NCAA Football News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a mess.

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

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

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

Things are different now. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

As Oxford Turns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss took the bait this time. 

 

In Need of a Leader?

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

 

The Forgotten Defensive MVP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tennessee "Head Coach" Peyton Manning?

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

Wait, what?

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

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

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

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

 

Quick Outs

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

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, those tenders caught Hardy off guard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's 25 All-Time Best Rivalry Games

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

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

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

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Marcus White, Bowling Green DC, Cited After Alleged Altercation at Bar

Bowling Green co-defensive coordinator Marcus White and graduate assistant Kenneth Williams were reportedly “cited for assault and released” following an altercation at a bar, per the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune.

The Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune noted the fight occurred early Sunday morning at an establishment named Liquid in Bowling Green. The two staff members allegedly refused to leave and “reportedly struck multiple bar staff members, punching them in the face” during the ensuing fight.

John Wagner of the Toledo Blade reported White was placed on administrative leave, and Williams could face discipline from the student-conduct process because he is a graduate student.

The 2016 season will be White’s first at Bowling Green after he was an assistant coach for Faulkner University in 2015. The Falcons hired him as the co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, and Nick Bromberg of Yahoo Sports said he used to work with head coach Mike Jinks at Texas Tech.

Jinks took over the head coaching role at Bowling Green for Dino Babers, who was hired by Syracuse.

White played at Auburn and Murray State as a defensive tackle and reached the NFL as a member of the Tennessee Titans before going into coaching.

Bowling Green beat Northern Illinois in the MAC title game last season and finished 10-4 after losing to Georgia Southern in the GoDaddy Bowl.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Predicting the Aggies' 2016 Win-Loss Record

For most programs in the Southeastern Conference, a long offseason usually means coming off playing in one of the lower-tier bowls or missing the postseason all together.

But this one’s felt even longer for Texas A&M fans.

The way last season unraveled with quarterbacks announcing their departures while there was still a game left to play, chemistry concerns and the continuing turnover of the coaching staff, Kevin Sumlin was a long mustache short of resembling a circus ringmaster.

The head coach definitely needed a couple of quiet months devoid of drama—which wasn’t helped by wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead’s recent odd rant on Twitter about losing a recruit, causing another prize prospect to de-commit. 

It would have been easier to downplay except for the numerous other things casting long shadows over the program, especially the quarterback transfers. Kyler Murray went to Oklahoma. Kyle Allen headed to Houston. A year previous Kenny Hill left and is now set to be the starting quarterback at TCU.

How could anyone not have concerns that something’s seriously amiss in College Station? All three had started games and wanted to be the next Johnny Manziel, at least on the field, but are now at rival schools.

Meanwhile, a pattern of sorts had developed in the standings, which Sumlin desperately needs to break. Although every Aggies team under the head coach has been ranked in the Top 10 of the Associated Press Poll at some point of the season, only two finished in the Top 25.

Since the 2012 Manziel-led team ended up fifth following its impressive dismantling of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, 41-13—the program’s best finish in the poll since 1956, when Paul “Bear” Bryant was the coach—Texas A&M hasn’t been able to replicate that success.

The Aggies got up to No. 6 during the two subsequent seasons, only to drop off to No. 18 in 2013 and unranked in 2014.

Last year, they began unranked and quickly moved into the Top 25 after defeating No. 15 Arizona State in the opener. A&M peaked at No. 9 when Alabama and Ole Miss exposed it on consecutive Saturdays, and combined with the quarterback issues, it never really recovered.

It’s also reflected in Sumlin’s record against ranked opponents. His team went 4-2 in 2012 but is 5-9 since.

Yet despite all that, the conditions are ripe for a turnaround this season.

The defense should be much better with John Chavis in his second year as coordinator, and the line has the potential to be outstanding.

The Aggies have a favorable schedule by SEC standards, highlighted by an intriguing matchup with UCLA in the opener, two weeks before a telling game at Auburn.

With the exception of Alabama on October 22, A&M’s toughest games all appear to be at home (UCLA, Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU), a huge advantage considering rebuilt Kyle Field and the Texas heat.

The real reason for some optimism, though, is with the players themselves, as the Aggies appear to have some real leadership on this team. It begins with quarterback Trevor Knight, the graduate transfer from Oklahoma who only needed the spring to lock up starting job.

“I just felt like because how he’s played, how he’s handled himself, everything, his body of work, he was ready to go,” Sumlin said during the league’s recent spring coaches teleconference with reporters.

Although Knight had an impressive spring game, what’s been largely overlooked by SEC fans outside of Texas was that he also participated in a spring-break mission trip to Haiti.

"This is my fourth trip to Haiti," Knight said during a pre-trip press conference.

“It was a life changer, a perspective changer.”

He was one of 15 football players—including backup quarterback Jake Hubenak, prize defensive end Myles Garrett, defensive lineman Daeshon Hall, defensive tackle Daylon Mack and wide receiver Josh Reynolds—and 29 Texas A&M athletes to make the trip through Mission of Hope out of Austin, Texas. 

“The leadership on this team really couldn’t be at a higher level,” Sumlin said.

