point loss to eventual national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 2015 in which the Vols held late leads in both.

What will get the Vols over the top? With a roster that's loaded everywhere else, the downfield passing attack is the missing piece of the puzzle.

That piece looked like it was sliding into place during the Orange and White Game on Saturday. 

While quarterback Joshua Dobbs takes the brunt of the downfield passing attack criticism after finishing 10th in the SEC in yards per attempt at 6.7—behind Florida quarterback Treon Harris and South Carolina's Perry Orth—he didn't get much help from his wide receivers. 

No Volunteer receiver had more than 38 catches or 409 yards last year, and leading receiver Von Pearson—who led the team in both categories—exhausted his eligibility.

Enter: Preston Williams and Jeff George.

Williams was a hot-shot recruit in the class of 2015 but didn't get cleared by the NCAA until the week of Tennessee's season opener and struggled with hamstring issues as a true freshman. George came to Rocky Top from Dodge City (Kansas) Community College with the expectations of making a big impact.

Both did on Saturday.

Williams, a 6'4", 209-pounder from Hampton, Georgia, had a team-high 77 receiving yards on three catches and looked to be in tune with Dobbs (0:48 mark). George, a 6'6", 190-pounder originally from Leavenworth, Kansas, caught four passes for 28 yards and a nice touchdown catch on a fade (1:25 mark). 

Head coach Butch Jones commented on the duo in postgame quotes released by Tennessee:

[The wide receivers] were challenged in terms of having the injuries at that position and being set back, but also it provided tremendous teaching opportunities and valuable repetitions when you look at the amount Preston Williams was able to gain. Even Jeff George coming in here, really now understanding the endurance that it takes to play the receiver position, the mental toughness that it takes, the intensity that it takes day in and day out with your habits, your practice, your style of play, all that. 

As Nick Carboni of WBIR-TV in Knoxville noted on Twitter during the game, George's stature will present problems down near the goal line.

Tennessee's passing attack looked dangerous on Saturday, and that was without veterans Josh Smith or Josh Malone, as well as former quarterback Jauan Jennings—who was raw last year after changing positions but has potential.

If either Williams or George becomes a threat downfield, the rest of the wide receiving corps will have a much easier time finding room to roam.

With a downfield passing attack suddenly in play or, at the very least, a threat, it will give even more room to the multidimensional rushing attack that features Dobbs and running backs Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd; and it will give tight ends Ethan Wolf and Jason Croom one-on-one matchups that both can exploit.

It will also vault Tennessee into playoff contention and make the 2016 Vols elite.

The Vols opened at plus-1500 to win the national title, according to Odds Shark—by far the best odds in the SEC East and third-best in the entire conference behind Alabama (plus-600) and LSU (plus-1200). That was with questions in the downfield passing attack.

If the spring game success of Williams and George translates to the fall, look out CFP—the Vols could be coming.

The Florida loss cost Jones the SEC East title—something that has eluded the program since 2007. The Alabama loss came after Dobbs led the team down the field on a drive that culminated with a go-ahead touchdown run from Hurd with 5:49 to play. 

Those two games will be in Neyland Stadium this year, and both rivals have plenty of questions to answer prior to the kickoff of the 2016 season. 

As I pointed out earlier this year, don't fall into the trap that Tennessee always has hype in the offseason. The Vols have been picked to finish higher than fourth in the SEC East at SEC media days once since 2010 (last year, when they were picked second behind Georgia) and haven't been picked to win the division by the assembled members of the media since 2005.

What's more, Jones has improved upon his record every year that he's been at the helm after taking over a roster that former head coach Derek Dooley treated like a run-down rental property.

If the passing game just presents a threat to opposing defenses, the multidimensional rushing attack and loaded defense should not only land the Vols in Atlanta in early December, but they could lead them back to the Georgia Dome on New Year's Eve, when it hosts one of the two national semifinals.

 

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

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

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Jimbo Fisher Discusses Contemplating FSU Retirement in Palm Beach Post Exclusive

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has quickly risen to the top of his profession, but his ascent almost never happened, as he considered retiring in 2011. 

According to Tom D'Angelo of the Palm Beach Post, the 50-year-old coach revealed in March he gave thought to stepping away after just one year at the FSU helm due to his son, Ethan, getting diagnosed with Fanconi anemia:

Yeah, it did cross my mind, without a doubt. I didn't know what (Ethan's condition) required, what it meant. 'Should I coach? Should I not coach?' I don't know if we ever got to that point where we thought about it seriously but it crossed my mind to think about that because I didn't know until we found out everything.

Fisher admitted he was concerned at the time about whether he could be fully committed to coaching while also focusing on his son, but he explained his motivation to push through it: "Just had to do what you had to do. That's the way I was raised. You can't feel sorry for yourself because it's unfair to the kids I'm coaching."

The Clarksburg, West Virginia, native led the Seminoles to a 9-4 record in 2011, and he has won at least 10 games in every season since, including a perfect 14-0 mark in 2013 that culminated in a national championship.

Florida State had gone six straight seasons without winning double-digit games before Fisher's elevation from offensive coordinator to head coach in 2010, but he has been the driving force behind the program regaining its status as a national power and perennial contender.

Had Fisher decided to retire in 2011, that progress may never have happened, and the school may not have won its second BCS national title.

The fact that Fisher was not only able to coach but able to excel under such difficult circumstances against a high level of competition is a perfect example of why he is regarded as one of the elite coaches in college football.

His motivational tactics and recruiting have brought the 'Noles program back into a golden age, and they figure to continue contending on a regular basis for as long as he is in the picture.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Big Ten Football: Power Ranking the Offensive Lines in 2016

One of the tougher units for the average fan—and yes, sportswriter—to evaluate, a strong offensive line has often been a necessity for finding success in the Big Ten.

Between Woody Hayes' three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality and the plethora of first-round picks the conference has produced throughout its history, the Big Ten has a long-standing tradition when it comes to impressive front fives.

The upcoming season shouldn't be much different, with the league as a whole returning no shortage of experience when it comes to its offensive lines. For some programs, that's a good thing, while for others, they still have plenty to prove based on their returning starters and the results they produced a year ago.

Spring football may just wrapping up, but success in the trenches has often led to success overall in the Big Ten.

With that in mind, here's how I rank each team's offensive line heading into 2016.

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Tennessee Football: 5 Things Standing in the Way of an SEC Championship

This 2016 Tennessee football team is deep enough, talented enough, experienced enough and has enough top-end star power to win the program's first SEC championship since 1998.

But will it?

Eighteen long years could come to an end this season. Leaders such as quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton are determined to put Rocky Top back on the map.

With a slew of stars like that, it's hard to bet against UT this year, and that's why a lot of the experts around the nation are buying the Vols when it comes to legit contenders. 