If so, Sumlin might finally weather this storm and his team challenge for the SEC West title if there aren’t any more major setbacks. Far more likely is something along the lines of an 8-4 regular season, which in this case could be viewed as both as successful and disappointing season.

  

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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Explosive WR KJ Hamler Weighs Big Ten Offers, Targets Expanded Pac-12 Interest

Raised in Metro Detroit, wide receiver KJ Hamler grew up admiring the man Lions supporters call "Megatron" prior to his recent retirement.

However, admiration didn't exactly equate to imitation.

"I'm a big fan of Calvin Johnson and loved watching him play but I'm not a 6'5" dude so I've studied guys who are more similar to me," Hamler told Bleacher Report. "I watch film of receivers who use their speed and technique to beat defenders without a size advantage."

Standing 5'9", 155-pounds, the St. Mary's Preparatory standout cites Steve Smith, Andrew Hawkins, Tavon Austin and Antonio Brown as NFL receivers he emulates. His developmental process has involved lengthy YouTube sessions in which Hamler attempts to mimic what makes this diminutive effective at the sport's highest level.

"I try to be a student of the game and a technician," he said.

Of course, there's also his speed.

This explosive element is what initially shines when you watch Hamler compete. He's targeting a third straight state title in the 4x100 and 4x200 track events and clocked a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash Saturday at The Opening's Columbus regional.

"I've heard a lot of coaches say I'm electric," Hamler said. "I can shake people at receiver in a way they don't usually see."

Rated No. 48 nationally among receivers in 247Sports composite rankings, he holds more than 20 scholarship offers nine months shy of national signing day. Some view this as a battle between Big Ten Conference rivals Michigan State and Penn State, but it's important to note interest extends well beyond the region at universities such as Louisville, Mississippi State and West Virginia.

Ultimately, this has the makings of a lengthy recruitment because Hamler hopes to add more options as things progress. He is particularly intrigued by several schools in the Pac-12, specifically mentioning Oregon, Arizona State, USC and Cal as programs he'd certainly consider if an offer is extended.

"I'm trying to get myself out more to the West Coast schools because I know their offenses fit me a bit more than some of these Midwest programs," Hamler said. "I want to see what kind of chance I could have in the Pac-12."

Oregon, the first school he mentioned when asked about non-offer interests, is set to visit his school later this month, according to Hamler. The Oklahoma staff is also expected to make an appearance at St. Mary's Prep in May, setting the stage for a busy recruitment to further expand.

Michigan State is viewed as the favorite here in his 247Sports crystal ball. The Spartans carry 86 percent of experts' commitment predictions and he recently attended the team's spring game.

"I saw what I needed to see," Hamler said. "I saw my boy Donnie Corley (freshman wide receiver) get a lot of reps and it looks like he's ready for a big year. Also saw my boy Messiah deWeaver (freshman quarterback) go to work. I spent time talking to the coaches and growing those relationships. It was all good vibes."

Given his familiarity with the in-state school, it's no surprise to see analysts pointing to East Lansing as Hamler's most likely landing spot. Although he hasn't visited Michigan yet, the Spartans face conference competition from Penn State.

He attended a Nittany Lions junior day earlier this year, where he enjoyed the environment. Hamler has also developed chemistry with one of head coach James Franklin's key commitments.

"One thing I can definitely say about Penn State is it's beautiful," he said. "Me and [2017 Nittany Lions quarterback pledge] Sean Clifford have a good relationship. He wants me there really bad."

Hamler, a first-team all-state selection as a specialist last fall, is capable of contributing in a variety of roles. Collegiate coaching staffs see him in the slot, lined out wide, returning kicks and some believe he can enjoy success at cornerback.

He took reps at receiver in Columbus during Saturday's regional camp, impressing onlookers and torching opponents throughout the afternoon:

Those efforts secured Hamler a coveted invitation to attend The Opening national finals, held in July at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. For a guy looking to raise his profile in Pac-12 territory, the opportunity presents a perfect proving ground for the speedy pass-catcher.

Don't expect a commitment to occur before then, as Hamler remains ambitious about gathering more offers and exploring alternatives.

"I'm going to be patient about the process," he said. "I'm not going to rush anything. If it feels right, that's when I'll make my decision."

 

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

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University of Nebraska Sued over Balloon Release Touchdown Celebration

The Nebraska Cornhuskers may have to find another way to celebrate their first touchdown of the game if one fan has his way. 

According to ESPN.com's Josh Moyer, Omaha resident Randall S. Krause is suing the school, arguing the balloons released by fans during games causes environmental harm and poses a threat to children.

In his lawsuit, Krause alleges balloons from football games can end up in far-flung bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, per Chris Dunker of the Lincoln Journal Star.

In 2011, Matt Havelka of the Daily Nebraskan wrote the school had taken proactive steps to ensure the tradition left as little an impact on the environment as possible:

"Many years ago we switched to biodegradable balloons," [Chris Anderson, the director of athletic community relations] said. "That way we can keep the tradition alive without hurting the environment."