Nobody in Knoxville is dodging the darts being flung in their direction.

"We understand we have a lot of talent on this team and we can be as good as we want to be," Dobbs told the Associated Press' Steve Megargee after the spring game. "The goal for us is just take it day by day, focus on the process and embrace the grind."

Though the schedule is never easy in the conference, this year's sets up better than the past few. The Vols get Alabama and Florida at home. A road trip to Texas A&M won't be easy, but it isn't as daunting as in years past. Yes, Georgia is in Athens and South Carolina is in Columbia, but those programs have new coaches.

Things are shaping up quite well for a deep run and a good opportunity to knock the hated Gators off the SEC East throne.

But there are still numerous obstacles for UT, and when you aren't used to having your name in lights, the glare can be blinding sometimes. Already this offseason, some off-the-field transgressions and allegations have threatened the stability of the program.

Tennessee has stood firm through those issues so far, but what are some of the on-field things standing between the Vols and the SEC title? Let's take a look at five familiar hurdles.

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4-Star DE Joshua Paschal Opens Up on Visits and Schools Recruiting Him Hardest

Dynamic defender Joshua Paschal picked up his first collegiate scholarship offer from Ohio State in 2014, midway through a breakout sophomore season. It was a moment that vaulted him into the national recruiting spotlight.

Now, nearing the end of his junior year at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland, he reports approximately 20 offers on the table. A consistently expanding list of options has provided him with plenty to consider.

"When Ohio State came in and offered, that was a really special time. Since then, the offers kept coming and coming," Paschal told Bleacher Report.

The 4-star prospect—who earned an invitation to The Opening national finals Sunday following a strong performance during a Washington D.C. regional—is considered one of the Mid-Atlantic's premier athletes along the defensive front. Rated No. 8 nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, Paschal spent last season playing a variety of roles for his high school squad.

He would line up with his hand in the dirt, blitz the backfield from a stand-up start and even drop back into pass coverage on occasion. Paschal, who measured in at 6'3", 252 pounds at the D.C. regional, understands this versatility is a crucial element of what makes him alluring to college coaching staffs across the country.

"I hear a lot about playing a hybrid role," he said.

Paschal mentioned interest from scouts about his potential at the "Buck" linebacker position, which would require him to provide containment along the perimeter. Oklahoma, he says, is a program that particularly identified that role as a possible fit.

The Sooners are in a solid spot to line up an upcoming campus visit with the rangy defensive standout as he begins to chart out his travel itinerary. Alabama is another intriguing destination.

While other visit dates remain undetermined, a trip to Tuscaloosa is tentatively planned for June 3. Paschal doesn't yet hold an offer from the Crimson Tide, but aims to leave campus with an Alabama scholarship in his possession if things go well on campus.

"I'm hoping they'll offer me when I go down there," he said. 

From a physical standpoint, Paschal would seem to be an appropriate fit in Alabama's front-seven scheme. If the Tide do indeed opt to extend an offer, head coach Nick Saban would have competition within his conference.

Tennessee is among the programs most ardently pursuing, Paschal said. Texas A&M, too, has recently intensified efforts.

Along with that SEC pair, Paschal pointed to Clemson, Maryland, Rutgers and Kentucky (where older brother TraVaughn Paschal played linebacker and defensive end) as universities recruiting him hardest.

In-state Maryland is on a mission to build a fence around its borders under new head coach D.J. Durkin. Unsurprisingly, Paschal is a pivotal part of those efforts, and he spent time at College Park on Saturday.

"I think big things are going to happen there," Paschal said. "Maryland is preaching the stay-at-home movement, and is also showing it through actions with how they build relationships with recruits."

Don't expect an early commitment from Paschal, who is in no rush to conclude his recruitment. 

"I think I'm going to push it into next year," he said.

Multiple trips are likely to alter the course of this process as spring seeps into summer. Paschal plans to narrow things down to a top-five list before reaching a decision.

If he's able to accomplish this goal prior to the start of his senior season, expect each of those schools to host him for an official visit.

 

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

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Which College Football Freshmen Could Be One-and-Done If the NFL Allowed?

College football fans are stressed enough; imagine if they had to worry about their team's star freshman considering an early jump to the NFL.

It's a luxury for college football that players aren't eligible to be drafted until after their third season. Teams don't have to rush freshmen into action, and if someone breaks through in that first season they know they're going to stick around for at least three years.

Compare that to college basketball, where the ability to turn pro after one season—often referred to as being “one and done”—means many highly regarded players leave before they've really made their mark on the college game. According to NBC Sports, more than 20 freshmen college basketball players have declared for the NBA draft, with many of those having already signed an agent thus eliminating their opportunity to return to school.

If the opportunity to turn pro after one college football season existed, would there be any takers? Considering the amount of money at stake, the answer is certainly yes. But who would make the jump?

Out of the incoming 2016 freshman class, we've selected a handful of potential one-and-done candidates based on their skill set, their position and the likelihood they'd be coveted by an NFL team willing to draft someone so young.

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Micah Clark to Rutgers: Scarlet Knights Land 4-Star OT Prospect

Micah Clark, considered the top-ranked player in New Jersey, committed to Rutgers on Tuesday. The 4-star offensive tackle gave his verbal to the Scarlet Knights, choosing the university over schools like Penn State and Michigan. 

He made the announcement via Twitter:

A breakout performer at St. John Vianney Regional High School in Holmdel, Clark had his recruitment centered on Penn State and Ohio State early on. 247Sports' "Crystal Ball" predictions initially gave the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes the best chance of landing the lineman. Clark himself named Ohio State his front-runner in December.

"The visit from Urban Meyer put them No. 1," Clark said, per Brian Dohn of Scout.com. "I was like, ‘Wow, the head coach actually came down to see me.’ I know he goes to see other players, but I know for a fact he only goes to see players he is really interested in. It was cool he came to my school."

Clark was also complimentary of the pitch the Penn State coaches gave him that pushed the school's academic programs.

"The message to me is even if football doesn’t work out, if the next level doesn’t work out, your education is still there," Clark said, per Dohn. "I know that. I look at Penn State and their business school, and I know if I don’t make it in the NFL, I still have the education. I like that about Penn State, and how the alumni base backs up every player."

For now, there are few reasons to expect football not to work out. Clark is already a physical specimen at 6'5" and 283 pounds, equipped with the length and power to become an elite offensive tackle at the next level. He's also a two-way player who understands what it takes to be effective on the defensive line, putting him a step ahead of some one-sided players from an IQ perspective.

Once he begins fully filling out his frame, Clark is going to be a force. He'll be a foundational piece of Rutgers' offensive line and is already going to boost its Class of 2017 stock quite a bit. 