Additionally, when the balloons reach their maximum height of about five miles, the atmospheric pressure causes the balloons to expand and eventually shatter into thousands of tiny little pieces, which makes it nearly impossible for animals to eat.

In 2014, however, Benjamin Vogt, an English lecturer at Nebraska, filed a petition to stop the balloon release. On his personal website, Vogt argued biodegradable balloons still took a long period to decompose, thus putting wildlife in danger if they attempted to ingest the balloons.

Clemson also releases balloons during football games, which led to a 2012 study by the university's Creative Inquiry. The study noted balloons can decompose more slowly in wet areas and travel up to hundreds of miles:

It's important to remember that this research focused solely on natural latex balloons without any strings, ribbons, or plastic clasps, and the balloons were not tied together. The balloons degraded well in a variety of terrestrial environments, but took considerably longer in aquatic environments, raising concerns about their effects on marine life. To see if the balloons could travel as far as the ocean, the team used a combination of GPS devices to track movements. The balloons traveled a median distance of 23 miles, but two or three made it as far as 280 miles (the distance from Clemson to the shore is about 250 miles).

Various schools' unique traditions are part of what sets college football apart. If that tradition is causing harm to local wildlife, though, then it would be a good idea to bring it to an end.

Perhaps Krause's lawsuit will make Nebraska take a more in-depth look to determine whether the balloons leave too large an environmental footprint.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Predicting Fighting Irish's 2016 Win-Loss Record

Notre Dame's path to the 2016 College Football Playoff mostly travels through South Bend, but the Fighting Irish need to avoid road upsets along the way.

Most key matchups bring the opponent to Notre Dame, which has nine power-conference opponents on the upcoming slate. A particular league presents the biggest obstacles, though.

While the Irish don't yet have a starting quarterback, their outlook for 2016 shouldn't change much with either DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire theoretically under center.

Rather, the X-factor for the upcoming year is Notre Dame's defense, as a few of the nation's best players will challenge the unit.

 

Note: Although most predictions won't change, the smallest factors can change the biggest games. For better or worse, those projections might not last once the regular season arrives.

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Elite 2018 QB Phil Jurkovec Plans Several Summer Visits, Wants Stanford Offer

The recruitment process has progressed rapidly for Pennsylvania quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who received his first scholarship offer from the Pittsburgh Panthers last fall.

Just seven months later, the Pine-Richland High School sophomore has already lost track of an expanding offer total.

"I think it's over 10, but I'm not sure," he told Bleacher Report.

For the record, 247Sports reports Jurkovec currently holds 16 scholarship opportunities, including several from America's most marquee college football programs. The reigning national champion Alabama Crimson Tide added itself to the list earlier this spring, joining a collection that also features the Clemson Tigers, Tennessee Volunteers, Penn State Nittany Lions and UCLA Bruins.

"It gets a little bit crazy, but it's been a whole lot of fun so far," he said.

Jurkovec, who measured in at 6'5", 202 pounds Saturday, May 7, at The Opening's Columbus regional camp, is rated No. 1 among 2018 dual-threat quarterback prospects by 247Sports. Listed No. 9 overall in class rankings, he has risen to prominence as an underclassman.

The 16-year-old gunslinger showed off a versatile skill set for his size last season. Jurkovec gained 1,250 yards on the ground, threw for 2,560 yards and tallied 31 total touchdowns with just four interceptions. 

He impressed Elite 11 coaches in Columbus, establishing himself as the top underclassman in attendance. He was the lone 2018 class member to compete in "pressure chamber" action, a drill comprised of five quarterbacks selected by the staff.

"He's got a frame that gives him a lot of room to grow," Elite 11 instructor Matt James said. "He has big hands. The ball comes slinging out of his hands. He's still learning, but he can make all the throws downfield. Once he kind of gets some of the drills down and becomes more polished with his footwork, that's going to help his arm."

Despite mounting adulation from collegiate scouts, Jurkovec understands he remains a work in progress at this point of his development.

"I just try to take it all in stride and realize [coaching staffs] show you a lot of love right now, but you have to keep working, have to keep getting better," he said. "Every weakness I have, I try to make that a strength."

This untapped potential makes Jurkovec a particularly compelling talent, according to James.

"He's got a lot of room to improve, and I think that ceiling is what makes him so high on people's boards," the Elite 11 leader said.

His latest contact with coaches included visits to in-state Pittsburgh and Penn State. Jurkovec also traveled to Ohio State and Notre Dame in March.

It was his second trip to South Bend.

"The Notre Dame visits were a lot of fun," he said. "I got to meet with all the coaches and see all the facilities."

Jurkovec competed Saturday just minutes away from Buckeyes facilities, and he continues to establish a relationship with Ohio State co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tim Beck. He developed increased admiration for Urban Meyer's program after watching the NFL draft unfold on April 28-30.

"If you watch the draft you see all the players that got drafted and all the talent they're bringing in there. It's amazing," Jurkovec said. "They have a great coaching staff. [The Ohio State offer] was huge."

He already has one premier member of the Buckeyes top-ranked 2017 recruiting class watching closely.