At Rutgers, he may have the chance to earn a starting spot immediately at left tackle. The school finished 65th in the nation in rush yards per game (169.9) last year and gave up 25 sacks, 56th in the country.

But Rutgers does return 14 offensive lineman from a year ago, including four starters, per Keith Sargeant of NJ Advance Media. Three-year starter and left tackle Keith Lumpkin is the one starter no longer with the team, opening the door for Clark.

So while Clark will certainly have a fight on his hands to earn a starting gig in his freshman campaign, he looks like the early front-runner to play left tackle in Rutgers' new fast-pace offense.

 

All recruiting and star rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings unless otherwise noted.

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Netori Johnson to Georgia: Bulldogs Land 4-Star OG Prospect

Georgia bolstered its future offensive line Tuesday, as guard Netori Johnson committed to its 2017 recruiting class. 

Johnson announced his commitment to the Bulldogs on Twitter:

The 6’3 ½” and 348-pound Johnson is a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports’ composite rankings, and he is the No. 122 overall recruit, the No. 4 guard and the No. 14 prospect from the state of Georgia in the 2017 class.

Being from SEC territory, Johnson naturally attracted plenty of attention from the conference. Georgia, Auburn, Ole Miss, Alabama and Florida all recruited him throughout the process, while other schools, such as Michigan, Miami, USC and Michigan State, also pursued the lineman.

He originally joined Alabama's class but decommitted from the Crimson Tide on Feb. 5. The pairing seemed to make sense on paper considering head coach Nick Saban has built a dominant program that thrives on physically overpowering opponents at the line of scrimmage. Johnson is a massive lineman prospect who could step in right away and contribute.

Johnson seemed to be leaning toward Georgia for a time after leaving Alabama’s class and suggested as much when he joined vsporto’s SEC Recruiting Buzz (via Kipp Adams of 247Sports):

I am liking the Bulldogs right now, especially with them getting [head coach] Kirby Smart. He was my recruiting coach at Alabama. He was on me. Especially with them getting Sam Pittman, that is my boy. I like him too, as an offensive line coach. I looked up his stats and he sent a lot to the NFL. I would love to play for him too.

Johnson also said the opportunity to play early was important (via Adams): "Georgia is recruiting me as hard as Alabama and Auburn. Right now, I do not see any threats to me on the offensive line at Georgia. I believe I could go right in and just play, as a freshman. … I have not really thought about any factors besides playing time. I just really want to play."

The Bulldogs appear ready to give Johnson an opportunity to play early when he arrives on campus next year.

Johnson's commitment is also a big win for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, who not only lands one of the prized offensive linemen in next year's recruiting class but took him away from Alabama.

Smart came from the Crimson Tide, spending nine years on Saban's staff, so he's seen up close and personal what having a powerful and deep offensive line can do to make an offense better. The Bulldogs are also having an excellent start to next year's recruiting season, as Johnson gives them their sixth commitment from a 4-star prospect, per 247Sports

The reason Johnson could play right away for his new team is his overwhelming power and physicality that allows him to drive defensive linemen into the second level and open holes for the rushing attack.

He also brings decent athleticism to the table for his size, which will help him in pass protection at the collegiate level. If Johnson continues to improve throughout his tenure at a top-notch college program, he could hear his name called on NFL draft day in the near future.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

Oklahoma is one program that does its share of recruiting outside the borders of its home territory.

For example, only three of the Sooners' 12 pledges in the 2017 cycle are from in-state products. 

However, a new homegrown target has emerged for head coach Bob Stoops and his staff in the form of 3-star offensive lineman Creed Humphrey—who netted an offer from the defending Big 12 champions last week. 

The 6’4”, 301-pounder rates as the nation’s No. 5 center prospect and the No. 10 player overall from the state of Oklahoma in the 2017 class.

Additionally, Humphrey has earned offers from programs such as Houston, Kansas State, Texas, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech—all of whom, with the exception of the Cougars, have offered him within the last month.

As EJ Holland of 247Sports noted, Humphrey has stated his plans to take his time with the recruiting process.

However, the new interest from the home-state power could change the course of his recruitment.

 

Tennessee Offers Baylor QB Pledge

Tennessee landed one of 2016’s elite quarterbacks in Jarrett Guarantano, but Volunteers head coach Butch Jones and his staff are still recruiting talented passers in the current cycle.

Last week, the Vols offered 4-star quarterback and current Baylor commit Kellen Mond

The 6’2 ½”, 201-pounder has been committed to the Bears since last June, but he’s left the door somewhat open to others—as evidenced by a visit he took last weekend to Ohio State. 

Mond rates as the nation’s No. 5 dual-threat quarterback and the No. 118 player overall in the 2017 class.

 

California LB Nets 4 Huge Offers 

One of the hottest recruits in the country in recent weeks has been 3-star linebacker Samspon Niu.

Last week, the 6’1”, 217-pounder out of Madison High School in San Diego, California, picked up four offers. 

Michigan, Oregon, Texas A&M and USC all tendered the nation’s No. 18 inside linebacker and the No. 476 player overall in the 2017 class.

Niu is up to 20 offers heading into the summer, and it appears that the interest in him will only continue to grow in the coming months.

 

Clemson After 2018 Texas TE

Clemson’s rise under head coach Dabo Swinney has coincided with the Tigers making waves around the country on the recruiting trail. 

Last week, the Tigers ventured into the state of Texas to offer rising junior tight end Mustapha Muhammad

The 6’4”, 213-pounder from Ridge Point High School in Missouri City, Texas, has already racked up more than 15 offers—with UCLA also offering him last week.

However, the Tigers—who signed tight end J.C. Chalk from Texas in their 2016 class—will be looking to repeat that feat with Muhammad for the 2018 cycle.

 

Best of the Rest

2017

 

2018

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football QBs Who Will Break Out in 2016

While running backs are starting to get more and more attention in college football again after a renaissance 2015 season, the offensive spotlight still shines brightest on the quarterbacks.

In 2016, college football will see the return of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield—two strong Heisman contenders. Others such as Ole Miss' Chad Kelly, Ohio State's J.T. Barrett and Notre Dame's combo of Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer will stand out this fall.

But this piece isn't about the signal-callers who are already big-time stars in college football. This focuses on those who make up the next wave of quarterbacking talent, which will rise to national prominence and all-conference contention this season. 

Here are 10 quarterbacks who will break out in the 2016 college football season based on their performances from last season or their potential as first-time starters, as well as their respective supporting casts.

Which quarterback do you think will have the biggest breakout year in college football this season? Sound off in the comments below.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Teams Guaranteed to Improve Their Win Total in 2016

Spring practice is a time for unbridled—and maybe even unfounded—optimism, but a select bunch of college football teams are guaranteed to improve in 2016.