"We were on a visit together this spring," 5-star offensive tackle Josh Myers said. "He's 6'5" and a dual-threat quarterback, which is something you don't see very often. Most taller quarterbacks don't have that mobility. He's a talented guy and cool to be around. I talk to him all the time."

The Buckeyes boast significant young quarterback depth with incoming freshman Dwayne Haskins—a 2015 Elite 11 finalist—enrolling this summer, 4-star commit Danny Clark and the possibility of another blue-chip pledge at the position later in the 2017 cycle. 

There are several alternative schools on Jurkovec's list that also feature a potential log jam for starting reps. It's a dynamic he's monitoring, but depth won't serve as a major deterrent in his search for an ideal fit. 

"It's important to me because you want to play, but you're going to have good competition at every major school, so I don't pay attention to it that much," Jurkovec said.

His recruitment will expand further this summer.

Jurkovec is targeting campus trips to several universities he has yet to visit, such as Clemson, Michigan State Spartans, North Carolina Tar Heels and Wisconsin Badgers. Penn State, Pittsburgh, Ohio State and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are expected to receive return visits from the coveted quarterback, who plans to attend camps at those schools.

While he seems very much content with current college opportunities, Jurkovec pointed to a West Coast program he'd like to add to the list.

"Stanford would be one," Jurkovec said, though he expressed it would likely require travel to Palo Alto in order to attend a Cardinal camp.

Still just halfway through his high school career, Jurkovec doesn't anticipate a lengthy recruitment.

"I feel like junior year might be the time to commit," he said.

That would set the stage for him to join a class well in advance of national signing day. The chosen program would acquire both a premier passer and a peer recruiter who can help construct a strong class around him.

 

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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Projecting Biggest Upset for Each Week of 2016 College Football Season

Upsets are a key storyline during the college football season, and the 2016 campaign assuredly will bring unexpected results.

But when and where will the shockers occur?

Each week, an underdog will rise and knock off the favorite. We're giving it our best shot to project the timing. Most memorable upsets impact conference races, cause a shake-up in the polls or crush a program's championship dreams.

The list is composed of primarily power-conference tilts, though a couple of "Group of Five" matchups made the cut. Just remember, we don't hate your team, but we love Team Chaos.

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Montaric Brown Tweets Top 7: Which School Best Fits 4-Star Safety?

After a quick glance at his Hudl highlight reel, the first thing that stands out with Ashdown, Arkansas, prospect Montaric Brown are the statistics that precede the actual highlights.

The intro to the tape reads 122 tackles and five interceptions for his junior year. Of those five picks, three were returned for touchdowns.

Those are ridiculous numbers for a safety, but Brown has shown himself as your better-than-average athlete, whether he's playing in the secondary or at wide receiver. Brown is listed as the top-ranked player in Arkansas, and he's ranked as a top-20 safety and a top-200 player overall in the 2017 class.

Tuesday afternoon, Brown announced his top seven via Twitter. At this time, the race will come down to the SEC and the Big 12.

At 6'1" and 175 pounds, Brown is a hard-hitting defender who has an excellent nose for where the football is. He makes a beeline to offensive players, and when he finds the ball-handler, he strikes with fury. Additionally, he plays larger than his 175-pound frame.

It's exactly what college defensive coaches are looking for in their players. The big question now involves which school best fits his playing style.

The generic answer is "all of them fit," but if Brown is looking to play in the SEC, Arkansas may be the best opportunity for him. Arkansas is the in-state school, and he has made the four-hour-plus trek to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a couple of times, including last month for the Red-White Spring Game.

Arkansas has signed two of the last three top-ranked in-state athletes in defensive end McTelvin Agim (2016) and defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson (2014). You can bet this is a tradition Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema and his staff hope to continue with Brown.

Arkansas currently has nine commitments in the 2017 class, but none of them are listed as safeties. Brown, if he were to commit today, would be the Razorbacks' first 4-star pledge of the class.

Alabama is the school believed to be Arkansas' main competitor in the race for Brown. Also with nine commitments in the 2017 class, the Crimson Tide are hoping to add more fuel to their recruiting fire with Brown, who would join 4-star safety Xavier McKinney if he committed.

Alabama already has the nation's No. 3 recruiting class for the 2017 cycle. Adding a player like Brown would help push the Crimson Tide to the No. 1 spot—a position the team has been used to since 2011.

The wild card of Brown's recruiting may involve Oklahoma, which is in the middle of one of its best recruiting runs in years this early in the process. Ten of the Sooners' 12 commits are 4-star players, and Brown would be a solid complement to 4-star safety pledge Robert Barnes.

The Sooners are ranked No. 2 behind Ohio State in 247Sports' 2017 team recruiting rankings. The idea of being a potential playmaker in a Big 12 conference that loves to throw the football—primarily Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU—can be very intriguing for any defensive back.

A decision date is expected to come Aug. 24, according to Otis Kirk of 247Sports. Brown told Kirk that he wanted to commit on his birthday.

"By committing on my birthday," Brown said, "this allows me to finalize the recruiting process this summer and focus on my academics and enjoy my senior season as we pursue the state title."