And they'll be better where it matters most: the win column.

For some programs, that means crawling out of the Football Bowl Subdivision cellar. They could double or even triple the number of victories from 2015, an impressive step after mediocrity.

Others will compete for conference and/or national championships, reaching a level the school hasn't achieved in more than a decade or simply improving on a disappointing year one season ago.

Begin Slideshow

4-Star RB Anthony McFarland Jr. Talks Top Contenders as He Prepares to Trim List

Elite Maryland athlete Anthony McFarland Jr. intends to keep college football fans guessing until February.

The DeMatha Catholic High School junior—among America's most versatile offensive recruits—told Bleacher Report he doesn't expect to announce any commitment plans until national signing day. His motivation is to avoid uncertainty that often encounters many long-term pledges when programs undergo major alterations as winter arrives.

"With the coaching changes that happen after the season, you just never know. So I want to wait until the last minute," he said.

That doesn't mean McFarland, rated No. 3 nationally among all-purpose backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, won't provide hints of his thought process along the way. He plans to trim an expansive collection of scholarship offers to 15 options before next season, perhaps as soon as late spring.

Several programs have invested significant time into the pursuit of this 4-star prospect, who picked up his first offer from Florida State as a freshman. He held 20 scholarship opportunities by the end of a scintillating sophomore year that saw him tally over 1,400 offensive yards and 12 touchdowns, according to Tyler James of the South Bend Tribune.

"It's been a long process and stressful at times, but the important thing is to remember how many other players would want to be in this position," McFarland said.

Things won't calm down for the 5'9", 189-pound playmaker until he puts pen to paper and officially sends a national letter of intent to the university of his choice. Attention from coaches, fans and media alike are sure to intensify as a highly anticipated senior season approaches. 

McFarland, sorting through dozens of collegiate possibilities, is steadily building a list of legitimate contenders. He's implementing some pivotal criteria while assessing each possible landing spot.

"I'm looking for a team that doesn't just want me. I'm looking for a team that needs me," McFarland said. "And it's more than just football because the institution is very important. I want to be at a school that's similar to [DeMatha Catholic] with extra academic support. Education comes first and my parents have always preached that."

While checking off those boxes, he's concluded that a few schools are firm bets to appear in his upcoming group of favorites. McFarland mentioned Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Miami, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas A&M as programs on solid ground.

"Those are schools that basically sealed the deal for my list," he said.

Among those teams, three underwent sweeping coaching staff changes this offseason. The nearby Terrapins have targeted McFarland as a top priority since the early stages of his recruitment, an effort that continues to increase under first-year head coach D.J. Durkin.

"Maryland's new staff has shown me so much love,", said McFarland, who is also being pulled toward College Park by 4-star Terps quarterback commit Kasim Hill.

South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp didn't waste time in his attempts to attract attention from the Mid-Atlantic standout. McFarland was an early point of emphasis for the new Gamecocks regime.

"South Carolina has become very big in my recruitment," McFarland said. "As soon as [Muschamp] was there, he and running backs coach Bobby Bentley showed me they want me and need me."

Miami head coach Mark Richt built a strong rapport with McFarland during late stages of his tenure at Georgia and carries that relationship to Coral Gables, where former Bulldogs running backs coach Thomas Brown now serves on the Hurricanes staff.

Despite their exodus from Athens, he still identifies Georgia as a key program of interest. 

"I had a great relationship with Mark Richt when he was there," McFarland said. "But after he left, Georgia did a great job making sure they still had a connection with me, making me feel like I'm one of the most important recruits they want."

He hopes to visit the Bulldogs, along with several squads, before next season. Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Oklahoma are also among schools that could soon welcome him to campus.

"It's definitely going to be a busy summer for me." McFarland said.

The Crimson Tide have stockpiled talent in the offensive backfield and currently carry a commitment from 5-star running back Najee Harris. McFarland tries not to pay too much attention to the presence of other players in a program's offensive plans.

"I never like to shy away from competition, so that means going against the best," he said. "If you want to play this game at the highest level, that's what you have to do. If I want to commit to a school, that's where I'm going no matter what the depth chart looks like."

Much of McFarland's confident demeanor can also be attributed to his versatility.

"I see myself in a big role—playing out at wide receiver, moving into the slot, carrying the ball at running back," he said. "I just want to be valuable to a team and do everything we need. That's how I can get on the field faster and that's why I don't care about depth charts. There's not a lot of guys who have my versatility to play in all those different spots."

He showed off that array of talent in 2015. McFarland racked up 723 rushing yards, 675 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns, according to Brandon Parker of the Washington Post.

His skills as a pass-catcher shined Sunday at The Opening's Washington, D.C., regional, where he ran routes with receivers. The performance punched McFarland's ticket to The Opening finals, an invite-only July showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Deiondre Porter Arrested: Latest Details, Comments on Former Florida CB

Former Florida Gators defensive back Deiondre Porter was arrested for his connection to an armed robbery case.   

Per Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times, citing public documents, Porter was arrested at his home by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office after an "out-of-county warrant" was issued stemming from an "armed robbery complaint."

Baker noted that additional information regarding the robbery and warrant were not immediately available. 

This continues a downward spiral for Porter, who was a well-regarded prospect coming out of Jefferson High School in Tampa, Florida, two years ago. 

Last October, the 20-year-old Porter was indefinitely suspended by the Gators after he was arrested by Gainesville police for allegedly holding a gun to the head of his pregnant girlfriend, per Andy Hutchins of AlligatorArmy.com

According to Alachua County court records, Porter is facing four felony charges and one misdemeanor from that previous arrest. 

Florida head coach Jim McElwain said during a teleconference after Porter was arrested last year, per John Taylor of College Football Talk, that Porter is "no longer with the football team." He is not listed on the Gators' official roster

After redshirting two years ago, Porter did appear in two games for the Gators last season and was primarily used on special teams. He was ranked as a 3-star prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings before committing to the University of Florida in 2014. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Charlie Strong Should Take the Gamble on Freshman Shane Buechele for Starting QB

Even though it fits his philosophy on the field, Texas football head coach Charlie Strong's new offensive coordinator doesn't want to hurry things up with his quarterback race.

After Texas' spring game Saturday, Longhorns assistant Sterlin Gilbert offered no timetable for how long it will take to pick the new QB1 in Austin.

"To me, as much as I love to go fast, I want that thing to be right," Gilbert said, per Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman. "As long as it goes, it goes. We've just got to make sure we've got the right guy and it's the right decision."

Gilbert's words were supposed to throw the brakes on the runaway hype train that is Shane Buechele, the true freshman and early enrollee who stole the show in his Texas debut this past weekend.