The winning school gets an athlete who not only can play passing situations well but also is an outstanding downfield tackler and someone who likes to deliver the big hit. Brown's quickness and explosiveness meshes well with his football IQ and instincts.

Look for him to be a player wherever he ends up. And look for the Razorbacks to put up a major fight against the reigning national champions and an Oklahoma team working toward arguably one of its best classes in years.

 

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

The Big Ten had 24 of its premier defenders selected in this year's NFL draft, but with players such as Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis, Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker and Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers back, Ohio State will see no shortage of defensive standouts this fall. 

The elite playmakers won't just come in conference play, though, as a Week 3 showdown with Oklahoma will throw a talented cornerback at quarterback J.T. Barrett and a young wide receiver corps.

Ohio State is looking to continue its incredible run under head coach Urban Meyer, averaging just one loss per season since the start of 2012.

The Buckeyes will have to come up with answers for these five defenders for that success to continue. 

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If College Football Ever Added a Commissioner, Who Would Be Good Candidates?

In this election year for the United States, several of college football's top names are speaking out in favor of new leadership.

But they're not talking about any particular presidential candidate. No, they're pushing for a new head figure in charge of their sport—a commissioner for college football.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban voiced his desire for a commissioner multiple times in the past few weeks, including an interview with Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com and a recent appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show.

"I think we need somebody...who can be unbiased in how decisions are getting made on what can and can't be done and have the best interests of college football," Saban told Finebaum, per Chris Vannini of Coaching Search. "Whether it's the rules we play by or the way we recruit or whether you can have satellite camps or not, there should be an unbiased way somebody’s in charge of all that."

In his piece, Rittenberg also quoted Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Stanford's David Shaw and TCU's Gary Patterson among those wanting a commissioner. On Tuesday, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher added his name to the growing and vocal list, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN:

The concept of a college football commissioner, which has spread rapidly in the wake of the fractured and messy satellite camp vote and repeal, has its pros and cons. That debate is for another column. But no matter what one thinks of the idea, there's no denying it's gaining momentum right now.

So if these key coaches get their wish and college football adds a commissioner, who would be the best candidate for the job?

First, let's set up some guidelines.

The one issue that immediately jumps to fans and critics' minds in this debate is the notion of bias. The sport will want a commissioner who won't just look out for a certain conference or region. The commissioner's goal would be to bring unity, not bring more division.

"We speak in factions," Dantonio said, per Rittenberg. "That's the problem."

However, it's virtually impossible to appoint someone who won't ever be accused of favoritism. Most candidates will have experience in leading certain college football programs and conferences, or they'll at least have an alma mater they claim.

Some media members have suggested avoiding this problem by bringing someone in from another sport to be the commissioner, a strong decision-maker who can still tackle the issues that come up in leadership of a particular league.

A complete outsider to the world of college football would make some happy if he or she were brought into the fold. But would he or she know what the sport truly needs? The coaches in favor of a commissioner have made it clear they want someone who knows college football.

Instead, college football would need a commissioner who is already well-versed in the sport's landscape and has experience with multiple leagues or areas. The wider the range of experience, the better in both practice and appearance.

With that in mind, here are a few candidates college football would target if it ever went in the direction of a commissioner.

 

Oliver Luck

When it comes to leadership in the game of football, Oliver Luck has a resume of which few can compete. The former West Virginia and NFL quarterback has spent time in key positions at various levels, with a strong amount of experience with the college game.

Luck was a former league president of the World League of American Football, which was later rebranded as NFL Europe during his tenure. He was later the president of Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo—another kind of perspective—before becoming athletic director of his alma mater in 2008.

The father of Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck was named to the first edition of the College Football Playoff committee, and he now works as a vice president for the NCAA. 

In 2011, while Luck was leading West Virginia's transition from the Big East to the Big 12, John Canzano of the Oregonian wrote a column explaining why Luck would be the perfect college football commissioner. Luck even seemed open to the idea.

"First thing I'd do is look at the structure of the game and see what could be done to put a group of three in charge," Luck told Canzano. "Right now, in college football, you don't have anything resembling a commissioner. The NCAA president is effectively neutered."

With plenty of administrative experience both at the school and associational level, Luck is a highly respected name in college athletics who knows football inside and out. He could work with the skyrocketing game of college football and the complicated NCAA system in order to make the tough decisions.

 

Jeff Long

Before he was the face of the College Football Playoff committee during those cringe-inducing rankings shows in 2014, Jeff Long was more known as a well-traveled college athletics leader.

Long, the current athletic director at Arkansas and the former chairman of the sport's playoff committee, has previous administrative stops at Michigan, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Eastern Kentucky. Before that, he was an assistant coach at Rice, Duke and North Carolina State.

For those keeping score at home, Long's experience list features four of the Power Five conferences in college football, the Group of Five leagues and even the FCS level. And even though his work as an athletic director in a variety of sports has garnered him several awards, there's no denying Long is a football mind.

"Football has been the genesis of my collegiate and professional life and remains as important to me today as it was when I fell in love with the sport in the third grade," Long told Jon Finkel of FootballMatters.org last November. "Football has been the motivating, driving force and love of my life."