But the postgame statement didn't slow down the Buechele buzz, and it shouldn't.

If anything, Strong and his staff need to go all-in on their new quarterback. They might not be able to afford to let that chance pass them by in 2016.

On Saturday, Buechele looked more like the present of the Texas quarterback position than he did the future. In just one half of a rain-shortened contest, he completed 22 of 41 passes for 299 yards and a pair of touchdowns, rotating with senior Tyrone Swoopes.

At one point in spring camp, Swoopes looked like he was the leader again in the quarterback race. But on Saturday, he went 4-of-16 through the air for 71 yards and a pair of interceptions.

"Shane did have a good day, a really good day," Strong said, per Max Olson of ESPN.com. "Tyrone has had his days. He didn't have it today, but at practice, you see it happening."

Strong and Gilbert won't rush to make a decision on the quarterback job, considering the third member of the quarterback battle, Jerrod Heard, missed the last stretch of spring practices and Saturday's scrimmage with a shoulder injury.

But whenever Heard returns, it still should be Buechele's job to lose.

Heard and Swoopes have showed what they bring to the table for Texas, and consistency isn't one of their strong suits.

Heard went off for 364 passing yards against an awful Cal defense last year and topped 200 yards through the air only one more time—against lowly Kansas. Swoopes is 6-8 all-time as a Texas starter.

And while it's easy to fall in love with Buechele's spring game stats from this past weekend, what stood out even more was his poise and confidence in the pocket for a player who should still be in high school.

"The day he stepped on this campus, he's been a guy that you know will be relaxed and patient," Strong said, per Olson. "Nothing is going to fluster him."

That's one of the biggest endorsements Strong could give Buechele. It's difficult to start as a true freshman quarterback in big-time college football. The pressure is immense, and the speed of the game is tough.

But by enrolling early, Buechele has gotten a head start in an offense that he seems born to run.

Texas hired Gilbert, a part of Art Briles' coaching tree through Dino Babers and Philip Montgomery, to bring a fast-paced, run-pass option (RPO) offense to Texas. In the arms race that is offensive football in the Big 12, the Longhorns needed more firepower.

And while Heard and Swoopes are adjusting to the ins and outs of the RPO scheme this offseason, Buechele is like a blank slate. Actually, he might be even more appealing than a blank slate, considering this is the same type of offense he ran at Lamar High School in Arlington, Texas. 

The way Buechele led that familiar type of offense Saturday in the spring game was a sight for sore eyes in Austin, and that should continue into the fall.

Starting a true freshman quarterback is a gamble, especially with the opening stretch of games Texas has in 2016. The Longhorns play Notre Dame, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma within the first six weeks of the season.

Some may think throwing a teenage quarterback out to the Fighting Irish in Week 1 would be football suicide. And there's a fair chance Buechele could struggle in his first few games as a collegiate starter.

But consider the situation Strong finds himself in this season.

If Texas wins six or seven games this season—or fewer—with Swoopes or Heard at quarterback, it'll look like a lot of the "same old, same old" in Austin.

However, if Texas makes a bowl with a true freshman at quarterback, one who should improve as the season goes on after a tough opening stretch, Strong can point to forward momentum on the offensive side of the ball. That's a great insurance policy for a coach on the hot seat.

Handing the keys to Buechele, a young quarterback who has already showed in practices and scrimmages that he can lead this type of offense with confidence beyond his years, could buy more time for Strong and his staff in the eyes of the fanbase and—more importantly—the powers that be at Texas.

The Longhorns will be able to carry that young offensive growth into at least two more seasons with Buechele, building the new-look offense around the exciting cornerstone. Even if Buechele starts slowly, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Strong and Gilbert are wise to hold off on making a decision right now and allowing Heard to come back to the battle at full health. But it's telling that Heard wasn't able to gain an edge on Swoopes in spring camp.

Swoopes and Heard could continue to play key roles in the Texas offense, as the former starred in a power-running package last season. If the smaller Buechele goes down with an injury, Heard would be an experienced backup ready to lead the team.

Strong made it clear Saturday he won't make any personnel decisions for his quarterbacks until he's absolutely sure.

"When we make that decision, it won’t be a tie," Strong said, per Olson. "It'll be a guy who's clearly stepped out and, boom, that's the guy, let's go with him and let's go play."

This weekend, Buechele clearly stepped out.

And with the pressure mounting on him heading into the 2016 season, Strong shouldn't be scared of the one they call "Boo."

 

Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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4-Star DE Ta'quon Graham Discusses College Announcement Date

For Temple, Texas, 4-star defensive end Ta'quon Graham, choosing a college destination isn't as difficult as some assumed.

In fact, it's already done.

Graham announced via Twitter early Monday evening that he will publicly announce his verbal commitment on May 27 after his team's spring game. But Monday night, the 6'3", 251-pound weak-side defensive end told Bleacher Report that the announcement will be more for those interested in his recruiting process.

"I pretty much know where I'm going," he said. "The school, No. 1, I'm getting a serious, good vibe off them. And No. 2, I've been talking to the coaches a lot and establishing those relationships. I did my research on [the school], and it just felt like the right choice. Everything about it just feels right."

Graham said he'll publicly choose among five schools—Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The winning school will get the nation's No. 11 weak-side defensive end and a Top 200 player in the 2017 class. Graham's 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions point heavily to Texas, but he said he's kept every school high and is appreciative of each of his 22 total offers.

The winning school gets a defender in Graham who is long, quick and tenacious. He creates separation well and shows a level of athleticism and a will to learn, something college coaches will use to help him mature into a mechanically strong defensive end and an overall leader at the next level.

"Collectively, I can see myself an All-American and an academic All-American in college," Graham said. "I can see [coaches] making me the best player I can be. It's all about establishing those relationships and having that good vibe."

On the field, Graham was a first-team all-state selection as a junior, recording 50 tackles and 11.5 sacks. Of those 50 tackles, 23 were behind the line of scrimmage. He also had three forced fumbles.

Graham said the days are "going by super fast," and he's more than excited to announce next month. Of the five schools he's expected to choose from, only Texas has a defensive end committed, 4-star Lagaryonn Carson, who is expected to line up as a strong-side end.

Graham has made two reported trips to Texas this month, including a trip there over the weekend. He also has visited Texas A&M this month and TCU last month.

Visits have been very important for him, as he doesn't want to be an athlete that second-guesses his decision.

"It hasn't really been that difficult for me so far," he said of recruiting. "I just know that I don't want to choose wrong. That's the worst feeling you can get. I've been sitting down and talking with my family before I make any decisions.

"But now, I'm pretty much set. I think I'm ready."

Graham additionally said he has a 3.2 grade-point average and is looking to major in business. Being an All-American is a goal of his, but also being an academic All-American would complete his college goals.

"That should be the main reason why you go to college," he said. "I mean, you're getting your education paid for. It's a really big goal for me. I take that seriously, to become great in and out of the classroom. Grades are important."

 

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

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SEC Football Q&A: Should Alabama Fans Be Concerned About the Tide QB Situation?

With the exception of Arkansas, the spring practices around the SEC are in the books, and we've entered what former South Carolina and Florida head coach Steve Spurrier calls "talkin' season."

So let's talk.

Spring games have given us a glimpse of where each team stands heading into summer workouts, position battles are raging and preseason predictions will soon be flying.

What should we make of Alabama's quarterback situation? Just how good is Georgia? Those questions and more are answered in this week's edition of SEC Q&A.

 

Not much, because some monster named Tim Williams decided to pay mortgage in the Alabama backfield, which made it difficult for the quarterbacks to get going.

It's easy to panic if spring games don't go well, because unlike 10-15 years ago, they are the only real points of reference that fans and media have to base projections on for most schools who have closed practices. In years past, we could say, "Well, Player X didn't have a great spring game, but he tore up a couple of scrimmages."

Because of that, every team in America is either going to win the national title or fire its whole staff—with no room for an opinion anywhere between those two takes.

Alabama's quarterbacks will be fine. 

No, veterans Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell didn't look great, but the younger players—redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts—did, at times.

Barnett made a couple of big-time throws, including one over a linebacker and under the safeties to Xavian Marks in the fourth quarter. Hurts' athleticism was apparent early, and he fit some throws in tight windows on the run, including a couple to Cam Sims. 

"I think both guys made some good throws," head coach Nick Saban said in quotes released by Alabama. "Both guys showed their athleticism in terms of the ability to stretch plays. They certainly look faster and quicker in terms of how we are moving on offense when those two go in there."

The older players are caretakers, while the younger players have the upside. Yes, the older players need to at least provide a threat, and Bateman has a bit more upside than Cornwell due to his own athleticism. But Barnett and Hurts looked fine considering the defense they were asked to go up against.

Plus, this is par for the course for Alabama. 

Blake Sims looked awful two spring games ago when he completed 13 of 30 passes, tossed one touchdown and two picks (and could have had one or two more). Jake Coker went 14-for-28 for 183 yards, a touchdown and a pick last year, per Roll Bama Roll.

How did those two seasons work out? Two SEC titles, two College Football Playoff berths and a national title.

Alabama still has offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin—the ultimate ace up a coaching staff's sleeve.

Kiffin will make it work.

 

Not really. 

While quarterback Jacob Eason looked awesome in the spring game and should be the starting quarterback from the get-go (as mentioned in the story you responded to), the quarterback battle isn't Georgia's biggest problem.

The line of scrimmage is—on both sides of the ball.

Georgia has questions at both tackle spots on the offensive side of the ball, although the arrival of Rhode Island graduate transfer Tyler Catalina this summer should help. On the defensive side, injuries decimated the line during spring practice, virtually all key contributors on the projected two-deep are underclassmen and Georgia won't have the luxury to rotate nine or 10 players up front.

"We have to do a better job of being physical in all areas, especially up front along the offensive and defensive lines," Smart said. "First of all, we're not as big as we need to be, but we don't play as tough and as physical as we need to. The good news is that we have time to lift weights and get stronger in our summer program."

Because of those issues, it's hard to imagine scenarios in which Georgia handles tough, physical defensive fronts like the ones that Ole Miss, Florida, Auburn and Tennessee boast. It might win some of those games, but it's hard to trust them at this point. 

That same question exists on the defensive front, where the Bulldogs will square off with some punishing, physical rushing attacks throughout the year.

Georgia is going to be in the mix for the East, for sure. But it's impossible to move them over Tennessee at this point, since Tennessee looked like it solved its biggest issue (wide receiver) during its spring game.

 

It's hard to say exactly what the trajectory of any team will look like in December without knowing the specific circumstances. For instance, if Tennessee doesn't win the East but goes 9-3 and Joshua Dobbs misses several key games due to injury, I'd say that the trajectory is actually still moving forward. 

But if all rosters stay relatively intact throughout the year in the SEC East and Tennessee doesn't make it to Atlanta, it will be a disappointment, and Tennessee will go from "building brick-by-brick" during the first three seasons of Butch Jones' tenure to stuck in neutral (or in reverse if the season is a complete debacle).

Everything is set up for Tennessee to be successful and win the East for the first time since 2007.

The roster is loaded with depth and experience—which is something that hasn't existed on Rocky Top since the Phillip Fulmer era. The passing game should be better thanks to the emergence of Preston Williams and Jeff George outside. The Vols get Florida at home early in the season and get Alabama at home after it plays a physical road game with Arkansas.

Anything less than an SEC East title shouldn't be accepted by Jones, the players or the fanbase—assuming there aren't any catastrophic injuries or suspensions.

If the Vols miss Atlanta, the bus will be put in neutral, and Georgia and Florida could go zooming right by.

 

I'm not sure how much of a dark horse he is because a lot of people know about him, but Texas A&M defensive tackle Daylon Mack could be this year's version of former Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

With Myles Garrett dominating attention outside and Daeshon Hall gobbling up his fair share of attention on the other side of the defensive line, Mack will have plenty of opportunities to bring pressure up the middle and become the monster in the middle of what should be a phenomenal Aggie defensive front.

Does he qualify as a dark horse?

I'd say yes, considering the favorite to win the award is Garrett. But Garrett will get the "Jadeveon Clowney treatment" this year, which means teams will shy away from him as much as possible, just as they did during Clowney's final year at South Carolina in 2013. 

Mack will be a force against the run and a nightmare to opposing quarterbacks who will be forced to get on the move quickly, and he'll live up to his lofty 5-star expectations as a sophomore in College Station.

That could result in Defensive Player of the Year honors if things break right for him.

 

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

Can Cardale Jones Be an NFL Franchise Quarterback?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — He hasn't played a snap in an actual game in more than five months, but if you thought that was going to stop Cardale Jones from being one of the central focuses of the upcoming NFL draft, you must not have paid much attention to the former Ohio State quarterback's college career.

After flipping the script on his narrative, becoming a national championship-winning quarterback, turning down one opportunity to enter the NFL draft and becoming one of the most polarizing prospects in the next, the conversation about Jones has come full circle and back to the first subject that landed him in the public spotlight four years ago: school.

That's because while speaking to Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal about Jones' pro prospects, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer seemingly suggested Jones' academic responsibilities may have held him back during his time in Columbus.

"A really good skill set, intellectual, very smart, wasn't necessarily very good at school. I wonder if that kind of set him back a little bit," Meyer said. "That's one difference between pro and college—now he doesn't have to worry about classes and going to school and all that stuff. He can focus completely on football."