Long has been in charge of college football's most important body and could dot an impressive map of experience at schools across the country. He's got the experience and scope people would love to see in a potential commissioner.

 

Condoleezza Rice

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice definitely knows what it takes to hold a high position of power and authority. And her connections with the college football world are strong.

Rice grew up in Alabama a fan of Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide football teams, and she was the daughter of a high school football coach. As Heather Dinich of ESPN.com wrote last year, Rice is close friends with David Shaw and former head coach Tyrone Willingham. She currently serves with Willingham as a member of the CFP committee.

"One of the requisite categories of committee members—along with former coaches and players—is university administrators, and Rice fit into that group as former provost of Stanford," Dinich wrote. "Each of the 10 FBS conferences had a chance to nominate 10 people, and Rice's name appeared on several lists, according to CFP executive director Bill Hancock."

People inside the college game aren't the only ones who thought Rice would make a good commissioner. In 2014, there was a huge amount of public support for Rice to become the commissioner of the NFL, a job she told the New York Times she wanted back during her time with the George W. Bush administration.

Rice is a self-professed "student of the game," and she has utilized her leadership qualities at the college administrative level and in the sport of college football as a member of the playoff committee.

 

Tom Jernstedt

Another member of the College Football Playoff committee with a wide range of leadership experience, Tom Jernstedt could provide a unique perspective as a hypothetical commissioner.

Jernstedt is a former executive vice president of the NCAA who is a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame for his work in transforming college basketball over several decades. TV revenue exploded from $1.2 million in 1970 to $10.8 billion in 2010 during his tenure with the NCAA.

While "The Father of the Final Four" is known for his great success on the hardwood, Jernstedt has a good amount of experience with college football. He was a quarterback at Oregon, and he supervised all three divisions of NCAA football during his time with the association.

Jernstedt has been all over the map during his time as an athletics administrator, working at Oregon and later serving as a consultant for both the Big 12 and the Mountain West conferences. He has plenty of experience with the grand scope of college football at all levels—not just the Power Five leagues.

His success with college basketball and continued time in college football would make Jernstedt an interesting candidate to launch the commissioner role. From broadcasting to officiating to rules oversight, Jernstedt has done it all during his career with college athletics.

 

Nick Saban

Rival fans might not want to see his name on here, but consider the best coach in the game as a possible candidate for the job he wants to see created somewhere down the road.

Saban has been coaching football since the early 1970s, with stops at Kent State, West Virginia, Syracuse, Ohio State, Navy, Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and now Alabama. He's well-respected among coaches around the country, and he's proven to be an outstanding leader with the way he's built a dynasty with the Crimson Tide.

And before anyone argues Commissioner Saban would be too biased toward the SEC, Rittenberg made the excellent point that the veteran head coach hasn't always seen eye to eye with the conference during his time in the league—most notably with the eight- versus nine-game conference schedule debate.

It's not a stretch to say the 64-year-old Saban could be stepping away from coaching within the next few years, and he could transition into life as the top decision-maker in college football. He would have a coach's mindset in the role and lead with plenty of stern conviction and toughness. 

Saban wouldn't be the typical appointment to a key position of power like this. Then again, the hypothetical job description of a commissioner in a sport like college football would be far from typical.

 

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

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Power Ranking Top 25 College Football Recruiting Classes

With the offseason camp circuit in full swing, the next few months before the season starts are a critical part of the recruiting calendar for the 2017 class.

Coaches from around the nation are busy evaluating prospects and setting up their recruiting boards for the final push before national signing day. 

A few powerhouse programs have gotten off to fast starts—including the Ohio State Buckeyes, who currently hold the nation’s top-rated class with 13 pledges already bound to play for head coach Urban Meyer

A few surprise teams have also made a mark early in the 2017 cycle, as the 247Sports team rankings illustrate.

Which programs have put themselves in a position to close strong next February?

Find out as we take a crack at power ranking the nation’s 25 best classes to date.

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Why Auburn's QB Battle Won't Linger into the Season

ATLANTA — Tempo is one of the staples of Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's offense, so it makes sense that he would be in a little more of hurry than most to name a starting quarterback.

In each of the five quarterback battles Malzahn has been a part of either as Auburn's offensive coordinator (2009-2011) or head coach (2013-present), he has named a starting quarterback prior to the season. The latest he has named a starting quarterback was as Auburn's coordinator in 2011, when he named Barrett Trotter the No. 1 guy on Aug. 18, according to the school

Expect the current quarterback battle taking place among Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and junior college transfer John Franklin III to follow the same path.

"We're going to name somebody," Malzahn said prior to his Tiger Trek event at the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday. "Hopefully sooner rather than later once we start fall camp."

Johnson has the most experience running the offense. After serving as Nick Marshall's primary backup and starting two games in his stead, he entered the 2015 season with a ton of hype. But he threw six interceptions in the first three games of the season, was benched in favor of Sean White for the fourth game of the year against Mississippi State and Auburn played "musical quarterbacks" for the rest of the season.

White wasn't bad in a pinch. 