So the quarterback who first burst into the public's consciousness by tweeting he wasn't at Ohio State to "play school" and that "classes are pointless" during his freshman season in 2012 may not have paid as much attention to his academics as perhaps he should have?

You don't say.

But while Meyer's quote about Jones' interest in class—or lack thereof—is what drew the most attention and generated the most headlines in the past few days, what's been lost in the three-time national champion head coach's analysis of his former quarterback is his larger point. Despite his shortcomings and his disappointing 2015 season, Jones can still be a successful NFL signal-caller.

It might just come by way of an untraditional route.

As Meyer told Ridenour, "I think it's the situation he's going to get put in. I think there's going to have to be patience, an excellent quarterback coach that's going to have to earn his trust. ... It's going to be dictated by the team that takes him, the amount of patience and the relationship he develops with the quarterback coach."

A year ago, when Jones had first contemplated entering the NFL draft following his improbable run through the college football postseason as Ohio State's starting quarterback, such patience may not have been possible. Having started just three games in his college career while simultaneously showcasing all the necessary physical tools on the sport's biggest stage, Jones' perceived draft stock was somewhat of a mystery, but in the draft process, mystery can be a good thing.

"As an athlete, it's all there," Bleacher Report Lead Draft Analyst Matt Miller said after Jones quarterbacked the Buckeyes to the national title victory over Oregon in January 2015. "He's huge. His arm is amazing. It would be the best arm in this year's draft. He grades great throwing it to every level of the field. ... I could see someone falling in love with him and going crazy."

While Jones ultimately opted to return to Ohio State for another season, watching the 2015 draft, it was tough to imagine the 6'5", 253-pounder would have slid past the second round. After Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were selected with the first two picks, it wasn't until the New Orleans Saints picked Colorado State's Garrett Grayson in the third round with the draft's No. 75 overall pick that another signal-caller came off the board.

All together, only seven quarterbacks were taken in the 2015 NFL draft.

"He would have easily been the third QB drafted," Miller said in October.

What a difference a year makes.

While the top of this year's draft is seemingly weaker at the position—Cal's Jared Goff and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz appear to be the only consensus first-round quarterbacks—the middle to back end appears much more muddied. Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg, Kevin Hogan, Dak Prescott and Nate Sudfeld each fit somewhere in that equation, although exactly where is yet to be determined.

The same could be said for Jones, except his perceived draft stock is significantly weaker than it would have been just 12 months ago. Despite starting the season as Ohio State's starting quarterback, the Cleveland native ultimately lost a season-long quarterback battle to J.T. Barrett and failed to make an appearance in any of the Buckeyes' final three games.

All of the physical tools draft analysts were drooling over a year ago are still there.

But with more actual game film available, there's become less to like about Jones' game.

"He looks really disjointed. I think that's the best word for it. I don't think he's a good fit in that offense," Miller said upon Jones' benching last season. "Last year it was so simple—throw it deep to Devin Smith—and he was allowed to 'just play.' Now teams are game-planning for him, and he's asked to do more in the offense."

However, despite little having changed between now and then, there remains a path for Jones to not only be drafted, but potentially one day be the face of a franchise. Like Meyer said, it's going to take the right situation—perhaps the right veteran quarterback to sit behind—and the patience to know that even with his apparent physical tools, Jones is far from a finished product.

"The Ohio State offense didn't ask him to go underneath and read a lot of concepts," Miller said last month. "But there's a good foundation to build on."

Not that you'd expect him to say any different, but Jones too believes he can one day be a franchise quarterback. Alluding to the scrutiny he faced in Columbus over the course of the past 15 months, the national champion quarterback pointed out he's no stranger to the spotlight.

"You look at the guys who are franchise quarterbacks for their teams, they have it together on and off the field," Jones said after an impressive pro-day performance in March. "I played at Ohio State. I'm not going to say it's the same thing, but it's almost the same magnitude."

Former Buckeyes safety and Jones' college roommate Tyvis Powell added, "He's a winner. At the end of the day, Cardale's the only quarterback that's 11-0 [as a starter] and that hasn't lost a game. You can't beat that with a bat."

Of course, there's more to being a potential franchise quarterback than career records, saying all the right things and even physical traits. At some point, a team has to be confident enough in your total package to put its future in your hands.

As Meyer pointed out, for Jones, that could still happen. It's just going to need to come at the right place and at the right time.

Could Cardale Jones still become a franchise quarterback in the NFL? Sure.

But the reality remains that it's a long shot.

It also wouldn't be the first time he's overcome the odds.

 

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. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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John Franklin III Is the JUCO Backup QB Who Could Take the SEC by Storm

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn quarterback John Franklin III isn't short on confidence. The former signal-caller at Florida State and East Mississippi Community College moved to the Plains in December and began his trek to win the starting job over senior Jeremy Johnson and sophomore Sean White—both of whom started games during the Tigers' lackluster campaign of 2015.

"I believe I'm going to be out there on Sept. 3 the first snap of the game," Franklin said.

The 6'1", 174-pounder from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, completed seven of his 11 passes for 61 yards in the A-Day spring game, including a 40-yard touchdown to Marcus Davis, and is squarely in the mix to be named Auburn's starting quarterback.

"I live to play in front of crowds," he said. "I love that. I'm a game-time player. I feel like I'm a different person come game day, and I felt relaxed, comfortable—like I've been playing here for five years. When a lot of people are around, I know when to turn it on and go."

Franklin was a 3-star prospect out of South Plantation High School near Fort Lauderdale whose only Power Five offers were from Florida State and Tennessee. He enrolled at Florida State in 2013 with the intention of competing for the starting quarterback job once Jameis Winston moved on, and he took a redshirt.

He announced he would transfer from the Seminoles in May 2015, shortly after Everett Golson decided to move to Tallahassee from Notre Dame, and played his sophomore campaign as a backup at East Mississippi Community College.

In the limited time Franklin played for East Mississippi, he shined. He was 64-of-110 passing (58.2 percent) for 733 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed for 451 yards (10.5 per carry) and nine scores.

People who know Franklin best think he will be the starting quarterback at Auburn.

Buddy Stephens coached him at East Mississippi Community College, where he split time with returning starter Wyatt Roberts, who played 11 games behind Chad Kelly (now at Ole Miss) in 2014 and threw 23 touchdowns and only two picks alongside Franklin in 2015, according to the NJCAA, before giving up football and enrolling at Mississippi State.

"It wasn't that John didn't take the job away from [Roberts], it was that Roberts never gave John an open opportunity," Stephens told Bleacher Report. "They co-habitated very well. John, never one time did he whine, did he gripe, did he cry. Nothing."

That's not coachspeak.

"John's a great student of the game and is always watching film," Roberts told Bleacher Report. "We had conversations in weeks before games about what coverages they were doing. It was a friendly competition, no doubt. We were both winners, and that's what we were there for. We helped each other out. When he was in, I was 100 percent behind him helping him out just like he was when I was in the game."

Though Roberts played a more prominent role than Franklin, Stephens saw what his backup was capable of.

"John's very athletic, very smart and can make a lot of things happen," Stephens said. "That's one of the things we talked to the coaches at Auburn about when they came to recruit him. John's probably the best athlete on the field whenever he's on the field."

It was when the Tigers sent coaches to recruit Franklin that East Mississippi made headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

A brawl broke out late in the first half of the Lions' Oct. 22 game against Mississippi Delta Community College with Stephens' crew up 48-0.

What you probably don't know about that brawl is that its genesis stemmed from Franklin—not for nefarious reasons but noble ones.

After entering the game for an injured Roberts, Franklin completed 10 of 16 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown, and he added 10 carries for 172 yards and five scores. It was his most significant action of the season, and it was by design.

"We planned on playing him a lot regardless because [Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett] Lashlee had come to watch him play," Stephens said. "On that Saturday [two days later], Auburn was playing at Arkansas, so Rhett drove through and had to leave at halftime.

"He was wearing everything out in the first half. So, we tried to do it one more time. We tried to get one more series so that we can throw a little bit so Rhett could see it because we knew that this was John's opportunity and John's chance. Well, the other team and everybody else around the league hates us so much because we win, it caused a fight."

It caused a fight but left a lasting impression on everybody who saw him play that night.

"He was on fire," Roberts said. "I came out, and John went in, and it was like a highlight tape. Every time I looked up from the training table, he was running for 60 yards or throwing a deep ball. It was, by far, the best performance he had all season, and it's a shame that all of the chaos broke loose."

Franklin got his scholarship, choosing Auburn over an offer from Buffalo, and now he has a chance to fit into a Power Five system that matches his skills.

For Franklin to take the SEC by storm, though, he needs to use his legs as weapons. He's the key for Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn to get off the hot seat and get Auburn back on the right track.

After winning the SEC title and coming within 13 seconds of claiming the national championship in 2013, Malzahn has sputtered. His Tigers have lost nine of their last 11 conference games and are coming off of a 7-6 season before which they were ranked No. 6 in the country.

There's far too much talent on the roster for Auburn to be mediocre, and if Malzahn tabs Franklin as his starter, Franklin will provide the running option the Tigers need to be successful.

Quarterbacks weren't "live" on A-Day, and if anybody got in the same ZIP code as Franklin, he was ruled down. But Malzahn's offenses are at their best when they have a running threat taking the snaps—like in 2010 when he won a national championship as Auburn's offensive coordinator with Cam Newton contributing 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. In Malzahn's first season as head coach in 2013, Nick Marshall rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 scores, and the Tigers finished 12-2.

"I wish I played 'live' today," Franklin said after Auburn's spring game. "I could have gotten some other stuff done."

The staff knows Franklin isn't there to play a backup role. He's there to be "the man."

"You don't bring in a junior college guy and not expect him to play," Lashlee said in April, per Charles Goldberg of the team's official website. "I can't tell you what exactly he's going to do at this point because he's still in competition to be the starter. He is a guy that has shown he can handle things. He has some impact player ability, so I would expect us to find a way for him to help us regardless."

Franklin served as the scout team quarterback and did his best impression of Marshall for Florida State prior to its meeting with Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game in January 2014. That time with the Seminoles allowed him to hit the ground running on the Plains.

"When I helped out at Florida State, it was definitely my favorite week being the scout team quarterback just because it fit me," Franklin said. "That's one of the main reasons that I'm here now—because this offense fits me. It feels really good to be in an offense that's suited to fit my skill set."

Franklin's stature, speed and elusiveness make him much more of a Marshall clone than a Newton clone. Most of Marshall's damage on the ground came on the outside, with running backs Tre Mason (2013) and Cameron Artis-Payne (2014) taking the lion's share of the work between the tackles. Newton was more adept at running power and inverted veer elements.

For Franklin to play more of the Marshall role, he will have to provide a deep threat through the air. That has been his top priority in 2016.

"I see a big difference from when I first came in to now," he said. "The game is starting to slow down for me.

"The deep ball, I've gotten better at. Just the little things in the offense that are real unique, I'm starting to see myself get better and am going to take that to the offseason."

That's not just self-confidence; that's what his coaches are saying, too.

"The ball comes out of John's hands well. He's got a strong arm. He can spiral the ball, snap it off pretty good," Lashlee told Goldberg. "There's been a couple things naturally that he's worked on that I think that has improved a lot from Day 1 until now. The deep ball wasn't his strength. He can really drive the ball, make all the throws."

That progression will force the Auburn staff to make a choice—between a pro-style option or a scheme with more of a running threat from the signal-caller. If it goes with the running threat, Franklin is the only option.

"This is a quarterback-driven offense," said co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Kodi Burns, who switched from quarterback to wide receiver as a Tigers player prior to the 2009 season—Malzahn's first as Auburn's offensive coordinator. "We're going to do whatever suits our quarterback best—whoever that is."

Johnson entered last season with enough hype to fill Jordan-Hare Stadium, but he threw six interceptions in his first three games of the year, was benched for White and never seemed to have the confidence he showed in the 2014 season opener, when he threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the first half versus Arkansas.

White played admirably in Johnson's stead despite being put in a tough spot. He threw only one touchdown to four picks but looked much more consistent than Johnson in the spring game April 9, hitting Davis in stride for a big gain in the first quarter and dropping a couple of beautiful passes to running backs on wheel routes out of the backfield.

But he fumbled in the red zone, tossed what should have been an interception near the goal line and doesn't have the wheels Franklin does.

"Voluntary" summer workouts and fall camp are going to make or break Franklin's quest to win the starting job. Stephens, who not only coached Kelly but also former Rebels Bo Wallace and Randall Mackey, saw firsthand at East Mississippi just how good Franklin can be.

"He has all of the arm strength of any quarterback I've ever had—ever. Anybody," Stephens said. "He has tremendous arm strength. He's tremendously coachable. It's like that first-round draft choice, and you're just waiting on him to click one day in the minor leagues. All of a sudden, he comes to the majors, and he's 19-4 and wins the Cy Young."

Malzahn better hope Franklin can be his ace, because his job depends on it.

The kid from Fort Lauderdale who sought out his chance now has it, and Stephens doesn't think he's going to let it slip through his fingers.

"John Franklin's going to be one hell of a good quarterback," he said.

 

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

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