The 2013 Elite 11 camp MVP and 2014 Under Armour All-American Game MVP completed 58 percent of his passes (83-of-143) and showed off the accuracy that made him such a highly decorated prospect at times as a redshirt freshman. 

But the presence of Franklin—a former Florida State Seminole who served as "Nick Marshall" on the FSU scout team leading up to the 2014 BCS Championship Game between the Seminoles and Tigers—makes a two-quarterback system a possibility again in 2016.

Consider that "Plan B."

"We really want to have a starter," Malzahn said. "We have ways that we'll put our guys in situations for somebody to step up. Like Nick Marshall a couple of years ago. It was pretty equal for two or three weeks, but we decided to go 'live' one time and he won the job that day. Hopefully we won't get to a point where our quarterbacks have to go live in fall camp."

Auburn did make its primary quarterback contenders go live twice during spring practice, and it was something that benefited Franklin—who's very similar to Marshall as an edge threat who can make defenders miss in space.

The only chance the public got to see the former East Mississippi Community College backup this spring was in the spring game, when quarterbacks were whistled down anytime a defender took a breath anywhere near them.

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

Malzahn's trend and statement suggest that he'll pick a guy in mid-August and roll with him. But with national runner-up Clemson looming in Week 1—by far, the most difficult season opener he has faced at Auburn—Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney isn't ruling anything out.

"Still don't know a lot about them offensively because we're not sure who the quarterback is, but we'll continue to prepare for what they do," he said at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge. "Openers are always tough because there are new faces on both sides with a lot of unknowns. You have a long time to prepare for one game. A tough opener for us, no doubt."

Malzahn has made a change in how he approaches life as a head coach. Instead of taking more of a CEO role, he was more hands-on this spring with all of his offensive players—but specifically with his quarterbacks. 

"In the spring, I was pretty hands-on with the entire offense," he said. "Kind of back to what I used do with the past. Tried to get a really good feel for [Franklin], but at the same time, make sure that I'm part of the everyday function of the offense."

Because of that change, Malzahn's trend of naming starters well before the season starts, and this being such a critical year for Malzahn's professional life, expect him to stay true to his roots and let the offense grow behind one player during the final few weeks of fall camp.

With White still relatively inexperienced and Franklin still learning, unquestioned first-team snaps are imperative for the 2016 Tigers.

 

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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Despite Offseason Controversies, Urban Meyer Remains Big Ten's Best Recruiter

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Although college football has entered the quietest portion of its offseason, Urban Meyer's name has made a habit of staying in the headlines recently.

And not necessarily for the best of reasons.

While satellite camp announcements have seemed to be the only consistent mainstay in the college football news cycle this spring, the Ohio State Buckeyes head coach has come under attack publicly not once, but twice from prospects whom the Buckeyes once had interest in but ultimately didn't land.

The result has been a pair of mini-controversies during a particularly slow period on the sport's calendar, which when combined with one another, have made Meyer's notoriously aggressive recruiting approach a hot topic of conversation.

Yet despite the negative press, Ohio State has never been hotter on the recruiting trail.

You don't have to take my word for it. Just look at the recruiting rankings, where the Buckeyes currently lay claim to the nation's top-ranked 2017 class.

You wouldn't necessarily know it based on a pair of recent interviews on SECCountry.com, the first of which ran in early April. In a Q&A with David Collier, 2016 Kentucky signee and 4-star offensive tackle Landon Young recalled his recruitment, where he claimed to be "treated like crap" by Ohio State's three-time national championship head coach.

In particular, the Lexington, Kentucky, native took issue with Meyer's response to an inquiry about why the Buckeyes waited so long to offer him after he had previously attended a camp in Columbus.

[Meyer] said, "Well, if you look back at that time, you were how big?" I said, "6'7", 270, just like I am now." He said, "Well, you were an insubstantial tackle, an insubstantial player," so he was saying I [didn't] even amount to being able to be recruited by Ohio State as a 4-star tackle. He said, "Now what offers did you have?" I said, "I had my one from Kentucky," and he said, "Well, you were an insubstantial player with insubstantial offers from an insubstantial school."

That sort of put me on a bad note because that's the team I'm committed to.

From there, it didn't take long for the "Recruit Says 'Urban Meyer Treated Me Like Crap'" headlines to spread across the Twittersphere like a rash.

Approached with the accusation at a spring practice press conference, the Buckeyes head coach admitted he saw the story. And while he defended himself, he also said he'd examine his program's philosophy when it comes to such matters.

"I was very disappointed in our staff that we didn't offer him earlier," Meyer said of Young. "Then about the treatment thing, we don't do that on purpose, if that's his feelings. I went back and talked to our staff about it because we don't want that out there. But when you have one out of 650 [prospects] that say someone is treated bad—you know?"

A couple of days later, Young took to Twitter to issue a public apology to Meyer.

Crisis adverted.

Or so Meyer thought.

Just a few weeks later, former Ohio State commit and 2017 4-star receiver Bruce Judson gave an interview to the same site Young did, SECCountry.com. Speaking to Zach Abolverdi, the Cocoa, Florida, product explained his reasoning for de-committing from the Buckeyes last October, which included an anecdote about Meyer not even knowing who he was as he showed fellow 2017 prospect Richard LeCounte III around Ohio State on a visit.

[Meyer] was like, "How you doing, you like your visit?" I said, "Yeah." Then he's like, "What up Richard LeCounte? Are you showing this guy around?," I was like, "Coach, I'm showing him around." He asked me, "Who are you?" I told him Bruce. He said, "Oh, Bruce Judson from Florida. The speedy guy." I was like, "Yeah." He said, "I’m glad that you're on board and glad you got up here." After that, I knew I was de-committing.

Cue the negative headlines and this time, make them double. Aside from this offseason's satellite camp calendar unfolding, there isn't much to talk about in college football this time of year.

But while he has yet to take part in a public forum since Judson's interview ran on May 5, Meyer has hardly needed to defend his actions. At this point in his coaching career, the Buckeyes head coach's track record speaks for itself, particularly when it comes to his recruiting.

Since arriving in Columbus in 2012, no coach in the Big Ten has been able to rival Meyer on the recruiting trail—not even Michigan Wolverine head coach Jim Harbaugh, for all the attention his own controversial tactics have garnered at Michigan.

But before Harbaugh was making noise with spring practices in Florida and satellite camps in Australia, it was Meyer ruffling feathers by ignoring unwritten rules about recruiting prospects already committed elsewhere in the conference.

"I honestly think prior to Urban Meyer arriving in the Big Ten, a lot of the recruiting was very basic. There was a feeling of some sort of gentlemen’s agreement where, 'We are the Big Ten and this is the way that we recruit,'" Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell told Bleacher Report.

"[Former Wisconsin coach] Bret Bielema went nuts about Urban Meyer stealing his recruits and stuff like that. I don't think they really looked into how things are done elsewhere, which is pushing limits and really being aggressive."

A step ahead of his in-conference competition after six years in the ruthless recruiting land that is the SEC, Meyer has signed five top-seven nationally ranked classes at Ohio State—each one ranking the highest in the Big Ten in its respective year.

And for all the hubbub about Young and Judson's comments, Meyer isn't showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. Already, his 2017 class is drawing comparisons to his 2013 haul, which helped catapult the Buckeyes to the first-ever College Football Playoff championship in 2014.

That class also played a key role in Ohio State dominating the conversation of the NFL draft from a college football perspective, with five first-rounders and 12 overall players picked during last month's selection show. That gave Meyer an equalizer—and them some—to use against any negative publicity this offseason has brought, as the Buckeyes' recent pipeline to the NFL has served as one of his most potent recruiting weapons.

"It was like a three-hour infomercial for our program," Meyer said of his program's heavy first round presence as he served as a guest analyst for the NFL Network during the second day of the draft.

A three-hour informercial on national television is always going to sell better than a couple of viral stories that hit the web during the doldrums of the college football offseason. As for the tiffs caused by the pair of SECCountry.com interviews, consider them the price of doing business for one of college football's most aggressive—and successful—recruiters.

It's tough to argue with the methods, as Meyer remains unmatched on the Big Ten recruiting trail.

 

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

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Tennessee Football: 5 Toughest Defenders Vols Will Face in 2016

When it comes to top-notch defensive players, the Southeastern Conference is loaded with them, and it seems like the Tennessee football team must battle against the majority of them in 2016.

Ranking the top five is an extremely difficult chore with all the talent in the SEC on that side of the ball, and you know any time a Missouri defensive lineman or Georgia defender failed to make the list that it's a strong year in the league.

Not even anybody on Virginia Tech legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster's unit made this list, and you know the Hokies always have stellar defensive playmakers.

The Volunteers are just glad they don't have to go up against Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cameron Sutton and Derek Barnett. At least they're on the right side of the ball.

But that won't keep there from being studs the Vols must deal with each week. Rival Alabama is absolutely loaded with defensive studs, even after a season where the Crimson Tide placed several of their national championship defense in the NFL. A couple of those guys made the list.

Florida has its annual recipient of "Player Who Is Most Likely to Give Tennessee Fits." And that isn't even counting the top-ranked player on this list, who may just be the top overall pro prospect in the nation.

Yes, UT has a slew of stars for offensive coordinator Mike DeBord to game-plan against this year. Let's rank the top five defenders the Vols will face, taking into consideration their collegiate production, pro prospects and overall leadership makeup, and big-game swagger.

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Every Top 25 College Football Team's Defensive Catalyst for 2016

The high scores and bloated statistics might say otherwise, but college football is just as dependent on big defensive plays as any other sport.

The ability to make a stop in a key situation is usually what separates the great teams from the rest of the pack and what keeps the good ones from making it to the next level.

Most teams don't have the luxury of across-the-board dominance on defense, but they all have at least one player who tends to set things in motion. We're calling them the defensive catalyst, an individual who might not be the best overall player but tends to be most involved in the big plays on that side of the ball.

Using Bleacher Report's post-spring practice Top 25 as a guide, we've identified that one player on each of college football's top teams for 2016.

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